Cave Rat Cave Weekend

May 18 & 19, 2002
By - Earl Suitor

Dave & Earl Dave and Earl stand before the small headwall entrance to Cave Rat Cave. The second, climbing entrance, is just out of view in the lower right corner of the photo.
Gee, what a wonderful weekend !! I successfully led my first trip, and learned a lot. On Friday the 17th I picked up my co-worker Dave Smith & his 14 year old son, Chris at their home in Willards, MD. Neither of them had been caving before and I was hoping to give them a good first impression of our sport. Actually the whole weekend turned out better than I had hoped. Dave had expressed interest in caves when he brought in a National Geographic article on Mammoth Cave National Park several years ago.

After piling all the equipment & 3 people into my Jeep we headed to Franklin. When we got West of Harrisonburg I cranked up the bluegrass on the CD player & we all got in the spirit! After a good dinner at Thompson's Motel & checking into room 46 there, I drove them to Smokehole road & showed them Eagle Rock & Cave Mountain with the binoculars. Then up to the PSC fieldhouse to show it to them........there was no one there all weekend so we were on our own. At least they got a chance to see it.

Cave Rat Dig Cavers work to remove a rock blocking a lead in the last room of Cave Rat Cave.
Cave Rat Dig This large rock blocks access to a vertical lead. A muddy hammer is just visible in the lower right corner.
On Saturday after breakfast we headed up to Cave Rat Cave. A light rain fell as we made our way up the side of Neds Mountain. Upon reaching the sinkhole we cleared the branches off the top of the entrance and rigged 50 ft of 1" webbing to use on the climbdown. I pointed out the nearly 90 degree tilted bedding planes on the headwall Devin mentions in his article on Cave Rat Cave.Using an arm wrap we made our way down, me first. The 45 degree second slope was muddy and slick as glass with the leaves, rain & mud. We all got safely to the bottom and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. I got out my map that Devin, et al made (which I had blown up at Kinkos) and my compass, and got oriented.We spotted quite a few bats sleeping & I pointed out a Little Brown & a Pip. After looking around a bit in the entrance room & noting the entrance to the Square Rat Room we made our way down into the Big Room & climbed up to the formations in the corner. We spent time discussing the formations & examined each in detail (active soda straws, columns, stalactites, stalagmites, etc.) There were more of them than I had remembered........really, quite a nicely decorated area.

Off we crawled & climbed to the big breakdown block, where we squeezed under to the rest of the cave. I was new to this leading business so I left some well placed pieces of flagging tape along the route to help us find our way back (and if anything had happened to me they could have found their own way out). After navigating our way through the 5 successive rooms on the other side of the big breakdown block we arrived at our dig site. The 5 rooms can best described by the terms: up, down, up, down, mud, mud, mud (mud)!! While they looked around I squeezed into the slot that goes down to our little dig site & promptly got stuck. Laughing like a fool I had Dave remove my web army belt from around my waist. That did it....I slid in. After you are through this vertical slot you are in a chamber ~ 8 ft long X 5 ft wide X 2 ft high. At the bottom is a big rock in a hole that covers a lead. I beat on it for a while with my new 4 lb hammer, knocking chunks off. I got my new led flashlight & attached it to the end of an 8 mm handline & lowered it down into the lead to see if I could see anything interesting. I could not.Throwing small chunks of rock down there sounded as if it might "go". It was hard to say. Chris came down & beat on the rock a while. I'd say we hammered about an hour......but alas the rock stays, somewhat marred & chipped in the same spot. Next time I'm bringing a chisel too. I built up a little mound of rocks so we could step on them to get out of the squeeze. After some puffing & grunting we were out, and on our way back out. It took less time to get out than to get in. I guess that was because we were simply following the flagging tape & not wayfinding as much. I was amazed when we got to the big breakdown block so fast. We, of course, were picking up the tape as we went for disposal later. When we got to the entrance room we went up into the Square Rat Room for a look. It's ~ 50 degree pebble & mud slope up to a point then it gets steeper & you really need a rope or something to get up there safely. So we went back down & started out. I went first. The rain / drizzle seemed to be dripping in the hole & down the slick nylon webbing. I got a regular PMI handline rigged outside on the tree & it was less slippery to hold. We all got out safely and covered the hole with branches again to keep the leaves out ....but still "bat friendly". Back in town we had a good dinner & they decided they liked caving, and I discovered again that I like it a lot! Our waitress at Thompson's was named Jamie & she said she owned Dennis Mitchell Cave & we were welcome to visit it, she was very nice, just call her first (e-mail me for her tel #). We then went to the bowling alley in Franklin & bowled a while......before turning in.

Cave Rat Dig Dave emerges from the more popular vertical entrance to Cave Rat Cave.
Cave Rat Dig And his son Chris follows shortly after.
The next day I was hoping to show them some caves & hoped I could make it as interesting as Saturday but doubted it. I was wrong....It was a very good day. After breakfast I showed them the entrance to Quarry, then parked at Trout & we took all our gear up the hill. We spent about an hour each at Trout, New Trout, & Hamilton exploring in as far as I felt comfortable with the maps in hand. I had not spent much time in Hamilton. I like Hamilton! Very neat cave! After that I rigged a rope near Trout above a small face & showed them rappelling & frogging back up. Chris rappelled once with his father belaying him from the bottom. Then I had them read about Schoolhouse out of the Pendleton County WVASS book.........then I took them to Schoolhouse & we stared in wonder at its historical & impressive sinkhole. Schoolhouse gives me the willies!! After discussing Schoolhouse a while we headed down the road. After Schoolhouse they still were not tired so I took them over to pay our respect to Dick Sanford. We hiked up to Sites. In telling them about Cave Rat Cave I told them about Dick & his property so they were interested to see Sites Pit as well. Then pizza at Fox Pizza.

On the way back on Monday we decided to see the flip side of the coin & stop at Luray Caverns.......it is a very pretty & well decorated cave and I had not been there since I was a child.......not to forget to mention "The Largest Caverns in the East" according to their ads.(East of Rt 81 I guess ??) Holy cow it's .......$16.00 to get in now!! We decided that a look at the gift shop was good enough so we headed home.

Great weekend............let's go cavin'!