Wind Cave

by Roy Sites

More than thirty years ago, in the summer of 1965, D. Carl Hinkle asked me to come and see his "Cave of the Winds." He owned a large tract of land in the mountainous region above Rough Run, Grant County, West Virignia.

Old D. Carl Hinkle promoted this tract as the "Deep Spring Park." His ultimate pleasure was to see the state or county adopt it as a scenic parkland. He boasted of its chimney rocks, natural bridge, waterfalls, forests, streams, rock cliffs, and Cave of the Winds. He even went as far as to place picnic tables at strategic points along the circular roadway he built through the property. There was a time when church groups and schools did use the "park" for a day's outing. It was indeed a beautiful spot in these rugged mountains. Most folks considered it too remote, as it was a goodly distance from any major town or thoroughfare.

As our reputation of being avid cavers had spread throughout the region, D. Carl approached me about his Cave of the Winds. For documentation of his claim he showwed me nineteenth century logging records of his grandfather. Those records clearly showed that the cave, in WolfpenD. Carl Hinkle holds a handkerchief to the pipe extending from Wind Cave's entrance. Hollow, was noted by these early loggers. This documentation and the tale of the tremendous volume of very cold air blowing from the cracks and crevices of the rocks naturally intrigued me. Although I was familiar with other caves in that area, I had not heard this tale. We had previously visited Deep Spring and the cave associated with that spring. That was the closest I had been to Wolfpen Hollow. I had always heard the tales of D. Carl and his park, but never had visited the tract. Needless to say, we planned a preliminary trip to the area.

D. Carl was very anxious to receive us and gave us the royal tour of his famous Deep Spring Park. Smitty Alt, Jack C. Barr, Linton Sites and I accompanied D. Carl through this unique area, taking in all the wonders it held. Finally, we got to the place where the wind blew out from the earth. You could hear it whistling from the round metal drainpipe he had pushed back back into a crevice to enhance the volume of air emerging. He was correct in saying that it was cold...very cold. We have never witnessed such a volume of air emerging from a rock. We took a photo showing a white handkerchief being extended horizontally out from the pipe by the enormous volume of air blowing outward. Realizing the implications of that amount of air coming out, I gathered there would have to be another open entrance at a much higher elevation and furthermore, it more than likely implied a rather extensive and large cave system under our feet. We were overwhelmed with excitement and enthusiasm. D. Carl was pleased. However, now he wanted us to fulfill our enthusiasm and his curiosity as well. How to gain entrance to this underworld...that was his, and our, primary question.

As we sat upon the rocks eating our lunch of sardines and crackers, supplied by old D. Carl, who loved the canned fishes, plans were suggested and made to gain entrance. A future trip could not come soon enough. We departed the Deep Spring Park and its Cave of the Winds that day full of aniticipation and enthusiasn for a newly found prospective cave. And what a cave there must be, thought each of us. The volume of cold air blowing from within those rock crevices was to haunt us for the next several weeks.
Jack Barr in Wind Cave, 1965
Finally, I heard from old D. Carl again. He was ready for a return trip to his beloved Cave of the Winds. Lo and behold, he had prepared an entrance for us. In his enthusiasm, he had dynamited the rocks and laid open an entrance big enough for us to enter...he hoped. He was as excited as I at the prospects of entering a virgin cave. I immediately contacted my caving buddies and Linton. We agreed on a date for the initial exploration and planned everything to the minutest detail. Preparations were underway for a major trip. Adrenaline flowed rampantly among us all.

A very hot day was shaping up in the valley the morning we loaded the back of Linton's pickup and headed far into the Elkhorn Mountain region of Rough Run. Linton had planned on a long spell of us being there, so he had thrown his charcoal barbecue grill on the pile of equipment. He had no intention of surviving on D. Carl's sardines again. As Linton was a bit on the hefty side, he knew he would not be able to accompnay us underground. But, as so many times in the past, he would always be a member of the party and enjoyed being with us boys on our many underground adventures. Occasionally we could get him to go with us underground. Regardless, he was always there for moral support and manly strength when needed.  Besides, his pickup could haul our equipment and take us nearly anywhere we wanted. There were many places our old '57 Plymouth cavemobile, infamous throughout the tri-county region, could not go. This was one of them. The members of this memorable expedition were me, Linton Sites, Smitty Alt, Jack C. Barr, my Father, Max C. Sites, and D. Carl, the landowner.

Upon our arrival , we immediately hurried to see the newly created cave entrance to assess the situation. He had done it. D. Carl had indeed blown away enough rock to open up an entrance in the darkness below ground. We were filled with awe...to be sure. The very chilly air literally gushed out from the opening with great vigor and volume. We certainly did have some doubts about the nature of the rocks around the entrance. There was concern because of the blasting promoting some possible instability. But who could hold back adventurous young boys eager to explor a virgin cave!

