Bertha Cave survey

Bertha Cave in Wythe County has long been known, and for many years was accessibly only by trespassing on railroad property. In 1986 the railroad donated the abandoned rail bed to the state who promptly gated the cave. While it’s been known for some time, little has been done other than to clean up some trash and then gate it. Graffiti still covers portions of the main passage. Even the VSS reports give scant attention to the cave; the whole of which merely parrot Douglas and Holsinger to say “large entrance, 200 feet in length, in Rome formation.” Being of high visibility, easily accessible, no extant map nor even a basic description, and the fact that it’s been gated for many years meant it needed some attention. As luck would have it, I discovered I had a contact, albeit ancillary. A brief phone conversation, followed by another in-person conversation secured us permission and the temporary use of a key. A BIG “thank you” to JP, TJ, and Duane for granting us permission and access.

October 21, 2016 saw three members (myself, Jason Lachniet, and Eric Cueva) enter the cave to begin a proper survey. A hands-and-knees crawl through a spider covered passage led us into big subway tunnel passage. To the right the main passage descended and ultimately ended in a pile of breakdown; to the right, the main passage climbed dramatically before turning and providing a high lead to the right that runs parallel to the crawl. Being extremely pressed for time, and having an ancillary motive of acquiring data for Jason’s math class, we began our survey at the junction where the crawl met the subway tunnel.

We were able to sketch roughly a third of the subway tunnel-esque main passage, but did manage to set stations, get our LRUDs, and plot a line through the subway tunnel. That main passage gained us 294 feet of length and 106 feet of elevation change. A second trip is tentatively planned for December 9, 2016 to survey and sketch the crawl, sketch the remaining main passage, and survey and sketch a high lead at the end of the main passage. I estimate the final cave length to be double what we have already surveyed (and thrice what was initially estimated in the early reports.)

Aside from the surprise of such large passage in a relatively small cave, we noted several instances of cave pearls. Especially pleasing to see was a wide variety of fauna in the cave – spiders, a frog, typical cave salamanders and camel crickets, and most interesting, what appears to be three different species of isopods.

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