Saturday, January 31, 2009

[trip] Shovel Eater UpDog Survey

This past weekend was my return to Germany Valley after a 6 month hiatus; while our lead quickly died and we surveyed just under 90 feet, I was treated to a relaxing tour of several "new" parts of Shovel Eater Cave. Brian Masney and I drove from Morgantown on Saturday morning and met up with John Harman at his house, then grabbed a late breakfast - or rather, early lunch - at The Gateway. We stopped by the landowners' farm for permission to head in to Shovel Eater as well as to do some "landowner relations"; Brian presented them with a stack of glossy cave porn: some fantastic SEC photos that really impressed the family, the first that they'd seen of their cave.

After a lazy start, we managed to get underground at somewhere around 12:45. The trip in was uneventful; we stopped to snap a few photos for Brian and then dropped down the Ohio Bypass, which had only a trickle of water. At the HHA junction, we turned right and continued up the main passage until we ducked under a relict-flowstone shelf and rappelled a small pit with crumbly mud walls and some water raining down from the ceiling. From this point, the passages became a series of sinuous, tall, narrow canyon, where we continued to travel upstream and climbed up several of John Harman's bolt climbs to higher and higher levels, reaching the EFN survey, which had stopped at a 20 foot pit in the floor and a bolt traverse around the perimeter...

Dave rappelling the Y-hang above the Ohio Bypass in Shovel Eater Cave. Photo by Brian Masney.

We finally began to survey, and as Brian snapped open a cyalume stick to use as a station light, it exploded, spraying his face and eyes with glow-in-the-dark chemical goo. Thankfully, he was able to stay calm and collected while standing blind, eyes burning at the top of a 20 foot pit; I did my best to flush his eyes out with an entire liter of water, and being the trooper that he is, he was then ready to shoot instruments. It was then that we noticed that this area of the cave has a jaw-dropping assortment of updog on the floors, walls, and ceiling, and it was obvious to us that this should be called the UDS, or "UpDog" Survey. Never before have I seen so much updog in one place!

Our survey shot across and over the pit, to a mud-and-breakdown slope which fed into a doubled-back canyon passage beyond. John had previously placed several bolts, and he rigged a traverse line to safely cross. The passage headed up to a wider canyon spot at mid-level, and up another 15 feet to the original phreatic tube in the ceiling. Sadly, this tube ended within 5 stations, choked with cemented mud and sandstone cobbles in the upstream direction, sealed by flowstone downstream. Unseen holes in the floor dropped rocks and mud balls down to the go-nowhere EFN canyon below. Without fanfare, our lead died, so we packed up and headed out. John derigged the traverse line and the two bolt climbs on the way back to HHA, which should be a big disappointment to all the "twenty footer" hounds.

The "sunnyside up egg"; a formation along the EFN canyon. Photo by Brian Masney.

After grabbing a bite to eat, we set off for some sight-seeing. We continued up the HHA trunk, ducked underneath the WVU bolt climb, and visited the Echo Dome(?) at end of the passage. I hit this beautiful dome with my disto and measured 101.4 feet to the top. We backtracked to see an area called Pristine, where John spied a potential bolt climb that he plans to do ASAP. Eventually, we made our way down to HHH so that Brian could meditate at the foot of the omnipresent "Buddha" in the Acoustic Persistence Chamber.

Eventually, we decided that we'd poked around long enough, and headed out of the cave. Again, the trip was uneventful, and we were on the surface by 1:30AM, with around 12.5 hours underground.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

[trip] NCRC Vertical Self-Rescue / Dynamited Cave

Many thanks to both John Punches and Aaron Stavens for teaching the excellent NCRC Vertical Self-Rescue course at Trout Lake this past weekend.

When the class met on Saturday morning, there were several ropes rigged high into tall doug-firs, which we used to practice the basics of changeovers, passing knots, and downclimbing. Before long, we were practicing climbing counterbalances, diminishing-loop counterbalances, assisted climbing, basic haul systems, and even single-rope pick-offs. We then headed to some beautiful nearby cliffs to put our new skills into practice.

Practicing vertical skills in the trees around camp.

Ralph rappels some nearby cliffs to investigate rigging options.

