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Blarney Stone Cave 2004-2014

Blarney Stone Trip 17 Jan. 2004

Blarneystone Cave


Trip report by: Benjamin Schwartz

After assembling in Burnsville on Friday evening at the Davis household, six of us decided to attempt an early start into the cave the next morning. The group was composed of Nevin Davis, Tommy Shifflett, Nate Walter, Mike Kistler, Steve Wells and me. Steve Wells came with me from Blacksburg and was the newcomer on the trip. After the usual yakking about LEDs, maps and batteries, we all turned in for a good night of sleep.

At 8:30 on Saturday morning, we were all gathered at the Davis household once again. Nevin ate his usual French Toast while the rest of us ate whatever we had scavenged from our food boxes. Amazingly, we managed to leave for the cave by 9:00 – many of us fully suited to enter the cave. The weather was cold and dry, so we were able to drive up onto the ridge and park in the usual spot. When we arrived, Mike decided he had better stay out of the cave due to some serious intestinal problems. It seemed that he had eaten some fowl turkey or chicken in the not-so-distant past. This was ok though; Steve and I could still do a two-person survey with no problems.

As we moved into the cave, I was surprised to find that after 7 years of absence, I remembered the cave much better than I had expected. My only mistake was forgetting about the fourth drop on the way in! As Gregg had done for me on my first trip, I let Steve crawl through the crawl into Ghost Hall first. I think he was duly impressed by the passage. When we reached the old dig site in Upper Ghost Hall, it was certainly a changed beast. The small crack I remembered has become a nice crawlway leading downward into continuing excavated passage. We moved through several digs fairly quickly and soon reached the breakthrough into the continuing passage. At first it was somewhat unimpressive, but we soon climbed out of a large breakdown area into the ‘real’ trunk passage. This area is quite impressive with very spacious dimensions, relatively smooth floors and prolific formations ranging from flowstone to large chandeliers of aragonite and large sprays of aragonite anthodites. We paused long enough to appreciate them before moving on to better things; namely un-surveyed booty!

We soon reached the area where we planned to begin surveying for the day. After checking out some pretty grim slop-supreme leads, Steve and I decided to survey some upper level mop-up and then follow a stream canyon below F104. The others began their survey into a large canyon at F111, which is at the base of Pigeon-tooth Falls. Nate had climbed up into this canyon on the last trip and left it going as a good lead.

Steve and I began to prepare for surveying when he noticed that Tommy’s compass (which we were using) was leaking oil. After 30 minutes of frustration while we tried to read the damaged compass, we finally gave up without a single survey shot recorded in the book. Disappointed, we retreated and followed the trail of the other crew. The climb Nate had done the last trip now has a handline/rope on it and we soon tracked the others down in only a few stations. They were standing in an area with some spectacular aragonite formations that are pure white. The reason everyone was standing around is because there was a 12-foot climb blocking the way with no obvious way to get up it. We retrieved the rope from the last drop and Tommy succeeded in lassoing a projecting formation at the top, while simultaneously avoiding the anthodites coating one wall. While he prepared to do this, I returned to the dome area above Pigeon-tooth Falls and checked out a lead Nevin told me he thought he could see. I was able to climb out over the dome area along one wall and climb up into another parallel dome to the NW. This was the lead Nevin had seen. Another small trickle of water falls from this dome. The floor slopes up steeply at 40 to 70 degrees and is composed of semi-consolidated sands and gravels. The only problem is that as soon as they are disturbed, they instantly liquefy and begin a small avalanche of concrete-like slurry. I was able to climb upwards in this area until I reached a point where I felt uncomfortable without some sort of protection for getting back down. From this vantage point, however, I could look upward into what appears to be a very large paleo-borehole, or possibly a large room. The ‘passage’ appears to be ~80’ wide and 30’ high. The dome complex I was in is cutting down through this passage on one side and has sliced vertically through the sediments on the floor. I slid back down the dome walls and returned to report what I saw to the others. After thinking about it, I believe we can access this passage with some long mud-pitons, some fancy climbing, a belay line and some rope for fixed rigging.

After this fun, I returned to the others and we waited around and took pictures while Tommy set a bolt and rigged a rope up the climb. He was exclaiming about the formations found at the top of the climb, so we eagerly anticipated climbing up and seeing ‘the best formations to be found in the Cove’. Since we couldn’t survey anymore, Steve and I became the designated photographers for the trip. True to Tommy’s word, the formations at the top are the most spectacular that I have ever seen in a cave. Aragonite sprays, stalks, and strange shapes boggle the mind, and unlike the displays out in the main passage, they are all pure white. It did not take long for us to use up all the film in our cameras! In hindsight, I’m glad I had decided to take pictures of the other formations on the way out of the cave! After a long discussion about Skyline Caverns having the ‘only anthodites in the world’, we decided to name this passage The Pride of Skyline.

The passage continued quite nicely for nearly 900’ to an ‘end’ in a sloppy pile of thin slabby breakdown. Steve reported that he could continue for a little ways in slabby breakdown, but it looked pretty grim ahead. One thing of interest in the passage leading up to this is the number of dead millipede skeletons, and the different sizes of them. There are three different size millipedes in this area. Two are the usual smaller and large sizes, but a third is 2 to 3 times larger than the ‘normal’ large size. I have not seen millipedes this size in or out of a cave before. It would be interesting to find some live ones and see if they are cave-adapted. If so, they would almost certainly be a new species.

After cleaning up some small side-leads and working on a blowing dig that eventually led to some very small passage, we decided to return to Pigeon-tooth Falls and survey down the stream passage Steve and I had planned to survey. I took over sketching from Tommy and we moved downstream in a smallish canyon for ~350’ to where the passage became too low to continue. We passed a nice infeeder side lead on the left and an even nicer one on the right. With some persuasion, Nevin read instruments for a couple shots up into the right-hand lead. The passage continues with a very strong breeze blowing out of it. It seems that much of the air in this area of the cave is actually coming from this lead.

