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.

Brass Kettle Hole

Brass Kettle Hole is a Washington County cave that I heard about often over the years, though I never heard locals refer to it by that name. It’s well known in the immediate vicinity, though does not seem to have seen much traffic in recent years. One of the stories I heard was about some kids entering the cave by descending a rope hand-over-hand, then being stuck at the bottom, unable to climb back out. The entrance is a near vertical slope dropping 80 feet. When Steve Ahn and I visited, we found some spelunker’s old clothesline and a dog chain tied off to a tree at the entrance, dropping into a secondary hole next to the main drop. Safe entry requires rappelling.


Aaron Napier at the entrance (Steve Ahn photo)

A 1967 map and survey shows about 1100 feet of stream passage. Steve and I started a re-survey of the cave in November, 2016. We discovered that a large chunk of the 80-foot entrance drop can be avoided by swinging into a side passage about 30 feet down. From there, a long easy slope can be descended with at most a handline – it can be slick – to the base of the main drop. The entrance still requires basic vertical gear, though (minimally, a descender to enter and cow’s tail and ascender for self-belay on the exit).

At the bottom of the drop, a medium-sized stream is encountered. Big trunk passage goes downstream, which we surveyed over several trips. There are a few side passages and some interesting springs/pools where water enters at sumps and overflows, feeding into the main stream.


One of the infeeder sumps (Steve Ahn photo)

Further downstream, another infeeder enters on the downdip side of the passage and feeds a pool at the bottom of a funnel-shaped mud-walled pit. There is no apparent outlet, but the water evidently seeps or flows out into the main stream, near a sharp bend with an impressive eddy. On our first reconnaissance trip into the cave in 2015, a strong chlorine odor was present from here to the downstream sump. The smell slowly dissipated over the next several months and is no longer evident.

On our second survey trip, we discovered a “new” section of cave, several hundred feet in extent, not shown on the old map. At least part of this, if not all, was clearly virgin. Mapping this area, plus the main stream passage, occupied us for a total of five trips in 2016 and 2017, with help at various times from Aaron Napier, Bill Grose, and some students from the Holston High School Karst Club. Since we began our initial survey at the base of the drop, we had still yet to survey the somewhat complicated entrance area.


The Chlorinator (Bill Grose photo)

Steve and I returned on February 11 of this year hoping to complete the map for inclusion in the Spring VAR guidebook. Our trip followed a couple days of fairly heavy rain. We took a survey line down the main drop and swung over into a small side passage opposite the ledge where we usually get off rope. This leads to a small room with some formations. An un-climbable hole in the floor drops to stream level. We closed a loop in the entrance area, then pushed upstream. The water level was quite high and we made little progress. We’ll have to return and push upstream in drier weather. Our next lead was a flowstone climb a few hundred feet downstream. We completed the climb, but water was pouring in and through most of the passage it was like standing under a showerhead. It was quite pretty up there, but the conditions did not bode well for a productive survey or dry, readable notes. We decided to save this area for a drier day, too.

We quickly dispatched with the one remaining lead near the bottom of entrance drop, a narrow canyon that looped back to the main passage. After that, the only other lead we had was back outside, at the small secondary entrance hole with the spelunker’s clothesline and dog chain. This led into a section of about 120 feet of passage, basically a nicely decorated enlarged joint, following the steep dip of the limestone beds, choked with breakdown and cobbles at the bottom. It is parallel to and partially overlying the main passage, but the only apparent connection is through a very narrow fissure near the top. The connecting passage is much too tight for traverse and there is no real reason to push it.

We added 400 feet of survey on our trip, rarely outside of the daylight zone. Just like when we started the trip, the survey is “almost finished.” The length is now at 2,124 feet and the depth is 111 feet. If you’re attending Spring VAR, we hope to offer a trip to Brass Kettle Hole. It’s featured in the guidebook, and while we did not finish the survey as hoped, a comprehensive, detailed working map is included.

June 17, 2017 Perkins Survey

The most recent survey trip in Perkins was very productive, as described in Amy Skowronski’s trip report below. I’ll try to add a few more details here, mostly on what my survey team found.

