Final DDBC Survey

Participants: Jason Lachniet (sketcher), Emma Wyatt (Instrument Reader), & Hunter Wyatt (Scout)

Date: Black Friday, 2019

Wow, isn’t it a great feeling to finish, what felt like, a never ending survey project? After 6 trips spread out over almost 5 years, Hunter, Jason, and I finally finished our continued survey from the VPI Cave Club at DDBC located outside of Glade Spring. The last time we visited this section of the cave was in 2015. We left this section for another day because it had some pretty exposed vertical passage that we wanted to have climbing gear to traverse.

The vertical section that we were starting at was fairly close to the cave’s entrance- probably only 10-15 minutes, but boy oh boy was it some difficult caving! There wasn’t a single bit of walking passage between when we entered and when we exited the cave. The route we took had a lot of climbing (up and down), crawling, and shimmy-ing through very sticky mud.

In 2015, Jason had left webbing tied at our first station on this trip. After an impressive climb and squeeze by Jason in 2019, however, Hunter and I felt better with bringing out our climbing gear and using our ascenders to make the ascent. We took 4 shots for a total of 67 feet in this section.

Hunter acting as a counterweight for a pull-down rappel out of the first high lead

We then moved to the section of the cave that held the climb Jason had been dreaming about for 4 years. With Hunter on belay, Jason climbed up the exposed flowstone. Although there was nothing to survey at that level, we did manage to connect the passage to a junction room closer to the entrance. Jason brought his drill in order to rappel down.

Hunter and Emma Wyatt compete with Emma’s siblings for the “coolest” picture with the Got Dip Dog sticker throughout the year. Emma’s Dad, the judge, gives the winning sibling $100. This year, they think they will win!

We exited the cave in about 5.5 hours. The final cave length ended up being 4,005 ft, the final cave depth was 124 ft, and the final amount that the three of us surveyed was 1,548 ft. Most impressive of all, our caving gear was cleaned and organized in less than a week.

Spring 2019 Perkins Survey Trips

While there were no survey trips in Perkins in 2018 – we were preoccupied with Spring VAR and other things – 2019 is shaping up to be a good year.

January 5, 2019

On January 5, Steve Ahn, Terri Brown, and I were joined by a large contingent of Triangle Troglodytes (Carlin Kartchner, Ken Walsh, Dave Duguid, Emily Graham, Rachel Saker, Michael McBride, Vardell Smith, Peter Hertl, and Ava Mankoff). With Ken, Dave, Carlin, and I all prepared to sketch, we were able to divide into four teams.

studying the map - Rachel Saker

Studying our objectives (photo by Rachel Saker)

Steve, Terri, and I headed out beyond the 800 Foot Crawl. Dave and his survey team traveled in with us to the top of the 50 foot climb up from stream level. They picked up their leads there, pushing several passages that all ultimately head north back toward the furthest reaches of the 1400 Foot Walk. After being stopped by a deep pit in the main passage, they tried some side leads that I thought were probably virgin (Dave reports probably one caver had been through previously). They were then able to bypass the pit and continue toward the 1400 Foot Walk. This bypass does not appear on the original map. The main passage beyond the pit is on the old map, but with a known significant error. In the meantime, Carlin led the rest of the Tri-Trogs to the 1400 Foot Walk, where they began by mopping up some side leads on the east side of the passaging approaching Square Pit. This area is now completed thanks to their efforts. They then pressed onward to the far end of the 1400 Foot Walk, completing the survey of most of what remained in that area. They were able to make a handshake connection to Dave’s team in passage above them and took a survey shot through to facilitate closing the loop on the next trip. The Tri-Trogs added a total of 1000 feet of survey in a 12 hour trip, exiting the cave around midnight.

Carlin sketching - Rachel Saker

Carlin sketching (Rachel Saker photo)

Steve, Terri, and I continued onward through the 800 Foot Crawl to our last station from June, 2017 heading toward the Renegade Survey. While we had hoped to make it to the furthest reaches of the passages out in that direction, we were instead occupied with systematically mopping up short side leads and closing numerous small loops along our route forward. At our deepest point into the cave the main passage terminates in an area of breakdown which we spent a fair amount of time poking around in, without finding any continuation of the passage. But a couple of leads on the right side of the passage before the breakdown area appear to continue into the extensive maze of passage that the original surveyors dubbed the Renegade Survey. We’ll resurvey that area on the next trip in that part of the cave. We added 830 feet of survey. Travel time back to the entrance from the end of our survey is now close to three hours, at a moderate pace. We caught up with the Tri-Trogs near the First Stream and were all out of the cave around midnight. On the surface, everyone enjoyed a campfire and homemade venison stew prepared by Terri’s husband, who spent the day on the surface. Thanks, Bob!