Finally, on Sunday, we headed into Dynamited Cave and split into two groups, tackling real-world rigging and implementing various counterbalance and haul systems in the less-than-ideal situations that are found underground. Though we were 15 people coming into the course with widely varying experience and skills, every person walked away from the weekend as a more competent vertical caver, and I believe everyone had a great time in the process.

Ralph assists an "injured" Albert up a pit.

JC guides Sarah while she is hauled from above.

See also: photos from NCRC Vertical Self-Rescue course

Monday, September 01, 2008

[trip] Labor Day Dynamited Cave

This Labor Day weekend I joined the Cascade Grotto and members of the Oregon Grotto and the Willamette Valley Grotto for some camping and caving near the small town of Trout Lake, at the base of Mount Adams.

On Sunday, four of us - Hester and Albert Mallonee, Ethan Scarl, and myself - visited Dynamited Cave, a multi-level vertical lava tube. We rappelled a 15' nuisance drop, a 40' lava falls, and an amazing 65' blind pit. I shot the following poor-quality video during the trip and edited it in a fit of insomnia - you've been warned.

Ethan ascends out of the blind pit in Dynamited Cave.

See also my Dynamited Cave photos.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

[trip] Cry Wolf Cave

On the first day of the Cascade Grotto's Labor Day weekend trip to the Trout Lake area, Claude Koch led a trip into Cry Wolf Cave. Cry Wolf is a fantastic lava tube that Claude and company dug into last year, and it features some large passage and formations, including a mystery gelatinous thing called The Blob. The cave is on private property and is gated.

Claude Koch dropping into the gated entrance pipe of Cry Wolf Cave.

A shelf covered in lavacicles in Cry Wolf Cave.

Rosey, Chris, Albert, and Hester in typical walking passage found in Cry Wolf Cave.

See also: more photos of Cry Wolf Cave

Saturday, August 16, 2008

[trip] Trout Lake Lava Tube Digging and Caving

I went digging this weekend with Claude Koch, the "mad lava tube digger" from the Willamette Valley Grotto. Over the last two or three years, Claude has worked his way into dozens of small new lava tubes and a few really amazing ones. He focuses on the Trout Lake area, a lava flow along the flanks of Mount Adams in WA.

We first dug a bit on Dig 69 Cave - yes, he's got so many that he's resorted to numbering them! We spent around an hour digging on a dirt/silt fill that completely plugs the 3-foot-high tube, and then decided to move onto something more productive. We quickly made a stop at Ottoman Cave to check out a dig that was too tight even for me, and moved on again.

Doug Marchant and Claude Koch outside the entrance of Ottoman Cave.

We then headed over to Dopey Cave, which had about 75 foot of known passage, blocked by breakdown. I headed in and was able to pry a frightening loose block from the ceiling crust and move it out of the way, which enabled Claude and I to scoop around 400 feet of virgin lava tube between 6 and 3 feet tall, with an amazing lava intrusion in the floor.

The entrance to Dopey Cave, which we easily extended by 400 feet.

After a chilly night of camping, Ken Stickney of the Oregon Grotto took me on a tourist trip into Resurrection Cave. This cave features some extremely impressive lava formations, and was discovered only after the dense forest had been cleared.

Ken Stickney poses with the "old lady" in Resurrection Cave (I've forgotten its real name).

Formation Alley in Resurrection Cave features a dense collection of lavacicles.

A lava rose (R) next to an oddly-shaped lavacicle (L) in Resurrection Cave.

See also: more photos from Resurrection Cave

Friday, August 15, 2008

[meta] Pacific Northwest Caving

Despite this being the "WV Speleo-Log", I'm spending the Autumn in Portland Oregon, and will be posting trip reports from the Pacific Northwest for the next few months. I hope that all my faithful readers enjoy a break from the norm...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