We got into the cave at 10:30 am, and travelling as a group of eight, it took us about 2.5 hours to reach the far side of the 800 Foot Crawl, where we divided into three teams and took off in different directions. I went with Steve Ahn to station EFC46 from the last trip, in the top of a large, exposed canyon traverse, headed northeast toward the Renegade Survey. While we expected that this might require rigging at a least a handline, we crossed the canyon without any difficulty and left the chunk of rope we brought along staged here for future rigging projects. After the exposed traverse, the passage continues at about 15 feet wide and 10 feet high for 150 feet to a complicated junction. This whole is area is quite nice, very dry, with many old formations, gypsum, and fossils. We spent quite some time surveying through the junction area, closing a loop, and setting tie-in stations for each of the going leads. I soon gave up on orienting ourselves to the 1973 map, since what we were surveying simply did not agree with the old map.

We continued northeast to another junction and doubled back to close another loop. In this area we entered a nice virgin crawl and turned back in going passage, to continue in the main trunk. Two major passages continue northeast from the second junction. We took the right fork, still heading toward what the original surveyors called the Renegade Survey area. We climbed a 10-foot dome in a side passage into another small virgin section, this one consisting of about 50 feet of nice, gypsum-crusted hands and knees crawl, which emerged in the ceiling of the main passage 50 feet before the dome climb, allowing us to close another loop. We then proceeded to close yet another small loop on the south side of the passage, before calling it a day at yet another junction, with the main trunk continuing with major air, and small, but promising canyon leads on either side. Our survey total was 1,155 feet.

Meanwhile, Nick Socky, Amy Skowronski, Carlin Kartchner, Elliot Edling, and Janet Manning had headed toward a junction near the Shale Passage, at the end of Carlin’s last survey in March. Amy and Nick took the left branch and surveyed 1,037 feet, as described in Amy’s report. They surveyed almost to the very end of this passage, as depicted on the 1973 map, nearly reaching the area shown as having a sound connection with the Renegade Survey.

Carlin, Elliot, and Janet took the right hand fork, and ultimately reached the Second Stream, which they followed upstream to close a 1,700 foot loop at the canyon junction where Steve and I started our survey. Carlin posted a trip report over at the Tri-Trogs site. Carlin’s team’s 1,039 feet gave us an impressive 3,230 feet for the day between the eight cavers. The trip out took only 1.5 hours and we arrived on the surface at about 12:30 am.

Back on the surface, I was able to reconcile the section Steve and I surveyed with the Roeher map. The old map is correct in its general orientation, but in the area beyond the first junction, a large loop is shown that doesn’t exist. What is actually a fairly narrow passage proceeding north is shown as a very wide section which branches and forms a major loop (it does not). But it appears this is drawn over a generally accurate line plot with the correct overall trend and location of subsequent cave features.

The line plots below show the June 17 surveys in blue (click the image, then choose “View full size” and zoom in for a better view). Current (resurveyed) cave length is now 30,017 feet (5.69 miles) and depth is 232 feet (Carlin’s team set a new low point in the Second Stream).

Nick Socky and Janet Manning provided some pictures from the trip. Thanks!

Perkins Survey update – June 18, 2017. Courtesy of Amy Skowronski

Steven Ahn, Eliot Edling, Carlin Kartchner, Jason Lachniet, Janet Manning, Amy Skowronski (reporting), and Nick Socky went to Perkins Cave in Washington County, VA on Saturday, June 18, 2017. Jason and Steve went to the register room to set up a compass course for checking instruments while the rest of us set up our tents. We met up with them and after everyone was signed in, we began to make our way to our leads together.

Everyone enjoyed the Humming Room before heading towards the Forest Trail, First Discovery, the Toothpaste Crawl, etc etc. In true Caving Is Serious Business (CISB) fashion, Nick did the entire crawl after the Torn Peter Tube backwards so that when he reached the end I would sing Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart (“Turn around…”) which I absolutely did because of his dedication to the joke. We soon arrived in the 800’ Crawl where, despite the amount of energy required and general laboriousness of the passage, Eliot and Nick managed to sing sea shanties almost the entire time much to the amusement (dismay?) of the rest of the group.