At this point, we packed up the gear and headed out of the cave with 1,300 feet of new cave in the book. It was not as much as we would have liked, but all things considered, it was not a bad day. On the bright side, Steve and I got to see and photograph some very spectacular formations!

We exited the cave with no problems and were out after 16.25 hours of good caving.

Blarney Stone Trip 24 Jan. 2004


Blarneystone Cave

Trip Report by: Benjamin Schwartz

Gregg Clemmer, Dave Kohuth, Mike Ficco and I gathered in Burnsville on Friday evening. We were preparing for another trip into the new portion of Blarneystone Cave beyond the Upper Ghost Hall dig.

Phil and Charlotte Lucas were gracious hosts and allowed us to use their house and basement for a sleeping and staging area over the weekend. Having a warm and dry place to eat and get ready for a trip makes things move along more quickly on a cold morning! Thank you very much, Phil and Charlotte!

On Saturday morning, we got ready to enter the cave and left Phil and Charlotte’s place around 9:30 am. By 10:00 we were in the cave and heading down the entrance series. We had several goals for the day: map lots of cave, check Kohuth’s Krawl (which is heading toward nearby Burns Cave), and map in the leads found along The Boulderdash passage.

Once we were in the new part of the cave beyond the Upper Ghost Hall dig, we turned off the main passage and headed down through Fivepointsville, Duane’s Drop and into The Boulderdash. The passage leading up to Duane’s Drop is a steeply descending, dry streambed that terminates at Duane’s Drop. This is a very neat two-step offset pit that is very attractive and clean, and is entirely invisible from the bottom. Looking up, I wondered how many tiny ledges I have looked at that conceal an opening like the one at this drop. Below Duane’s Drop we intersected a sizeable stream that flows a short distance and turns into a large trunk/canyon going steeply down to the southwest. Going to the northeast is a large passage that splits into an upper and lower level. This lead was noted on the last trip into this area, but had not been entered.

Following the stream, we descended through large canyon passage to a point where we could no longer follow the water. This is the beginning of the Boulderdash, one of the most treacherous passages I know of in the cave. It is a large passage floored with huge mud-covered breakdown blocks. As we traversed this, we realized that everything was extra slimy because it has been entirely flooded since the last survey trip. All the previous footprints, as well as all but two of the survey stations, have been completely obliterated. When we reached the end of The Boulderdash, we climbed down a steep slope into Phantom Ranch. Beyond this point, the passage changes into a large sand-floored trunk. A couple hundred feet farther, the ceiling lowers and we reached a steep slope of fine gravel that characterizes a classic lift-tube. Water blasting up under pressure from below piles, tumbles, and sorts the gravel into a fan radiating away from a passage constriction. In this case, most of the gravel is composed of polished chert and sandstone pebbles, some as shiny as glass.

Our first objective, Kohuth’s Krawl, lay straight ahead. To the right is a small passage leading down to a short segment of the Cathedral River. We decided to go and see it briefly before working on Kohuth’s Krawl. This stream may be the largest in-cave stream in the Burnsville Cove. The stream sumps in both directions, though there is a small hole in the ceiling above the downstream sump. I climbed up into this and determined that it is merely a dead-end ceiling pocket. Returning to Kohuth’s Krawl, we listened as Dave described more water than he had seen on the last trip. I crawled into the low and wide passage to check it out. Sliding around a pool at the beginning leads to yet another pool – this one forming a terminal sump. By spending 40 minutes digging a long trench between the two pools, we were able to start draining a good stream of water out of the first pool. The water level was dropping slowly, so instead of waiting around, we headed back out to Phantom Ranch to survey a side lead near a noisy waterfall infeeder.

The stream started into a walking passage that quickly degenerated into sleaze-city breakdown piles. We could no longer follow the stream (named Spirit River) after ~200’ of survey and all leads were climbing back up into The Boulderdash passage above us. Climbing back into Boulderdash, we scoured the passage for other leads. High up at the ceiling on one wall, Mike and I could see what looked like a passage opening or a wide alcove. I was able to reach the lead by carving steps into thick mud slopes on a series of ledges. When I reached the lead, I immediately knew that it was a real lead – air was whipping by me towards a narrow crack. I crawled into it and found two places where the air was going. Both had the appearance of a ‘grease-trap’ and it looked like the ceiling would rise again in less than 10 feet. The airflow in this lead is as much or more than the air in the Upper Ghost Hall dig. After I climbed down and told the others what I had found, we returned to Kohuth’s Krawl to see what lowering the sump pool had accomplished and to survey as much as we could. The pool level had dropped almost 12 inches but had, as expected, failed to open any dry passage leading into Burns Cave. The pool still completely sumps the passage shut. We determined that pumping the pool dry is probably going to be the best option for getting through this sump. Perhaps after other leads are checked, we will reach Burns via another route and not have to attempt this.

With Kohuth’s Krawl, Spirit River, and other small potential leads crossed off our list, we decided to all climb up into the sucking lead and dig for a while. We dug for about an hour until we all got pretty cold and determined that the dig was more serious than we were prepared to work on this day. This lead has since been named Opportunity Knocks.

With no other leads in the area, we began working our way back towards the beginning of The Boulderdash. In one place, Mike and I found a route down through the breakdown to another short section of the Cathedral River under the breakdown. It is in a very small passage and sumps on both ends. We checked several other areas on the way back towards the junction at station K70, finding only a couple potential leads very far up in the ceiling.

