Spring VAR
Chris attempts to rig Odey’s Pit entrance to Cassell Cave after a massive rain storm a few days earlier. As you can see, there’s still a bunch of water entering the cave entrance. I believe I said there was “No fucking way” I was going down there!! Being Chris (stubborn), he finally gave up after the water pounded the breath out of him in the crawls to get to the rig point. Insane shit.


Had a fabulous trip into Memorial Day Cave trip with Chris Coates, Aaron Moses and Terry McClanathan!!
We continued the survey of borehole we found at the bottom of Fasten Your Seatbelts Pit. We spent 16.5 hours underground and surveyed nearly 2,200 feet of passage! Above is Aaron standing the the borehole we named Ripple Way.

Below is Terry doing the cross sections.

Here Terry comes out of a side lead.

And a photo of the sand that inspired the passage name — Ripple Way.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
The Push of Ripple Way
April 9, 2011
LAK survey
by Nikki Fox

Chris Coates and I met up with our crew — Aaron Moses and Terry McClanathan — for breakfast at the Gateway. Terry got underground first to get a head start. Chris and I were in next, in around 10 a.m., followed by Aaron. Aaron caught up to us when we were at the 50-foot drop. At the bottom, Aaron passed us to catch up to Terry, who we could hear banging around in the Puppet Buster. 

We all made our way to the top of the connection drop. Aaron took Terry on a little tour of the upper Western Section, including showing the window into Nebraska Canyon and Starlight Passage, which Aaron had never seen himself. At the bottom of Fasten Your Seatbelts Pit, which took us 3.5  hours to get to, we all got rid of all or part of our vertical gear and started the long crawl to the borehole lead Chris and I did last month. 

At LAJ15 we stopped, had a snack and decided who would do what. Chris did his usual duty as frontsight, Aaron did backsight, Terry recorded the data and sketched cross sections while I did the sketching. This provided to be most efficient, allowing us to survey the passage rather quickly. 

There were 8 to 10-inch scallops on the ceiling with iron-colored rings along passage between LAK1 and LAK19. When Chris was setting station LAK8, Terry and I were at station LAK6. Aaron said there was a side passage on the opposite wall, so I crawled up the hole and went around a couple of turns, to see the small crawling passage going uphill with a floor channel in the bottom. It reminded me of the Puppet Buster. So I crawled back and hollered at the boys that we should survey it. Chris was not a fan of leaving the nice borehole. After 4 shots, Chris went a little further and found that it opened up into a small room and then continued in a crawl. We decided to leave the crawl as a lead for another time. Once back in the borehole both Terry and Aaron “bitched” about how aweful the borehole passage was to survey. This joke continued throughout the day.

Back in the main bore, we ran across another floor channel between LAK8 and LAK13. It originated from a tiny hole along the western wall and cut a huge slot in a mud mound. It was around this time the mud started getting a little gewy. After LAK13, there was a visible drainage area on the east wall, under a shelf, with the first collection of gravel we saw in the passage. The passage then constricted to a hands and knees crawl, where there were large sand mounds with wonderful ripple designs. Suddenly, we popped into a 13.5-foot high dome! At the bottom, there was a small crawling passage with cracked, sticky mud on the floor (LAK16). Before we went further, Chris returned to the beginning of our survey to retrieve our packs and I took photos of the mud cracks before it was destroyed by our path. The muddy sump turned out to be 9 to 11-inches tall the whole way and was 45 feet long. 

After the sump, we crawled up a sand bank, again with beautiful ripples, and followed an old water channel up the passage, which started at LAK21 from under a rock pile. The passage from LAJ8 to LAK20 had more sand/mud mounds. It was at LAK19 when I heard a low-frequency pop. I said “It just sounded like something fell in the passage ahead.” Aaron quickly chimed: “No it’s not! That’s the Ruddle crew we’re hearing!” There was much excitement and hurry to push the passage further to see if there was a small crack somewhere in the passage where the Ruddle crew could connect.  

Just around the corner (LAK21) the bore dramatically changed. The floor was covered in muddy breakdown and the walls looked craggy, not the smooth-lined walls with scallops we had grown accustomed to. I do not know much about the kinds of limestone in GV, but I would have to guess that we had entered a new contact layer. 

