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!

Two new Washington County caves

Back in November, 2014, Steve Ahn and I were cutting firewood on a large Washington County farm in an area of very dense sinkholes. We located a cave already known to the VSS and previously mapped by Bill Balfour, but did not enter it, due to the presence of a bloated, rotting cow carcass (it appeared ready to explode at the slightest provocation). The area seemed to have the potential for more cave, though, and we eventually returned and did some digging in a crack that looked promising to Steve.


Not a cave

That dig never panned out, but a bit more ridgewalking, and some direction from the landowner, turned up another promising lead, one that was said to have been a den for a fox years ago. This possible entrance was among some boulders on the edge of one of the many sinkholes. While it was not passable, a little work rolling large loose boulders away opened it up. My feeling is that the entrance was closed deliberately at some point in the past. Our initial foray into the cave took us about 50 feet down a steep slope to a point where we were stopped by a short vertical drop. Our children who were out with us that day enjoyed checking out the cave, but were disappointed that they could not do the drop.

We returned with rope and rigged the drop on February 15, 2015. It turned out to be a mere 15-foot nuisance drop. We surveyed about 200 feet of passage below the drop that day. Steve did the sketching. While he caught up on sketching in the details, I did a little digging at what I thought was the most promising lead. The passage below the drop goes in two directions: back upslope toward the sinkhole, where it ends in breakdown and fill, and downslope continuing in the direction of the main passage above the drop. This eventually levels out and the flat dirt and clay floor meets the ceiling, still dropping with the same slope. We noted quite a few bones in this area, those we could identifying being cow and raccoon. A pair of long, small diameter wooden poles or logs seemed out of place lying on the floor (possibly the remnants of a primitive ladder?). The dig was a low opening that seemed like a drain (though this area is dry). I followed the ceiling down for a few feet, but never reached any continuing void and gave up. Time constraints that evening prevented us from completing the survey and we climbed out with just the short section above the drop yet to map.

In the meantime, the landowner called our attention to a small hole elsewhere on the farm that had opened recently. This one looked quite promising! The hole was not big enough to enter, but it appeared to open into blackness below. Not much effort was required to make the opening body sized. Luckily we thought better of climbing in unroped: it quickly bells out into the ceiling of a 30 foot high room that to our eyes appeared completely virgin. Lacking any reliable natural rig points, we tied off to the bumper of Steve’s farm truck, redirected off a jammed webbing knot in a crack, and dropped in. At the bottom of the 33-foot drop, passage appeared to go in four directions. We poked briefly into each lead. Nothing seemed to go far before pinching, but we did not push or survey that day.


Entrance #2

We finally returned to complete the surveys on New Year’s Day, 2016. A quick few shots were all that was needed to complete cave #1. It taped out at a final length of 266 feet and depth of 63 feet. We then moved over to cave #2 and mapped 274 feet there. The main passages of this cave are aligned along perpendicular joints, meeting in the room reached from the entrance drop. The most interesting direction is to the west, where a high passage and a low crawl converge in a tall canyon. While it looks like it could really go, it shortly terminates in a narrow perpendicular canyon with a tiny drain between clean washed bedrock walls. Our last lead remained as a high chimney on the left, just before the terminal drain. With some grunting, a 20 foot climb up a steep sloping chimney, at points less than a foot wide, led to a bit of upper level. The climb up was something like a vertical belly crawl and fairly strenuous. This upper section terminated in breakdown from which a noticeable draft of cold surface air was entering.

Both of these new caves are now in the VSS database. I recently drew the map of the second cave, shown in part below. Steve is working on the map of the first one.


Plan view of cave #2


Profile views of cave #2

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.


Perkins Weekend May 2-3, 2015

We had a very successful weekend surveying in Perkins Cave on May 2-3, 2015. Nine cavers from Walker Mountain, Tri-Trogs, and VPI grottoes added 2,053 feet of survey, bringing the total resurveyed length to 4.13 miles. Five new loops were closed, two new climbs were completed (neither went), two digs were pushed, many leads were checked off, and many more identified. A complex two-level area near the H-Stone was completed, the Pole Room survey was extended, survey of the southern extension of the 1400 Foot Walk was started, and we brought our first survey line into the 800-Foot Crawl.

Zachary Taylor and Hunter Wyatt joined my team for Saturday’s trip, while Carlin Kartchner, Bill Grose, and Martin Groenewegen made up a second team. We all headed into together, installing a new waterproof box for the trip register, which we left with a fresh supply of station marking supplies. We signed in a little before noon. There were a few places wetter than usual on the route to the Forest Trail, but otherwise our trip to the 1400 Foot Walk was uneventful. Just beyond the Square Pit Traverse, we split up. Carlin’s group continued in large upper level trunk passage. They added 567 feet of survey in this southern extension of the 1400-Foot Walk, including a significant side passage not shown on the Roehr map, and there is much more to do in this area.

