Tuesday, March 27, 2007

[trip] Pendleton Caving - Sinnett, Sites

In celebration of Spring Break, John Harman, Josh Flaugher, Cullen Hencke, and Dave Riggs spent a few days caving in Pendleton County, WV.

On Tuesday, March 27, we met up at John's house in Germany Valley (Schoolhouse Cave is literally in his front yard) and were joined by Chris Eleyette. The five of us took a trip into Sinnett-Thorn Mountain Cave, which is gated and requires access through the Sinnett-Thorn Cave Conservancy. John, Josh, and Cullen have recently made several trips into Sinnett-Thorn, but it was Chris's and my first visit.

We went into the gated Sinnett Cave entrance and followed the main passage, which mostly consisted of very dry canyon passage. We then climbed up the spiraling Silo into the massive, strike-oriented big room. The big room is completely floored with breakdown, and has a steeply sloping ceiling following the dip of the limestone. The walls of the big room are lined with fossil brachiopods, meaning that it is likely formed in the Corriganville member of the Helderberg (similar to Cave Mountain Cave). This long room has a very impressive volume, which hints at some large passage hidden beneath the breakdown.

CMI-sponsored professional caver Cullen Hencke climbs The Silo in Sinnett Cave. Photo: John Harman.

After playing around in the big room for a bit, we attempted the Thorn Mountain Cave connection. A climb up from the big room leads to a wet and muddy uphill crawl - which some kind soul has floored with plastic - with the most powerful cave wind that I've ever felt. A low and wide, upsloping room leads to a tiny triangular crawlway about 15 feet long. This passage supposedly leads to the Sinnett Annex, but neither John nor I could fit, thus nixing our Thorn Mountain connection attempt.

We attempted to push two other tight passages near the big room, looking for a rumoured "lost" connection to the waterfall, but were unsuccessful. We then climbed back down the silo and hopped down into a stream canyon, going upstream to the waterfall room. After much searching, we located the passage up at waterfall level, which requires a very low crawl after a sketchy climb. After a full day caving, we headed back out through more crawls than I remembered on the way in.

Josh, Cullen, Chris, John, and Dave outside the gated entrance to Sinnett-Thorn Mountain Cave. Photo: John Harman.

After a warm dinner in the sprawling metropolis of Franklin (home of CMI!), we headed back to John's and camped on his beautiful property in Germany Valley. We did a bit of covert rappelling that night, and on Wednesday morning got a tour of some of the incredible sinkholes and karst features of Germany Valley.

Midnight rappelling in a secret Germany Valley pit. Photo: John Harman.

We headed back to Franklin and met up with Jessica Morning, then headed to Sites Cave. A brisk hike up the mountain on a well-marked trail leads to the gaping entrance to Sites Cave, a very popular vertical cave since the 1950's. We rigged from a tree high up on the hill, which gave a nice free drop down the entrance pit. I rappelled down first, with rope bag in tow - it repeatedly twisted around the rope on the way down, causing much fumbling and cursing. While Sites is nearly 300 foot deep, the rappel is about 180 feet interrupted several times by sloping dirt ledges - the deepest purely vertical drop is just over 100 feet. The sloping passages appear to roughly follow the steep dip of the Helderberg.

Dave Riggs on rappel at Sites Cave. Photo: John Harman.

At the bottom is a nice strike-oriented chamber with lots of formations and many sleeping bats. We had heard that a dead deer at the bottom was cause for alarm, but the smell had worked its way out by the time we visited the cave. The climb back out took plenty of time, and the weather turned slightly worse - occasionally spitting light rain on those waiting at the top. The dreaded "finger" only grabbed the rope once or twice, but nobody got stuck by it. It turned out to be a great trip, and we followed it up with another (better) meal in Franklin, then parted ways. I made it back to Morgantown by midnight and slept like a brick after two full days of caving.

Cullen Hencke and Jessica Morning in the decorated lower room of Sites Cave. Photo: John Harman.


Cullen said...

HAHA! factory team...

Lin said...

This is amazing! I'm just browsing the net trying to find somewhere to do caving with rappelling. Did you bring your own equipments for the caving tours? Do you know if there are any tour operators that will guide caving tours in WV area? It would be awesome if you could get back to me. Thanks!

Dave Riggs said...

There are many commercial caves in WV and VA. If you'd like to try some led underground rappelling, I recommend that you contact Laurel Caverns just across the PA border, though they may currently be closed.