We surveyed through the breakdown, hearing the familiar low-pitched drilling (from LAK22 to LAK27) we have heard working on the SEC connection dig. At LAK26 I found a standing pool of water. It was not big, and was about 6-inches deep along the western wall. Between LAK26 and LAK27 there was another gravel sump, but this time there was a trickle of water flowing down into it! Once the passage narrowed, to 5-foot tall (LAK 27), I could no longer hear the drill. So I went back, as all the others were ahead at least one station, and tried to determine where the drilling sound was the loudest. It seemed to be around this gravel sump. 

We continued upstream and around LAK28 we started to see formations — lots of sodastraws and stalagmites. We popped into a wet, drippy passage that was decorated with flowstone and drapery. The passage branched off at LAK29. To the right (southwest) was upstream with air blowing. We continued straight (south), following the largest flow of air. After a small crawl (between LAK31 and LAK32) we climbed down into another junction room, accompanied with a small stream. The stream came from a breakdown pile (southwest) in the room, and traveled down the hill to the west. We left both of these leads and pushed forward in a dryer passage with no running water. 

From LAK33 the passage became muddy. At several turns in the passage, we left three small crawling leads and a walking lead with running water near LAK37. It was here that Aaron and Terry refilled their water bottles. Between LAK38 and LAK39 we left a lead going southeast. It looked rather unpleasant — a wet, muddy crawl. Continuing along the passage, a very slick, muddy sloped had to be climbed to reach LAK39. At the top, we encountered another dry stream channel that disappeared down two small holes in the floor (LAK41). Up another small hill, a shelf jutted out of the wall (LAK42) and the passage became a stoop walk, for me. At LAK44 we came to a fabulous natural bridge with more scallops on the ceiling. 

From here the passage had pockets of beautiful formations — mainly sodastraws, stalagmites and stalactites. Near LAK47 there was a very promising passage heading northeast down a slope. It has gobs of air and made me chilly sitting at the intersection. Around LAK51 the passage changed again. We followed a flowstone drain downwards to the end of our borehole. The entire area was covered in gravel and rotten flowstone. We stopped surveying at a water sump, which was 4 feet long, at least 6-inches deep and had at least an inch of air on the other side (LAK54). The good news is that it was blowing massive amounts of air. Our hopes are that this will eventually dry up for us. It was at the end of our survey that we discussed what to call the passage we had just mapped. Terry suggested “Ripple Way” and it stuck. 

A big thanks to Aaron and Terry for joining us on our survey! 
We couldn’t have done this kind of trip with just the two of us. 

Side notes: 
— Aaron seemed to think that the first stream was Ruddle water and the second was from Con. 
— The air did change directions multiple times during the day. 
— Took 4.5 hours to exit the cave from the last station

The numbers:
54 stations
2,171.9 feet of survey (0.4 miles) 
16.5 hours underground


Chris and I led a sport trip in Shovel Eater Cave with Mike Broome and Lisa Lorenzin. I think it was their hardest vertical cave they’ve done. But I absolutely love this cave, it’s my favorite! Here are the two of them in the borehole above Germany Well (217 ft).

Below is Chris in the Acoustic Persistence Chamber.

Unfortunately, we ran into this little guy in the cave. An Eastern pip covered with White Nose (WNS). I sure hope he makes it to the summer, he’s got a few more weeks to go for the bugs to come out!!


Chris stands at the spot where we stopped our survey of virgin passage in Memorial Day Cave. We pushed the tight crawl at the bottom of Fasten Your Seatbelts Pit and got 501 feet of survey.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
March 12, 2011
LAJ survey
by Nikki Fox

Chris Coates and I ate breakfast at the Gateway and then proceeded to get underground a little earlier, opting to skip out the meet-n-greet at the fieldhouse. We got underground before 10 a.m., and to the Bison Room in less than 3 hours. With our leads gradually being surveyed, our plentiful choices were dwindling. So we decided to survey the crawling lead at the bottom of Fasten Your Seatbelts Pit (57 feet). Our only time there was with Aaron Moses and Abby Hohn, when it was rigged, back in August 2010.

Typically, the crawl to the top of the drop has had massive blowing air coming out of the pit. That day, there wasn’t too much airflow. We rappelled in and I had forgotten what a nice little pit it was. We paused for a snack and then began the LAJ survey, starting from LAF13.

