03.05.2011

Billy Clay Cave
Shannon Gilligan, the Madison University Student Grotto president, in a highly decoatrated formation area in the lower level of Billy Clay Cave in Pocahontas County, W.Va.

Notice the little pipistrelle bat in the photo? He he is close up, unfazed by our presence.
Billy Clay Cave

01.01.2011

Hellhole
Chris Coates stands in Hellhole’s Back In Business Borehole.
We had a 3-day cave/camp trip into Hellhole via SEC with Dwight Livingston and Aaron Moses.

HellholeHere Dwight looks at a delicate gypsum pigtail coming out of the wall where were surveyed.

Hellhole Cave Trip Report
The Happy (HPY) Survey
Dec. 31, 2010 to Jan. 2, 2011

Participants: Chris Coates, Nikki Fox, Dwight Livingston and Aaron Moses

Dec. 31, 2010
Chris Coates and I started late Friday and subsequently got underground a little before noon on Friday, the last day of 2010. Armed with 2 packs each, we made it down the SEC entrance series into Hellhole in the slow pace of 3.5 hours. We went to the old camp to drop off and pick up supplies before heading to the new camp near Last Falls in the Silent Stream passage. We timed ourselves from the old camp to the new camp: 5.5 hours. We showed up to camp a little after 10 p.m., to a sleeping Dwight and Aaron. We chatted a little, then set up camp using Mark and Vonny’s sleeping gear (thank you!), made dinner and went to sleep. As a side note — I did not sleep very well due to the constant noise made by the little falls in the stream right next to camp. I wish I had ear plugs!

Jan. 1, 2011
Saturday we woke up bright-eyed (well, some of us) and bushy tailed ready for a day of survey! We were at Aaron’s bidding since neither of us had been down there before and didn’t know where to go or what had been surveyed. First on the list was to check out a lead at the top of Digger’s Hall. After a sandy crawl, we were standing atop breakdown choking the passage of a ledge. Aaron rigged a short rope and we all rappelled the 20 feet or so down the vertical passage. Dwight did the book with the GWD survey of this high ledge series. After we could go no further without the aide of bolting gear, we left and entered Back In Business Bore.

Aaron lead us all the way to the upper dark-colored breakdown area, right before the crawling towards Ecstasy Avenue. Chris and I went down a tight side lead that was on the southwest wall, trending south between ZFF1 and ZFF2. It did not go far, maybe 30 feet before ending. We did, however, stumble across a nice pile of gypsum needles. We then proceeded to go back northeast in Back In Business Bore to clean up some side leads. Aaron and Dwight looked into a lead between ZFE17 and ZFE18, while we took a small lead near ZFE15.

The HPY survey entered in a small crawl and then opened up into a beautiful, smooth passage in swiss cheese. It was very 3-dimensional and I was having a difficult time sketching all the holes in the ceiling and the passage. Between HPY4 and HPY5 there was a natural bridge created by a hole in the passage, very cool. I’m sure that Aaron, who was working on profiles once he and Dwight caught up with us, was having a hard time drawling as well. At HPY5 two sister pits plunged downward about 15 feet. The larger one on the left is free climbable.

Once in this lower passage, we were standing on gypsum sand littered with needles. We eventually made it into a large room, which I call the Happy Room, with the dome ceiling measured at 92 feet. A ledge can been seen before the very top, which measured at 88 feet. This could possibly be climbed in the future to see if there is passage above that goes, but I would not deem it a priority. The room seemed to end, but Chris found a small hole along the western floor that went down to another level. Chris and Dwight fetched vertical gear and rope, which was left in Back In Business Bore. Aaron rigged around a hole in the ceiling and rappelled down the 50-foot rope into the pit. He came back to the Happy Room and reported that the rope was too short for the drop and that the pit was washed clean. He also said that there was a dome climb to reach the top. Chris took measurements with the disto, and it was determined it would indeed be a 100+ foot pit once reaching the top!

We surveyed the rest of the passage trending north from the pit. The passage was a gypsum dream — we were surrounded by fluffy white clusters, 5-inch needles, curlicues, frost and other formations I’ve never seen before. (Photos will be sent to Lewis for posting in a couple of days/months). We called it a day, leaving the pit lead for a future trip.

