Monday, June 04, 2007

[trip] More Virgin Cave in the Cheat Canyon

Nearly 30 years ago, Allen Peterson and his band of "druids" did some ridge walking on the South side of the Cheat River canyon and discovered an interesting karst spring below an old logging road. They very briefly dug on the spring before following its water downhill, leading to the discovery of Druid Cave. As Druid grew over the years to 2.3 miles in length, the spring above its entrance was forgotten... until dye tracing in 2007 showed that this spring plays a very interesting hydrological role in the Druid Cave system: it appears to be the downstream resurgence of New Years Day Cave, which appears to be hydrologically distinct from Druid Cave until this spring water flows into the Druid Cave entrance on the surface.

Today, Brian Masney and I met up with Allen Peterson and revisited this karst spring for the first time since the discovery of Druid Cave. Allen, in the area for a business trip, met me at the Pittsburgh airport and drove us down to Morgantown. After meeting up with Brian, shuttling vehicles around, and fighting with car problems, we were off to Masontown and started hiking down into the canyon at around 2:30pm.

On arrival, we immediately started digging in to the spring, which fanned out both horizontally and vertically along the hillside below a limestone headwall. I prodded at a small conduit with a crowbar, while Brian and Allen poked around some large moss-covered breakdown with water flowing from within. Allen moved several rocks aside and felt a strong, cool breeze - paydirt! We went at the area with our hand tools and found that this part of the hillside was completely composed of breakdown blocks, small rocks, and easily movable fill. Over the next several hours, we easily moved close to a ton of rock - exposing more airflow and a cave stream, and destabilizing some of the sketchier rocks on the hillside.

The cave passage visible inside was low and very wet; working conditions required sliding downhill and pulling rocks out while someone else tugged you out by your own boots. We spent some time stabilizing the lining rocks and removing most of the entrance slope. The only remaining barrier was the icy-cold soaking in very low, unknown passage. We all took turns trying to push the nasty entrance, but none of us made it on first attempt. Brian and I played rock paper scissors, and I lost, so I took a deep breath and scooped some nasty, wet, virgin cave.

Dave Riggs emerges soaked from the low, wet, newly dug cave above Druid Cave. Photo by Brian Masney.

The entrance pool is a six foot wide chamber where the swiftly-moving cave stream is between two and six inches deep, and air space is one foot at the highest point. A wetsuit is needed from the very start, as the water is extremely cold and one is entirely soaked immediately.

Following the cave stream to the right, one travels parallel to the Cheat River, and distinctly up-dip in a nearly-straight line. The cave passage is never more than three feet high or wide, and is a semi-circular arching stream passage. The cave stream, while only an inch or two deep, takes up the entirety of the width of the passage in most spots, and is perched on a layer of etched black shale. I continued for what seemed like seventy-five feet, until the cave passage became small enough that I'd have had to exert real effort to continue, but the airflow and water ensure more cave beyond - so long as one has a wetsuit.

Brian Masney, Dave Riggs, and Allen Peterson at the newly dug cave entrance above Druid Cave. Photo by Brian Masney.

After all these years, the very first karst feature discovered by Druid Cave explorers finally yields virgin cave to one of its original discoverers. The dye tracing results show that this new cave should be the hydrological downstream resurgence to New Years Day Cave, and the fact that it appears to be perched on a shale bed reinforces the implication that New Years Day Cave and Druid Cave are hydrologically distinct, parallel caves.

The Druid Cave saga continues...

1 comment:

gregS said...

Excellent! And "only" one mile to go before it connects to New Years Day Cave!