The crawl was a little tight at first, with the tightest constriction nearly 10 feet into the crawl, I’m guessing about 9 inches tall. But afterwards, the crawling wasn’t too bad. We did a couple of shots before we made our way into a little dome room (LAJ3), about 9.5 feet tall. There was a small offshoot from the room that did not go. The passage became small again until it opened up into a bigger dome room (between LAJ 3 & 6) with a ceiling height of 37 feet. We could feel the air blowing upwards while standing in this room. We think there must be a level above us, but it would have to be bolt climbed to see for sure.

Our next shoot, to LAJ7 provided to be an interesting feature in the passage. There was a little mud mound in the middle of the room, seem to be formed by a massive flood. Around the next bend, the passage started to open up a little, more hands and knees crawling. After we hit our third ceiling dome (near LAJ11), we decided to break for lunch. Chris and I had to crawl back to our packs, which we left at LAF13.

After a couple more shots up the passage we had run into borehole (LAJ12)! We surveyed another 133 feet in three shots before calling it quits. I was getting tired and having a hard time concentrating on sketching. We packed up and headed out at a leisurely pace of 4 hours.

The numbers:
15 stations
501.2 feet of survey
14.5 hours underground


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


Chris goes on the traverse to get into the middle of the Wet Happy Dome, where he bolt climbed to the top of a saddle during our project caving trip in Hellhole.

Hellhole Trip Report 
Climbing the Wet Happy Dome
Feb. 18-20, 2011
by Chris Coates

Nikki and I left Harrisonburg after work on Thursday, heading over to Franklin to catch dinner before heading into SEC. While we were eating dinner Stacy, surprised us by tapping on the window of Foxes Pizza. Stacy, Heather and his dad came in and we all talked for a while. Nikki & I got massive belly aches and decided that caving would not be a good idea that night, so we slept in the Jeep.  

In the morning we felt better and got the traditional greasy Gateway breakfast when they opened at 7 a.m. We went back to the field house and retrieved Lewis’s rope/bag, and bolts and left a note at the Harpers since no one was home. We entered SEC a little after 8 a.m., and headed to 2007 camp. Once there, we dropped off Lewis’s stuff and collected some of our gear to take to Last Falls Camp. During our leisurely pace we noticed that the water level was a few inches higher than in January. All in all, it was an uneventful trip except for when I tripped in the stream and went swimming with the drill and other gear. This made me chilled for the rest of our journey to camp. So when we arrived, we set up our bed, ate dinner and went to bed very early.

We got up around 5 a.m., and made our way to Diggers Hall to find and sort John’s climbing gear. In the crawl leading to Wet Happy Dome I geared up in the jungle of cords, webbing, rope, and misc crap. Of course the traverse into Wet Happy is a nasty gear grabber. I climbed down to a belay alcove on the right and set a good belay bolt. After we were all set up and untangled, I started a bolting traverse around the dome with Nikki on belay. Once at the back corner, I progressed up about 20 feet before running out of supplies. I came down and we ate lunch, regeared and started again. On the way through the crawl this time Nikki and I cleaned the entrance passage. It is now devoid of popcorn and is an easy hands and knees crawl with no grabbers. I continued the climb for another 30 feet to a saddle, which was out of sight from the belay alcove.  

I needed more gear and Nikki was going to have to come up and belay me from a higher point from which she could see. Then we talked about what was needed she told me that her hands were tingly and she was having trouble gripping. Oh boy, just what you want to hear from your safety person. So we opted to finish the climb next month. So while she was packing up, I set another bolt to make a free rappel to the bottom of Wet Happy Dome.  

I rappelled to the bottom and realized that everything thrown into the pit goes into a small puddle at the bottom. It is a true funnel. On one side of the bottom is a tight crack, through which I could crawl once I removed my vertical gear. The passage was tight, grabby and wet. On the other side of the crawl is a small loft with about a 30-foot drop going down into a small room. It appears to have a couple of small leads going off at the bottom. Otherwise, at the loft level on the far side of the room is another tight squeeze with what appears to open up into a room. When turning around to climb/crawl back to the bottom of the rope, I noticed a narrow chimney going down at about a 45-degree angle.  