Along the way, Mike and I confirmed that the entire passage had recently been flooded up to station K70. This point is approximately 90’ above the Cathedral River! At K70, we determined that the lower level lead is definitely an overflow route for the floodwater rising up through The Boulderdash. A 10’ wide, scoured bedrock streambed leads to the northeast. We began surveying into the lower level, leaving at least two large upper level leads for another trip. The lower level continued for a few hundred feet to a series of deep pools. Mike managed to cross them and reported large passage continuing on the other side. In this area, we observed small seeds and mucous-like bubbles on the ceilings, indications of recent flooding. We decided to avoid the possibility of falling into the pools, however, and climbed up into a larger passage that bypasses them. Cresting a steep slope, we looked out into a large junction room with two big passages leading out of it. In this room we pushed the surveyed length of the Chestnut Ridge Cave System past that of Butler Cave, and named this area The Butler Quarters. One of the large passages leads up a long mud slope to a low passage with formations and air blowing out of it. Mike reported that it seemed to be opening up again out ahead, but we decided to survey to the east in the second large passage. This went past another lift-tube fan of gravel coming from the lower passage where we had just been, and led to another low area with a pool. Passing the pool, we climbed up yet another steep slope of lift-tube gravel and walked into a T-intersection with large passages going both left and right. Gregg’s excited exclamations inspired the name Oh My! Junction. We could hear a stream to the left and shot a couple stations in that direction to reach yet another T-intersection with a large stream passage. It continues with spacious proportions in both directions. We set our final station at this junction and called it a day with exactly 1400’ of new survey in the book.

We headed for the entrance at 10:00 pm and exited the cave without incident at 3:00 am

Our trip was very successful in many ways: Butler Cave is no longer the longest cave in the Burnsville Cove, we left many promising leads going big, we crossed off several small side leads, and we left a not-very-comfortable dig-lead with good potential to lead to more cave.

Blarney Stone Trip 24 April 2004

Blarneystone Cave

Trip Report by: Benjamin Schwartz

With this being the first planned expedition weekend for Blarneystone exploration, many folks were able to attend and participate in a weekend full of caving fun. Mike Ficco and I decided to work on the Opportunity Knocks dig lead near the end of Boulder Dash. Mike Kistler kindly agreed to join us, so we had the needed team of three people willing to dig. Our plan was to dig for an hour or so in this air-blowing lead and break into a huge new section of trunk passage heading out past Burns Cave. Along the way, we would survey into a side passage and connect to Burns. But we all know about glorious plans of this kind made before the trip….

Mike and I headed up early Saturday morning and met folks at Nevin and Judy’s house. We quickly loaded Mike Kistler’s gear into my truck and headed for the cave. By 9:30am, we were the first team in the cave. We made good time and reached the dig area around 12:00. On the last trip I had hacked steps in a steeply sloping mud ledge leading up to the lead. For additional safety on this trip, I set a bolt and we rigged a traverse line up the ledge to the lead itself. This accomplished, we all climbed up and began digging at 12:30. Unfortunately, the dig proved to be more difficult than anticipated and we were most definitely NOT scooping borehole in a couple hours! We dug for about 7 hours before reaching a point where it became impossible to continue without more powerful tools, or toys, depending upon who you might talk to. By this point, we were all getting chilled by the howling wind and the damp mud floor was getting more and more liquid due to our repeated disturbances. The air was blasting us so hard that we couldn’t get warm by working at the dig face – only by digging and then seeking shelter in a small alcove would we feel warmer. There were several times when my eyes would not stop watering due to the wind velocity. Without a doubt, this lead has far more air than any other place in the cave – including the passage in the Upper Ghost Hall dig.

Certain that the other teams must be surveying miles of booty, we were determined to not leave the cave without a respectable amount of footage in our survey book. Before heading to a surveyable lead, Mike Ficco and I ran down towards Kohuth’s Krawl to check the sump. We didn’t even have to go into the crawl to know that nothing had changed and we would not get through; the flow of water flowing out of it was significantly higher than the last time we had been there. Oh well… We had been turned away from Burns on both fronts.

Not to be turned away completely, we retreated to an infeeding stream canyon at station K70 near the beginning of the Boulder Dash. Mike Kistler remembered that Duane had reported low passage ahead, so we were prepared for some crawling. The stream is fairly sizeable in this passage and starts off as 6 feet wide by 20+ feet tall canyon with a smooth and sculpted bedrock floor replete with plenty of plunge pools and small cascades. As we surveyed, it became obvious that it was not going to get low at all. Passage dimensions remained generally the same. It continued to rise with a gradient of between +6 and +8 degrees and was consistently trending around 240 degrees. After a few hundred feet, we reached a series of cascades and pools that we could not avoid getting wet in. Chuckling about how Nevin would be grumbling at this point, we waded in up to our thighs or waists and climbed splashing cascades on the other sides of the pools. A few pools later, we reached a deeper pool that had a bona-fide waterfall pouring into it. There was no obvious way to climb it without a serious risk of falling, and a high probability of taking cold swim in the pool as a result. Discouraged, we decided to survey a side passage up on the left wall just below this pool. After rearranging a large rock and boosting Mike Ficco from below, he was able to reach the passage at the top of a tricky climb. He scouted ahead for a couple minutes and returned reporting that the side lead was really a dry bypass around the waterfall – we were back in business! Mike Kistler had a piece of webbing that we rigged to allow easier access to the top of the climb. Above this waterfall, the cave remained very similar except for the fact that there was more of a flat ceiling and a lot more flowstone coming in. Some of the formations are quite nice and I took a few pictures. I’ll scan them and post them to the website as soon as my film gets developed. One area has several pure white bacon rinds that are a few feet long and 6 inches wide.

Several hundred feet later, we decided that we need to turn around in order to meet our predetermined schedule to be back at Ghost Hall between 1:00 to 2:00 am. I tallied up the footage and reported that we had surveyed 1170 feet of very nice stream passage. Mike Ficco and I both agree that it is probably some of the nicest infeeder stream passage in the CRCS. We all agreed that a good name for this new section would be Fallingwater. Fallingwater continues a nice stream passage with no end in sight where we turned around.

In addition to water coming down Fallingwater, we also had a good draft of air heading upstream towards a lower entrance. Though this air is almost certainly not heading for Burns, the air and water still promise good potential for a lot more cave in this passage.

