Memorial Day Cave
Chris takes a shot during our breakout in MDC . . . notice how much air is blowing the station! With Abby Hohn, Chris and I we surveyed 27 stations and 1,140 feet of passage in an 15 hour trip.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
LAB and LAC survey
by Nikki Fox

Chris Coates and I arrived at the Gateway Saturday morning to join about 20 others for a hearty breakfast. There were a couple of other day crews for MCD there and it was nice to see faces that normally go on camp trips. Abby Hohn volunteered to join us and we were exited to have a three-person survey trip to our lead for the first time. It was also Abby’s first trip into MDC. And boy, was she in for a awesome trip!

We drove up to the farm and got dressed. Our team was the first underground at 10:30 a.m. The second team, which consisted of Pete, Aaron, Pete and Gayle caught up with us at the rigged climb downs before the 50-foot drop. As you could guess, there was a little backup in the Puppet Buster for the drop into Columbia Canyon. I must note here that Abby said several times during the trip “I love this cave,” even during the PB the first time. 

When our team was down, we boogied onto our lead. Once we made it to our last station, LAA 11, I handed out the survey gear and got comfortable to start sketching with the LAB survey. Chris started to do some recon for the next station when he found an amazing discovery! There was a small slit in the rock above. Crawling a few feet further, it broke open big enough for a person to fit through! This was the kind of passage we have been hoping for since working on the lead since April . . . passage that could possibly connect with the other side of the mud-choked western end of Columbia Canyon. 

When Chris climbed into the room above he hollered, “I see petroglyphs!” Come to find out there were not man-made works of art on the cave walls, but a white blob of calcite that looks like a bison on the wall. We referred to the breakout room as the “Bison Room” all day. 

Once we made our shots into the room, we left our packs to check out the booming passage before us. After walking around for a while, we decided which passages to survey. We made one shot to the left passage, which was trending northwest, and then headed north on the right-hand passage from the Bison Room. 

We got to the first intersection (at station LAB 5) in one 83-foot shot from the Bison Room. Here there were four ways to go: a small crack in the floor that connected with the left-hand passage from the Bison Room (it was not tied into the survey, but Abby tried to get through the crack), a high lead to the northwest only accessible by a bolt climb, an interesting keyhole-like small passage sloping downward continuing north and the obvious borehole continuance to the southeast. 

We chose to survey down the smaller passage, being it was heading the direction we wanted to go — down. It went down and down until it choked out with mud at LAB 9. We think this site would be a good candidate for a dig in the future due to the strong air sucking into the crack. We left three leads in this area and continued to survey straight. The passage became smaller. So small, that in fact we had a tight crawl to access the next room. This room was highly decorated with soda straws and helictites. 

Upon exploring this room more, we made the greatest discovery of the trip. There was a window in the north wall about 7 feet from the floor (near LAB 13). We had to help each other up the wall to see into the blackness . . . it was the connection to the other side of Columbia Canyon! When in the window, you were looking down into the typical CC passage: narrow and deep (at least 80 feet to the floor). After discussing this find for the past couple of days, Chris and I have settled on the name of Nebraska Canyon for several reasons, but mainly for honoring my home state known for its infinite flatness. 

We surveyed the rest of the passage and then headed back to the first intersection room to continue following the main passage trending southeast. From here we chose to change our station designations from LAB to LAC. The passage was about 15-20 feet wide and averaged about 15 feet tall. After a several shots we came up a beautiful formation between LAC 3 and 4. A three-foot tall stalagmite towered in the middle of a turn, frozen in time, all alone. A little over 100 feet more of surveyed passage and we came to a huge flowstone column that was blocking most of the passage. This feature was very unlike the rest of the passage and easily the largest speleothem we encountered. 

Around the next bend in the borehole were more helictites and a little pool of water coated in thin calcite sheets floating on the water. The pool was extremely shallow, probably no more than an inch. From this point, the passage continued to become more decorated. Stalactites, helictites and flowstone became more common. Pretty soon the passage gave way (around station LAC 9) to a flowstone-covered floor at which the dirt underneath was washed away in places. The floor protested, cracked and moaned at our weight. There were some places that simply broke underneath our footsteps. 

About 555 feet into the LAC survey down this lazily-meandering passage we found a large cluster of formations taking up the width of the passage. I stopped here to document it with my camera between data recordings. We ended the survey around 9 p.m. after the passage made an abrupt downward turn. We took one more shot down a slope that Chris was the only one of us to go down. He described it as “basically where the mud stops and clean rock with white formations start.” 

