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.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

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.


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: http://virginiacaves.org/

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!

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.


ACC Clean-up at Perkins Cave

OK, it’s been a busy summer for everyone, with not as much caving going on as preferred. Still progress has been made on a number of fronts. June 25, 2016 saw an ACC work day at Perkins Cave. Members of the Appalachian Cave Conservancy, Triangle Troglodytes, Flittermouse Grotto, and Walker Mountain Grotto cleaned up some run-away poison ivy and cleaned out the poplar tree entrance of several years’ worth of accumulated trash, to include a half-dozen tires, barbed wire, and random scrap metal. A full report of the clean-up can be found in the August 2016 NSS News, courtesy of Buford Pruitt.

In conjunction with the clean-up Jason Lachniet led a survey trip into Perkins with Tri-Trogs Carlin Kartchner  and Ken Walsh. They mopped up some loose ends, finishing the BCK survey in the mazy breakdown room beyond the 200 Foot Crawl. Following that thankless job (by the way: thank you, Carlin, Ken, and Jason!) they headed off into the 800 Foot Crawl section. Final footage for the trip was an impressive 1046 feet of survey.

Carlin, at the entrance.


Spring VAR, 2016

Spring VAR this year (April 22-24, 2016) was held at Endless Caverns and hosted by Tri-State Grotto. A big shout-out to Tri-State Grotto and John DiCarlo for another excellent event.


Walker Mountain Grotto was represented by grotto members Emma Buchanan, Bill Grose, Samantha Lary, Zach Taylor, and Hunter Wyatt.


WMG’s camp. Left to right: Emma, Zach, and Sam, with Flittermouse cousins  Buzz Rudrow and Janet Manning.

Vendors Speleobooks, IMO, and Highline Ropes were on site to supply caving gear and  trinkets, and everything in between. A sinkhole clean up was held Friday, as were other cave-related activities. Grotto member Zach spent several hours at one of the vertical workshops provided by members of the ER-NCRC.


Zach practicing his frogging technique and changeovers

Plenty of trips were also offered for Saturday. The downside was that all were some distance from the VAR site. Not being familiar with the area, I can only rely on what I was told – ‘the caves around here aren’t very big. They aren’t very big in Wythe County wither, but a couple of small trips back-to-back can still make for a fun day of caving. And while I didn’t get any wild caves in (long story, best left for another time) I at least managed to get in on one of the tourist trips into Endless Caverns. And while it was a large group (two dozen or so), the vast majority of the tourists were VAR cavers so it still had a bit “the feel.” More importantly, I had the chance to connect with old friends, and make a few new ones. I feel confident in saying the other grotto members in attendance did likewise.

100_1346.JPG 100_1372.JPG

100_1367.JPG 100_1374.JPG

Scenes from the tourist trip into Endless Caverns


Flittermouse friend Cindy won a raffle trip into the wild part of Endless Caverns; OTR friend and New Yorker “Cousin Vinny” got in on the same trip when his traveling/caving buddy John won the same lottery trip. Lucky devils!.

Saturday afternoon found me manning the ACC table as the Lone Ranger. Ah the burdens of being a director and the sole ACC member who didn’t get his name on a trip list fast enough. All was good though, as grotto members Sam, HUnter, and Emma came to sit with me and watch Zach at vertical practice.


Yours truly.


and Sam, Hunter, and Emma manning the ACC table.

Dinner was great – BBQ and smoked chicken. The post-dinner program was one on the cave fauna of the VAR region and was presented by Wil Orndorff. I’ll admit I was surprised to learn that the sterotypical troglobites like blind cave fish and crayfish aren’t present in the VAR caves. Sunday morning found us up at the meeting center once more, this time for the traditional Front Royal Grotto pancake breakfast before breaking camp and heading for home.


Om nom nom! Thanks, Front Royal!


Vertical practice

A few grotto members decided to hold a little vertical practice before the April 19, 2016 meeting. In attendance were Jason Lachniet, Bill Grose, Zach Taylor, Sam Lary, and Eric Cueva. Practice was held near Marion, VA. Jason set up a pair of ropes as he, Bill, and Zach practiced their frog technique while Sam went to work on prussiks. Everyone had a good time before heading into town for dinner and the meeting.


Jason and Zach topping out.


Bill on rope.


The obligatory Hollywood shot – left to right: Eric, Sam, Jason, and Zach