We reached Ghost Hall right at 2:00 am. After an uneventful exit trip, we all reached the surface at 3:30 am and enjoyed a warm and bug-free morning as we changed out of our caving gear.

Blarney Stone Trip 19 June 2004

Trip Report by: Benjamin Schwartz

Several of us gathered at the Davis residence on Saturday morning for yet another of the monthly trips into Blarneystone Cave. The crew consisted of Mike Kistler, Mike Ficco, Nevin Davis, Ron Simmons, Nate Walter and me. A plan was formulated and Mike, Mike and I decided to return to the Opportunity Knocks dig site in an attempt to modify the passage and follow the howling air in this lead. The other three would take photos in various places and then go survey one of the leads awaiting further exploration.

As with many poorly thought out plans, this one didn’t last very long. Nevin and Ron went out to the Leprechaun Forest area while Mike Kistler wound up waiting for them in Ghost Hall. We had not planned for the fact that Nevin and Ron did not know how to get to the bottom of the cave (which they wanted to visit before surveying). Mike Kistler graciously offered to be a photo slave and cave guide while Nate, Mike Ficco and I set off to begin modifying the passage in the dig.

Moving through Boulder Dash was pretty easy compared to past trips. The giant mud banks have started to dry out and you can actually walk over some of them without slipping and falling down a small funnel-shaped hole-of-squeezing-death. When we arrived at the dig, it was still blowing strongly, as expected. After a brief evaluation, we placed the appropriate materials in the appropriate places and moved back out to the traverse ledge. The result was quite spectacular and Nevin reported hearing it up in the main borehole passage in the new section. I took a series of photos showing the resulting fog blowing out and hugging the ceiling. The dig site was full of clear air by the time we could get back to it, and Mike quickly crawled in to inspect the results. They were very impressive and a 7 inch wide passage had been turned into a 30 inch wide passage completely full of rocks.

Unfortunately, the rest of the dig had not been enlarged and removing the debris was still quite an effort. Mike’s custom built haul bag came in very handy. By the time we finished cleaning the debris, the other crew came into sight as they traversed the Boulder Dash. It was quite an impressive sight to see their lights shining up through the fog we had produced, though Nevin said they were well below it at the time. It turns out that the dig is actually fairly well in line with the main trend of the Boulder Dash passage and does not deviate to the west as I had remembered it doing.

When the others had arrived and inspected the dig, we prepared to remove a corner that Mike said he could see around. He described a 90 degree turn to the left through a very narrow crack for a few feet to where things opened up a little, though he couldn’t tell if it was much more than the 5 inches he could already see. Mike packed things in and we all left for the ledge. It was a very sad moment when nothing happened. It turns out that the initial device was defective and did not work properly. Of course, we did not have a spare device and were forced to abandon the dig for another day. I was especially disappointed when I crawled up to the very end and crammed my head as far around the corner as I could. I could see that in 3 feet the small crack opens into a passage that appears to be 4 to 5 feet wide and high, heading to the right (southwest). My impression is that we have been following a side fissure parallel to a larger passage that was filled with mud and other sediments. Our first dig attempt was actually in this filled passage and was headed right for the seen-but-not-entered passage, but proved to be too low and muddy with no clear way on. We had abandoned that passage to work on the more obvious crack that we have now opened up.

While we were puttering around at the dig site, cleaning and packing gear, Nevin and Ron went on a short photo trip down into Phantom Ranch. With no digging options left open to us, and no leads left in the area, we all decided to head back up to the top of Boulder Dash. I had been suffering from a bad headache all day and it had not gotten any better while digging. I ate and drank more and took some Vitamin I before deciding that if it was not better by the time I reached the bottom of Duane’s Drop, I would head out. Since we had ridden to Burnsville together in my truck, Mike Ficco agreed to go with me if I did.

By the time we reached Duane’s Drop, I was not feeling any better and decided to head out. Ron decided to accompany Mike and me while Nate, Nevin and Mike Kistler went towards The Butler’s Quarters on a photo mission. Mike, Ron and I were out by 10:00 after an 11 hour trip. Of course, by the time we reached the entrance my head was not hurting very much any more. Mike and I decided to head back home so I don’t know when the others reached the surface. I do know that they had a good photo trip. Evidence of this can be seen in the photos that Nevin posted on the web site.

Even though we didn’t survey anything on this trip, it was fairly productive as far as digging goes. I think the next crew to return to Opportunity Knocks should take survey gear AND be prepared to use it! Even though the lead is still about 1400 feet from the Potmetal Piton Climb in Burns, that distance could be covered fairly quickly if the passage cooperates. If Burns is integrated into the CRCS, the system will make a big leap towards ultimately passing the length of what is currently the longest cave in VA. Let’s keep going!

The haul bag, hammer, and prybar were left at the dig site for the next crew to use.

Blarney Stone Trip 8 August 2004

Opportunity Knocks... The Door Opens

Reported by: Nevin Davis

On Sat. Nate Walter, Sara Good, Mike Kistler and I went into Blarney Stone Cave to work on the Opportunity Knocks Dig. This dig in the ceiling of the Boulder Dash has the possibility of providing a connection to Burns Cave. Even without the connection incentive the small passage has air movement like the entrance to Aqua Cave and a trail of guano on the floor.

When we reached Ghost Hall, Nate informed Mike and I that he wasn't feeling well so he and Sara exited the cave leaving us to carry on. Ghost Hall is only a third of the way to the Boulder Dash so another two hours were spent getting to the dig site. What Ben and Mike Ficco had left on 19 June was a 30 ft. long crawl ending at a tight 90 deg. turn to the left. Mike and I worked on this for 5 hours before I was able to make an attempt to get around the corner. The problem for me was the way ahead was too low. By hammering on the thin layer of flowstone on the floor and removing part of a 3 in. layer of mud on top of it, sufficient height was achieved. When I did try to crawl through, my shoulder caught on the edge of the flowstone on the floor. My first thought was "oh shit I don't know if I can back out". I was able to place my feet on the outside wall of the corner and force my way through into a small room. Then the first order of business was dig out the floor more to make sure I could get back out.

