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!


Updates from Amy and Jason – Perkins trip reports

Report courtesy of Jason:

That was a great weekend of surveying. Thanks to everyone for coming out and getting a lot done. We met pretty much all of my objectives, hitting the STP Room, closing major loops, completing the 800′ Crawl, and finding a viable route down to the Second Stream. Total survey was 1,959 feet, of which 1,878 counts as new cave length. Total is now 5.1 miles. I will send copies of the notes back to the sketchers next week. We also reached a new low point, bringing the cave depth to 205 feet.

Report courtesy of Amy Skowronski:

Friday, March 17, 2017

(In alphabetical order) Eric Cueva, Bill Grose, Jason Lachniet, Janet Manning, Amy Skowronski, Caleb Taylor, and Zach Taylor entered Perkins Cave (Washington County, VA) around 5:30pm. After everyone was signed into the logbook near the gated entrance, the first team (composed of Jason Lachniet, Janet Manning, Caleb and Zach Taylor) took the high route and went through the Tight Place, with the plan of meeting the second team (composed of Eric Cueva, Bill Grose, and Amy Skowronski) in the canyons below the Tight Place in the Dirty Old Men section of the cave, where both teams would survey.  The second team was only half an hour behind the first, after traveling through the scenic Forest Trail, First and Second Discovery, and the various crawls. Both teams got to enjoy a small portion of the cave featuring unavoidable, exceptionally stab-prone popcorn – splendid!

Both teams tied into station DOM 7; Team 1 went to the right and Team 2 went to the left. Our (Team 2) survey led us through a canyon with a handful of nice formations and brought us to a junction. As we worked on the lead to the right, Bill waxed poetic about reading instruments from poorly placed stations and as he wrote ‘DOM 14’ on a piece of flagging tape and tied it around a rock said, “Man, the guy setting stations really doesn’t know what he’s doing.” before chortling heartily at his own joke. We killed the right-hand lead and headed back to the junction.

We decided that the down climb at the end of the left-hand lead couldn’t be free-climbed and carried on down the canyon passage. Surveying was going quite smoothly, front sights and back sights were matching, and Bill gave us some great tips about how to accurately get measurements from a station placed on a wall: “Be a flounder!” Thanks, Bill. We found a nice little loop, but part of it would require Spiderman-esque skills, which no one on the team had. The smallest person (myself) was lowered via webbing to the bottom where I found that although I couldn’t get down without assistance, I was able to climb out in one particular spot using a Didn’t Feel Sketchy But Looked Haphazard To Everyone Else On The Team dynamic move. Since the passage died and the other folks on the team weren’t too keen (for good reason), I was passed the instruments and solo-surveyed the last part of the passage: a gloppy, watery crawlway. It was fairly bleak. On the bright side, Bill and Eric were still vaguely audible and could be heard laughing.

As 11pm rolled around, we started making our way back. Jason met us at the junction we surveyed and went down the left-hand lead that we had determined to be unclimbable where, as is standard, he climbed to the bottom and had no difficulty getting back out. After reconvening at DOM 7, the teams changed a bit because I wanted to give the Tight Place a try but we didn’t want to send Eric and Bill out with just two people. Zach, Caleb, Jason, and myself exited the cave about 30 minutes before Eric, Bill, and Janet. The trip was ~7 hours.

There was a slight drizzle outside which made for very peaceful sleeping.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The annual Appalachian Cave Conservancy meeting took place in Washington County, VA on Saturday morning in the field station near Perkins Cave – as is caver tradition, the meeting started a little late but there was good food and hot coffee! The first team (consisting of Steve Ahn, Michael Johnson, and Carlin Kartchner) entered the cave about halfway through the meeting. After the meeting, the second team (comprised of Jason Lachniet, Janet Manning, and Amy Skowronski) made their way into the cave. The commute to our survey was fun and interesting; we moved at a reasonable pace since I was trying to learn the route and Jason pointed out recognizable features and leads as we went.