[trip] Elk River Cave-a-palooza

On Friday, Llew and Justin Williams, and Lorin Long went into the Historic Entrance of Simmons-Mingo Cave, down to the main stream passage, and explored upstream. Dave Riggs and Nikki Green rappelled the sink entrance of Falling Spring Cave but found the cave itself to perhaps be silted shut; they then visited Justright and bounced Just Cave. On Saturday, Llew, Justin, Dave, Nikki, Johnny Williams, and John Powell went into the Elk River Entrance of My Cave, rappelled the 80 foot Outhouse Drop, and found the cave stream low and the waterfall non-existent, then did a through-trip out the Dry Branch Entrance. Always a glutton for punishment, Dave bounced Outhouse Drop again, and reports that climbing the mud slope at the top is a pain in the butt. That night, Johnny, John, Dave, and Nikki went into the Zarathustra Entrance of Simmons-Mingo, which has a newly-opened sinkhole slope entrance, went back to see the lake, then traveled down and followed Canadian River's trunk passage to the bottom of Oildrum Falls, where a new rope appears to have been rigged, before heading back out Zarathustra.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

[trip] Return to SEC's Rushin' Rift

This GVKS weekend (2008-07-12), Nikki Green and I did a two-person "squeezefreak" trip to survey the upper passage at the top of the Rushin' Rift in Shovel Eater Cave. We were one of the last teams in cave, at around 10AM, and hit the tail-end of rope traffic in the entrance series of the cave. At HHA15 we picked up a 9mm rope, left a note for Mark Minton and Yvonne Droms (as a safety precaution for our two-person survey), and headed for the nearby Rushin' Rift. We found Bob Zimmerman's team before we found the Rift, and they stuck Nikki down two tiny leads which didn't go. They claimed to have checked out the Rift on the way in, and found it to be silent; we confirmed this ourselves, no sign at all of "The Devil's machinery", so apparently the water within this chasm is intermittent.

I rigged the 50 foot drop, though we did not rappel into it - rather we used the Y-hang as aid to go straight back into the upper rift passage. We shuffled back to the unlabeled calcite chunk cairn (CN1) which marked the end of the previous survey, located just before this passage goes from "small" to "tiny". Before we could mark our first station, the hungry rift ate our only roll of flagging tape; thus, all stations on this survey are marked with blue sharpie on rock.

This upper rift passage is capped by a fault plane, dipping about 20 degrees in a generally East direction, which frequently appears as a smoothly-sculpted calcite vein in the ceiling, and sometimes as oddly-shaped phreatic proto-passage formed within once-fractured rock. Freshly-broken crystal gives off a sulfur smell. An extremely narrow canyon is incised into the floor, usually too narrow to eat a body, but almost always the perfect size to eat the conveniently-placed foot or survey tape. At several places - notably near our first station and past our last station - rocks dropped down this canyon can be heard to tumble down quite an impressive distance, what I would estimate to be at or beyond 50 feet, though "tumbling rock" can be deceiving. At one point, we clearly heard hammering, which we later discovered to be the work of Bob Z's team. Airflow was never more than "slight", if that. Paleoflow direction is likely in the direction of our survey - away from the cave's main passage, and generally Northeast - at least in the upper rift.

Representative sketch of the upper Rushin' Rift - tiny passage with a nasty canyon incised into the floor.

We surveyed the entirety of what I "scooped" on the previous trip. I had estimated this to be on the order of 200 feet, but the miserable nature of the passage caused me to overestimate by 2X. At the end, the passage turns down the dip of the fault plane, losing around 15 feet of elevation, where the still-hungry rift devoured Nikki's digital camera (sorry, Nikki!). Finally a "room" is reached, which is comfortable enough for two people to stand and eat lunch; rocks dropped down here tumble down what sounds like a terrifyingly-deep chasm, an experiment that I repeated many times in the name of science. Beyond, the passage becomes too tight to follow, but the deep canyon may be accessible just beyond our last station, as the canyon widens in a sharp meander. Upon finishing, we de-rigged the unused rope and returned it to HHA15.

We surveyed 115 feet in a painful 10 shots. I do not consider the upper Rift lead to be killed yet. Rather, I believe that the only way to further explore the Rushin' Rift is to ignore the too-too-tight lower rift passage, and to rig rope from the top passage and enter the rift from one of these upper access points.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

[trip] Spelunking in the Stinks of Gandy

On my way home from Kentucky, I stayed the night near Elkins to do my first ever trip into WV's famous Sinks of Gandy on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, nobody showed up at the designated meeting time except Bob Griffith, so he and I did a two-man trip to the Sinks.

