Dawson Duguid, Dave Duguid, and Carlin Kartchner were willing to help me get back to the Rail Valley Cave survey again in Smyth County, Virginia. It had been three years since Emily and Joel surveyed with me there and left five leads (three promising and two not-so-much). The difficulty had been that I needed a high clearance vehicle and a rain-free, snowmelt-free forecast in order to access the inside of the cave, but the wait was worth it.
Saturday morning we found that the property gate was locked, so we drove to the owner’s home in search of a key. We found no owner. Via GPS Carlin devised an alternate plan that involved crossing the Middle Fork of the Holston River, so we went in search of a good parking spot. Along the way, Carlin began hopping up and down in his seat when he saw resurgences pouring from the downstream side of the river’s oxbow. We had to pull over while he forded the river and checked out seven resurgences and the nearby rocks, but the wait was worth it.
Lacking a good parking area and unsure of how wet we wanted to get in the river before cave entry, we chose to go back to the original gate. It was still locked. So we hiked in. Odds are the trees that had grown up in various places would’ve prevented Dawson’s truck from getting us back there anyway. Long hike in the summer heat but worth the wait.
We found the entrance easily enough and went straight toward the leads in the back of the cave. The upper lead crossed over some small rimstone pools where we observed many segmented grains of rice crawling underwater. We’d appreciate any help with identification. That passage kept going up, eventually into a sideways crawl around formations. Then it ended.
The lower lead took us quickly down to a terminal sump. While I sketched the sump area, I sent the remainder of the team back to Emily’s lead near the Hanging Buddha. Three years earlier Emily had relayed that the passage looked to continue as a belly crawl at the floor level but needed to be dug open; same notation on the original cave sketches from Wil Orndorff.
When I arrived at the lead, my team had disappeared from sight. I could hear whooping and hollering behind the wall. They found an easy bypass to Emily’s lead and had climbed into the Liquor Cabinet, a thirty-foot high room marked by flowstone pagodas climbing to the ceiling. Two horizontal leads lead out of the Liquor Cabinet, and a thirty-foot pit had intrigued Dave and Carlin. We looked across the pit to what might be a significantly larger room in this cave that previously held no rooms at all. We surveyed the Liquor Cabinet and then decided that we were all too wet and cold to continue much further. Dave and Dawson made a voice connection via Emily’s belly crawl to the Liquor Cabinet, but no visual connection. 371 feet of survey.
Sunday morning found Carlin outside again identifying the plants in Tanya’s neighborhood. We opted to take Tanya that day out to Staley’s Cave for a survey trip. We netted 211 survey feet mostly in a straight line, a dead calf, a hornet’s nest, white caterpillars crawling on Carlin, and one angry mother bird.
Dawson took some great photos (see below), but I couldn’t figure out how to get them all turned right side up in WordPress.