From the small room the passage immediately turns right as a hands and knees crawl for 40 ft. to another small room. Then the passage goes left again as a crawl to a 15 ft. high canyon passage only wide enough to traverse sideways. The entire passage; walls, ceiling, floor, are covered in sloppy mud because this area floods. I scooped 250 ft. of passage and left it going as a 15 ft. high canyon passage much like what I had already explored. Mike made an attempt to get around the corner we had worked on but was unable to do it because of the length of his legs. I think anyone with long legs will be stopped.

It was now 8 PM and both because of the late hour and because a survey party of one in these conditions is a non starter we began our retreat. The trip out was long and we exited at 12:30 AM.

As I see it we now have 4 good leads: Opportunity Knocks, Fallingwater, Pigeon Tooth Falls, and the upstream canyon lead near Pigeon Tooth Falls. Then of course there's Kohuth Krawl if we ever have a severe drought. All of these need surveyed

Blarney Stone Trip 28 August 2004

Opportunity Knocks

Reported by: Mike Ficco

Two teams, comprised of Ben Schwartz and myself (team A) and Nevin Davis, Tommy Shifflett and Dave Kohuth (Team B), descended into Blarneystone Cave on August 28, 2004 to push leads in the area of the cave beyond the Upper Ghost Hall Dig. This report only documents the exploits of Team A. Team B activities are in a separate report below.

Ben and I got an early start ahead of the others, and made good time travelling down and out to the Opportunity Knocks area in about two hours’ time. As was previously reported, this is a high lead that intersects Boulder Dash and has a bone-chilling gale of air blowing through it. Originally filled with sediments and too narrow to negotiate, multiple difficult dig trips had ultimately resulted in access to larger passage beyond. On the last trip, Nevin had scooped ahead approximately 200-300 feet, reporting going canyon covered with sloppy mud.

Ben and I started the survey out in Boulder Dash and were soon pulling out shots through the dig and the "previously enjoyed" passage beyond. The breeze was really whipping past us and I was regretting that I didn’t have a heavier shirt along. Initially the mud was not too bad and we began thinking that perhaps we would soon be in dry passage (OH, HOW WRONG WE WERE)!! Upon reaching the last of Nevin’s characteristic spiked footprints, we pushed ahead only to find the canyon terminating in a blank wall thirty feet beyond! A quick recon identified a climb-up taking the air and we were off and running (err…I mean groveling) again. The mud continued to become more pervasive and tenacious, sticking and accumulating on any and all surfaces on our bodies and packs. At one point our boots had gained so much width due to mud accretion that it was impossible for our feet to pass one another while negotiating a canyon, forcing us to shuffle down the passage as though wearing concrete clown boots!

The passage morphology alternated mostly between low, hands & knees crawlway and walking/shuffle canyon. We named this section of cave Midget Rodeo after a piece of "fine" literature that Dr. Steve Smith had sent me. All of the passage characteristics we observed were consistent with our previous theory that the passage was an overflow route for the Cathedral River. The further we progressed up the passage the more bizarre the passage morphology became. We encountered several pits/climbdowns that apparently fill entirely with water during periods of flow (it’s just not normal to have pits when you’re going upstream in an active passage)! One of these climbdowns is a god-awful slot slathered in baby poop mud (Oh The Humanity)!

High-water marks were observed in numerous locations, and as the passage slowly gained elevation so did our hopes of getting out of the muddy slop associated with the flood zone. A small trickle stream flowed at the bottom of the canyon for several hundred feet, and Benjamin noticed that long filaments (apparently biological) were growing throughout, waving in the stream’s flow. These filaments formed aggregates in places and appeared to be responsible for the formation of many small "rimstone" dams that were composed of only mud (and presumably biological filaments/mats). The form of this growth was similar to that of iron-bacteria often seen in organic-rich water, but this was white and generally finer/more delicate. After several hundred feet we intersected a small side passage from where the stream emanated. We did not enter the side passage but it looked pretty small. Travel into this side passage should probably be avoided until samples of the filaments and water are analyzed. It is possible that these are strange, new ‘extreme’ bacteria, they certainly are unusual.

Ben’s hands were getting numb from the cold breeze, and my instruments had gotten sleazed in the Baby Poop Chute; so we were doing our share of cussing. However, the blasting airflow and the potential for a connection to Burns spurred us on despite the horror, and the cave gradually became dryer, giving rise to the passage name "Lifted Spirits". We started intersecting rooms, some quite spacious, that apparently formed phreatically at joint intersections, and one room was roofed by a thick sandstone layer that looks very similar to the one in Burns where Ben and I did the Pot Metal Piton climb. Ben was keeping a running tally of how far we had traveled in a straight line towards Burns and we knew that we were getting close, but the passage just continued on; not getting much better, but more importantly, not getting worse. We discussed if/where/when the passage might drop into Burns (we had brought our vertical gear just in case we popped out at the top of the Pot Metal Piton climb, not wanting to leave a hanging survey).

One of the more interesting things we observed were sedimentary features resulting from periods of high flow during flood events. Much of the floor, particularly in the phreatic tubes, was covered in what we initially thought was gravel, but turned out to be mud clasts either ripped up from the upstream passage floors or from the flaky ledges along the walls. In places the clasts formed imbricated mounds where ceiling features caused localized low-velocity zones in the flow, causing the clasts to drop out of suspension. In other places we found intricately sculpted mounds of sand and silt. Care should be taken to avoid destroying these features on future trips. We also saw some really cool directional aragonite needles growing on soda straws above the flood line. The needles were only growing on the up-wind and down-wind sides of the straws, resulting in bizarre double razorback-looking things.