Survey teams study their objectives on the working map (photo by Bill Grose)

Survey teams study their objectives on the working map (photo by Bill Grose)

My team continued down the Kidney Stone climb and then downstream to the end of the 2007 X-survey and the furthest station in our resurvey at the 50-foot “Pit Up From Stream.” In 2007 I had replaced the 70’s era goldline rope at the climb with a newer piece of Bluewater, which still seems to be in fine shape. The climb up is moderately challenging and we did it without vertical gear, but anyone planning a trip in this direction should consider the option of wearing a harness and self-belaying with an ascender. We started our survey at the top, planning to tie-in to the stream level on our way out. We continued south in the dry upper level, which is the apparent continuation of the 1400-Foot Walk, passing by several attractive leads on the right side, including a virgin crawl right at the top of the climb up. While we didn’t survey into any of the major side leads, we did try to mop-up any dead-ends and surveyed around several short loops as we went. One of my goals for 2015 is to bring a main survey line through the 800-Foot Crawl and into the furthest reaches of the cave and on this trip we finally reached the infamous crawl. At the junction room where we thought the crawl began we found a two foot high sandy crawl, lined with columns and heading east, carrying significant air flow. Straight ahead, a canyon dropped several feet to a pair of low leads, one of which was a one foot high crawl carrying even more air than the one above. We surveyed both crawls and found they rejoin after a short distance, merging into a pleasant hands-and-knees passage that we followed for several hundred feet. The portion of the crawl we surveyed had a floor of soft sand and a ceiling covered with beautiful gypsum clouds and snow balls. Average dimensions were roughly six to ten feet wide and about three feet tall, making fairly easy going. When we judged we had just enough time left to tie-in our survey and rendezvous with the other team, we reluctantly turned back. I estimate that we stopped just short of the first junction shown on the Roehr map. The passage beyond where we stopped appears to continue with the same character, but we did not scout ahead.

Back at the pit, Hunter led the way down and we were able to cover most of the distance with a 32-foot plumb shot (the total depth worked out to almost exactly fifty feet). We had a few minutes to spare, so we continued the downstream survey for a few shots before packing up our gear and heading back. We ended up with a satisfying total of 44 shots for 915 feet. We travelled out via the stream passage along with Carlin’s team and were back on the surface sometime a little after midnight. Bill and Hunter headed for home, while the rest of us ate dinner and crawled into tents for a few hours of sleep.

Clinch Mountain sunrise

Clinch Mountain sunrise

Sunday morning, we were joined by three VPI cavers: Amy Skowronski, Andrew Lycas, and Calvin Long. They went with me, with our primary objective being to wrap up the loose ends in RC/PI surveys from January and March this year. This area is east of the 1400-Foot Walk at the passage’s north end and is developed on two levels, with four known connections back to the main passage. We ended up adding 211 feet survey and checked many leads, including two digs and two climbs. One dig is still going, otherwise this area is now considered finished. This section of the cave contains 1,859 feet of passage. We left a shovel out in the main passage for any future digging teams. The climbs had been marked as possible bolt climbs, but we were able to ascend them using several joined three-foot section ladders that had been left at the Square Pit Traverse (they had been meant to provide an option to descend immediately at that point, rather than traversing, but they did not work out for that purpose). We left five ladder sections staged in the 1400-Foot Walk (there are more in the Humming Room) and a 50 foot rope at the Kidney Stone climb (for a future rigging trip). On the way out, we also closed a loop in the stream passage downstream of the Kidney Stone climb and noted a high canyon passage that probably connects to Carlin’s survey from Saturday. This needs to be checked out next time.

Meanwhile Carlin, Martin and Zachary added 360 feet of survey in a complex breakdown area off the Pole Room. This also allowed Carlin and his team the opportunity to learn the routes through this part of the cave, which were new to them.

Everyone was out of the cave and heading for home by around 4:00 pm.

Line plot showing the new survey

Line plot showing the new survey

Loose ends of March – another long-delayed trip report

March started with a flurry of underground activity, but things for the grotto that month kind of peaked around mid-month, for a variety of reasons. A few of us managed a survey trip into Perkins Cave on March 14, 2015. Two teams went in to the upper end of the 1400 Foot Walk area to close some loops and investigate some “dig?” notes in that area. Travel to the survey area was via the traditional Ghost Town Junction to H Stone area by way of the Tornpeter Tube.