We caught up with the first team after the 800 Foot Crawl – at first I thought the name must be an exaggeration but as Jason said, “Well, ‘four hundred foot crawl, twenty foot walk, three hundred and eighty foot crawl’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.” We found Carlin sketching in a belly crawl while Steve and Michael wedged themselves in a very small space that could be considered a crawl but I would describe as “abysmal.” We wished them good luck, traveled to a walking canyon passage where we ate food, and dove back into the crawl to survey. We continued the EFC (Eight-hundred Foot Crawl) survey, used the same designation, and had some fun suggesting alternate names – for example, Easy Fun Cave (and some others that perhaps ought not be included here).

Almost immediately, we ran into some trouble. I know my StenLight has a magnetic switch, but had no idea the auxiliary light I was using also had magnetic components (whoops), so we had some difficulty getting accurate readings for a couple shots until we determined that I’m a dingleberry. Luckily, Janet is a razor-sharp instrument reader so we were quick to figure out the issue. We encountered another issue later in the day, when I decided that I wanted to see some formations with proper clarity and just deal with the hassle of reading instruments with glasses. After a couple shots we realized that my frames are, in fact, magnetic. Alas, they were returned to the Pelican Case.

We closed a loop and met back up with the first team (who had surveyed the walking canyons where we’d had lunch) in a room with some great fossils in the ceiling. Janet took some pictures of the shells and crinoids before we headed down a promising lead. The passage started as a stoop-walk but it opened up the further we went and soon we were standing on a large rock wedged sturdily in the middle of a 30-35′ tall canyon. The walls were littered with helictites, making travel (and survey) a very delicate, careful process. We had some difficulty on one particular shot and were getting readings that were consistently four to five degrees off from one another, even after we tried switching places and switching instruments. Very weird. After extensive deliberation, we decided that the cave had a black hole in it and the magnetic field surrounding it was definitely the cause of our instrument issues. But in all seriousness, it was really bizarre.

We got to a part of the canyon that Janet and I were uncomfortable with since neither of us had the required leg length for the move needed to pass around a rock. Rather than risk it and plummet to the bottom, we voted to climb down – rather than across – the canyon. This proved to be a most fortuitous choice. After one particularly grueling high angle shot, we found ourselves in a decorated, sparkling area with lots of wind and audible water. Objective #2: Locate a water source — ACHIEVED! We surveyed to the water, rejoiced, and packed our bags.

Very pleased with our discovery, we retraced our steps to Carlin, Steve, and Michael who wanted to wrap up the room they were surveying before turning around. In the interest of avoiding inevitable bottlenecks on the exit, we decided to head out and wait for them on the surface (where there was hot food and cold beer). Exit fever was running high and we scrambled through the 800 Foot Crawl in about fifteen minutes and flew down the 50’ rappel – it’s so much nicer to rappel than free-climb when you’re tired – to the stream. We opted for the stream exit since it takes less time and it cools you off as you go. It was about 1am when we left the cave, making it an 11 hour trip. Upon exiting the cave, we found it was sleeting; good thing we went through the stream on the way out! The lack of trees in the field made for rather breezy changing, but those dry clothes felt all the warmer. Camp stoves were fired up, (very) cold beer was cracked, and we chatted until the first team exited the cave – about an hour after us – before hitting the hay.

photos courtesy of Janet Manning and Bill Grose

March, 2017 surveys

Passage surveyed during the March 17-18 project weekend shown in blue

Bats and Bedrock Extravaganza, pt. II

Four of the caves I had targeted are on the same landowner’s property. Unfortunately, he  had a death in the family which pretty much meant these caves are on hold.

Next, I had another cave but it’s a wet cave. The landowner says “you’ll need a boat to get back in there.” Inner tubes? Deep water, short cave, but unmapped.