We piled into my car and headed in the general direction of where the cave should be... it turns out that Bob had only visited the Sinks once, and it was over ten years ago. Luckily we found it without issue, geared up in shorts and t-shirts (after all, how hard could the Sinks really be?), and walked down to the cave entrance.

The entrance is truly iconic, Gandy Creek is swallowed completely as it silently meanders its way right into the gaping hillside. The surrounding land is pure West Virginia; rolling hills of cow pasture as far as the eye can see. An overnight thunderstorm apparently rinsed the cow pasture clean, and the water entering the cave had pools of disappointingly-colored froth floating by to show for it. Yuck.

Dave Riggs standing in front of the Sinks of Gandy. Note the disgusting brown water! Photo by Bob Griffith.

The water was just over ankle-height on the way in, with sunlight illuminating the way for several tens of yards, and birds flying in and out, swooping and dive-bombing inside the sizable passage. We sludged through waist-deep, icy cold water, going in much further into the cave than I had expected, and I could already feel the chill of the cave. We took a sandy side route when the water nearly sumped, passing by stagnant, disgusting pools of water, and noting flood debris completely covering the walls and ceilings. The air was still, and the cave was full of thick fog, which even two StenLights had trouble cutting through.

We made our way back into the main stream passage, and the water started getting deeper and deeper... first waist deep, then chest deep, then dropping even deeper ahead. We checked a side lead with elephant tracks, which led to a dead end - obviously a commonly made mistake, judging by the trench in the floor from the traffic. We knew that we had to be near the exit, but couldn't see any light, and weren't about to wade out into nasty water over our heads. We looked around for the bypass to the exit, but didn't have any luck, and since we were both feeling quite chilled at this point, decided to head back the way we'd came in - defeated by a "novice" cave! When we made it back out into sunlight, there was a notable brown ring around my chest: the high water mark of the filthy Gandy Creek.

Looking out the entrance as Gandy Creek flows in. Photo by Bob Griffith.

Bob and I had a great time in the Sinks, and now that we've gotten a few hints on how to find the path to the exit, hope to go back when the water is warmer and cleaner to do the full trip. Afterward, we joined Alan Carpenter for the Mon Grotto adopt-a-highway in front of Bowden Cave.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

[trip] Hero Hole Survey

This Thursday evening, April 24, 2008, Brian Masney, Abby Hohn, and I headed into the Cheat Canyon to survey Hero Hole. This cave hasn't been visited since it was dug open on New Years Eve 2005/2006, and we expected the mined "sinkhole" entrance to have slumped closed. We arrived at the cave around 7PM with a full cache of digging and surveying gear. Abby headed down to the bank of the Cheat River to study, while Brian immediately jumped in and started hauling rocks out of the entrance. There was a strong, cool breeze blowing out, and there were plenty of loose rocks above the entrance in addition to a great deal of washed-in mud and rock. After roughly an hour, we had cleared the passage out and geared up to head underground.

You have never truly caved until you have caved in the Cheat Canyon. Re-digging into Hero Hole, upsidedown. Photo by Brian Masney.

After climbing down the dug entrance hole, you drag yourself under a shelf across a silted "beach" bellycrawl which "opens up" to a small 4-foot-high room. The cave stream seemed lower than I remember it, and looking downstream to where the stream follows an impassibly-small conduit, we saw Hero Hole's namesake, Hero Man, battered and beaten by the harsh cave environment, stripped practically naked and lying in the stream. Not wanting to wind up with a similar fate, Brian and I wasted no time in heading all the way upstream, so that we could survey from the back out. The main cave passage ends where the cave stream emerges from a channel which is too tight to follow; the ceiling height is no more than 3 feet, and the width certainly less than that. Given the cramped, wet, conditions, and the fact that we were doing a two-man survey, it was a slow operation. The canyon passage meanders a bit, and protrusions and shelves composed of patented Druid CrapRock™ poke out here and jab there.