The survey continued, with the passage changing character constantly, almost with every shot; unfortunately we were spending far more time on our knees than on our feet and my knees were beginning to complain as were Ben’s. After 1700 feet or so of survey, I came to the top of an overhung drop that I didn’t think was climbable, however Ben checked it out and was able to climb/jump down and then verified that he could climb back up. We continued on, despite my doubts that I (not having Mr. Schwartz’s long legs) could reverse the climb on the way out, but I figured that I’d deal with that later; the powerful pull of Burns was in control.

As we had seen several times earlier, the cave continued as a crawl from the small room at the bottom of the drop, and eventually climbed back up to a level higher than we had started, thus continuing the steady uphill gradient. A couple of hundred feet further along we came to another drop that definitely required a rope (which we didn’t have). The drop is situated at a joint intersection forming a tall canyon approximately 40+ feet tall, and the overhung lip drops approximately 15 feet to the floor. It was difficult to tell what was happening at the bottom, but I think the passage continues low out from the left-hand side of the room/passage.

Conceding that we were done for the day, we decided that I should look at my watch to see what time it was (for the past few hours we had both been silently resisting the urge to look at the watch, assuring ourselves that it really wasn’t too late)! I confirmed our suspicions that it was indeed late (midnight) and we started back out, naming the latter portion of cave The Outer Limits. As I had feared, I had a hell of time with the preceding climb-up, only succeeding with the help of Benjamin, and I performed an acrobatic "dismount" worthy of an Olympic medal in the process.

The trip back out reminded us of the "uncomfortable" nature of the passage that we had surveyed, and we took a few photos along the way. Thankfully the breeze had slackened due to the cooler nighttime temperatures outside. We noticed several bats flying back and forth in the passage and probably captured a couple of them on film. By the time we got back out to the Boulder Dash, 3 hours later, our packs had become so encased with mud that they easily tipped the scales at 40+ pounds each, and who knows what our coveralls weighed. Struggling with our "pigs" had really put a hurt on us, and we weren’t looking forward to the hump out to Ghost Hall.

After scraping the ballast from our muddy "piggies", we steadily ground our way out towards the entrance, sleepwalking part of the way. We were out of the cave by 5:45 am and drove back to the Davis farm for a few hours of much needed sleep. Our trip had been 19.5 hours long and we had surveyed 1878 feet, setting 75 stations.

Comments for the next trip: Line plots indicate that we are very close to connecting to Burns, with the caves overlapping by several hundred feet. It is possible that the Outer Limits passage could intersect Burns from a previously unseen high lead. Plan on at least 6.5 hour travel time to the lead (including rigging). Two thirty-foot ropes and a bolt kit are needed, and the ropes should be put in packs to avoid mud buildup. Rock quality at the last pit is unknown, but no natural anchors were noted. Long legged folks may have a really hard time with the Baby Poop Chute, rigging this with an etrier might not be a bad idea.

Blarneystone Cave Trip Report - August 28, 2004

Survey downstream Pigeon Tooth Falls

Reported by Tom Shifflett

On a beautiful Saturday morning two teams came together for further survey and mapping in Blarneystone Cave. Team A (Mike Ficco and Ben Schwartz) objective was to begin surveying and mapping the newly dug lead named Opportunity Knocks, from The Boulder Dash. You can read their exploits in a separate report. The second group, Team B (Nevin Davis, Dave Kohuth, and Tommy Shifflett), objective was to survey the continuation of upstream feeder into lower downstream Pigeon Tooth Falls stream passage.

The upstream feeder passage had previously been mapped for a short distance from the Pigeon Tooth Falls stream passage. The in feeder intersects the Pigeon Tooth Falls stream passage a short distance from where it becomes too low to follow. The survey up the in feeder had stopped just short of a tight spot, caused by a large block filling the passage. We quickly formed into our previously planned survey team assignments - Dave taking lead tape, Nevin instruments, and Tommy the book. Dave grunted and bitched, but in quick time passed through the constriction. On the other side the passage took on the dimensions of a narrow walking height canyon but in vertically bedded limestone. In a short distance we came to a fork, the left continuing as hands and knees crawl, the right as walking size passage. However, the right side soon came to a blank wall with a small stream pouring down. Looking up, a high and larger canyon can be seen continuing. Moving back down the passage, Tommy began climbing up the walls of the passage. The walls are layered with a fine coat of slippery mud which made sticking to the walls quite difficult, even while bracing between the two. Tommy climbed about 15 feet off the floor to a narrow ledge requiring spanning across the passage. From this location he would require continuing the climb across the ledge, sliding up a steep grade with increasing exposure. He felt that he could do the climb but had concern coming back down the ramping walls which are very slick. He decided if he was going to do the climb, it would be best to have a bolt kit and rope to allow easier retreat, in addition to allowing the other team members to go up. While attempting the climb, Tommy could also see the canyon continuing across over the passage they had entered from. A small trickle of water also was coming from this passage, suggesting that the canyon actually was formed of two separate passages dipped towards the pit. Breakdown in the passage obscures its potential. It will be much more difficult to enter, most likely requiring a short aid climb.

The team next turned their attention to the less inviting lead. Unfortunately this also went for only a short distance, with no continuing lead other than a low crawl that becomes too tight. Heading back towards the main stream, and near the junction of the two streams, Tommy noticed a phreatic dome off one side of the passage from where some higher leads can be seen. They don’t appear to be anything spectacular but could possibly lead to more passage. A two bolt (perhaps only one) climb using etriers will be required to gain entry.