“The area is wet and slippery, fragile and loose with rock. I think it is the start of a short well or dome. I could not get close enough to the edge to look over the bottom edge without a hand line to keep Nikki from getting too nervous that I may fall in. It doesn’t sound very deep and the passage seems to hang a 90 degree right turn before the drop off, but I could not tell for sure. There is also a consistent dripping noise coming from this area.” 

Generally speaking, in all of the upper levels the floor was mud covered. There was very little breakdown in the passages. We did notice airflow in this upper section. At one station, the tape was gently waiving around in the air (LAB 5). 

We took about 3.5 hours going out and did not run into anyone else along the way. Abby did not share the same enthusiasm and love for the PB when heading out as she did when trekking into the cave. We arrived back at the filed house to awaken Pete Penczer and share the discovered loot of our trip with everyone. 

Chris and I will be unable to make the normal GVKS weekend in July due to our El Cap expedition. But we plan on returning as soon as possible to rig and drop into Nebraska Canyon and survey our left leads. 

The numbers:
15 hour trip
27 stations
1,140 feet of survey
94.1 longest shot 

Memorial Day Cave
The “bison” on the wall that Chris saw.

Memorial Day Cave
Here Chris gives Abby a lift to look into the massive canyon of darkness.


Maxwelton Cave
Meghan lights a massive flowstone wall in Cove Creek during a trip into Maxwelton Sink Cave. It was the first tourist trip allowed into the project cave since the WVCC closed it for White-Nose Syndrome. It was led by Gordon Cole and Larry Fisher.

Below are some of the amazing aragonite formations seen in the Heaven Passage.
Maxwelton Cave


Memorial Day Cave
A rare photo of me . . . here I am sketching the passage during a survey trip with only Chris and I in MDC. We got 301 feet of crawling and stooping passage with LAA (Left Along Again) survey with 11 stations on a 15-hour trip.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
by Nikki Fox
Chris Coates and I meet the crew for breakfast Saturday morning at the Gateway for a hearty meal before heading underground. Our plan was to continue the survey on the other side of Harman’s Dig at the western end of Columbia Canyon. Our venture was almost cut short, however. When driving up to the cave, a gate was over the road next to the quarantine notice. We went back to the fieldhouse to see what the protocol was for such a closing of the area. Miles had us take him to the Ruddle’s to see was happening. It turned out they had the cows out in the fields around the chicken houses and had the gate down to keep them in. So we parked and got underground around around 10 a.m., without too much delay.

We made it all the way up to where we left off at FIS7 station in 3 hours. We brought 200 feet of 3/8 inch New England rope with us to dedicate to the area for the small pit we found the month earlier. We left it in some of the “larger” passage in the FIS survey.

Upon reaching the small room with several leads, we decided to check out the passage that went straight, which was along the same level. It was crawling for a while and the passage gradually became smaller. Eventually it branched into a Y with both leads being very small. The left one was too small for a person. The right one was slightly bigger, which was a passage fit for very tiny people, with air flow coming out of it. We did not survey this passage and decided to check out the high lead, which was back in the small room. This went to a beautifully decorated crawling passage with a couple of holes in the floor that looked down into the small room. So we decided to take photos and survey it with the LAA (Left Along Again) survey. (A joke Chris & I have going since last month Dave Riggs was going to come with us, but left word with the waitress at the Gateway Restaurant that he wasn’t going to be joining us. And this month Tim Bilezikian was originally going to come with us for a third person, and then decided not to that morning.)

Again, this passage was coated in a thick, sticky mud and was mostly crawling with a few places to sit or stand up. One of the highlights of this passage was the discovery of animal tracks! We think the critter was a rat. In the passage we surveyed, there was a small pool of water with sunken tracks and scratch marks of the rat, probably struggling getting a drink of water. Also in this area were straight lines with really small tracks. I think these were from a salamander. We made sure to get photos of the area before we trampled the area with out footprints. (See below.)

We stopped surveying when the passage started getting smaller and the floor more rocky. I could feel my knees becoming like raw hamburger. We headed back to the small room where we started the survey and decided to check out the last unknown lead before heading out. There were two small holes in the floor that headed west. Upon crawling down, you were meet with beautiful formations and soda straws. It ended after about 10 feet of crawling to a crack in the floor and another small pit. This one looks a lot more promising than the one we found last month!

Another exciting find was a slot in the floor of a section that was between LAA5 and LAA6. We tossed in several small rocks to see how far down it went. We heard the rocks bouncing off the walls on average for 12 seconds. A possible way to the other side of CC?

The air flow of the whole area was more than last month. We got 11 stations and 301 feet of survey. The passage trended northwest. We will be back for more in June, hopefully equipped with better knee pads!

Memorial Day Cave

Memorial Day Cave


Memorial Day Cave
Chris looks down from an upper level during a project trip into Memorial Day Cave.

Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
by Chris Coates

Nikki Fox and I continued our dig/survey at the western end of Columbia Canyon off of John Harman’s dig/bolt climb. We surveyed 8 stations and gained about 235 feet of new passage in the FIS (see below) Survey.

The entire area is an extremely slimy muddy passage. We surveyed though the snug, sticky crawl. We didn’t notice any air flow until we where in the middle of the small crawl, where you could feel a cool breeze going by you. Once through, we surveyed until we reached the first intersection. We decided to bear left, where I went last time, which was the bigger of the two ways to go. 

The passage got bigger, with walking and stooping. We made our way to a very small, highly decorated room that had several small crawling leads on multiple levels. The main passage continued straight ahead and went back to a crawl. At this point, there were several pretty formations decorating the area with only slight amounts of air movement, which was blowing out of the dig. Overwhelmed with all the crawling leads, we couldn’t decide which way to go, so decided to go back to the first intersection and survey the right-hand passage.

Once there, we made one shot to a tight hole in the passage. Once I went thought it, I was hanging over at a pit. The sides of the pit are fairly smooth and has no mud on it, unlike everything else in the crawling passage. You cannot see the bottom while looking into the man-sized pit without possibly falling into it. We could not tell from the top if there was any passage that connected to a lower level or passage. We didn’t have any rope with us so we decided to head out and come back next month with some rope.

Memorial Day Cave
The beginning of the super-tight entrance crawl we dug out. Yeah, it’s tight . . . for 60 feet.



Scherr Crystal Cave
The main survey members look down a shaft that was dug open by West Virginia excavation crews blasting their way through a hill in Grant County, WV. When they found a cave, the site manager gave Bob Bennett a call to see what could be done about possibly checking out and surveying the cave to see where it went underground . . . a.k.a., to see if it would cause problems with building the highway later on.

So Bob made some calls and got together a survey team, which included me.
An article was written about our endeavors, you can read it here.

Scherr Crystal Cave Trip Report
by Chris Coates & Bob Bennett

The cave is developed near the top of a hill on New Creek Mountain about 2 miles North of Scherr, WV and about ½ mile east of Route 93. The arrowhead shaped entrance is about 5 feet wide and 9 feet long. The entrance immediately drops about 30 feet to the floor of the Entrance Room. The room is about 20 feet x 20 feet and is about 18 feet high and lowers to about 10 feet high to the back of the room. There is a very large flowstone mound that cascades down from near the ceiling just to the left of a slot. There are a few small formations that are scattered in the room.

Just offset from the entrance is a slot in the floor that drops about 10 feet to a larger room that the WVDOH said was big enough to set a 777 rock truck in. A hand line is helpful to get down the slope & 6 foot drop. There is a lot of breakdown and rubble lying in the slot. Most of the rubble probably came from the entrance area when the entrance was opened up and later stabilized.

The second room is about 20 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high. The room is shaped at an angle with the north side of the room 15 feet higher than the south side which seems to defy the dip of the bedrock. There is a ledge 10 feet up on the east side of the room with a body-sized hole that leads to the rest of the cave. There are some formations on the upper high side of the room.

Once you squeeze through the hole you are in an area that is profusely decorated with aragonite crystals, frostwork, small bushes and gypsum flowers. The area is almost completely white.

Once you are through this area you are in another large room that again defies the dip of the bedrock. This room is 20 feet high, 20 feet wide and almost 20 feet long. Near the ceiling on the high side of the room is an opening that leads back to the second room. Again the high side of the passage contains formations. From this room is an 8-foot high and 5-foot wide passage that leads to more cave. To the left of the passage is a small shelf that contains many gypsum curls.

Within 10 feet this passage opens up into another room that is 25 feet high, 20 feet wide and 10 feet long. There again are formations near the ceiling of the high side of the room. Also a 10-foot long and 5-foot high passage at that level that leads back into the previous room.

From here the passage starts to trend upward. Within 20 feet there is another room that is 15 feet high, 15 feet wide and 10 feet long. At this point the passage shape seems to conform more to the dip of the bedrock with the higher points of the passage to the south and dipping to the north. At this point the cave is profusely decorated with stalactites, soda straws, columns, carrot shaped stalactites, and flowstone. One soda straw is between 15 to 18 inches long. The whole cave is very colorful but the color at this point becomes mind-boggling! Not only are the speleothems colorful but the bedrock is too! The colors include black, gray, blue, orange, several shades of red & rust colors, yellow, and white. Even the bedrock joins in with black, gray, silver, orange, and yellow. At the low point on the north side of the room is a hole that leads down to the Hidden Room.