By the time we were at the halfway point, Brian suddenly became extremely cold... his survey station was directly under a tiny conduit at ceiling level, no more than 6 or 8 inches wide, where the chilling wind blasts out. If there is any hope for Hero Hole, it is by following the air up into this "lead". Beyond this air duct was a truly miserable stream crawl, where the dipping ceiling forces your head progressively lower and lower. Luckily, in such a short cave, the halfway point means that you're almost finished! Before long, we were on the surface, soaked, slimed, and chilled from the cave's wind. We were underground for less than two hours, and managed to squeeze 100.5 feet out of Hero Hole! By midnight, we were on our way back out of the Canyon, satisfied with another great day of trying to piece together the Druid Cave System puzzle.

Hero Hole plan-view lineplot, with a surprising 100.5 feet of survey.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

[trip] Briery Mountain Weekend

This weekend I assisted John Chenger with relocating and exploring several caves in the Briery Mountain area of Preston County in order to look for bats. We met at noon on Saturday, April 12, in Kingwood. I loaded my gear into his truck, which was equipped with a GPS and laptop showing our live location on a topo map, and we headed off.

Our first stop was Briery Mountain Pit, which we easily found in a large sink on the side of the road. A culvert feeds water into the sink, which falls 25 feet and then sinks as a spraying waterfall into the cave's entrance. We rigged a cable ladder, but I found that I was able to free-climb the 10 foot deep entrance pit - a 2 foot wide vertical slot - without getting too wet. Once down in the 8 foot high entrance passage, you must dart back under the waterfall to continue; nothing like getting soaked on the way into a cave! The cave consists of a couple-hundred feet of walking and stooping passage, stream passage that zigs and zags across joints, with occasional dead-end side leads. The floor was extensively littered with broken glass, cans, plastic, and all sorts of washed-in debris. The walls and ceiling were covered in a thin layer of filth, the rock of questionable character, and there was silt and mud caked into every corner. The strata dips 10 to 15 degrees back into the hillside (under the road) and it's difficult to walk very far before something new drips onto your head. I eventually came to a 4 foot tall, 12 inch wide vertical slot where the stream disappeared into; a squeeze that I was warned about by veterans of the cave, and I decided at that point that I'd seen enough of Briery Mountain Pit. Bat count: zero.

That water was cold! Climbing down into the entrance of Briery Mountain Pit. Photo by John Chenger.

Unfortunately, John was feeling rather ill at this point, and with my cave gear entirely soaked, we decided to call it a day. He got some rest, and I headed back home to Morgantown, where I had just enough daylight left to dry out my cavesuit and do a bit of rock climbing. I received word in the morning that John felt much better, so we met in Bruceton Mills at noon on Sunday and set off for a second day of Preston County caving.

First up was Kelly Quarry Cave, a cave which literally stunk... Located in the walls of an old quarry, this cave appears to be formed in the Savage Dam member of the Greenbrier, a series of sandy limestones and red shales, and in the top of the Loyalhanna. We both entered the Kelly Quarry Crawl entrance, the right-most and highest entrance, which consisted of a body-sized crawl through a rather odd passage for the area: the walls are coated with a 2 inch thick crust of Aragonite, some of which has had popcorn deposited on the ends. Sadly, all the crystal is stained an unflattering mud-brown color. This passage continues as a small crawlway for around 75 feet until a junction is reached (with air), which was too small for even me to fit through. With considerable effort, I was able to turn myself around, and we both crawled back out to check out the other entrances. The main entrance and second entrance are stacked on top of each other. Flowstone is visible above them, and there are slickenslides on some of the exposed rock. The fractured limestone, probably unstable from quarrying, has collapsed these main entrances, and one cannot enter the "largest room" in the cave without crawling through some very sketchy-looking breakdown. We chose not to push our luck, and did not enter these collapsed entrances. Bat count: zero. Dead skunk count: two.

Aragonite crystal in Kelly Quarry Cave. Photo by John Chenger.

The collapsed main entrances of Kelly Quarry Cave. Photo by John Chenger.

As we were heading away from Kelly Quarry Cave and "ridge-driving" the area, we spotted what appeared to be a pit on the side of the road. Sure enough, it was a 6 foot diameter sink filled with karsted limestone chunks, with a roaring stream audible down below - John dubbed it the Roaring Rift as I climbed down 15 feet into tall and narrow virgin stream passage. After scooping around 250 feet of walking passage in cleanly-sculpted Loyalhanna limestone, the ceiling narrowed, and I decided to save the remainder for a future survey trip. This is surely an area in need of ridge-walking, and it was quite a treat to find virgin walking passage in this county - a personal treat for me because it was my 100th cave! As you would expect, this un-planned cave had the highest bat count of the weekend, eight pips.

