Caving in Pendleton County

Devin Kouts
NSS 19524
April 6-7, 2002

Continuing our exploits in Pendleton County, a handful of cavers from around the VAR area recently descended upon Thorn Springs Campground. This group consisted largely of the same persons who conducted the " Day Trip to a Little Known Cave " back in January of this year.
Betsy helps survey in the as yet undescribed "Cave Hill Cave". This apparently tectonic cave was visited by a local caver back in the 1970s, but never described or mapped.

Our objectives included efforts to enter and map three different leads. The first was a pit that one of our members had visited some years ago, in the 1980s. The plan was to map this short but interesting cave and then look for a couple of leads that had been noted before. Miles Drake, Rick Royer and Tom White would take this task.

While they were surveying the pit, I would take some other folks, namely Pat Bingham, Kim Johnson and Betsy Simmers to hook up with Mike and Steve Sweeney and a local landowner. We would head off to check out some other leads including a particularly juicy looking crevice that we'd seen on a cold day several weeks before. A fellow with us that day mentioned seeing steam from the entrance one day as he hunted in the vicinity.

After that lead we would also try to look at a possible cave that would require digging to get into. We had checked this one a couple months back and found it to be choked with leaves and dirt. But it felt rather warm so a return trip was warranted.

Miles, Rick and Tom went off on their way. We would meet up with them at the end of the day. The rest of us took a nice four wheel drive trip up into the hills and saw parts of the county I had never been to before. On our way to the what our guide called "Cave Hill" we stopped and had a look at a potential lead. It was a short trip into the woods and once there we fell to and dug for a while. It appeared as if something under there wanted to open up but it would take a decent shovel and pry bar to make any real head way. So this one would have to wait.

On our way again, and within a quarter mile, we were at the summit of Cave Hill. There waiting for us was the narrow entrance of the crevice we'd seen on our previous trip to the area. The smell of decay was absent today, something that had been powerful and disheartening several weeks ago.

The entrance to Cave Hill cave is just over a foot wide and about three feet long. It opens into a narrow fissure, apparently tectonic in origin, that drops 12 feet to a narrow landing. From that point the passage stretches away in two directions, southeast and northwest.
The crowd gathers around to watch and help the efforts to open a second lead. This opening was noted previously and felt rather warm on a cold December day.

To the southeast the passage extends 10 feet and ends in floor to ceiling cobble choke. The passage in this direction is about two feet wide and eight to ten feet high. A depression back up on the surface indicates that the crevice may continue beyond the choke, but exploratory excavations were fruitless.

To the northwest the passage is more extensive and descends rapidly in a series of short stair-step pitches. The walls, which are never much more than two feet apart, facilitate chimneying all the way to the bottom of the cave. Doing so, and following the crevice, it is possible to traverse horizontally for 30 feet while also descending to a point 30 feet below the entrance. This puts one in the lowest part of the fissure where it appears to terminate in a floor to ceiling cobble choke. One or two spots in the ceiling of the crevice show some small potential to be pushed, but are not very promising leads.

While some air had been noted on previous visits to the entrance, there was none of note this day. A short dig at the cobble choke in the lowest reaches of the cave turned up lots of ancient garbage and large quantities of deer bones. No practical leads were noted. A quick survey was conducted and required just two shots to complete.

Back on the surface we quickly repacked our gear and headed off to the other lead which needed our attention. Once there, Kim, Pat, Jason and Betsy took the lead on shovel and bucket duty while I sat back and supervised. There were a lot of leaves to remove from the entrance and after that some significant soil. The afternoon stretched on and it was beginning to look like the dig might be for nought.

I took a turn in the hole, late in the day, and opened the floor area enough that it become a more comfortable dig. Once that was complete I looked up under a small ledge, our dig objective, and could see a short crawlway leading 6 or 8 feet into the darkness. The best thing however was the breeze that had started to blow out of the crawl as the afternoon temperatures cooled.
Pat was a real workhorse, but seemed to be enjoying herself. "Beats doing laundry" she was often heard to say.

I convinced Kim, Betsy and Pat to take one more turn in the hole and then I'd take a last stab before we called it off. It turned out to be just enough. Kim and Pat removed enough of the floor from in front of the crawl to make it accessable. When it came my turn, I was able to stick my feet into the crawl and push the dirt around with my boots. This was sufficient to get the passage open and allow me to slide in.

It was going passage. I called back out for Kim and Pat to follow (Betsy was no longer in caving clothes). Unfortunately Kim didn't hear me (and I had her helmet). But Pat followed and together we pushed the cave for about 80 feet to a stooping height junction room. The rock in this room appeared to be of the Corriganville Limestone, full of bracheopods and chert.

At this place the passage branched into two parallel forks. I looked in to the right hand fork and it appeared to end quickly. I pushed twenty feet along that passage and confirmed that it didn't go. Back at the junction room I met with Pat and we looked at the other lead.

It was a nice crawlway which we could look along for a distance of 20 feet or more. At the far end of our vision the crawlway seemed to open up into a larger space, filled with blackness. It looked like it would go, but I decided we shouldn't.

It was late in the afternoon and I didn't want to remove all the incentive for a survey team to return and map the cave, so Pat and I turned around and headed out. Our dig efforts had been rewarded with about 100 feet of good scoop, and we'd left a great going lead for the next trip. A team was already forming for a return the next morning.
Pat enjoys a well deserved nap in the chilly April sunshine.

We trundled over to where Miles, Rick and Tom were surveying their pit. Our timing was great, they were just wrapping up and coming out of the hole. Miles reported success pushing some of the smaller leads we'd left before and that they'd led to some additional passage and small pits. The survey had commenced and concluded and Tom made progress on a dig to an area of the cave he'd seen 17 years earlier. That area contains some more pits and a decent lead moving air. We really wanted to get back to that and have a good look around.

We were pleased with the day's progress, much mapping accomplished, and two leads to push next time. That evening Rick Lambert joined us for dinner and plans were drawn up to return and map the dig that we'd opened in the afternoon. Next time would be the next day.

The next morning Rick, Tom, Pat and Kim would return to the dig site and our new find to start mapping. I would learn later, after much digging for truth, that the survey went well, but the cave didn't. It turns out that shortly down the lead we had left, the passage became tight and impassable. There didn't seem to be any other going leads in the cave either. So the survey was wrapped and everyone departed for home.

All said and done it was a very nice weekend however, with significant progress made in three small caves.

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