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,
Jeff McCracken's house.
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
Tom Barton peers into the dig located where Groundhog "cave" should be.
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...
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.
Rick Royer at the entrance to Shoveleater cave
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 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.
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.
Showerhouse is little more than a small karst feature, September 2002.
Next we followed Go To into a thicket of ever greens. This was a place Lewis
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.
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.
Rick Royer looks down at a recently discovered (by our group at least) lead
that moves air.
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.)
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.
Tom Barton attempts to squeeze down into Dunn's cave
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.
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.
Mark stands ready to hoist yet another bucket of soil from the Cabin dig
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.
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.
Jeff McCracken puts bar to stone at the Box Turtle lead
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.
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.
Jeff's son Patrick checks out the floor of the Box Turtle lead
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.
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.
Tom Barton talks with Jeff and Patrick McCracken as Rick Royer works in a small
pit full of loose debris
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
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.