Ambitiuous as it was, this was the initial list:
+Catron’s Cave – in progress, needs to be finished;
+Cave School Water Cave – see above: short, wet, deep water;
+Dix Cave – wet, short?
+Brushy Pit – not supposed to really be anything per reports, but promise of a dig?
+Betty’s Trap – vertical, loose rocks, unlocated. Permission granted!!!
+Hilltop Cave – vertical, est. at 350 plus;
+Little Brother Cave – same property as Hilltop, not fully located. Lot’s of ridge walking possibility. We have full run on the property.
+Julia Crockett’s Cave – short, lots of trash – mostly a clean up in progress for now. Owner says “it blows” so possibility of a dig and more cave if/when the trash is out.
+Minnie Corvin’s Cave – wet, short, semi-located.
+Speedwell #1 Cave – poor map, 750′-ish, needs a new map.
+Speedwell #2 – working on permission.
+Reed Creek Cave – ?

Busted (for now)
+ Ball’s Cave/Chockfullofit Cave – no go. Bear.
+Ball’s #2 Cave – just discovered/no VSS record (woot!) Bears ARE on the property. Not willing to chance it this time of year.
+Sutherland Saltpetre Cave – closed indefinitely. Filled in with trees and brush due to high exposure and trespassers. 😦 Doubtful it’ll be re-opened in the foreseeable future.

On hold due to the owner having suffered a death in the family
+ Blue Grotto Cave ;
+Slit Holt Cave;
+Cregger’s Cave;
+Reed Creek Water Cave.

Possible alternatives/back-ups
+Venrick Cave/Skeen’s MIne – needs to be re-located, needs to be mapped.
+Venrick Run – needs to be re-located, needs to be mapped.
+Dead Air Cave in Smyth Co. needs a real map. Extant map in Holsinger sucks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    intrepid VPI grotto members

Final results: For the Bats and Bedrock Extravaganza there were 18 caves initially targeted for location and/or survey. Of that number 11 caves were located, as were two additional previously-unreported caves. Two caves, Venrick Run Cave and Betty’s Trap, were not located. The remaining five caves were stricken from the list at the last minute and are on hold for now.

Brush Pit, Hilltop, Minnie Corvin’s, Hide-E-Hole, Dix, and Venrick Caves were surveyed to completion. Catron’s Cave added another 925.3 feet to the on-going survey for a grand total of 2634.05 feet, making it the longest cave (to date) in Wythe County! Additionally, a resurvey of Speedwell Cave was started, which racked up 1226.25 feet, out of an original 750 feet map. There is still more to survey in Speedwell Cave.

Over the course of the event, survey teams racked up an impressive total of 3482.87 feet. Additionally, Skeen’s Mine Cave, Little Brother Cave, and Chockedfullofit Cave were accurately located and await surveys.

Bats and Bedrock Extravaganza, pt. I

Members of the VPI grotto had made plans to come survey in Wythe County, VA over the 2017 Christmas break. I had a few caves in mind that needed surveys. (Actually, everything in Wythe County needs to be surveyed – much of the county’s database dates to the late 1960s, with sporadic updates occurring in the 1990s.) With a little less than a week to go, I contacted Andrew Lycas (the driving force behind this ambitious project) to get an idea for how many cavers were coming so I could decide whom to send, where. Imagine my surprise when he told me “twenty one are coming”! The four caves I’d planned on suddenly seemed …”inadequate” for  lack of a better word.  Most Wythe County caves are reported as under 300 feet so by my math I was going to have seven teams of three persons each, with each team completing one to two caves per day – Oh hell! I needed permissions and descriptions/locations for possibly as many as twenty caves! Back to work.

Most of the caves I had targeted were in the Crockett quadrant. I had a couple in the Wytheville and Speedwell quadrants as back-ups. I had another in the county database – Ball’s Cave – that seemed enticing. It wasn’t far from me, and wasn’t too far from the targeted area; it was all by itself, in the far northeast corner of the county. Why not, right? I made contact with the landowner (it turned out I not only knew his sister and several other members of his family, but had been on the property in the past!)