When we arrived at the walking canyon passage towards the end of the Crawl we stopped to have a snack, drink water, formally organize teams, and set a meeting time for the return to the surface. The seven of us decided to split into two teams of two and one team of three with a meetup time of 11pm before we went our separate ways. Jason and Steve turned and headed toward their survey in the upper canyon passage while the rest of us went the other way towards a room with passage going in two directions. Carlin, Eliot, and Janet turned right while Nick and I turned left (the first of many lefts).

It started as nice walking canyon passage with a handful of formations and slowly turned into nice stooping/hands-and-knees crawling passage with more formations. After about 150 feet, we came to an amalgamation of helectites, stactites, stalagmites, anothodites, gypsum, soda straws, and crystals – practically every kind of speleothem was represented in a four foot section of total beauty. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Frankly, we did as much gawking as we did surveying in this passage.

The next portion of our survey did require some scuttling over rogue cobbles before opening back up into passage we could sit up in. We came to a junction with more formations and a few little alcoves scattered across the ceiling that housed small groups of speleothems. We decided to continue surveying to the left. We did eventually shoot one station to the right-hand passage for the next trip to tie into so they wouldn’t have to re-sketch the junction (always a pain) – station ZST37. This lead is stooping/walking and has great airflow.

Things continued to improve; we were no longer belly crawling and the floor was gypsum sand. Eventually, the floor got less sandy and we arrived in a small room with a crawl-through followed by another small room. Both rooms and the left hand side of the crawl-through had bizarrely decorated floors: it was mostly hard mud, but there were small sections that were fragmented like fractured glass and all the cracks were filled with lines of gypsum. We stepped carefully, hugged the right hand side of the crawl, and soon found ourselves back in stooping/standing canyon-y passage with more gypsum sand.

A little ways further, there was a split in the passage. We again went left and shot one station to the right (ZST18); this lead will require moving the loose rocks on the floor to be passable but it isn’t grim, just cozy, and there is a magnificent amount of air. A short while later, the left hand passage brought us to a 20×25’ room followed immediately by a ~65×30’ room. After surveying in crawls and moderate canyon passage for so long, this was a pleasant surprise.

We enjoyed standing for another 100 feet before the ceiling diminished and sharp cobbles reared their pointy corners to lay claim to our knees, hands, and elbows. Alas, we had chosen our course and continued onward. It started as “Cozy,” quickly progressed to “Sporting,” then “Grim,” and soon it deteriorated into primarily profanity. After almost 150 feet of joyless survey, the cobbles finally ceased and we found ourselves at another junction. In an effort to maintain the status quo, we stayed left and shot one station down the right hand passage for a future tie-in. The lead still goes and it turns into crawling, but it’s by no means terrible.

The lefthand passage was mostly walking through a sandy canyon. As the meetup time drew nearer, we wrapped up our survey at a going lead in a slot canyon (ZST36) before turning around. In total, we got 1045.44 feet in the book.

After 9.5 hours of surveying, we met back up with everyone in the canyons near the Crawl to make our way to the surface. We took the soggier, sloppier stream shortcut out of the cave and exited in the wee hours of Sunday morning (all in all, it was a 14 hour trip). Gear was peeled off, notes were compiled, and beer was cracked. Every team got over 1000’ in the book, and had a combined total of ~3200 feet or ~0.61 miles and bringing the cave’s total distance over 30,000 feet. We all pored over the old map and our notes and compared them side-by-side for a while before deciding it was time to call it a day.

Summary Version: Steven Ahn, Eliot Edling, Carlin Kartchner, Jason Lachniet, Janet Manning, Amy Skowronski, and Nick Socky went to Perkins Cave in Washington County, VA on Saturday, June 18, 2017. We split into two teams of 2 and one team of 3, with each team surveying over 1000 feet for a combined total of ~3200 feet. The cave’s total distance has now passed 30,000 feet!