Back at camp, we all toasted in the new year with mini liquor bottles that Chris and I brought. We ate our dinners and then all shared some raspberry chocolate crumble for desert. It was a fine day to bring in the new year!

Jan. 2, 2011
On Sunday morning Aaron and Dwight were in a hurry and left around 8 a.m. Chris and I, who were more leisurely, left camp around 9 a.m. We had to go back to the old camp, to again exchange gear, and take inventory. It took us 3.5 hours to get from one camp to the other. We arrived to the warm sun, with eyes hurting, at 4:30 p.m.

The numbers:
20 stations
288.2 feet of survey
53 hours underground

11.13.2010

MDC

Abby Hohn admires a row of 2-3 foot-long soda straws in the Starlight Passage of Memorial Day Cave during a survey trip.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
Tightening Loose Ends

Chris Coates and I met up with Abby Hohn at the fieldhouse on Saturday morning for more surveying of the western end of Memorial Day Cave. With Abby’s Sunday work schedule and me just getting over a 2-week stent of loosing my voice and having congested lungs, we pretty much decided before entering that our trip was going to be a short one in comparison to our previous trips, which often averaged 16 hours underground.  

Our destination was to return to the Starlight Passage and continue surveying the borehole that we abandoned due to time in September with Kurt Waldron and Heather Jordan. I brought my camera again to get some photographs (love the new big pack). Abby and I worked on making some images while Chris started the survey sheets. Chris wanted to learn how to sketch, so after I gave him a crash course and some pointers the night before, he was on his own. Unfortunately, I did not work as efficiently with Abby as Chris usually does. Several times he had to reshoot a shot for us, which slowed our survey down. 

After 200 feet in the Starlight, the passage pinched down and beautiful white sodastraws grew everywhere. There were a couple of massive sodastraw piles in the passage. I’ve never seen huge piles like it before! The passage appeared to continue ahead, so I pushed the crawl. I had to dig the floor out and push the muddy gravel aside to continue forward. I was trying to reach a spot that looked like it opened up and possibly took a left. After about 20 feet I reached this “room,” which turned out to be nothing more than a tiny space that was 1.5 feet tall, rather than the 6-inch-tall crawl I was in. I made the station LAH5 in this little room. I did not bring my instruments with me in the crawl, so Abby just shot twice from LAH4. I tried to turn around in the small space, but was unsuccessful after several minutes of wrangling about. Finally, I had to give up and back out of the crawl. When looking further into the small passage, it is hard to tell if it kept going or not. It does pinch down pretty small. One thing for sure: that if someone wanted to push it, digging would be involved. 

So after we pushed the main Starlight Passage to the bitter end we decided to stay in Starlight and push the other multiple leads we passed by. The first one we tackled was a crawling lead near LAG21, which was going north. When hunching down and looking into the passage, it looks very promising and large. Upon entering, you crawl over very muddy breakdown into a small room where we made station LAH7. From here, heading northeast, the passage quickly tapers down into another crawl. Only after a couple of shots I was again in a tight crawl where I could not turn my head. Again, I placed a station (LAH9) and Abby had to shoot the frontsight twice because I could not move. The passage continued, only to get smaller and smaller. There was a little air, but not much. Back at LAH7, we crawled up a slope and found ourselves back into the Starlight Passage. We tied into the LAG19 station on the opposite wall because LAG20, which was on the left, could not be easily seen. 

We walked back east through Starlight, down the large muddy slope to our next lead: the northwest stooping passage at LAG15. Again, this passage looked very promising. It was sloppy muddy with more breakdown. I found little rat footprints all over the passage, as last spring in the original crawling route to the western end. I documented a few of them with my camera before anyone else entered, knowing they would be instantly destroyed. After station LAH12, the passage tightened and for the third time of the day I was in a tight crawl. I had to take my helmet off to push past a ledge sticking out of the ceiling. The smaller the passage got, the more decorated it became with sodastraws and helictites. I made the last station at LAH13 again unable to make a shot due to the position I was in. The passage, which was about 10 feet wide, turned in a hard right and shrank to about 5-6 inches tall. It was highly decorated and continued. I could not see and end. I retuned to Chris and drew the passage in the sketch. 

