Friday, June 08, 2007

[trip] Cheat Canyon Work Week Day 1

Today was the first day of the Cheat Canyon work week, and it's already been productive. We met around 9am at IHOP for breakfast, and were greeted with an inspiring phone call from Allen Peterson. Allen's luck for finding cave in the canyon has apparently rubbed off on us (yes, bad luck is communicable). We arrived at Mark's farm by 10:30, and Brian drove us down into the canyon by 11am. From here, we split into two teams.

Aaron and Tristen Bird, Greg Springer, and Doug McCarty headed to the new cave above the Twin Springs with the goal of enlarging the blowing lead. The cave has now been named Fichtner Cave, in honor of a great landowner who has really helped us to make progress in the canyon. Edit: The cave became the Fichtner Entrance to Windy Slope Cave.

Aaron and Doug modified some tight rock using a Hilti loaned from Rocky Parsons and the Shavers Mountain Survey - Doug preferring to create significant clearance with just a hammer. They say that just a few feet of easily-scooped silt keeps them from reaching the room at the current end of the lead. Wind howls through this passage and room.

Meanwhile, Greg walked down the hill to river level, headed upstream for less than 100 yards, and hiked up a small gully which seemed to be blowing a slight cool breeze. About 50 feet up - perhaps 10 feet lower in elevation than the nearby Fichtner Cave entrance - he pulled up a rock and was hit with a "geyser of cold air". He and Aaron dug a bit and were soon looking down the barrel of more virgin cave! Aaron crawled in the entrance hole, turned towards Fichtner Cave, and was standing in a pool in walking passage. The passage ranges from 4 to 6 feet high, 1.5 to 3 feet wide, and is completely full of water - waist-deep at its deepest. He scooped about 60 feet to verify that it goes (it goes!) and headed back out, soaked and slimed. This cave also blows cold air with serious velocity, and it is suspected to be a lower level (and second entrance) of the nearby Fichtner Cave. The gully had been inspected by everyone at one point in the past, and had previously been flowing with considerable water, but was nearly dry today. This cave will be surveyed on Sunday.

While the other group was popping rocks and scooping virgin cave, Brian and I - Dave Riggs - went to push and survey the new cave that was dug open with Allen Peterson earlier this week. Allen has aptly named the cave Original Sin Cave, because finding and digging on this karst spring in 1980 was "The Original Sin" which has doomed generations of Northern WV cavers to spend an eternity in hellish Cheat Canyon caves. Dressed only in wetsuits, kneepads, knee-high rubber boots and helmets, Brian and I became known for the day as the "Extreme Team".

I headed into the cave first, and immediately noted that the entrance pool - dubbed by us "The Hot Tub" - was much lower than it was on Monday, excellent news! We both pushed our way back into the cave to the tighter spot where I'd previously turned back. A few rocks were moved, and I was beyond and caving in soggy virgin passage again... at least, for a few tens of feet. About 100 feet in, the cave stream comes in from a parallel side passage on the right; a ledge here provides only about 7 inches of crawl space to get past. It appears that if some cemented rocks were hammered from the floor, a small caver could push beyond and follow the water upstream where it appears to open up slightly more. The passage that we were in was never more than 2 feet tall or 3 feet wide, and we were constantly in icy water. There were a few small stalactites on the ceiling, however.

Dave Riggs in monotonous 18-inch-high stream passage, Original Sin Cave, Preston County WV. The stream is perched on a layer of black shale, visible at the bottom of the cave walls. Photo by Brian Masney

We headed out to warm up and eat, then did a bit of surface examination now that we knew what the cave inside did (but found nothing but sandstone talus on the canyon wall). We then surveyed the cave - a painful effort with a two-man team laying in an icy stream in 18 inch high passage. On the way out, we noted that the Hot Tub was very noticeably deeper than it was in the morning, and we suspect that this cave may flood to the ceiling at times.

Then, almost instantly, the sky turned grey and rain poured from above. We radioed the other group, who shared their news of another new cave, and headed across the canyon to see. We arrived as they were packing up, rain still coming down. Brian drove us back to Mark's house by 6pm, where the thunderstorm raged. Not wanting to camp in the rain, everyone decided to sleep in Morgantown for the night. We meet again tomorrow morning, 9am at Mark's house.

Work Week Stats
Surveyed Cave: 96'
New Caves: 1
Virgin Cave: 110'
Participants: 5
Person Hours Worked: 30
Beers Consumed: zero!

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