In summery, there are several promising leads at the bottom of Wet Happy Dome (Pigtail Pit is a name that Brian Masney used in his trip report to the pit on Jan. 21, 2011) that need to be pushed and surveyed. When I climbed up, I pulled the rope up out of the pit. It is still rigged, just piled in the entrance crawl to keep it from getting pulverized by any and all debris falling into the pit. Then we headed back to camp, dropping off the climbing gear where we found it.  

Sunday morning we got up late since we had no alarm and headed out. One of Nikki’s ascenders broke on the morning of the first day and her back up ascender was severely worn out, which made for a long, frustrating trip back up through the SEC entrance series. Once out, we stopped by and chatted with the Harpers for about a half and hour. Franklin provided our dinner stop of Subway.

— No Survey
— A lot of air flow going into the pit from the Dry Happy Room.
— From the saddle all the way to the bottom of the pit is about 110 feet. It is not free hang and there are two rebelays near the top.
— The rock is good dark grey with small veins of calcite throughout.  There are calcite fossils sticking out all over the walls. The walls are very abrasive and sharp.  
— The top rig point in the saddle is a single 3 3/4’” carbon steel bolt.


Here’s me on my first aid/bolt climb! Of course it is in our beloved Memorial Day Cave.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
Feb 12, 2011

Chris Coates and I met up with the GVKS crowd at the Gateway for a hardy breakfast. We went to the fieldhouse to dress in the warmth and cover from the cold wind gusts outside. We followed Terry McClanathan in, who got an early start since the rest of his team was delayed by snow. We caught up to Terry in the Puppet Buster and chatted with him for about a half an hour at the bottom of Columbia Canyon. We said our good-byes and went our separate ways.

First, our goal was to bolt climb up to an upper passage that connected two rooms (between stations LAG2 and LAB5). During our September 2010 trip, we made a light and voice connection between the two, but we wanted to make sure there was no passage above. Plus, this was a nice, short climb to learn how to bolt climb. With Chris on belay, he guided me through the steps of gear management. I was surprised at how easy it was to get into a rhythm of aid climbing. Granted, I had good, solid rock to work with. Unfortunately, about the time I was getting very comfortable with the process, my legs started to cramp up, which ended my climb after only five bolts. So Chris and I switched. With me on belay, he topped it out with three more bolts. I was unable to join him on the climb because he forgot to attach the static rope to him, where I had left it on the fifth bolt. I went to the other side of the upper passage, near LAG2 to check out the other side. Chris said there was no passage above. So he came down and cleaned the route.

We had a snack and then decided to go and bolt some of the drops in the crawling section. It was the first time we had been back in the crawl since the upper Columbia Canyon connection was made in July 2010. Chris put in two bolts at the slot in the floor near LAA6. After, we went to the small room that had several leads, We crawled through the hole in the floor, near FIS6, to access the most promising pit on our list. Chris again, worked on setting the two bolts and hangers while I passed him the tools as we both were lying down. We then made it back to the last pit with the clean-washed sides, near NAC1, off of the station FIS4. Chris wanted to be clipped into something while bolting this, and since we left our vertical gear and ropes back in the Bison Room, we opted to leave it for later.

After eating lunch, we inventoried our gear for our next task: to tackle the flowstone climb at the top of the CC connection traverse in the slit above LAE7. While I was on belay, he spent five bolts on the climb. The rock was not very good, and completely mud covered, as I can attest to a mud shower for the entire time. Once at the top, Chris was straddling a mud bridge looking down each side. It was not what we had hoped for: another upper passage. He rigged the tail of the rope used on the 72-foot connection drop and came down, cleaning the route. Chris thinks that there may be free drop into Columbia Canyon on the other side of the straddle.

We made probably the best time, ever, when heading out of the cave. This can probably be attributed to my pain of wearing my harness. I had an extreme urgency to get it off as soon as possible. Once out, we were greeted with cold, piercing winds and changed as quickly as possible.

The numbers:
14 bolts used (personal gear)
2 hangers used (personal gear)
2 mallions used (personal gear)
0 feet of survey
16 hours underground


Cassell Cave
Doing a Cassell Cave trip with Brian Young and Meghan Moss. We had done the trip three years ago when I was sick and we weren’t leading. We were now on a mission to learn the thru trip — from Ody’s Pit to the Windy Entrance. It took us 13 hours, but we did it!

Cassell Cave
Here Meghan Moss rappels from a small window into a room.

Cassell Cave
And we saw this interesting little guy in the stream passage.