Cross Country Grottos

As Hunter mentioned in his last post, we had a great presentation from the Central Arizona Grotto at our February 2021 meeting via zoom. In return, the Walker Mountain Grotto sent a delegation to the Zoom platform of the CAG meeting in March. Although the pandemic has caused many disruptions to our regular meeting schedule, isn’t it fantastic that it has given us the opportunity to meet with our fellow cavers across the United States. Hunter and Emma Wyatt presented a 20 minute overview of caves in Southwest Virginia including geology, typical caves, and lots of pictures!

Dog Gone Pit and Mountain View Cave (Trip Reports)

We went Caving!!! After a long hiatus from the under ground world due to the pandemic we finally deemed it safe enough to try a small trip. Nate Foster, Emma Wyatt, and myself set our sites on 2 small caves that I had a lead on in Russell County. In an effort of good faith we delivered a load of firewood to the land owner the day of the trip. I’m not sure this improved our standing with him, as he already is very welcoming, but he was appreciative of the gift!

Emma and Nate preparing the first station at the rim of the depression

Once we geared up we headed to Dog-Gone Pit. The last VSS cave report for this location was from 98′ and didn’t hold a lot of detail. The pit is located in the bottom of a small depression on a side ridge. There are plenty of trees to anchor to and vertical gear is required. What we found was approximately a 40′ repel with 22′ of it being free hanging. The pit floor was littered with organic debris from the surface. The total cave length was <50′ if you do not count the repel in. There were no exciting formations or potential digs. Upon first seeing the name in the trip report we were hoping it was “Dog Gone!” pit. After exploring it we found that exclamatory punctuation may not fit it. This is a great pit in a relatively easy to access spot for practicing rope skills. There are essentially no formations to damage or loose rocks so the comfort level is high by caving standards.

Hunter on rope in Dog Gone pit

On a personal note, this is my first cave map that I sketched and will be publishing. The quality is to be determined. I learned some valuable lessons quickly like drawing at a 20 scale in a small cave is a bad idea and you can never have to much eraser.

After we finished up our short survey of the pit we hiked back down to the truck and across to the adjacent ridge where Mountain View Cave is located. Like most vertical drops the actual distance to the bottom is widely disputed. The land owner reported it to be 90′ (be brought a 100′ rope…), and the VSS report from 98′ stated it to be 40′. We rigged to a tree across from the entrance, did a gear check and began the repel in. Upon our measurements we found the vertical drop to be closer to 30′ with another drop immediately of approximately 15′ that was much easier to negotiated while being still on rope. This cave has a lot more to offer than Dog Gone Pit. The room you repel into is rather large. Ceiling height varies but in some places it is >20′. The main room has several passages leading off from it. The cave seems to be split into 3 levels. The upper level is a series of small leads that look to have been used as animals dins and are full of scat. The lower leads cut back directly under the entrance repel. There is a third lower lead that is in the bottom of a small canyon that drops 10-12′ down.

Hunter and Emma standing under the entrance of Mtn View Cave

Running short on time and with bellies beginning to rumble we decided to work on the main passage and leave the leads for a follow up trip next month. Emma and Nate set stations and read the instrument while I sketched in the rear. I gained a new level of respect for sketchers after trying to draw in the multi faceted entry room, with 3 levels of passage and no clear way to define the actual size of the room with out surveying all of them. I finally agreed on a series of scribbles and eraser marks and tried to catch up with my companions.

By that point that they had scouted ahead and found what every caver loves to find, a pool of waste deep water. The back 30′ feet of the cave beyond the mini canyon has a series of rim stone pools that lead to a large pool with formations that only form underwater. I don’t know what these formations are called, but I am sure someone will tell me later. The pull was approximately 4′ deep at its deepest. The last 2 rooms of the cave were well decorated and filled with formations and flow stone. We were able to mostly avoid disturbing the pools during the survey, and I would not recommend anyone to try and go beyond the edge of the large pull as further activity will negativity impact the sensitive area. In the honor of our welcoming host we deemed the the body of water, Lake Salyers.

Emma by Lake Salyers

Other notable finds on the trip included a Garter snake that was approximately 12″ long in the organic mud at the bottom of the drop. There were cave salamanders present, and possibly most interesting a set of jaw bones that we could not identify. They were quite old, and had 2 sets of ripping teeth. The size was larger than a canine, but did not match up to a bears teeth pattern. I searched the deep pool in the back for any movement hoping to possibly find a translucent invertebrate lurking, but no luck.

In total we measured 214′ of cave length (including 2 vertical shots). Not exactly a banner day, but progress none the less. This was Nate’s first time surveying, my first time sketching below ground, and the first time we have been underground in a long while. We Hope to complete the survey in a few weeks, and have a working cave map soon after.

February Grotto Meeting (Arizona Caving Adventure?)

On the 15th of February, Walker Mountain hosted their second meeting of the year. We were joined by Ray Keeler of the Central Arizona Grotto via Zoom. Ray went above and beyond with his pitch to convince Virginia cavers to go west and explore virgin caves. In his presentation he broke the state into 3 sections. He covered the Northern section along the Grand Canyon, and the second section in central Arizona. Both presentations were very interesting and covered a variety of conditions and properties that Arizona caves hold.

As a Virginia caver one of the more interesting components was the duality between Arizona caves on public land vs Virginia caves on public land. The bulk of caves in the Grand Canyon State are located on Public Land. 56.8% of Arizona is public land, and it is my understanding that even more of the state is leased as walk in areas. Arizona is supportive of caving on public land and Ray shared the compressive document that is used to help manage caves and the responsibilities of both cave owners, and cavers alike. Many of these caves seemed to be far from road access and required extensive hiking, climbing (scaling canyon walls with out mechanically set bolts), and other strenuous efforts. Others seemed relatively easy to get into, had plenty of camping opportunities, and were dry caves.

That brings me to my next point, DRY CAVES!!! As someone who always seems to be laying in a stream passage this might be the largest selling point for me to go cuddle with the rattle snakes and scorpions. In all of Ray’s photos no one was soaking wet and muddy!!!

Some other interesting components of Arizona caves include the varying geology, and the presence of First American artifacts. Arizona has lava tubes, open earth cracks, sand stone caves, and geologic features that resemble east coast karst features such as limestone capped with sandstone. Ray made sure to remind us that there are plenty of virgin caves and projects in all of the geologic formations. I found the presence of human artifacts in some of the high caves interesting. It is my understanding that in Virginia many of the cultural sensitive sites have been destroyed for a variety of reasons. In Arizona it seems like they are doing a good job preserving many of these sites and working to protect them from relic hunting and careless destruction.

Ray’s favorite point to hammer home is that Arizona has more virgin cave to explore than it has cavers to explore them. He was very welcoming, and invited any capable grotto member who wants to take on a mapping project to come out and get under ground with them. He dangled virgin cave out in front of us like bait in front of a hungry trout. He might wake up to a yard full of Virginia caver’s if he isn’t careful…

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.

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Our guides (photo by Janet Manning)

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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.

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

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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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