The team next headed back to Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome to look around. At the room just before the Dome (where one would exit from this area), Tommy climbed up onto a ledge and followed, approximately 75 to 100 feet, of passage to where it intersected a canyon as a high lead with a drop. This passage was not mapped. The team then headed onward to the Dome. Tommy figured he could climb to the top of the dome if he could gain access onto the overhanging ledge around the perimeter of the dome. Dave and Nevin provided their bodies as stepping stones and Tommy was soon near the top of the dome, after traversing up a steep mud slope. At first he thought he had gained access to the large passage Ben Schwartz said he could see from an earlier trip. Climbing around to what appears to be the end of the large passage above the Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome, some higher leads can be observed. At this location Tommy found Ben’s footsteps. He wondered how Ben had gained access to this location. It was evident he had not come the same way. At the very top of the Dome two passages can be seen continuing ahead, separated by about 40 feet in between. Unfortunately, a wall of mud and soft rock keeps anyone from immediately gaining access to either. Both leads are some 30 or so feet from the floor. From one a narrow ribbon of flowstone reaches from the top of the lead to within 10 feet of the floor. Also, on the wall from the far side of the passage, another high lead can be observed. It is across a ledge below it that Ben must have gained access. On the climb back down Tommy found a side lead that led him to the canyon he could see from the room, only this time from the opposite side. The canyon could be seen to reconnect with the passage that connects the room to the Dome and thus, does not offer any potential to find going cave.

From there the team headed back out to the main junction (10 PM Junction). Scouting up along the wall above station F 56, Tommy wondered if the main trunk passage could possibly continue ahead. Climbing up a steep eroded area along one side of the passage he thought he could see continuing passage. That quickly captured the interest of both Nevin and Dave, who were some halfway into a slumber at the time. Before he could say more about the possibilities, both Nevin and Dave were attempting to reach the lofty ledge, next to him. Dave got close but a tricky climb, if failed, would send him falling nearly 20 feet back to the floor. Realizing gaining access would be futile from this location, Tommy attempted from another vantage point, above the steep descending passage that heads straight out from 10 PM Junction, in line with the main trunk. The climb is easier but puts one in a very exposed location. At the top, continuing passage was indeed found but unfortunately ended after 100 feet. This was surveyed.

The team then decided to head out. Along the way Tommy checked a couple more side leads, one at the flowstone crossing the main passage heading out, near Tri-Cities Junction. Following the flowstone into a climbable pit, Tommy followed it down through breakdown for about 50 feet to where things become tight. This should be mapped sometime in the future. Continuing out, some more leads were check, one at Anthodite Alley (F18), was followed about 100 feet to an end. This was not mapped but should be. From here the team continued the rest of the way out of the cave, exiting around 1 AM. Only 379.5 feet were mapped, but some interesting leads were checked and verified.

Blarney Stone Trip 11 September 2004


Mapping of Soggy Mountain Breakdown


Report By: Tommy Shifflett


At 11 AM on a beautiful Saturday morning, just a couple days after the heavy soaking by Hurricane Francis, Gregg Clemmer, David Kohuth, Nevin Davis, and Tommy Shifflett entered Blarneystone Cave. The objective was to climb the waterfall lead left from two weeks ago, an feeder to downstream Pigeon Tooth Falls Stream Passage. For the job they took with them a bolt kit, 80’ dynamic climbing rope, a 50’ piece of PMI rope, and a 30’ piece of old PMI rope. They took their time going in and after about 3 hours travel arrived at the lead. Upon arrival Tommy volunteered to do the climb, Nevin volunteered to belay.

The climb is a 20’ waterfall drop. Backing up about 15’ from the climb, Tommy was able to climb about 12’ vertically off the floor where he set a bolt for protection. He then proceeded to climb on a grade up into the canyon to a spot above the drop. The walls are coated with a layer of slippery mud, which made the traverse dicey at best. Above the drop is a large piece of breakdown spanning the passage and blocking any attempt to find a secure landing at the top. Tommy tested this for stability and then removed about a foot of mud off the top in order to have something firm to grasp and climb up onto. Once on top of the breakdown he proceeded to set a bolt for rigging a rope for the others to follow. Two bolts were set, one for rigging the main rope and another as backup.

Once the rope was rigged he proceeded to check ahead while the others started climbing. A short distance ahead he came to another climb up, caused by breakdown blocking the passage. The climb is around 8’ but overhung. Before doing the climb, Gregg checked low to see if there was a way to crawl under the breakdown. There was none, so with Dave acting as spotter, Tommy did the climb. At the top the passage ahead ended in a breakdown choke but continued through a window in breakdown to the left. Tommy pushed ahead through this and a number of other windows and crawls in breakdown to small rooms, until he climbed around 50’ vertically. At this point, the breakdown had become smaller and the number of crawls leading anywhere, fewer.

After returning with the news of the situation, Nevin decided to join Tommy for a two-man survey team to map into the breakdown, and assist with the breakdown pushing. They mapped short of where Tommy ended and started pushing the breakdown once again. After a more thorough search no continuation could be found beyond where Tommy had stopped. A total of 138.8 feet were mapped. Probably another 50’ more could be mapped in the breakdown but with the instability, mud and water, they decided to end the survey short. At the base of the breakdown in line with the incoming canyon, Tommy spotted a crawl leading to the southwest, opposite from where they had been pushing. The air was coming from this direction. Tommy worked his way about 15’ or so to where he could see another crawl that would require digging sediment and small breakdown in order to continue. The crawl appeared to extend beyond the breakdown choke and could offer hope of finding continuing cave.

Gregg and Dave were cold from sitting during the climb and during the time the breakdown was being pushed, and as such wanted to head out. The time was approximately 7 PM, how time flies when you’re pushing cave. Tommy de-rigged one of the bolts, and replaced the new PMI rope with the old one. The new PMI and dynamic rope were stashed at 10 PM Junction.

On the way out, Tommy wanted to set a bolt in the Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome in order to get up on the overhanging ledge, and map up to the climb leads and further analyze how they may be climbed. Unfortunately, everyone else wanted to head out. Everyone exited the cave by 1 AM in the morning.

