Thursday, February 09, 2006

[trip] Simmons-Mingo Cave

Last Saturday I drove down to the Elk River Valley and met up with the WVU Student Grotto to hit Simmons-Mingo Cave. Most of them had camped out at Oildrum Falls the night before.

Brian and Jason squeezed their way into the Oildrum Falls entrance, a very narrow tunnel with a stream flowing through part, and decided it was not worth rigging and dropping. We trudged up the Dry Branch a bit and peeked into the Stan's Blowing Rock entrance, which requires vert gear. After first thinking it'd been filled in, we crawled down the Zarathustra... Zurothoarsty... Zerostoaster... the other entrance.

The entrance tunnel goes down and to the left, then down a slot to a small muddy room, then down a 15' molehole which has a handline rigged. You come out on a large breakdown slope which takes you down to Edigar's Dome, an impressive 90' dome-pit that drops from the passage above at the Stan's Blowing entrance. Another smaller dome-pit faces it on the opposite side - this room had lots of bats clustered close together along crevices in the ceiling.

Edigar's Dome, as seen on the NSS 2000 Convention Guidebook

We followed the passage up to the top level, then down a narrow slot in the floor. A narrow phreatic tube goes forward for a ways, but we turned left into a very large and long paleo-passage. We followed it to its end, down some breakdown and back up into a room with very strong airflow but no leads out. Backtracking, we dropped down a hole in the floor to a smaller tunnel. There's a hole in the floor here with an old, twisted strand rope etrier rigged. We put some backup lines in place and climbed down.

This lower level contains a steep muddy bank which opens up to a very large room containing the underground Elk River - called the Canadian River here - this was an impressive sight. We travelled upstream, crossing the icy water too many times, for a bit. The roof lowers and the water sumps out, so we didn't travel far. Going back to the right we followed the river to where the Oildrum Falls stream comes pouring out of the ceiling as a 35' waterfall. The water started getting deeper at this end, it sumps and connects to My Cave here, so we headed back.

Going back up the etrier was quite a pain. It's an unforgiving rock crotch with nowhere to put your feet - it probably didn't help that I tried to do it with a pack strapped to my back. The climb back out the entrance passage was tiring as well, but everyone made it out in short time. We were probably in cave less than 4 hours. Since the weather was not on our side, everyone packed up camp and headed to Mama's Kitchen for some dinner.

Me climbing back up the etrier. Photo by Brian Masney

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