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April 3rd, 2010

Saturday April 3, 2010 Page County Cave Survey Trip Report

I pulled into the Luray Park and Ride just after 9am. Jeff Jahn was already there, so we chatted
for five minutes or so before Bill Murray showed up. I gave them both copies of the Zirkle’s Cave and
Cooley’s Cave maps, and I also gave Jeff an extra copy of each to give to Janet Tinkham. We looked over
the maps and noted significant details of each – for instance, how Two Shot Cave lies right next to
Cooley’s (within a couple feet, in plan view), although it’s 5-10 ft higher. If only they were connected… it
would have made for one historical through-trip.

We debated what to do that day – we had the dig on the Cooley’s property that we heard had
once been an open cave, we had the dig near Grove Hill that Bob Denton had told me about and I had
visited once when it was covered with snow, and we had the Foltz Caves (No 1 and No 2). Jeff thought
that neither had been mapped, and the landowners were very welcoming, so I was very tempted to do
that (it’s safe to say that I prefer surveying over digging). However, to wrap up the Cooley’s property, we
decided to go there to dig. After returning home, I looked up the Foltz Caves, and it turns out that No 1
has been mapped (Holsinger, 1990) to 400 ft, so it’s good we didn’t remap it…. like when we re-mapped
Goods mistakenly…. (Foltz Cave No 2 is reported to have around 200 ft of passage).

We pulled off the driveway near the barn, to the sound of a chainsaw near our dig location. We
walked towards the men, cutting a tree off a path through the woods near our site of interest. We
chatted with the landowner, who was one of the two men there working on the tree, who had driven
down from Reston, VA to work on the property. He was very welcoming and friendly, and told us to
have at the dig, and that he would only be out there for another hour or so. I offered him a copy of the
Cooley’s map so he could get an idea of what we, the VSS, do. He was very interested in the map, and
was glad to have a copy. The landowner also mentioned that UVA students “a long time ago” had been
to the cave we planned to dig on and had gone far into the cave, across the driveway, and found his well
casing running through the passage, which they had beat on, so that he could hear it on the surface.
Intriguing story! As he headed back to help the other man finish up cutting and removing the tree, we
began to change into our work clothes and see what digging tools we had to work with.

The dig site, near Cooley’s cave, was shown to us by Janet Tinkham and Jeff Jahn our first survey
trip to the property on November 7, 2009. I went into the short cave without my helmet, and decided
the cave was too dark inside to dig or survey J. On January 3, 2010, the overland survey of Cooley’s
Cave and other nearby caves (Tree Saw, Two Shot, and JD 4), included a station at the entrance of this
small cave/dig. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it “Too Dark Cave/Dig”(surely, later to be known as
the “Too Dark Entrance to the Cooley’s Cave System”).

Upon getting back to the dig site, I climbed inside to see what we had to work with – a 6 ft climb down to a sloping floor that met the cave ceiling after about 8 vertical feet. The top of the slope was covered in cobbles, so I asked for a bucket to fill. Bill and Jeff had each brought a bucket, and Bill had brought a rope to tie to the buckets to help lifting them out. They tossed down a bucket and I quickly filled it with cobbles. After another half a bucket, the slope was devoid of rocks, and it was mostly mud from there-on-out. I filled up another 8 buckets or so before switching out with Bill. We had one man stationed at the dig face, one stationed at the top of the climb-down into the cave to lift buckets, and one on the surface to switch out buckets connected to the rope and to empty buckets.

After working for a few hours (of very easy digging) we came upon a rock stuck right in the
middle of the way down, a piece of bedrock from somewhere off the ceiling by the looks of it. We figured that this rock might have been the cause of the choke. Jeff got the rock loose, and I managed to get it out of its nook and break it in two. The first piece we removed by bucket, but we had to tie up the second piece with webbing and it took all three of us to get it out. Digging underneath the rock’s previous position, we just found more and more mud.
Removing another rock shortly after that, the handle on Jeff’s hammer broke. Thankfully, the handle was just long enough that I could continue using it.

We also had a curious mole continue to check out our dig site. Multiple times, I saw him come
out of the wall, scamper around the dig face, and run back into his tunnel before I could get him a
bucket. He was one deep-tunneling mole (we were roughly 15 ft below the surface).

Continued digging brought us to bedrock walls, closing in to a pinch that couldn’t be the way into the cave, and a rock floor, although the rock floor doesn’t appear to be the passage floor, just two large rocks. The mud was also getting very compact, evidence that it had been there a long time (but not necessarily longer ago than the UVA trip). The left wall, looking into the cave, has a narrow (2 inch) horizontal slot with pooled water, leaves and twigs, and a broken turtle shell in it. We brought the shell to the surface so we didn’t break it more trying to remove stuff from the slot. It appears the water mostly flows into this slot and back under our mud stairs down to the dig face.

By this point, we had removed A LOT of dirt – probably around 60 buckets by the end of the day.
From the back of the original fill in the cave, we had dug down roughly 5 vertical feet, making plenty of
space for digging, and an awkward staircase down to the dig face. I’m not sure what we missed digging
down, but I can’t figure out where we ought to be digging for this cave “that does exist”. I figure that
we should go back to it after a large rain event, and see what it looks like then/ where the waters going;
Bill and Jeff agreed. There’s a small room directly to the right of the entrance, before climbing down to
the dig face, which Bill climbed into, but it appears to be nothing but a void in mud and soil with no
obvious point to dig.

We packed up, and headed back to the cars. Bill was kind enough to give me the rope and
bucket we had used, so that I could have them for future digs. Jeff headed home, and Bill and I drove up
to the Cooley’s landowner’s house to give them a copy of the Cooley’s Cave map. The lady in the house
was in a body brace (I hope she’s okay) and didn’t want the dogs getting out, so we talked through a
window and I slipped her the map through her door (while helping her keep the dog’s snouts out of the

From there, I took Bill to the dig in the sinkhole Bob Denton had emailed me about. It’s a good
hike to the sinkhole, but it’s one large depression (you can’t even see all the walls of the sinkhole when
standing in the middle of it). Inside of this large depression are two collapse sinks, one of which has
exposed rock, where we should dig. The dig will most likely require chemical persuasion, but it’s in a
great location, and Bob said it was blowing good air when he was there. Neither Bill nor I felt noticeable
air movement, but it’s definitely worth a day’s digging.

Thanks to Bill and Jeff for coming out to dig! I’d really like to get two teams going again soon, so
please plan on coming out May 1st!