Germany Valley Karst Survey
Devin Kouts
12 October 2002

Saturday broke grey and wet, a stark change from the warm dry conditions we've had all summer. The last decent rain we had was in early June. After breakfast things started to clear though, and it looked like we were in for a good day.

Attendance was light this weekend, just 9 people at the GV fieldhouse. But folks had plenty of motivation to spare, so we headed out for our first stop, local caver Jeff McCracken's house.

Groundhog cave, actually a dig
Tom Barton peers into the dig located where Groundhog "cave" should be.
We didn't find Jeff at home so we decided to get started with out him. From a ridgewalk some weeks before I had a list of dig leads that needed some attention. The easiest to put a team onto was one noted by Jeff himself, on another part of the farm where he lived. I led a crew of prospective excavators to the site, little more than an airless pile of rocks, and turned them loose.

Returning to the other half of the group, five of us had plans to ridgewalk the area between Jeff's house and North Fork Mountain. There were a couple of small caves I wanted to locate, and several people in the survey needed to become more familiar with the caves and leads in the area. The GPS was loaded with waypoint data, I had a line map or two from some old timer's, and a few functioning brain cells left. We were off...

ShovelEater cave
Rick Royer at the entrance to Shoveleater cave
First stop was Terrapin Trail Club (or TTC) pit, where Lewis Carroll attempted to get a rock sample. Finally Tom Barton became impatient with Lew's pathetic attempts to wack off a piece, so Tom pulled out a substantial hammer and did the job proper. Survey says... McGraw-McGlone limestone. Damn, I had been hoping for Benbolt, the upper unit of the Big Valley, and a real cave former.

Moving on I decided to put my GPS' "Go To" function to the test and asked it to lead us to Logpile cave. Dutifully the GPS began plotting my progress against a line it had drawn to connect TTC pit to Logpile cave. Along the way Rick Royer spotted a lead in a sink hole that I had known about from years gone by. It is a viable dig, and moves some air on cold days. We GPS'ed its position and moved on. (In 2003 this lead would be dug open to reveal a small cave, since dubbed Rock Garden cave.)

Allen Property cave
Allen Property cave as it appeared during survey, OTR 2002.

Arriving at Logpile cave (which I'd visited just one month before) we found the entrance condition to be the same, slumped closed and bocked with vegetative detritus. It will take a little effort to get this cave open again, but according to Miles Drake it will be worth while. Apparently Logpile is a nice, if short, cave.

The next Go To was a set of coordinates I'd never visited, Groundhog cave. Contemporary thought suggested that Logpile and Groundhog were one in the same cave, but my GPS showed Groundhog to be a couple hundred yards away at some different coordinates. We continued with our tiger line ridgewalk in a direction toward those coordinates. With Gordon Brace and Lewis Carroll on my left, and Tom Barton and Rick Royer on my right, we headed off to the south.

Showerhouse cave
Showerhouse is little more than a small karst feature, September 2002.
In just a little while Tom hollered at me to come look at something he'd found. As I approached him I saw my position on the GPS converge with the plot for Groundhog cave. He'd found it, but it wasn't a cave. More like a dig, with some limestone showing along one wall. We couldn't tell if there was any air either. It was about this time that I remembered the digital camera dangling around my neck and that we didn't have a photograph of this feature. Tom was gracious enough to pose for scale.

Next we followed Go To into a thicket of ever greens. This was a place Lewis and I had visited back in the winter of 1996 and found Coon cave at that time. No such luck today. We stomped all about with four pairs of eyes, but the cave eluded us. We'll have to go back for this one next month maybe.

Germany Valley lead
Rick Royer looks down at a recently discovered (by our group at least) lead that moves air.
In the mean time Gordon had located Shoveleater cave. We had been looking at other caves in the vicinity (noteably Allen Property caves) with the thought that they might be Shoveleater cave. I was finally set straight on the location of Shoveleater, and sure enough that's just where Gordon found it. Rick Royer had come prepared to enter the cave, but decided against it after Gordon warned him that a groundhog had just dived into the entrance ahead of Rick. Deciding not to crowd the critter we moved on.

From there we swung by Allen Property cave, a small thing with 100 feet of passage that Kevin Flanagan and I mapped during OTR. I was sure this thing was located in the McGraw-McGlone, but Gordon decided otherwise. He showed me a rock sample that looked remarkably similar to the Ward Cove, the lower unit of the Big Valley formation. This rock is just below the Benbolt, and so far not much of a cave former. (Later assessments of rock units in the area of this cave have thrown the analysis of that sample in to doubt. At best the sample is from the Benbolt, but no lower.)

Dunn's cave
Tom Barton attempts to squeeze down into Dunn's cave
We continued on with our tiger line and headed in a new direction that we'd not really covered well before. Along the way we spotted a couple of cruddy looking ground hog induced mud swallets, but nothing I'd call a decent looking lead. Eventually we were at a point where we had little choice but to turn back toward the vehicles. It was just at that moment when Tom called to me from up higher on the ridge.