It was about 6 p.m. and we were going back to the Bison Room for a snack before heading out. En route, we passed by a lead we decided to check out at LAG12. It was a walking lead going southeast, which turned out to be a mud hole. It was a challenge to stand up and not slide around while making our shots! After making a couple of turns, it became tighter to a hands-and-knees crawl. Around station LAH16 I noticed a hole in the floor on the left-hand side. I dropped a small rock down, and could tell this was a significant pit! Looking through the hole, I could tell that we were crawling on a false flowstone floor above this pit. I was not too happy about this and pushed ahead, only to notice a rope hanging from the ceiling. It appeared we made a connection to the top of Fasten Your Sealtbelts pit! Once we tied the survey into LAF4, we made our way back to the Starlight Passage to connect in another hole in the floor. We tied in LAH15 to LAG11. Then we finally made our way back to the Bison Room for a snack.

We started heading topside around 8:30 p.m. Abby took the lead out, as Chris and I followed. I was moving at a really slow pace since I was having trouble breathing. We caught up to her at the 125′ climb out of Columbia Canyon, but from there she scooted out rather fast. She was already gone at the fieldhouse when we showed up, on her way back home to Morgantown for work Sunday. 

The numbers:
17 stations
579 feet of survey
13.5 hours underground

MDC
And we found a WNS-free bat!!

11.06.2010

Paxton's Cave

I led a sport caving trip with some of my co-workers at the newspaper. I do this every couple of years or so . . . this time it was with reporters Doug Manners, Tim Champan, Josh Brown and Patrick Cooley in Allegany County’s Paxton’s Cave. Here is Doug admiring some dog-tooth spar.

Paxton's Cave

Paxton's Cave
Patrick stands next to the large stalagmite named Floyd Collins’ Ghost.

Paxton's Cave
Tim stands next to the beautiful formation named the Christmas Tree.

Paxton's Cave
Josh stands next to some typical formations in the upper level maze.

09.11.2010

MDC
Here Heather Jordan looks at the awesome formations in the Memorial Day Cave’s Starlight Passage.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report – the LAG Survey
by Nikki Fox

We met for the traditional breakfast at the Gateway to meet a rather small crowd, compared to the previous month. Chris and I met up with our team — Kurt Waldron and Heather Jordan. It was both their first time into MDC. We preceded to the cave and got underground around 10:30 a.m.

We made it to the western upper level by the new route Aaron rigged the month before: the CC connection drop. First order of business was to tie a handline on the very muddy slope in the LAC/CC connection room. I tied a couple of foot loops in the bottom so I could get on the slope without aid. We stopped for lunch at the Bison Room before starting our survey. Our plan was to survey the left borehole passage from the Bison Room since we were sans drill.

With our group of four, Chris remained on backsight the whole time as Kurt and Heather switched on and off on foresight. Heather helped me with measurements for profiles, which was nice for a change.

We found the small holes in the floor that Abby tried to connect to LAB5 in June. It was a small room we surveyed at LAG5. Between stations LAG2 and LAG3 there was a high lead that went southeast. I had a hunch that it would connect to the same high lead that looked like a bolt climb from the LAB5 room when we first discovered the big passages. I sent Heather to the LAB5 room and we made a voice and light connection.

We continued the survey from LAG2, which had sister beautiful domes that I measured at 50 and 70 feet tall. We went under a natural bridge from LAG6 to LAG7. In this next room there was a cluster of soda straws and stalagmites in one corner. Around the bend it got small and our hopes were dwindled with a small crawl. But Chris found that it opened up again into nice strolling passage.

Around LAG11 there was a hand-sized hole in the floor on the left. Chris threw a rock in and it went down for quite a ways. At the next station, LAG12, there was a passage trending to the northwest. We did not push it. As we went further, the floor was getting quite muddy.

