Laeger Cave

(aka Sugar Maple Pit)
By Devin S. Kouts

In February 1999 several members of the Potomac Speleological Club executed the first land-owner sanctioned ridge-walk to occur in Germany Valley in many years. Participating in that effort were Dick Sanford, Duane Thompson, Miles Drake, Jim Guildea and myself. As handsome a group as had ever trod those well-worn hills.

We left on our stroll from the vicinity of "20-acre Lake Pit" on one corner of the property of Wendell Warner. Our plan was to make a broad sweep to the far side of Wendell's purchase, a considerable piece of terrain, and then return along a different route. This would afford us the opportunity to see the most limestone possible.

The ridge-walk proceeded rather uneventfually as we angled to the East-North-East from our starting point. We covered a wide swath of ground, noted several intriguing sinkholes, a few possible digs and eventually found ourselves in the vicinity of Gypsum Cave. We decided to reverse direction at this point, confident we had reached the far end of Wendell's property, and head back toward the southern end of the valley.

It was on this leg of our walk that I noticed something suspicious about a tree in the distance. As I approached, even from 200 feet away, I could clearly see that the tree was growing up out of a depression in an otherwise flat terrain. Coming closer I could see the tree, very large in diameter, was growing up from the depths of a rather narrow, 12 foot diameter, sink hole.

That giddy feeling came over me as I approached, that feeling that tells you "this will go". Ever closer I walked and ever more did the sinkhole deepen before me. All the signs were there and then I saw the limestone. Halfway down the western side of the sink a limestone outcrop appeared. I covered the last few steps to the rim and looked down to see an intriguing opening waiting at the bottom of the sink.

Woo-hoo, we had one! I called to Jim, my nearest ridgewalker and asked him to come have a look. Jim ambled over and we made enough noise that Miles, Duane and Dick eventually abandoned their positions in the skirmish line and came over to see. Before poking our heads into the hole I had the presence of mind to get Jim to snap a shot of me over the entrance, exactly as it was found.

It was a cool day, in the high 30's as I slid down into the entrance. Mindful that I could be sliding in to the top of a pit I used a handline as I slipped down the entrance slope. As I passed through the entrance constriction, I was immediately impressed by the volume of air that whooshed in around my head. It was taking great air!

Once inside I slid down just ten feet to a standing room chamber, probably eight feet high. The walls were about four feet apart and there was a solid flat ceiling overhead. I looked at the floor, a loose array of cobbles lay there, straight ahead a blank wall. Hmmm, where did the cave go from here? It was strange, the air was gone, there was no way onward.

I turned around and looked back up the mud slope to the daylight pouring in the entrance. The opening faced due east and morning sunlight streamed in to illuminate the floor I stood upon. Where did the cave go? I looked about one last time, closely, hoping for some minor opening that I had overlooked. Nothing.

I began back up the slope to the entrance and was halfway up when I saw the lead. There, tight against the wall on my right was a narrow opening between the mud slope and the rock wall. I put my face to it and felt all the air that I had encountered in the entrance, sinking down this cleft.

Examining the lead it appeared as a slot, about 5 inches wide at best and maybe a foot and a half high. It sloped steeply downward into what appeared to be a larger chamber beyond and below. I brought my head lamp to bear and shown it into the void. There, below, I could make out a wall and possibly a floor about 15 feet down. I barked and it echoed. Aahh, this was getting better all the time.

I called to Jim and he came in to check the lead. It was obvious no one in the party would fit through the cleft at this point, and no one really came with heavy caving gear in tow. Just the same Jim pitched a few rocks down the void and they could be heard tumbling down to a floor 30 feet or more below! Yes this was certainly a find we would come back to. But it looked like our return trip would require some significant excavation before we would penetrate into real cave.