My job as bearer of the GPS is to scurry after every beck and call of my fellow ridgewalkers. This can become irksome work after you've been called back up a steep hill to get a GPS fix on your fourth groundhog induced swallet hole. But somehow I knew Tom's beck would be worth my effort.

Up on top of the ridge he waited, the others were far behind and getting farther. They were headed toward the cars and hadn't noticed Tom and I veering off up the hill. We wouldn't see them again for a while.

Germany Valley lead
Mark stands ready to hoist yet another bucket of soil from the Cabin dig
Tom and I had been in pursuit of a mystery cave for some months, even years really. Back in the mid-90's when I had begun field research for the Pendleton County bulletin I had looked for and failed to located Dunn's cave, reported to be in this vicinity. During the summer of 2002 Jeff McCracken rented a farm in the middle of Germany Valley and we immediately set out to find the local caves, including Dunn's. On our very first ridgewalk I had found a small hole in the bottom of a sink, not large enough to enter but I could see down a narrow crevice that certainly looked worth coming back and digging on. But it wasn't quite where I expected Dunn to be so I GPS'ed it and moved on.

It was to this same hole that Tom now led me. I told him of my earlier acquaintance with the lead, and since we were there it seemed like a little digging effort would be worth while. Tom did the work, and within minutes he had the hole large enough to see down into a passably large crevice. Valiant in his attempt, but too wide in his ass, Tom was unable to squeeze very far down into the hole. Unfortunately Rick was no longer with us, and I wasn't in caveralls, so there was little option but for us to depart.

Box Turtle
Jeff McCracken puts bar to stone at the Box Turtle lead
Back at the vehicles we relayed our little story of conquest and decided that this lead could very well be the fabled Dunn's cave. The juxtaposition of old maps with new maps, old roads with new roads, and the inherent inaccuracy of putting dots on maps with pencils made it very probable that we had found the right cave. There certainly wasn't anything else to suggest otherwise. And on top of all our supposition, Tom had noticed that inside the dig there were logs that had been placed "under" the covering of topsoil. There were also stones lodged under the soil in a most unnatural position. It seemed very apparant that the hole had been much larger in the past, and someone had gone through some effort to cover the hole with logs, rocks and soil.

The day was more than half passed, and we decided it was high time to go check out the dig crew I'd left elsewhere earlier in the day. We loaded up the vehicles and drove down to Jeff's house. We rousted him and his son Patrick out and got them on the road with us. Within minutes we were over at the other dig, hoping for good news.

Germany Valley lead
Jeff's son Patrick checks out the floor of the Box Turtle lead
I have to hand it to those guys, they really made some serious progress in our absence. They had begun with little more than a pile of rocks obscuring an apparently small crevice that moved no air. Well they hadn't found air, but they had certainly found a void. The area was strewn with the spoils of their effort. Where once a small hole had been, a manhole sized opening now existed. Rick Orbin was down in the hole, handing out buckets of rock and soil to those on the surface. They were a good six feet down and losing altitude quickly.

After a few minutes of gawking I felt motivated to take a poke at some other nearby leads. One was a hole in a ledge that Steve and I had found some weeks back while ridgewalking. It wasn't far away, so we grabbed some tools and headed for it.

Along the way one of our party picked up a pair of box turtles. When we arrived at the hole I'll call "Box Turtle" everyone saw the rock which blocked access into the lead. It wasn't so bad that a small person couldn't get by, but for safety's sake we wanted to get the rock out of the way. With a little help from a come-along, and a spud bar, the rock was soon displaced and everyone could see down into the tiny, airless lead. It does have a soil plug in the floor however and may be worth a couple of hours of digging. We've worked on worse and found cave before.

Germany Valley Pit Dig
Tom Barton talks with Jeff and Patrick McCracken as Rick Royer works in a small pit full of loose debris
From there I had one more stop I wanted to make, and I led the crew off in that direction. Earlier in the summer, and deeper into the woods I had spotted a plugged pit. That day I had dug down two feet or so through loose leaves. I was then able to push a steel bar another three feet down through loose soil. With our spud bar in tow and a claw to help rake out debris, we went back to the pit and put some more dig time into it.

Motivation wasn't great, but the lead looked good enough that we took a couple more feet of soil out of the bottom in curiousity. We also noted how easily we could rig a pulley for the purpose of lifting buckets from the pit should we need to in the future. While this is another dig with no air, it is most definitely a good looking lead, with limestone walls all the way around the feature.

But it wasn't enough for us to miss dinner over. After a while we decided to ridgewalk a bit more and then departed for our vehicles. Rick Royer and I were headed for Highland County, VA and the annual VSS meeting. After all the ground we'd covered today it would be nice to take a load off, drink some beer and listen to caving stories.