April 13, 2019

Appalachian Cave Conservancy shared space with Walker Mountain Grotto at Abingdon’s April 13 Earth Day event (more on that in a later post, perhaps), and the ACC annual meeting followed at Virginia Highlands Community College. After the meeting, several of us returned to Perkins to continue the resurvey project. Dan Henry and Richard Knapp (keeping book), continued the survey of the lower level canyons beyond the Antlers, along with Steve and Jeanne Bailey. They closed multiple loops, tying back into the upper levels at two points, and came close to the furthest extent of this canyon maze where it rejoins the main route at the Kidney Stone Climb. It looks likely that one more trip will wrap up the survey of those lower levels. They surveyed 725 feet, exiting the cave sometime after 2:00 am.

antler canyons - Steve Bailey

Dan and Jeanne in the canyons beyond the Antlers (photo by Steve Bailey)

Richard sketching canyon traverse - Jeanne Bailey

Richard keeping book (photo by Jeanne Bailey)

I went with Janet Manning and Walker Mountain Grotto members Zac Lynn and Brandon Phibbs out to the H-Stone. We started our survey right there at the H-Stone, following a short segment of passage that goes west about 100 feet. We will still need to survey up to, and possibly beyond, the Coffin formation, but we saved that for another day. It should be done as a team of two, using a Disto, and with great care and clean gear. Instead, we dropped down into a lower level directly below the H-Stone. I knew there was some passage down there, and access to a stream that flows below the 1400 Foot Walk, but after an evening of survey, I can see that this area is much more complex and extensive than I imagined. At one prominent junction, passages go in seven different directions (not counting further branches visible in the distance). We closed a couple of loops and surveyed essentially everything lying north and west of the H-Stone, though there are a couple of places that might be worth digging, including in a virgin crawl we accessed by climbing a 10 foot wall of mud. Throughout the evening we remained in a middle level and did not get down to the stream, visible about 30 feet below, and also left numerous other leads heading east and south. The most interesting thing we saw were some sizable, rather deep claw marks in a clay bank. Perhaps an ice age bear or other large mammal was once here, entering by way of a paleo entrance no longer open to the surface? Our survey totaled 482 feet. We exited via the stream passage, reaching the surface just before 3:00 am (to the relief of the spouse of one our party who had not anticipated our late exit).

crossing the pit - Janet Manning

Zac crossing the pit to Kidney Stone climb (photo by Janet Manning)

Current resurvey statistics

Zac and Brandon headed home following our exit. Everyone else spent the night and made their way home in the morning after some much needed rest. All told, in the two days of surveying so far this year we’ve added 3,000 feet, bringing the length of resurveyed passage to 6.25 miles (passing the 10 km mark).

The line plot shows new survey in blue:

Spring 2019 surveys


Meeting schedule

At the last grotto meeting we agreed to an updated meeting schedule:

  • Regular meetings to remain on the third Tuesday of the month
  • Include a brief program at each meeting
  • Earlier meeting time: 6:00 pm, dinner after meetings optional
  • Formal meetings on an academic calendar: August-November, January-May
  • Alternate meetings between Wytheville, Marion, and Washington County
  • Quarterly grotto cave trips/activities to be scheduled in advance (spring cave trip, summer picnic and vertical session or cave trip, fall cave trip, Christmas/holiday party and potluck)
  • Publish an electronic annual grotto calendar
  • Encourage more use of our multi-author trip blog/website

The next meeting will be at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, April 16 in Damascus. Use the contact us link for details or see us at Abingdon’s Earth Day event at the Fields-Penn house on Saturday, April 13.