Chad and his son Derrick met me at the barn, and after some small talk we jumped in his Gator and roared off to visit the cave. Not much of an entrance, but it definitely looked inviting. Too inviting, perhaps…


I pulled on some coveralls and started in, but after almost a body length I thought, “why not see if they’d like to come? I have some spare helmets in the truck…” I crawled out, asked them, and they answered in the affirmative so we rode back to my truck, gathered two more helmets/lights and went back to the cave.  (OK, this is where I went full-on retard: you have been warned!) As we crawled in, I noticed what seemed like an inordinate amount of dry grass dragged back into the cave (warning #1 was ignored.) “Interesting!”, I thought.  Chad was pretty excited; Derrick? Nervous. Several times he said, “I think we’ve gone far enough, dad.” (Warning #2.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Derrick, in his first (and possibly last) cave trip.

As we crawled deeper I pointed out some claw marks on the wall (Warning #3.) We stopped at a spot in the cave where a large piece of breakdown was on our right. A small hole looked into a small room on the other side of the creak down. Pushing forward slightly I stepped over a large pile of dry grass (Warning #4) and saw what might be more passage ahead, and briefly considered crawling down it. Looking at the grass pile I thought (actually, I wasn’t thinking!) it kind of looked like a nest but then halfway thought “well,if it is, whatever made it has to be outside the cave because there’s nothing between it and the entrance but us.” I also saw a larger way (to the right) over the breakdown and beyond that a promising low crawl. I climbed over the piece of breakdown and headed back towards the small hole where Chad was trying to convince Derrick  to “:go on. Mr. Bill will catch you.” Looking up through the hole at Derrick I became aware of noise behind me – almost like someone moving. (fifth and final warning!) Looking back at the hole I’d just crawled through, something that looked remarkably like a black furry arm appeared. It was promptly followed by a second black furry arm, and then by a large round head with a brown snout and ridiculously tiny ears. Oh crap! It’s a bear, and he’s coming to see what the noise is all about! “Bear!” “What?” “BEAR! GET OUT! GO! GO!” I’m not sure how I got up through that tiny hole where Derrick was, but I did. OK, scratch that cave off the list. It’ll be a while before it gets a survey. Lesson learned.

one more time bears                                                                                After getting back in the gator, Chad drove us off to another cave on the property. This one was not in the VSS database for Wythe County. Derrick and I took  a quick peek and posed for a photo, but with the knowledge that bears were definitely on the property and that they were definitely active, discretion overtook the better part of valor. The cave location was photographed and marked with  the GPS for a later date.


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.

VSS 2016 Annual Meeting

The Virginia Speleological Survey held its annual meeting October 15, 2016, at Natural Bridge Caverns, Natural Bridge, VA. The Walker Mountain Grotto was qwell-represe nted. Members Bill Grose, Tanya McLaughlin, and Jason Lachniet are respectively, the VSS county directors for Wythe, Smyth, and Washington Counties. Between the three of them, five new caves were reported – one in Wythe County and four in Washington County, four new maps (one on Wythe, three in Washington) were submitted and a fourth Washington County map was reported as in-progress. A new map and report for a previously known Washington County cave was also submitted, along with updates on two ongoing projects. Total new survey footage for Washington County for the year was 4,674 feet. I addition to an update on the Catron’s Cave survey in Wythe County, photographs of suspected boxwork from Catron’s Cave was also presented; the VSS directors’ confirmation was a satisfying conclusion to the general business meeting. In other VSS news the current number of Virginia caves now stands at 3951, with a current total of 562.4 miles having been surveyed. (Obviously, more awaits the intrepid surveyor.) For more information, please see:

Cave clean-up at Julia Crockett’s Cave, Wythe County

Walker Mountain Grotto hosted a cave clean-up at Julia Crockett’s Cave in Wythe County on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. A few years ago (2014?) we were called by the cave owner to come and “check out my cave.” Jason Lachniet and Bill Grose dutifully headed over to the cave and recorded an accurate location before climbing inside. The cave corkscrews steeply downward in a counter-clockwise direction for a total length/depth of perhaps 35 to 40 feet, ending in a massive heap of breakdown, dirt and a literal century’s worth of rubbish. Discussion at that time centered around attempts at opening the floor to search for additional passage, and how a massive clean-up would by necessity preclude anything further. For all intents and purposes, we’d written off the cave as yet another trash-filled sink. Still, the words “Julia Crockett’s ‘Trash Pit'” and “cave clean-up” were never far apart when one or the other came up in conversation, and thus it shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise when talk and action finally came together.

Skipping ahead to the end of the story, Sunday’s clean-up was a smashing success!  Participating in the clean-up were twelve cavers from three different grottoes – what a great cooperative effort!  Walker Mountain Grotto was represented by Bill Grose, Tanya McLaughlin, Caleb and Zachary Taylor, Eric Cueva, and Nick Smith. The Triangle Troglodites of Raleigh-Durham, NC were represented by Carlin Kartcher and Emily Graham. Providing moral support were Laurel Kartcher and 15 month-old “Darth” Kartcher. The Virginia Tech Cave Club was represented by Amy Skowronski, Andrew Lycas, Brandon Caudill, and Rowan Berman. Providing a pick-up truck for trash removal, a home for post clean-up festivities, and tasty food and fun entertainment was Wendy Grose, hostess extraordinaire.

The cavers took turns in a vertical sort of bucket brigade, filling five gallon buckets of trash and passing and hauling it up to the mouth of the cave where a surface crew sorted and bagged the trash.

The amount of trash we collected was impressive. When all was said and done, 23 large lawn-and-leaf bags were filled with bottles, cans, broken toys, shoes, random bits of fabric…you name it. Nine additional five gallon buckets of broken glass, a few rusted-out wash tubs, a chamber pot, and some large pieces of sheet metal were also brought to the surface. Sadly, this is only a fraction of what still remains. There is easily twice as much still needing to be removed (so if anyone needs a service project, give us a shout!) A hunting camp sat a few yards uphill from the cave for many years, and the original farmhouse on the property was built in the early 1800s, so this cave has been used as a trash pit for the hundred or more years.


Some of the trash. Photo courtesy of Emily Graham.

A few pleasant surprises waited for us too, though. A small salamander inhabited a crack near the entrance and small cluster of five bats nestled high above the work space. Unfortunately, one woke up and flitted about before finally settling down in another location. (Thus explaining why one four are pictured.)

While we were working, cave owners Jerry S and Judy S. prepared for us some very tasty homemade Brunswick Stew and corn bread. Om nom nom! Thanks, Jerry and Judy! And after hauling everything to the dump, all cavers headed back to the Grose homestead for a cook-out, favorite beverages, and a raucous and laughter-filled game of Cards Against Humanity.

Wrapping up this report, I’d like to again thank all of the cavers who participated in the clean-up as well as all three grottoes for helping get the word out and round up help – a tough call no doubt, all the more so since our clean-up fell during the 2016 TAG.


Back row: (l-r) Caleb and Zach Taylor, Eric Cueva, Carlin Kartcher, Bill Grose, Emily Graham, Amy Skowronski, Andrew Lycas,  Brandon Caudill, Nick Smith, Rowan Berman. Not pictured: Tanya McLaughlin. Front row: 23 bags of trash, 9 five gallon buckets of broken glass, two wash tubs, and sundry other large pieces of metal.

Cave on!

Another Catron’s trip

Sunday, October 2, 2016 saw another trip into Catron’s Cave. Myself and VPI Cave Club members Amy Skowronski, Andrew Lycas, and Eric Hahn took a short, morning trip to finish off surveying a promising section where myself, Andrew, Zach, and Caleb left off back in August. The room where we stopped had three possible leads. Two leads, high on the upper left wall seemed to hold the most promise. And while both continued to “go”, they had to “go” without us. The passages both got narrower and and lower to the point where even the smallest cave would be unable to pass.

