Virginia is for Cave Lovers

March 3

The MAKC decided to hold its August meeting in Virginia for the second year in a row. Board member Jeff Jahn is from Front Royal Virginia, and the MAKC’s most recent cave lease is Rogers Belmont Cave near Front Royal. The year previously the board met and visited the property. The terms of the lease for Rogers Belmont Cave, once a very popular cave for Virginia and D.C. area cavers, include MAKC (via Front Royal Grotto) finding a new entrance to connect to the main cave. Basically, the cave had been closed because the owners were bothered by cavers visiting the entrance essentially in their backyard. It became a nuisance, and as a result, it was filled in/blasted shut.

Front Royal Grotto members have been regularly visiting the site, near the northern entrance of Skyline drive at Shenandoah National Park, and in previous efforts had dug open a pit entrance that thin cavers were able to access. In succeeding months, a horizontal entrance was dug, and an earthen barrier created, to prevent the horizontal entrance from flooding shut. Grotto members have found more than 200 feet of passage that is trending toward the old cave, and are regularly digging toward a connection.

MAKC members in 2011 got to enter the cave for the first time. While we all walked to the entrance, cavers who decided to go in were Jeff Jahn, Mike Kern, Mike Schirato, Kerry Speelman, Phil Gowaty and I. (at least I hope I remember it that way).

After a low crawlway filled with rubble, the passage opens out into a large decorated room. At the end of the room a crawlway where the grotto is actively digging trends toward the old Rogers Belmont Cave.

Those interesting in digging and/or mapping should contact Jeff Jahn or any member of Front Royal Grotto.

The previous year Tom had not been able to go, and I had had a blast. This year he was able to go and we had a very good time. On Friday, after dropping Bart at the kennel, we stopped along a portion of the Great Allegheny Passage that was not quite half-way, and bicycled from Rockwood toward Meyersdale. Tom made it to the viaduct, while I continued to the crest of the hill, in spite of threatening thunderclouds. Then came the long, downhill coast back to the car.
We once again camped at Battle of Cedar Creek Campground, with Jeff kindly making all of the arrangements for us. Among the others attending were John Long, Sue Moore, Phil Gowaty, Johnny Motto, Tom Metzgar, If I have forgotten anyone, these months later, please forgive me. I know that Paul Damon, Sr., and Phyllis Todd attended the meeting at the campground.

We met on Saturday morning at the campground, then headed out to Rogers Belmont. After Rogers Belmont Cave, we headed to Front Royal Caverns, another easy walk just behind a school. The cave had been gated a number of years before, due to its proximity to the school, essentially right in “the backyard.” The cave had multiple entrances and many climbdowns, as well as a “bridge” above a crevice consisting of a mud-covered plank sloping downard, that nested on a rock halfway across the crevice, where it met another mud-covered plank bridging the gap the rest of the way across.

I think everyone but Sue, who chose to sit outside and guard our gear, decided to go into the cave. There was some route-finding involved and we all split up, poking into crevices, climbing up slopes, and exploring some passages that met up with other passages in a bit of a maze. It was fun.

At some point, we all ended up in the same passage, squeezing through a window-like opening down an eight-foot drop, into a passage that eventually dead-ended. By then we were all covered with some slimy clay. John and John were both a bit slimed up and had some difficulty making the first step so that they could push off and simultaneously squeeze through the “window.” There was a side passage climb-up; however, once again, the first step was just inches out of reach.

Finally, both Johns consented to Tom giving them an “assist” up the passage.

That “assist” makes me digress for just one moment, because it so brought back memories of my long-time friend Alex Boughamer. Back when Alex was attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania, when Tom and I were dating, Alex was known for two things: the first was that he would sometimes show up at Tom’s house with a van load of students, predominantly women, from the IUP outing club, that he had had out somewhere. Alex would just show up, and invariably Tom and I would be sitting at the kitchen table—we had to since there was no other furniture in this bachelor pad. Alex would knock, be admitted, then lead the group on tours of Tom’s “library.” The second thing Alex was known for was taking members of the IUP Outing Club to Falling Creek Cave. Falling Creek, before Tom and I had dug another entrance, was famous for its periscope-like entrance. Cavers had to squeeze in the oval opening—about the size of a caving helmet—feet first. Once through they dropped into the other half of the “periscope” to floor-level. This cave was a favorite of Alex’s because when it came time to exit, he had to “assist” every female that he led to the cave—and at that time outing club trips were 99 percent female—out of the cave. Alex’s assists consisted of pointing his palms toward the sky, shoulder width apart—or should I say butt-cheek width—in preparation to “boost” when all those gals needed to get out. But hey, he was a single, college guy, and there were a lot of women on those trips.

In any case, digression over, John and John needed a similar assist in getting out of the cave. John Long was first and Johnny Motto second. Then came my turn. Tom stood, prepared to assist me.

“Thanks. I don’t need any help,” I said, then added, “I know where your hands have been.”

The two Mikes, Kerry and Jeff went to the part of the cave with the planks, while I climbed up and down slippy rocks, and decided not to walk the planks. We finally exited, stopped for a spot to have dinner, and headed back to the campground for the highlight of the weekend.

The previous year, Kerry and I had taken the campground’s canoes upstream in order to search for a cave rumored to be right along the stream. We never found it, but he and Mike Kern eventually made it to the rockshelter. Kerry and John Long had capsized numerous times on the trip upstream. Kerry and I never capsized—we just never made it upstream far enough.

This year, Tom and I came loaded for cave, so to speak. Years and years ago Tom had purchased an inflatable canoe—or kayak—or floatable device—whatever you want to call it. It came with its own paddes, was easily transportable—more easily transportable than a standard canoe—and was easily inflatable with its own foot pump. We could accompany Mike Kern, who brought his own kayak, Kerry and Mike Schirato, as well as Johnny Motto, upstream without each of us having to take turns in the canoes provided by the campground. It seemed good in theory.

It was not that long of a canoe ride upstream—at least for those whose water vehicle kept pointing in the correct direction. Tom took the front seat of the boat. I sat in the back. We packed it with a few beverages for the boat ride, as well as one light each. Swimsuits, tshirts, and sandals rounded out the caving gear.
The others quickly built up a substantial lead. For some reason, the inflable kayak rode a bit higher on the water, and Tom and I just could not get our paddling in sync. I tried to compensate by yelling “right, left, right, left,” because when I just said the words normally, nothing seemed to happen, i.e., the person in the front did not appear to be listening. Every few dozen feet, the current would take the craft and reverse its position, pointing the boat downstream, then upstream, in a series of 360 degree spins, until Tom and I got “control” of the craft again.

Mike Kern lagged behind a bit to see if we were having problems. “Oh, no,” we said. “What problems?”

Mike happened to have his phone with him, which happened to have filming capacities. Fortunately, this newsletter is in print form.
Finally, between a half hour and 45 minutes after everyone else started—and countless 360s, plus a few “plow the watercraft into the bank moments”—we arrived. We parked the boat along shore and made our way up to the rockshelters, the Panther Caves. It was an exceptional trip, in spite of the length of time it took for us to finally arrive. We managed to make it back to the campground—the last ones, surprise! It had been a great, three cave day, with beautiful weather for camping and great friends to camp with.

Sunday’s plans were thwarted by rain, but if it was going to rain, Sunday was the day for it, as we were eventually heading back home. The rain just forced an early start to it.