Daniel Boone Caverns

Scott County’s Daniel Boone Caverns was mapped by Bill Balfour back in 1996. Mountain Empire Grotto cavers including Bill James and Don Feathers discovered some additional passage during later exploration of the cave in the early to mid-2000s. The cave is presently gated and managed by the Appalachian Cave Conservancy and the owner has been a longtime member and supporter of the conservancy. There has long been some interest in getting the new passages surveyed and added to the 1996 map, a project the ACC finally began working on last fall. Bill Balfour provided copies of the original survey notes to facilitate our efforts and has promised to update the map when the project is complete.


Our guides (photo by Janet Manning)


Studying the notes (photo by Janet Manning)

On September 8, 2018 a group consisting of me (Jason Lachniet), Janet Manning, Buford Pruitt, cave manager Josh Garrett, Bill James, and the cave owner converged at the cave. With Bill and the owner acting as our guides, we were able to locate the first and most extensive of the leads to survey, and using the 1996 notes, we were even able to find a reliable tie-in to the original survey. Buford, Janet, and I surveyed a total of 377 feet on this trip. Our lead was a slot dropping steeply through breakdown below a ceiling ledge forming the lower extent of the main entrance room, on the far right-hand side. After a short drop down a body sized hole, this opens into a sizable room that partially underlies the main entrance room above. The left wall is breakdown. Continuing ahead, a 65 foot drop is encountered, that leads into a nice bit of canyon passage, either virgin, or at least little-visited previously. The 20 to 30 foot tall canyon extends back about 125 feet to end in clay fill. There is some rather pristine flowstone on the floor in places, but also deep mud, and a deep pool. A ten foot climb up followed by a tricky 20 foot climb back down complicated the traverse to the far end of this passage. After mapping this passage, we exited, leaving one lead above the 65 foot drop to return to, plus at least two other areas still in need of survey.


A pristine portion of the canyon floor (photo by Janet Manning)


Sketching the 65′ drop (photo by Janet Manning)

Buford and Janet returned, along with Steve and Jeanne Bailey on October 20. On this trip they surveyed another 219 feet in a segment of passage beyond the Popcorn Crawl.

Finally, on November 24, Janet, Buford, the Baileys, and I returned, along with the cave owner and Flittermouse cavers Brett Haas and Jared Sholar. We began by mopping up the bit of survey left to do near the 65-foot pit. Then Buford and I took a quick peek at the passage mapped in October, to confirm some details on the sketch. We then followed Janet into one last extension of the known passages, following a low crawl along a ledge, skirting a pit at the base of the ladders in the main right hand fork of the cave. After passing a tight spot, this exceptionally muddy crawl ends in a low room, with a dead-bottom 15-foot deep pit on the right, and a tight slot leading up 15+ feet into an overlying canyon passage mostly choked with breakdown. Total new survey on this trip was just 166 feet.

In all, our surveys added 668 feet of new length to the cave, bringing the total of surveyed passage to 2,913 feet. Our lowest point came close to, but did not surpass, the previous deepest point, leaving depth unchanged at 178 feet. It is likely we have now surveyed all we need to for the purposes of updating the map, but we believe one more trip this spring or summer is warranted to confirm a few other question marks before we declare the project finished.

DBC updated lineplot

Updated lineplot

Spring VAR Conservation Project

Report courtesy of Cindy Baubach

Bill Grose asked me if I l would be willing to lead a conservation project to Buchanan Saltpeter Cave in VA. Since I have participated in a few Conservation/Restoration projects in the past and am passionate about cave preservation, I was honored to lead this trip. Bill and I discussed the goals he had in mind, primarily graffiti removal. Buchanan Saltpeter Cave has had a lot of graffiti over the years. In spite of the fact that I did not have enough time to plan out getting all the necessary materials for the project, when I arrived at the Spring VAR site, I was met and welcomed by a group of cavers that were serious about keeping our caves as natural as possible. The following cavers signed up for the trip: Ken Clark, Robby Crumpton, Nick Frantz, Robert Crumpton, James Elliot, Lee Olson, Mary Davis, Bob Griffith, Roxanne Shively, Doug Duncan, John Fox, Jim McConkey, Dave Field and Richard Hand.