There is a small crack in the floor on the left side of the passage. This is a tight hole that looks to go down about 15 feet. Once you go into the hole, you can see that the floor of the passage above is only about 8 inches thick. There is a high passage to access the bottom, or you can just continue down the main crack into the largest part of the room. The room has a sloping wall on the left with lots of loose breakdown and dirt. At the bottom there is a dry dirt covered floor with very textured crumbly walls. On the far side of the room (heading southeast) back on top of the loose breakdown, there is a ledge with a short tight breakdown passage leading back in the direction of the entrance. It eventually pinches out. The depth of this room is 39 feet below the entrance.

Once you are back in the main passage the trend is still up. After about 10 feet you come to a 5-foot climb-up. At the base of the climb is a small slot that leads down to the left toward a second pit.

There is a body sized hole on the left-hand side the floor of the main passage, which is on a slight climb up, toward the end of the cave. After sliding through this hole, being careful to mind the loose rocks all above, you find yourself sitting on a small ledge at the top of a 22-foot pit. The pit is not free hang but a very steep angled wall that requires vertical gear to safely negotiate to the bottom. The walls and floor are roughly textured. The entire time we were down there, there was water dripping from the ceiling and walls. The pit bells out toward the bottom with a small passage disappearing into a very narrow drain in the far wall of the pit (the northwest side). The depth of this pit is 41 feet below the entrance.

Back in the main passage after about 25 feet you come to another heavily decorated area with a very nice column in the middle of the passage. There is flowstone, bacon, soda straws, and stalactites. Most of the formations are to the right-higher side with the shape of the passage conforming to the dip of the bedrock. The passage is about 10 feet high near this point.

After another 10 feet the passage starts to quickly trend upward with the ceiling height about 3 feet. There are a lot of bacon formations in this area with lots of flowstone. Passage shape flattens out here but heads into very thin beds. Lots of slabs occur in this area. The passage pinches out in the thin beds. At this point the cave is 8 feet above the entrance.

The whole cave contains many formations. But several areas are very heavily decorated with just about every type of speleothem. You have to be especially careful as you travel through the cave in many areas.

03.022010 Scherr Crystal Cave Nikki
This is me going down the 17-foot entrance drop. Photo by Bob Bennett

Scherr Crystal Cave
Here is Terry Mcclanathan rappelling into the cave.

Scherr Crystal Cave
Kurt Waldron reads instruments in a pretty constriction.

Scherr Crystal Cave
Some of the beautiful frostwork found everywhere in the cave.

Scherr Crystal Cave
Bob Bennett sits near the end of the cave, checking out a column.


Memorial Day Cave Trip Report
by Nikki Fox

On Saturday Chris Coates and I met people for breakfast at the Gateway. We had plans to enter MDC, which was to be my first trip into the cave, to work on “Harman’s Dig” at the west end of Columbia Canyon. This was to be a day trip.
We drove up the driveway, which was cleared of snow. Chris had to shovel out a spot to park off to the side of the road near the normal MDC parking area. We walked through the knee-high snow to the entrance and got underground around 10 a.m.

We spent the next few hours getting to Columbia Canyon and finding our way to Harman’s bolt climb. We found the last station at HBD3, which was taped on the upper lip of the tight passage.

There was a little air blowing out of the passage, which was moving the flagging tape, but it was not much. The passage appeared to be about 3 to 4 feet wide and varying 6 to 8 inches tall. It looked to be around 30 feet long before it went around a corner.

The floor was made of a thin layer of rotten rock (approx. 1.5 inches) over a really sticky mud. We made the first seven feet nice and comfortable so Chris could lay on his side and continue digging. After that, we were able to pry up and break the top layer, pushing it to the side. This allowed Chris to just barely squeeze through with the sticky mud acting like Velcro on his suit. 

Chris spent the rest of the time digging alone with his helmet off and accomplished several feet of digging until the passage opened up into a roomy 8 inches for roughly 15 more feet. The passage went to a little room followed by another belly crawl, which was a spacious 9-10 inches high. 

Next the passage enlarged to about 3 to 4 feet tall where it came to a Y intersection. Chris explored the left-hand passage and that turned into walking passage with several crawling leads off to the sides. Most everything was covered with a thin slimy mud. At this point he came back to see if I wanted to start surveying and he told me that we probably would not be able to easily finish that evening. We then called it a day, had some dinner and headed back to the surface. It was an uneventful trip out. We dropped off the waver at Greer’s office and our borrowed tools (thanks Mark & Vonney) back at the field house.
I suspect that anyone who is larger than us, wishing to do the crawl, will have to enlarge the passage a little more. We plan on going back next month to do the survey and push the new passage.

Hooray, a good lead for a change!

Here Chris is not happy that I wanted to document his muddy face.