D. Carl had placed an old iron gate over the created opening. We removed the gate, and were very anxious to poke a head into the actual "blow-hole". The wind was fierce and mighty cold. It looked as if we could definitely enter, but with little room to spare. It was also apparent the carbide lamps could not be lit until farther inside. Therefore entering would have to be done with a flashlight. Ahhhhh, the thrill of it. While still by the entrance, old D. Carl hollered at me to check under some leaves behind one of the rocks. There I found a cache of soda pop which old D. Carl had previously placed in anticipation of our return. They were as cold as if they had been refrigerated. I, furthermore, attempted to take a picture looking backup up through the iron-gate from the entrance. Upon development of the film, those pictures were very cloudy and diminished from the volume of cold air fogging the lends. We proceeded to unload and gear up. Anticipation was with all.
Map of Wind Cave, 1965 At midday we were ready to enter. Jack C. Barr, Smitty Alt and I were ready and willing to take the next step. Precaution was exercised in slowly sliding through and under the entrance rock. The wind whistled by me as I proceeded to slither and slide into the cave beyond. As a safety precaution, a belay line was rigged, not knowing what we may find. Once inside I could sit up and get the carbide lamp going. One glance around told me we could go garther. We had hit upon a new cave. As each of the other entered and passed gear ahead to one another, we turned to see the tiny opening we had passed through. Lo did we realize it would be twelve hours before we saw that tiny place again. Once all our lamps had been lit, we soon realized that this was probably a breakdown room at the end of a large cave system...at least we were hoping.

For the first hour or two, we followed the leads and tried to sketch a map. I photographed as we went. We had always been very safety minded on our trips, and this time was no exception. We proceeded very cautiously every where we walked, crawled, or chimneyed. Once inside the wind volume appeared to have subsided. We tried to locate a continual source of the wind, but to no avail. Our photos give some idea of the passageways and cave we found. There was nothing really spectacular as speleothems go. I did not really expect them to be prolific within this breakdown area, assuming we were in the backend of a cave system.

We continued to explore passageways and crievices. The cave seemed to have multiple levels. We found a stream on a lower level. We found connecting passageways to the main level. We finally kept going down into the system, until we came to a very large walkway-type passage with nearly fifteen to twenty-foot heights. It led steeply down and made a turn to the right...as I recall. At this point our hearts were pounding. Was this finally the main passageway we had been hoping to find? It looked as if there was Smitty Alt exits Wind Cave definitely cave beyond. More important, there did seem to be air flow coming up through the passageway. At this point, I realized the time and that it was nearly dark outside. Those guys outside had to be wondering what had happened to us. And they would soon be faced with the darkenss of Wolfpen Hollow. We decided that perhaps this being the main trunk, it could wait for a return exploration. It was time to leave the cave and return to the outside world.

We picked our way back toward the entrance. By this time we were getting tired. We mustered up the last of our energy in getting back through the entranceway. It was very difficult as it was quite small and going back through  was not like coming in down a slope. Furthermore, it was dark out and with the tremendous volume of wind, the lamps were of no use. Being dark outside, it was difficult to see the opening. We also had to get all our gear out as well. We tried to be extra careful and not bang around too much, as this area had been dynamited and we were still a bit anxious about that. We finally all emerged nigh onto midnight to a very chilly outside. The guys had awaited our arrival and had the grill going for heat. As it turned out, the temperature in the valley had risen into the nineties during the day, but it was now within the lower forties in the mountainous hollow. Those guys were mighty chilly out there waiting on us to emerge. Linton had brought his CB and had kept in touch with his wife back in town. We jabbered on about our days exploration while scarfing down hamburgers Linton was so graciously preparing on the grill. Boy, were we hungry. The cold pop from the cave entrance was mighty welcome to wash the burgers down with. The plans were already in prepartion for the next assault on this Cave of the Winds.

We had planned on re-entering the cave within a week. However, old D. Carl, although impressed with what we had learned and seen, had second thoughts about further exploration. He became concerned about liability. Even though we agreed to sign waivers, he was not convinced of the comprehensive coverage of such a waiver. He became increasingly apprehensive and was reluctant to allow us further entry into the cave. We pleaded with him, but his decision had been made. We would be forever denied another chance to enter that cave.

We accepted his decision, and moved on to hoping to discover another entrance higher up on the mountain. We thought perhaps on the Kesner property, but no leads were found to take us into the system we felt would connect to the large passage we left behind under Deep Spring Park. We could not seem to get very far in Deep Spring Cave either.Formations in Wind Cave So there she laid under the mountain - a virgin cave passage just where we halted our forward steps. Oh how I wish we had gone onward. But it was time to quit. It was late and we were tired. Someday, though, someone will go beyond or come in from another firection. Until that time, all I could do was speculate as to what wonders lay beyond. If we had just taken a few more steps, and another, and another, etc. Oh well, such is dreaming.

D. Carl had been very kind to us, more so than some landowners. We greatly appreciated his allowing us to go as far as we did. He was not the first landowner to dynamite entrances open for us. We boys had wonderful and rewarding landowner relations. We would not defile that by trespassing and entering the caves behind their backs. To this day, those that are still with us, are friends indeed. To we three who ventured that day into the inner depths of Deep Spring Park, we vowed never to forget that virgin passageway that lay ahead of us the night we turned around in our beloved Wind Cave of Grant County. Perhaps someday, someone will pick up where we three left off.

Wind Cave has been explored and remapped in the years since. - The Editor

[Ed. This article was first published in the newsletter of the Potomac Speleological Club, The Potomac Caver, Volume XLII, June/July 1999.]