BSP entrance - Robby Crumpton

Photo by Robby Crumpton

When we cavers met, I asked if they had any brushes and fortunately most everyone did so there were enough brushes to get to work. Walker Mountain Grotto did supply us with several buckets and orange trash bags which were helpful. We got to the cave around 11:15am on 4/28/18. We began our hike up through the pastures and low and behold, here came the landowners on their “gator” (or some brand- off road vehicle) to greet us with open arms. The landowners (man and woman) were recently retired veterinarians from North Carolina. They were very caver friendly and were very glad we were doing a clean- up project.

When we got down in the cave (about 20 feet butt slide with a hand line rigged to a tree to get to a ladder to descend the rest of the 30 feet or so), we counted off and got a number of caver/participants and off we went. I was so moved by the passion each one had to help clean up trash (broken glass, paper trash and anything that we could remove from the cave (this did not include a good size pile of wire fencing that a former farmer had tossed into the cave). The brushes were out and cavers went to work throughout the cave. Bill Grose had requested we focus on one section by the creek inside the cave. We did that and much more! The cave appreciated the dedication from being so defamed in the past. We all secretly know this defamation will probably happen again but at least we cleaned up a good portion, if not all of the graffiti that was removable via wire/plastic brushes. There was some at the front of the cave that we could not get off that may need future attention with a pressure washer or something in the future. There were some historic signatures we left, of course.

We really had a good time completing the project. I would guess we were in the cave for a least 3-4 hours working. We decided at this time the job was complete for the day. Thank you so much for your help. You were greatly appreciated for your dedication!

Spring VAR – Thanks!

Last weekend’s Spring VAR was a success! Walker Mountain Grotto would like to thank everyone who came out to Hungry Mother Lutheran Retreat Center and the many people who pitched in to help. We are a small grotto and could have not have pulled it off on our own. In particular, the crew from Camp Cheerio – Cluck, Micah, Matt, Sarah, and the Holston High School Karst Club volunteers – Jenna, Brandon, and Dashaun were all a great help around the site throughout the weekend.

We are proud of our caves and worked hard to provide a wide variety of trips. Hopefully everyone who wanted a trip was able to go caving! The trips were made possible by the generous land owners in our area – note that these caves were open for our event and are not simply “come back anytime” open to revisit without permission! We thank Appalachian Cave Conservancy and West Virginia Cave Conservancy for access to their caves. There were more than ten guided trips with in excess of 100 people signed up! A big thanks to the trip leaders from Flittermouse Grotto, the Triangle Troglodytes, and VPI Cave Club who volunteered to lead trips – Dan Henry, Terri Brown, Ken Walsh, Emily Graham, Janet Manning, Buzz Rudderow, Ellen Hofler, Hunter Wyatt, Emma Buchanan, Steve Ahn, Steph Petri, Brian Williams, Mike Broome, Lisa Lorenzin, Cindy Baubach, Andrew Lycas, Eric Hahn, Kevin Austin, and Lakyn Austin.

The raffle and door prizes were a lot of fun! We would like to thank the local businesses who donated: Highlands Ski and Outdoor CenterSundog Outfitters, and Mount Rogers Outfitters. Keep these fine establishments in mind and drop by the next time you are in southwest Virginia!

I think everyone enjoyed the HMLRC facilities. They are a small non-profit and were very supportive of our event. We left the place in good shape and appreciate the great job everyone did cleaning up their sites before departing. The camp director contacted us Monday morning and said he would not believe anyone had been there over the weekend if he had not seen us with his own eyes! A big thank-you to Dr. Fred Webb and Mike Futrell for their excellent presentations Friday and Saturday evening  and thanks to John Fox for providing the sound system for the talks. Thanks to Carl Amundson, Jeff Benford, and Kurt Waldron with the Eastern Region of NCRC for the vertical workshop. The vendors and conservancies were a great addition to the onsite activities – thanks Inner Mountain OutfittersSpeleobooksAppalachian Cave Conservancy, and Southeastern Cave Conservancy!

Dinner Saturday night and Sunday morning breakfast were great! Thanks to Angie Reynolds and Marie Thomas for a great catered dinner and thanks to Janet Tinkham and Front Royal Grotto for organizing a great continental breakfast. Finally, thank you to Tom Snediker and Wendy Godley of The Kind for providing the great musical entertainment Saturday evening.

The final registration total was 279! We are still sorting through the registration information and working up a financial report. Look for a final report in an upcoming Region Record. There are a lot of pictures up on the Spring VAR 2018 Facebook page – thanks everyone for sharing! – check it out if you are a Facebook user.