We didn’t rack up much footage – 143 feet, total. In fairness, some of it was in less-than-optimal passage.  Aside from the excellent camaraderie, there were a few other highlights. A single pipistrelle occupied our survey area, as did a section with small gypsum crystals/flowers


Gypsum flowers.

Also on our agenda was the goal to photograph what appears to me, to be a bit of small boxwork (proto-boxwork?) If so, this is an important find. We’ll carry the photos to the next VSS meeting and see what the rest of the Directors think.

Catron’s Cave update – August 7, 2016

This is our third survey trip into Catron’s Cave. Originally reported at an estimated 750 feet in length, we’ve almost broken 1100 feet as of August; granted it’s all raw survey footage and doesn’t account for splay shots/plumb shots. The initial trip brought in 114.6 feet; trip 2 brought us an additional 378.7 feet, and Sunday’s trip gave us 583.7 feet  from two teams.And still “it goes!” The upper level hasn’t been touched, and there are still two going leads. The upper level is mostly the high end of canyons and is waiting until we can get some bolting in place due to 40 (and more) feet of exposure in many places

Before continuing the report, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout out and “thanks”  to the VPI Grotto for their help in the survey, and especially Amy Skowronski for leading the survey. Cave on, Amy!

Sunday’s survey participants were Amy Skowronski, Deidre Conroy, and and Peter ____ on one team,  with myself, Andrew Lycas, and Zach and Caleb Taylor making up the second team. For the record, this was Caleb’s first trip underground.


left to right: Peter, Caleb, Zach, Deirdre, and Amy.

After a quick recon by Amy to bring me up to speed on the cave layout we split up in the Stinky Room.  Amy’s team took off down a large tunnel while we rigged a climb of about 8 to 10 feet, topping out in a steep, narrow climb. Tying into Amy’s previous survey gave us some fits initially, but once tied in, and the climb rigged, the survey went well. Thanks to Andrew for taking on the sketching. I’d hoped to second-sketch and get some practice in, but with only one instrument I quickly fell off to taking shots and setting stations with Zach while Caleb scouted ahead and ran the instrument back and forth.

While neither team found the reported lake, nor any real evidence of it, Amy’s team found confirmation of a prior VPI survey (carbon “VPI 1964”) Annoyingly, no one at VPI nor in the VSS knows anything about a prior survey into Catron’s Cave. All I have is the landowner’s [now verified] insistence that Tech surveyed the cave in the early 1960s.

My team had some joyous finds. The first find was gypsum – not too common in this part of Wythe County. Numerous tiny gypsum snowballs and a few small flowers decorated the wall of a long low sandy dead end passage.


head-first into a narrow, inverted dead end. Some might say this is my better side.

The biggest find, however, was a small patch of what, to me, clearly is boxwork. I know, the photos aren’t the best, but you decide for yourself. I’ll take a better camera and get more photos on the next trip.

Our team’s survey ended in a small room. A dead end lead peels back around in the direction we came; another lead seems to end in a smaller room; and a third, high lead on the left opens into a small room with narrow twisty unpleasant-looking going passage.


until next time…

Vertical Practice at Backbone Rock

July 16, 2016 found grotto members at Backbone Rock, TN for a cookout and some vertical practice. Grotto members in attendance were Eric Cueva, Bill Grose, Jason and Emily Lachniet and their three girls, Tanya McLaughlin, Zach and Caleb Taylor.Jason arrived and set up two easy climbs for the children and rigged a rope for rappels and ascents.


Jason climbing, belayed by Caleb

Tanya brought her rope walker while Bill, Jason, and Zach brought frog systems. Eric, ever the die hard, committed himself to climbing knots. A good time was had by all.