Trip Report and Photos
by Doug McCarty
This weekend we camped at the Bat Ranch outside of Blacksburg as the guests of the VPI Cave Club. Members of the two grottos rendezvoused at the Bat Ranch on a Friday night to gather by the bonfire, play guitars, sit in the hot tub, howl at the moon and partake of various beverages until the wee hours of the morning. The Mon Grotto people in attendance were Paige Baldassaro, Jason Thomas, Grant Riffle, Rich Finley, Bob Griffith, Mary Davis and myself. Mandi Thompson of the WVUSG and Jill Pyle were with us as well.
The next morning we broke into two groups. One group went to Clover Hollow and the other went to New Castle Murder Hole. I had never been to the latter, so I went there with Paige, Aaron and John of the VPI Grotto, Rich and Jill.
New Castle Murder Hole is located up on a hill in a pasture in a bucolic little mountain valley. Legend has it that many years ago an angry father threw a traveling salesman or something of the sort into the pit after the guy had an illicit relationship with his daughter--thus the name. The cave has a nice 78-foot entrance drop, after which you make your way across three straddle pits. The straddles are easy to get across. There is only one bad spot and you can opt to crawl around that. ("Easy" is, of course, a relative term. If your foot would happen to slip from either side on any of these straddles you would fall ~60 feet.) After the straddles you come to the Meander Room, where you can rest and decide where to go next. Because we were heading to Double Wells, we scooted our way across the Butt Ledge--a rather intimidating traverse that is 30 or so feet long. It gets its name from the fact that you have to scoot along on your butt with your back against the wall and your feet dangling into the 30-foot pit in front of you. The rather narrow ledge angles slightly toward the drop, making you feel as if you're slipping off into the abyss. To make matters worse, there are places where the wall pushes out and you are forced to lean forward, throwing your center of gravity toward the pit and forcing you to stare straight down into the blackness below as you scoot. If you are not at least somewhat uncomfortable on the Butt Ledge you are brain dead.
We got back to Double Wells and did the 90-foot drop, climbed the rocks back up (a fun climb) and then headed back across the Butt Ledge to the Elevator--a friction shaft that you sort of slide down. After a bit of exploring at the bottom of the elevator we climbed back up and then went to the Park Bench and climbed down again into Sizer's Park. After doing some tricky climbing moves in that vicinity we climbed back to the main passage, went back across the straddle pits and prussicked out.
We rendezvoused with the Clover Hollow crew at a Mexican restaurant in Blacksburg and then went back for a low-key evening at the Bat Ranch. It had rained during the day and the wood was wet, so we had a hard time getting the fire going, but we had our bonfire and got the hot tub fired up.
The next day we went up to Mountain Lake for a short visit and then went down to Pig Hole. Jason and I had already filled the group in on the pleasures of the Glop Walk, and for some reason they decided to forgo that pleasure and head for the Empire Ledge instead. Jason was using his minirack in a cave for the first time and he was not pleased with the amount of friction it produced on John's dirty ropes. Since popping a bar off wasn't an option, he had to feed the rope through the rack--which he knew to be dangerous and tiring. He was not happy at the bottom of the drop (see the photo below). He lightened up quickly however and we climbed up out of the entrance room while the rest of the group did the 120' drop. The third picture below was taken while were waiting for the rest of the crew to do the drop. We then headed up toward the Tool Room. When we reached the entrance to the Glop Walk, Rich and John crawled back in a ways so Rich could get a taste of how it got its name. He got a taste.
The Empire Ledge is a 180' drop, and we spent quite a while waiting for everyone to go down. Instead of prussicking back up the rope, we climbed up (another fun climb), going over the mud bridge and up a pre-rigged rope in order to head out toward the culvert. Aaron and Jason decided to try a belayed climb rather than prussick up the rope while I waited below to make sure the rope didn't get tangled. I prussicked up and after a brief visit to the Queens Bath we headed for the culvert entrance.
When we finally got out we bade our fellow cavers farewell, jumped into our respective vehicles and headed north.
Mary Davis doing the entrance drop
Jason Thomas cursing his mini-rack
Jason, Grant, Rich and Mandi
Mandi and Mary looking for the way up. John giving someone a hand down.
Rich and John at the mouth of the Glop Walk.
Mary Davis and Bob Griffith waiting their turn on the Empire Ledge
Mandi, Paige and Rich also waiting to do the drop.
Mandi and Jason derigging and heading out.
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