SCAG Members Discover Virgin Cave In Kentucky    

SCAG Members Discover Virgin Cave In Kentucky

Written for the SCAG newsletter around December 1996.

As luck would have it an impromptu CRF expedition sprang into existence during the month of October. Mostly a subterfuge to facilitate a business meeting, the expedition of November 4th and 5th provided the opportunity for SCAG members Phil Bоdanza, Darlеnе Anthоny, Rích Flynn, and Stеvе McLuckiе to drive off to Kentucky shortly after the end of the November grotto meeting, and spend 16 1/2 hours exploring and surveying in Hidden River Cave.

You can read all about past happenings at Hidden River in the NSS News, probably August 1993 since I'm missing that one and I didn't find the article in the issues that I do have. As for current happenings, we were offered the chance to head upstream and try to continue the survey from E33; we had been told that the previous party was stopped by breakdown but could look "up through a space into empty blackness". Caving in the Northeast doesn't offer numerous opportunities to explore virgin cave, so naturally we jumped at the chance.

It took about three hours of pleasant caving to reach E33, and we even had to crawl and stoop some, but that's one of the easiest ways to see virgin cave down south - those prissy southern cavers are so spoiled that they tend to turn around at the first sign of a crawlway or water that's more than knee deep. The entire trip in we were accompanied by a tailwind, so we had high expectations when we finally reached our starting point. Even before pulling out our survey gear and looking around, it was obvious that the cave continued; we spotted E32 readily, but while looking for E33 I walked right past it and looked into a side passage that, because it turned to the left, was obviously beyond E33 and the breakdown it was located on. We located the last station after checking notes from the last party, and began to extend the survey. After several stations through obvious passage we became increasingly puzzled that the previous survey party had claimed to have been stopped by breakdown; we speculated that they may have run out of time and figured that if they indicated that there might be more cave, but it wasn't obvious, then they could come back and have it to themselves later, or that they had experienced a particularly bad day, and simply overlooked the obvious continuation while noting a more obscure possibility. Then we reached the mother of all breakdown piles, and began to consider the real truth; we even found a spot where it was possible to look up through a space into empty blackness. We quickly concluded that the traces of the last group had been obliterated by flooding, but they had in fact scooped the last few hundred feet of virgin cave without surveying before turning around at the breakdown which now confronted us.

After the trip a phone call from Darlеnе to a member of the previous party confirmed our suspicions, and as it happens, our initial explorations at the breakdown duplicated those of the previous party; the difference was that the last party had a hot lead they wanted to check on the way out, and we wanted to push virgin passage beyond the present southern extent of the cave. As Darlеnе climbed up the breakdown and discovered the previously mentioned blackness, I was able to crawl along the right-hand wall for about one hundred feet before turning back at a spot where I might have been able to squeeze up into a tight fissure that continued, or could definitely have done some minor digging to continue the crawl, if I had a suitable tool. Upon returning to the beginning of the pile I found that Darlеnе had not yet checked the left-hand wall, so I proceeded to do so, and found an easy route that continued beyond the breakdown; I took the liberty of scooping the next hundred feet of cave under the pretext of planning the survey- one of the great advantages of setting point is the opportunity to be at the front of the group in virgin cave. It took four more stations to pass the breakdown pile, and we set a few stations back around the right side for good measure. From the far end of the breakdown it was possible to look down the fissure I had seen from the other end, and we could reach the minor constriction that had ended my crawl. From a point midway along the left side we had also been able to climb up to the ceiling and find ourselves in the very blackness we had seen from the beginning of the pile. Now we were truly into virgin cave, and it was still taking air.

Another couple of stations and another hundred feet led to our first side lead, a ceiling fissure with flowstone hanging out of it. Two short pieces of webbing made an etrier that I hooked over a projection, allowing me to climb up and crawl into the fissure. Unfortunately I was stopped in only a few yards, but I did get to climb up through two small domes, and the entire place was decorated with clean, sparkling, beige flowstone and rimstone; at least we avoided leaving an unchecked lead on our survey.

It was now about 9:30 and we realized that we would probably be later than our scheduled return time, but since we wouldn't be missed until 6AM, there was no point in turning back with virgin cave still calling; unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and in another couple of stations I was confronted with the dismal sight of large quantities of rimstone, flowstone, and stalactites. Ordinarily, of course, it would have been good to discover this thicket of pretties, but I could not see an obvious way through what looked like a formation choke. The distance between the top of the rimstone and the ceiling was nothing over a foot, and the entire right half of the passage was blocked by stalactites that nearly reached the floor. I remarked to Darlеnе that if we were lucky we had some miserable surveying ahead of us, but if we weren't lucky we were done with our survey. Trying to avoid getting soaked in the pools, I crawled across the flowstone and between the stalactites for a few yards. Down to the right things looked slightly more promising, until I actually got there; I could have continued another couple of yards by crawling through a rimstone pool, but that would only have brought me to the point where floor and ceiling became one. I backtracked to the left and found that there was an obvious continuation to the passage, and it was still taking a slight breeze; unfortunately, the first foot or two was only about 4 inches high. Just beyond this point was another rimstone pool that was surely deep enough to permit a caver to fit, but there was the problem of the short constriction between me and the pool. I lay there feeling the breeze and looking toward the far end of the pool wondering what would happen if we could get there while Phil kept asking why I couldn't continue on the right, which looked passable from where he was. I finally turned back and offered Phil the chance to see things more closely, but he declined.

We retreated several stations and extended our early survey around a bedrock column and through some breakdown to a point just before the start of our survey, and tied in to E33. By now it was almost midnight; there wasn't a chance in hell that we would be back at CRF on time, but rather than be really late, we could skip our second objective of the trip, which was to resurvey several stations that would have required crawling through the water. As we headed out, the breeze became a strong headwind, even blowing out some of our lights at a constriction. We knew that it was supposed to be a cold night, and our certainty that there was more air now than on the trip in lead us to the conclusion that there was higher pressure moving in, and we expected to exit to a clear, starry night. Sure enough, as we neared the entrance it began to become downright chilly, and in a few places quite foggy; although it had been a fairly dry trip, we were wet enough that we almost considered staying in the cave until sunrise warmed things up a bit. Fortunately, since Hidden River Cave is literally right in the middle of town, the walk to the car was mercifully short, and we were changed into dry, insulating clothing in a short time. Notice that I didn't say "dry, warm" clothing; the thermometer we saw while leaving town indicated that the dry clothes we put on were only 16°. Since the ferry across the Green River wasn't running, we got to enjoy the scenic one hour drive back to camp, but when we got back there was hot food and a hot shower waiting for us. Washed, dry, and well fed, we climbed into our bunks at 4:30, bringing to an end another great day of caving Kentucky style.