After LAG13 the passage kept trending west. Between LAG15 and LAG16 there was a rather large mud slope, which will need some steps carved if there is much more traffic, with a huge passage going northwest. We left it and continued straight. From here the passage changed. There were white calcite veins on the ceiling, everywhere. Tiny needles also covered the floor. Station LAG17 was made on some beautiful stalactites. We named this passage the Starlight Passage as the walls seemed to twinkle with out headlamps.

At station LAG19 there was a left stooping lead going south. Chris and Kurt checked out this lead when I was taking photos one time. We did not survey it. After LAG20, there was another lead, going north, that we did not check out as well. At LAG21, another lead. This time it was crawling, not walking or stooping.

Between stations LAG21 and LAG22 the passage started to get really decorated with soda straws and helacites. And then the formation mother load: a beautiful stalactite over four feet long almost touching it’s sister stalagmite. I brought a couple of flashes and a few bulbs with me this trip (a new big pack = more room for stuff like photo gear). Heather was gracious enough to pose for some photos. The images from this trip are already posted on the GVKS site.

It was getting late, around 9:30 p.m. So we all looked at the decorated passage for another 30 feet or so and I took a bunch of photos. We retreated to the Bison Room to have a snack and then proceeded to head out around 10:30.

I think that Pete Penzer will have to visit the Starlight Passage and judge for himself if it’s the prettiest passage of MDC or not.

The numbers:
22 stations
731.2 feet of survey
16 hours underground

08.21.2010

McClung's Cave
A weekend of caving with my friends Holly Marcus and Jeremiah Knupp. Chris and I took them to West Virginia’s Greenbrier County. This day we did Lightner’s Entrance to McClung’s Cave. Holly stands next to some of the coolest formations I’ve seen . . . they’re melting off of the shelf!

Below is Jeremiah in the Glacier Room.
McClung's Cave

07.17.2010

Cass Cave
John Harman makes his way across a horizontal traverse, about 100 feet up in the air, to access Solstice Skyway in Cass Cave during a survey trip. Our team: Bob Zimmerman sketched, I recorded numbers, John Harman and Pete Johnson ran the instruments. It was a 15 hour trip.

Here Pete stands in the Solstice Skyway passage.
Cass Cave

As per Harman’s trip report —
We quickly surveyed to a 15-foot climb up over a flowstone waterfall. I easily free climbed the drop and rigged a piece of Pete’s webbing to aid the ascent and to make the descent easier on the way out. Just after the climb there was another 10-foot waterfall climb. Pete took an alternate route around a huge chockstone while I climbed it. We met up on the other side and determined that my route was easier so we headed back down and surveyed to the top of the climb.  

The passage here was floored with large sandstone cobbles. Just after the climb, the passage split and we debated on which way to go. Bob suggested we survey the left hand fork that appeared to go to a tight canyon. The canyon ended after only a few shots at SSB15. We retreated and surveyed the right hand passage. This passage was obviously the continuation of the main canyon. The height had decreased to about 8’ but generally remained about 10’ wide. We surveyed up a very slick, gently sloping mud floor that we dubbed the Ice Rink. Just after the Ice Rink, the passage split again and again, we surveyed the left hand fork first. This passage ended after only two shots as sediment choke. There were many beautiful formations and helictites in this area and we even found a double helix stalactite!

Next, we surveyed the right hand lead which jogged around the corner and opened back up into the main stream passage. This yielded two more shots to a 7” bedrock squeeze with great air. Pete was the only one who could fit and he reported scooping 50’ in going passage with several leads. After Pete returned, we decided to call it a day and head back out of the cave.

In total I believe we surveyed about 780’ of wonderful virgin passage!
”

Cass Cave

06.23.2010

White River Camping
Waking up in the morning at our beautiful campsite an Aspen grove in White River National Forest, elevation about 10,000 feet. The plan . . . to spend several days up at high elevation — sleeping, hiking, caving — to get acclimated to it. So when we arrive in Yosemite, at 7,500 feet, it won’t kick our asses nearly as bad.

Our view from a day hike.
White River Camping

And then we got to go caving again with Ken Headrick. He meet up with us after work and took us into Groaning Cave, Colorado’s longest cave at 10 miles, for a short 2.5-hour trip.
Groaning Cave

Groaning Cave
Another photo of Ken.

And the sexy entrance!!
Groaning Cave