Climbing down into the "roaring" stream passage below upon discovering Roaring Rift. Photo by John Chenger.

Just a short distance from this new cave, we spied an abandoned mine which wasn't marked on the topo map, which John called Roaring Run Mine. We decided that it probably wasn't limestone, but headed in to investigate. While we didn't find many bats (only two), we did find an unexpected resident: a quail or pheasant who didn't appreciate our headlamps pointed at her.

Roaring Run Mine, in obviously dipping strata. Photo by John Chenger.

Continuing on to the last cave on our list, we headed to the tiny town of Orr to find Orr Cave. We spent a great deal of time just trying to find some limestone, let alone the "shallow sink" that Garton describes. Eventually, on our way back to the truck, we finally located the entrance hidden in a small outcrop and covered with a few logs. I climbed down in and started crawling... on my side... in water... until the cave ended in a drippy dome. While this is an area that should be looked at (we saw a few very interesting springs on the way), Orr Cave is not one that I plan on visiting again. Bat count: zero.

Recording data at the entrance to Orr Cave. Photo by John Chenger.

After parting ways with John, I headed South for Thomas, where I met a group of cavers at the Purple Fiddle to hear Doug McCarty play some amazing music. The drive home was interesting, as the Spring weather turned back into Winter, and the roads were covered with snow and sleet. Overall, it was a fantastic weekend caving in a rarely-visited part of Preston County.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

[trip] Shovel Eater Cave - Rushin' Rift

After heading down to Germany Valley late Friday night, through some of the thickest fog I've ever driven in, finding the field house dark and quiet upon arriving at 1:30AM, and getting a good night's sleep in my hammock underneath a torrential downpour, I met up with a large group of GVKS folks at The Gateway at 8AM Saturday morning. I was put on Bob Alderson's team with John Harman and Cullen Hencke, and our goal was to investigate a fascinating lead off of HHA, which was dubbed the Rushin' Rift upon its discovery on October 27, 2007. Mark Minton described it as:

Under one wall the canyon dropped down a deep, narrow pit which we named Rushin' Rift. A strange humming sound could be heard in the distance, unlike anything we had heard in a cave before. Air? Water? The Devil's machinery?

We arrived at the SEC entrance around 10:15AM and headed into the entrance series. After the third rappel, we ducked down under the water to a drippy, muddy room containing the new "Buckeye Bypass" (as we decided to call it). A short, uncomfortable, diagonal rappel to a rebelay drops you down to a series of traverses in a passage that looked vaguely familiar to me... the bypass seemingly teleports one all the way down and past Harper Canyon - wow! We were to HHA in no time at all, and were staring down into a complex intersection of narrow canyon passages off to the side of the "main" passage. Sure enough, when everyone was quiet, we could hear "The Devil's machinery" from the deep slot.

John and Bob cleaned the rock surface and set three bolts; a single bolt at the top for a traverse line down under the "lip" of the canyon, with two bolts for a free-hanging "Y" rig. We later taped this drop at 49.1 feet from the upper bolt. The rappel down is tight, with shoulders against the wall for most of the way, and should not be done while wearing a pack (oops!).

The lower canyon has a flat floor, is seldomly wider than 24 inches, and doesn't offer many (er, any?) opportunities to stand up. It is dry, with no sign of even a past stream, and with highly abrasive popcorn lining the walls and obscuring paleo-flow evidence. Upstream goes only 10 feet to a formation-obscured hole in the floor which was just a couple feet deep. Downstream the canyon twists in very tight meanders and appears to loop back on itself; when Bob pushed downstream I could hear him closely from the upstream hole. With extreme effort, Bob pushed downstream and had much difficulty returning. I followed and tried to "shave" popcorn from some of the squeezes for him to get back through. I did not attempt to push as far as he did, but I would guess that neither of us pushed farther than 40 feet from the rope.