Jason Lachniet led the survey, accompanied by grotto members  Steve Ahn, Emma Buchanan, Bill Grose, Zachary Taylor, and Hunter Wyatt. Accompanying the two teams was Flittermouse cousin Janet Lyons Manning. We split into two teams: Jason, Bill, and Janet on one team, Steve, Emma, Hunter, and Zachary on the other. Total footage for that day ____? We did, however, meet our goals in closing the targeted loops and investigating the “dig?” notes. One dig clearly ended at a low head wall, but another holds promise. Jason was able to advance a low dig under a bedding plane through a sandy floor, gaining about 30 feet in 30 minutes. Plans are to push that dig a little farther on a future trip. The trip concluded by exiting via the shorter, but not-so-pleasant stream route at the end of the 1400 Foot Walk. Parts of the stream route are very pretty, but also very wet and very muddy (and very hard on the knees, crawling over cobbles.) Total new footage for this trip was 940 feet.

A few random photos from the trip….


Zachary coming through the Tornpeter Tube; the H Stone


A cave dog (?) mysteriously ended up my pack; one of several gypsum flowers spotted on this trip.


Dinner in a gypsum-lined room; one of many clusters of antler helectites spotted on this trip.

2015 surveys

Areas surveyed on the January and March 2015 trips circled in red.

Perkins Nov. 1-2, 2014

Despite an early winter storm, we had another successful weekend of surveying at Perkins on November 1 and 2, adding 1,100 feet of new survey beyond the Ghosttown Junction.

Formation area near EJ62 (photo by Bill Grose)

Formation area near EJ62 (photo by Bill Grose)

Following the Saturday ACC meeting at the Gray Fossil site, I met up with Steve Ahn and Bill Grose in Meadowview. The small amount of snow on the ground did not present too much trouble on the way to the cave, though when Steve’s farm truck lost traction crossing the hay field on the way in, I had doubts about our prospects for getting back out. At the cave entrance, an impressive cloud of steam was blowing out and forming what seemed like a localized rain shower over the opening as the moisture condensed into water droplets. We traveled easily along the route to the Ghosttown, then proceeded north through passage mapped on trips earlier this summer. The passages in this area are generally quite large, with occasional pits and connections to some extensive lower level gypsum-lined canyons. Only one unpleasant (and not very safe) drop known as Sand Pit connects this part of the cave back to other known passages. Our first objective was to complete the survey of a small side passage, which quickly pinched. The start of this crawl is lined with gypsum and features a ribbed flowstone deposit on the floor that calls to mind the spine of an alligator. After mopping up this loose end, we continued to station EJ62 on a narrow saddle bisecting two pits, with booming passage continuing on to the north. Picking a route down into the large room, we surveyed north past some impressive formations, and passing several attractive side leads. The main passage terminates in a wall of breakdown about 200 feet beyond where we started. We mapped several routes through the large breakdown, eventually dropping into a nice going passage on a lower level, where we ended our survey for the evening. We found many fossils in this area, including an area with many loose rings, apparently individual sections of crinoid stems. The trip out was uneventful, though the drive out was a bit exciting in Steve’s truck. Bill did not seem to have any trouble. Our survey total was 635 feet.

Crinoid columnals (photo by Bill Grose)

Crinoid columnals (photo by Bill Grose)

After a short night of sleep, I met a a new crew of surveyors in Meadowview early Sunday morning, Emma Buchanan and Hunter Wyatt. Buford Pruitt joined us at the cave to round out our team of four. After suiting up, we quickly reached the leads from the previous evening. Travel time to this area is about an hour at a fairly easy pace. We began with a side lead branching to the east from the main passage. It was pleasant, mostly hands and knees crawling in dry passage, but it did not go very far. Picking our way down through the breakdown lining the west edge of the main passage, we resumed surveying at an attractive arch topped with stalagmites, which marked the limit of the previous day’s penetration. We went south first and I guessed we would emerge in a canyon visible from the large room below EJ62, but instead, the passage quickly ended. Continuing in the other direction, things got progressively muddier as we approached a pit surrounded by breakdown and highly fractured walls and ceiling. A trickle of water enters and drains through the bottom of the climbable 20 foot pit. Skirting around the top, I attempted to find a way onward through the breakdown, but could not. A short side passage doubled back to the south though and so we surveyed it. Then we returned to the large room where we had started and climbed down into a parallel canyon trending north. This is the passage I though would connect to from the other side. Good air in this passage urged us onward, but after a little over 100 feet, the passage ended at a series of what Buford characterized as “rat holes.” Not content to stop, I dug at the end and succeeded in popping out into a large walking passage. My momentary excitement dwindled when I saw survey stations and footprints. I had created a loop connecting back to the passage south of the breakdown pit. The only thing left to survey in this part of the cave was a short segment of large walking passage going south from the saddle under the main passage, which we completed in just two shots. There seems to be some lower level development here, but everything is filled with breakdown and mud. I dug open one drain along the lower wall and was able to access a 15 foot virgin pit. A trickle of water can be seen flowing across the bottom, but there is no way on without further and extensive digging. Our survey total for the day was 465 feet. After deducting some long tie-in shots across previously surveyed passage, we added 1,006 feet of length.