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DDBC and Spring VAR Planning

Grotto members Hunter Wyatt and Emma Buchanan, now living outside of the area, recently visited southwest Virginia and we took the opportunity to continue the long-standing survey project in DDBC, and to do some Spring VAR trip planning. DDBC is not really well suited to a VAR trip, but it is a very interesting cave, and at about 4,000 feet, one of the longest in its immediate vicinity. There is a stream and several nice formation areas. It is horizontal, but travel through most of the cave is somewhat awkward and strenuous. The survey was started by a group of VPI cavers in 2010-11. Later, Hunter, Emma, and I obtained the notes and have been trying on and off to get the project wrapped up since 2015. On this trip, we headed out toward the upstream end of the system and worked on systematically checking off leads marked on the 2010-11 sketches. We only found one lead into passage warranting additional survey, where we added 60 feet in a crawl accessible from the top of a 15-foot high canyon. The crawl led into a nice little virgin room, but all routes out of the room are definitively blocked off by breakdown. Elsewhere, I poked into a promising wet lower level lead and found it sumped. It’s recently been wet in the area and there is a chance it could go in dry weather. Beyond this, the only leads left in this area are potential digs, though we did not detect any air movement to motivate us. While exiting, I was pushing my pack ahead of me in a low crawl and foolishly allowed it drop into a deep hole. It splashed down ten feet below me. When I eventually got down there to retrieve it, I found the bottom of the canyon was flooded to a depth greater than my height and I had to swim to my pack, fortunately still floating. At this point, we expect we will finish the project in one more trip where we intend to push/survey some exposed high leads in the entrance canyon. A photo trip would also be worthwhile.

After our brief survey trip, we reviewed our maps and discussed plans for a Spring VAR cave trip to be led by Hunter and Emma. The plan is to visit Blacksburg #1 and Cave Springs, both featured in the event guidebook. They are somewhat difficult caves, but this trip is proposed to be a beginner friendly trip which visits only the easier sections of each cave and highlights the interesting history and hydrogeology of the area.


Blacksburg #1 Entrance Gate

Just outside of Blacksburg #1, a small surface stream sinks and feeds the underground cave stream. This stream eventually emerges at Cave Springs, almost a mile away. In Blacksburg #1, visitors can see a series of 19th and early 20th century signatures, some of which we speculate date to student groups from the early days of Emory and Henry. Nearby at Cave Springs, the underground stream emerges and is backed up behind an entrance dam built to feed an old stone spring house which still contains a 1915 model ram pump. This was the water source for Colonel Byars’ plantation, dating to before the Civil War. The entrance passage leads through wall-to-wall knee deep water into a good sized room. The adventurous can continue through a low airspace duck under into a smaller room where the initials “AHN” dated 1902, can be seen in a mud bank. This is presumed to be from A.H. Neff, who also signed his name deep in Blacksburg #1 in 1903, along with W.N. Neff, for whom Abingdon’s Neff Center is named. We were unable to connect with the Blacksburg #1 landowners that day, but we expect this will make a very interesting outing for the upcoming Spring VAR meeting.

Caving with the Tri-Trogs

I had a great day of caving with friends from the Triangle Troglodytes last Saturday. After meeting up with Ken Walsh, Dave Duguid, and Emily Graham at Tanya’s house in Marion, we headed out to Cave Ridge. First, we mapped Dutton Cave, a small cave with a short vertical drop, near Dead Air. This one taped out at 434 feet and Ken Walsh is drawing the map. We then walked over to Radon Cave and completed the in-progress survey there. The hard work was already done! Dave, Emily, and I got to survey the impressive big room, which is around 300 feet long, 50 feet wide, and up to 75 feet high. Ken did not quite fit through the entrance crawl initially, but he dug it out further while he was waiting for us and it is now much easier to traverse.

Ken and Emily have posted more thorough trip reports over at the Tri-Trogs blog: Dutton Cave and Radon Cave.

If you are coming to Spring VAR (April 27-29 in Marion), you might be able to visit these caves. Both require some basic vertical gear. We used a cable ladder Saturday, but conventional single rope technique would work just as well. They are adjacent to Dead Air and Boxwork Crystal, both featured in the Spring VAR guidebook and described in previous posts on this site.