In the lower canyon, we could definitely hear "The Devil's machinery", which sounded distinctly like a waterfall. I personally didn't think that it sounded louder after pushing in the downstream direction, but others in the party stated that they did. Having no luck pushing this tight, lower canyon, we decided instead to investigate the upper levels of the canyon. While Bob and I taped the drop, John and Cullen headed up and scouted it out.

The upper canyon, which is reached by traversing down to the Y-hang and going behind it, consists of an oval-shaped phreatic tube with a narrow canyon incised in its floor. It is bounded from above by a low-angle fault or fracture, which has been filled in with a band of calcite crystal. This calcite band has been solutionally sculpted in places to reveal a beautiful, "organic"-looking, flowing crystal ceiling. The upper passage follows the strike of this fault plane. It is very dry, showing small bits of gypsum in places, and is more comfortable to move in than the lower passage, though it is still relatively small passage. We were still able to hear the sound of water, off far in the distance somewhere but didn't seem to be any closer to it.

While Bob, John, and Cullen surveyed out of the upper canyon (from a point where the ceiling became quite low, marked by a cairn of calcite crystal), which yielded only around 50 feet of easy survey, I pushed in the upstream(?) direction, which seemed to correspond to what appeared to be downstream in the lower canyon. Confused yet? I pushed forward through alternating low-and-tight to narrow-and-tight to just-plain-tight tube with canyon or just canyon without floor (no actual exposure however), for what was probably 250 feet. At times I felt faint airflow coming up from the lower canyon, but it was never "blowing", even though I was in relatively constricted passage. After thoroughly shredding my cave suit on the dry, rough passage, it seemed to head down dip of the fault plane, going downhill (though I still believe upstream direction) approximately 10 feet. At this point, I could not hear the others, nor could I hear the sound of water at all. The passage isn't suitable for large cavers, but it does continue. I set a cairn here and turned back in time to run lead tape (read: get in the way) of the survey team.

We took a quick tourist trip to see Hellhole Hall, the Acoustic Persistence Chamber, and peer through the window at The Rubicon (WOW!). We were all stumped as to the origin of the sandstone cobbles in this wide, flat passage, and felt a sense of déjà vu as if this part of SEC belonged in some other Germany Valley cave...

The trip out was uneventful, and much shorter than my previous trip to this area thanks to the Buckeye Bypass. Even using the buckets to catch the dripping water, we still got a bit damp on the Bypass climb due to the large amount of rain this weekend, and also on the redirect climb above it. We exited the cave at 8:25PM, after a short 9.5 hour trip, to frigid 19 degree weather with a high wind; our cave suits froze on the walk to the vehicles, and several later teams reported that the locks on their cars had frozen solid!

I suppose that the lower canyon shouldn't be considered "dead", but it can probably go to the back burner unless no other route to the elusive "Devil's machinery" can be found. The upper canyon goes, but also requires "squeezefreaks" to map it, and doesn't appear to head closer to the sound. We surveyed approximately 50 feet, plus a 49 foot drop, but didn't solve the mystery of the Rushin' Rift. Thanks to my teammates for putting up with my sniffling and general slowness as I battled an annoying cold this weekend.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

[trip] TCSS Revisits Bonner Cave

Getting a later start for our monthly Tucker County survey than usual, the usual suspects rolled into Parsons around 10am for breakfast. In addition to Kevin Keplinger, Brian Masney, Dave Riggs, John Harman, and Cullen Hencke were Jeff Stutler and Bill Good, as well Nikki Green (from U. of MD). Our goal of the day was to reinvestigate the Bonner property and try once again to find a back connection to another nearby cave.

We arrived at the Bonner property at around 11am. Kevin, Bill, and Jeff took advantage of the beautiful weather and went ridge-walking, which (I believe) resulted in no new discoveries. They also bounced Bonner Forty Footer, which they confirmed was a dead-bottom pit.

Dave, Brian, John, Cullen, and Nikki loaded up and prepared to push Bonner Cave. We were surprised to find that the cave is no longer enshrouded in fortress of briers and barbed wire, but is now very easily accessible with a small 4-wheeler road going right beneath the entrance. We rigged a hand-line and descended the steep entrance slope and free-climbed down the slot with compressed cave-air blowing up into our faces. We quickly followed the main stream passage (which had very little water flowing) to the Waiting Room.