Though the strong air currents suggest there may be more to find, I believe these trips have wrapped up everything in this part of the cave. Collectively, the section of cave north of station E1 at the Ghosttown Junction contains 2,400 feet of surveyed passage. While we made no major new discoveries in this area, our map will show a great many side passages and details omitted on the 1973 map. If one avoids the worst of the muddy breakdown areas, this part of the cave is worth visiting. Current resurveyed cave length is now 3.45 miles.

Line plot showing new survey from Nov. 1-2

Line plot showing new survey from Nov. 1-2

Blacksburg Caves (Washington Co.)

Way back in April, 2005 members of Mountain Empire Grotto visited a pair of adjacent properties near Meadowview in the historical community of Blacksburg in Washington County, VA, following up on a report of a significant cave known to students and faculty at Emory and Henry College. On the first trip Robbie Spiegel, Tanya McLaughlin, and Jason and Emily Lachniet located two caves. The smaller of the two, previously unreported, was dubbed Blacksburg No. 2 and surveyed to a length of 245 feet. We did not have time to survey the larger cave, Blacksburg No. 1, but did briefly explore it, finding a maze of tall canyon passages below a trash-filled entrance sink, with multiple pits dropping to a significant stream passage about 40 feet below. We also noted lots of old signatures, dating back to at least the 1870’s. I somewhat ambitiously estimated the length to be 2,000 feet and reported both caves to the VSS. In May I returned with Spiegel, Terri Brown, Kevin Forrester, and Reggie Sanford. We mapped 682 feet that evening in two teams, but unfortunately failed to tie our surveys together, which prevented me from starting a working map. At this point, ambition to complete the project seemed to fizzle out and no progress was made for more than six years.


Following our initial 2005 survey efforts, students from the Emory and Henry outdoor program took a number of trips to the cave and removed a large amount of trash and built a gate at the entrance. Robbie and I returned in July, 2011, tying the 2005 surveys and along the way adding about 400 feet of very confusing upper level passage. We left with more leads than we started with. We followed up with two more after work evening trips that year, one in August and one in October. On both of these trips we were accompanied by Steve Ahn, who was at that time new to caving, or at least to surveying. On these trips we mapped the upstream passage to a point where the stream enters through an impassable breakdown choke. This is so close to the surface that we could hear an airplane pass overhead. We found some pristine high canyon passage that appeared to be virgin and closed a few small loops. On the surface, we found the point where a small stream sinks and tied this feature to the entrances of Blacksburg #1 and #2. The stream is routed, apparently artificially, into a pair of culverts that must lead to the original entrance/insurgence closer to the edge of the broad sink below the caves. This is 150 feet from the furthest upstream point in the cave. Robbie took some good pictures on the 2011 trips, which are still available on his Flickr photostream: August 26, 2011 and October 21, 2011.

Over the course of two more trips in May and June, 2014, members of the Walker Mountain Grotto finally completed the survey. Ahn returned for both of these trips, along with me, Shane Hanlon, Bill Grose, Emma Buchanan, and Hunter Wyatt. The first night, we mapped a pair of short leads above the downstream sump. The water level was noticeably lower, but there is still no way to follow the water from here. My guess is that the water emerges at a spring about 2,000 feet to the southeast, before sinking again and reappearing at the Cave Springs resurgence. Hopefully we can confirm this with a dye trace eventually. Mud and flood detritus on the canyon walls of the stream passage indicate occasional flooding to a considerable depth. Based on a mud covered survey station five feet off the floor, we can assume it flooded to at least that level between 2005 and 2014. The point where the stream sumps appears to act as a restriction that must pond water behind it during high flow events. We continued mopping up odds and ends, confirming several connections between the upper and lower levels through high ceiling channels. The most exciting leads left were a pair of west trending canyons, both of which required rather exposed traverses over drops of 15 to 35 feet. The first ended at a collapse with many roots present, while the second continued on two levels and necessitated a return trip to finish. On the final night we mapped 500 feet in that area, and in some short side passages off the entrance room that were missed in 2005.

The entrance gate

The entrance gate

Bill documenting some of the historic signatures

Bill documenting some of the historic signatures

J. R. George 1867 (?)

J. R. George 1867 (?)

The final length for Blacksburg No. 1 is 2,586 feet and the depth is 51 feet. The line plot below, in plan and profile, shows the 2005 surveys in yellow, the 2011 surveys in green, and the 2014 surveys in blue.