Dave and Nikki pushed the low main passage, which starts as a belly-crawl in a shallow stream perched on the "Tucker County Asphalt", an impermeable black conglomerate with embedded rounded, white quartz pebbles. After several tens of feet, it is no longer possible to stay on the floor, and the unfortunate caver is forced to attempt to squeeze/crawl/pull/twist on top and through an ever-changing keyhole/slot/canyon. It should be noted that there are several small "rooms" throughout the passage in which one can sit and turn around easily. I eventually became so frustrated dragging my cave pack through this passage that I left it behind at around the half-way point. Flowstone, soda straws, and small stalactites are found throughout this passage. We came to what appears to have been a flowstone choke at one point, but has been hammered on one edge. Nikki squirmed over it with her helmet off, and I squirmed under it with my helmet off, one ear in the stream and one pressed against the rock overhead.

Unfortunately, we found large breakdown blocking further progress. Obvious cave of similar proportion can be seen beyond, and a strong wind blows from it, but we were unable to squeeze around the breakdown, despite our best efforts - Nikki made a struggled attempt, there was no chance of me getting around it. The stream flows beneath it, but this lowest level is only inches high. Breaking the rock would be extremely difficult, as it lays in the canyon passage lengthwise and is stacked high. I'm still personally convinced that connection to a large cave lies just a few hundred feet beyond this breakdown. Soaked, sore, and exhausted we headed back to the Waiting Room where the others were waiting.

Brian, John, and Cullen explored the upper passage, accessed by climbing up at the Waiting Room. An immediate lead on the left, which appears to be an infeeder to Bonner, is choked with flowstone and small rimstone dams, both at the upper and lower level. Heading straight, a very-dry, rounded crawlway heads off to the right and zig-zags from joint to joint. John pushed this passage to a flat room 18 inches high, where the thinly-bedded ceiling peels off and hangs dangerously over ones head. I did not note airflow in this dry passage, and we didn't deem this lead important enough to risk disturbing the ceiling flakes.

We exited the cave to daylight and sunshine, a welcome change for a February TCSS. We were packed and in the vehicles by 4pm, met the surface team on the road, and all headed to CJ's for a pizza dinner.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Coal Mine Opened in Morgantown

There's a new "cave" in Monongalia County. It appears to have recently opened up, and is located very visibly next to a main road right inside Morgantown.

A small graded hill, literally on the side of the road, contains a slumped opening about 10 feet wide and 3 feet tall. The ceiling beam appears to be made of a muddy sandstone, while the "cave" itself appears to be formed in a crumbly, shaley seam of coal. The entrance slopes down and back for at least 20 feet and continues out of sight; the passage is at least 4 feet high. Another passage may go to the right from the entrance. The floor is completely covered by shattered coal talus.

My assumption is that this was a very old coal mine which was simply graded over when the area was developed. Recent construction combined with heavy rains this week may have caused the entrance to slump open. It appears rather dangerous, and given its highly-accessible location, should probably be gated or filled very soon.

The helmet in the following photos is for scale only, I did not enter, and I do not recommend entering this mine.

Edit: The mine entrance was posted as state property "no tespassing" a week later, and then filled in by the DoH(?) in early March.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

[trip] Weekend At Bennies

The WVU Student Grotto headed down to Mercer County to stay with former President Ben Mirabile and do a bit of caving in Southern West Virginia.

On Saturday, Ben led a trip into Scott Hollow Cave, consisting of Dave Riggs, John Harman, Rich Finley, Jason Thomas, Garth Dixon, and Jessica Morning. We headed down Mastodon Ave. and Patty Lane, headed East from the Junction Room and wandered around the Omega Loop until we finally popped out into the enormous trunk passage of Mystic River.

Elsewhere, Kyle McMillan took Abby Hohn and Dave Mason on a wild tour through Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg. Meanwhile, John Tudek and Thad Martin went into the Lipps Entrance of the Organ Cave System.

Most of us met back up at Ben's house that night, and Dave Riggs, John Harman, Abby Hohn, and Dave Mason did Honaker Cave on Sunday afternoon. We spent around 4 hours in the cave, eventually managing to find the "lake", which was more of a giant, two-tiered mud puddle.