Blarney Stone Trip January 8, 2005

Report By: Benjamin Schwartz

Prior to this trip, there was much talk about connecting the pit lead at the end of Outer Limits to Burns Chestnut Ridge Cave, or just plain old 'Burns' to most of us. There was even some short-lived discussion about sending a team in from both sides so that more people could participate in the imminent connection. This discussion was short lived because folks who could fit in Burns wanted nothing to do with a return trip to that cave, even with the possibility of a through trip as an admittedly dirty, and somewhat rotten, carrot dangling in front of them. To top things off, two of the seven folks interested in going (Tommy and Gregg), were forced to cancel at the last minute due to illness and injury. The five of us left were Mike Ficco, Ed Kehs, Mike Futrell, Nate Walter, and I.

By Thursday, we had decided to get an early start on the trip and meet at Nevin and Judy's by 7:30 am. With this in mind, Mike, Mike and I drove up to Burnsville on Friday night and camped on Phil's basement floor. At 6:30 am on Saturday morning, Mike Ficco and I woke up and Mike Futrell groaned, rolled over, and pulled the covers over his head. It wasn't until 7:00 when Mike and I had coffee made that we were able to coax Futrell out of bed. By 7:45, the three of us were standing in front of the stove at the Davis' house. By 9:15, we were still warming ourselves and wondering where Nate and Ed were. Mike Futrell was swearing at us for forcing him to lose out on two hours of potential beauty sleep. A couple minutes later, Nate and Ed arrived, revealing to us that they had not received the email with the plans for an early start - so much for modern methods of communication!

Besides connecting Chestnut Ridge Cave System to Burns, and mapping lots of good booty, we also had plans to properly rig the 2nd, 3rd and 4th drops in the entrance series and to replace those ropes. A busy day, to be sure.

At the parking area, Mike, Ed and I managed to pack survey gear, 150 feet of push rope, and a bolt kit into our packs. They were stuffed as full as they could be without bursting. We also had a 300' coil of new rope for the re-rigging effort. By 10:00, we were all in the cave. Mike Futrell and Nate continued ahead to begin surveying at the upstream end of the survey in Falling Water while Mike Ficco, Ed and I stayed behind to rig the drops. Instead of the '1 hour' we had optimistically planned on, it took a more realistic 2.5 hours. The result is that all the drops now have new rope, are all rigged with stainless bolts and hardware, and are free of any rub-points. Many thanks to Mike Artz for providing buying the new rope for this project, and to Phil for letting us use his Hilti drill. For future reference, folks should plan on using a cow's-tail at the 2nd drop.

As we were re-rigging, Al Grimm 'dropped' in for a visit and to do the pits. It was fun to see him again. He also carried out some rope and gear after we were done. Thanks, Al. At 1:30, we finished up and headed for our glorious lead. Opportunity Knocks was just as bad and twice as long as I remembered from our last trip. We reached the end at Outer Limits 4.5 hours after leaving Al. The lead began as a 15' drop that was not climbable. I set two bolts and rigged one of our ropes. We surveyed down into a 40' tall room with a muddy floor, cut the rope and coiled the remainder to take with us. The only lead out of the room was a crawlway with a fan of gravel and cobbles at the entrance. The crawl continued for a short distance before entering yet another room. This one is the largest of all we have found in Outer Limits. Most of the volume in this room is up high. There is a possible lead about 30 feet up on one side, though it would require at least 15 feet of bolting to access it. The air continued down into a small canyon passage, and so did we. The canyon made several short turns before intersecting a bit of breakdown and a pit in the floor. The pit turned out to be a 25' deep canyon with a stream at the bottom of it. I scouted ahead and found a place where I could climb down to the bottom. The air was heading downstream in the 3' wide passage. I pushed ahead over deep piles of mud until I reached a wider area where a large mound of flowstone filled the passage except for a possible high lead and a body-sized crawl in the stream. When I bent down to look in, I could feel all the air whipping past me into a really grim looking lead. It did look possible to continue off to one side of the crawl, however. I then checked the upper lead, but didn't want to complete the tricky climb alone.

When I returned to where Mike and Ed were perched in the top of the canyon, I decided to check out upstream as well. The stream almost immediately split with most of the water coming from a too small hole in a mud-filled passage. A small stream continued in the larger passage for around 100' before ending in an area with several drip domes. There are possibly some higher passages in this area, but nothing looked promising and there is no air in this passage.

Returning again to Mike and Ed (who were starting to get pretty cold), I found an easier way to climb up than where I had climbed down. We brought the survey down and headed downstream to the flowstone lead. This passage has absolutely horrible mud in it. After my initial recon trip, all the mud had begun to liquefy. Most places were now knee deep in slop. The only good thing is that the passage is wide enough that we could avoid the walls in most places. We soon reached the flowstone mound where I had turned around. Mike lay down and slid in. He was able to squeeze off to the right into a low passage parallel to the stream. It ended in 15' in a wall-to-wall pool of spooge mud and water. He said that it might be possible to continue past a really low spot on the far side of the pool, but that he wanted one of us to join him in case he needed to be pulled out. I volunteered and slimed my way into the passage. The lead looked pretty hopeless, but Mike slid into the pool on his back and discovered that the other side was, as we had suspected, a smooth flowstone mound and not the hoped-for spooge that would have allowed him to continue ahead. The stream flows into a too-low crawl of flowstone and cemented cobbles. The ceiling is full of grungy formations and blobs of well-cemented cobbles hanging down. Without a bashing hammer, there was no way to even begin to continue.

At this point, we suspected that we were possibly only a few feet from where Mike had turned around after we completed the epic Potmetal Piton aid climb in Burns. He had turned around looking into a stream crawl and a low slot that looked pretty much like what we were seeing now. We were also certain that we were in the same stream that flows out of the aid climb. By this point, we were thoroughly disappointed, disgustingly muddy, cold, sloppy, and not terribly happy with what we had found (or not found). I gave the high lead one more try and succeeded in climbing up into a dead-end alcove with no air. I rigged the remainder of our first rope in order to get back down. It is still hanging since we didn't have enough to do a pull-down.

At this point we decided to head out of the cave. It was 10:00 pm when we started out. The rigged drop was left rigged. We decided not to rig the climb Mike couldn't get up last time, and I just boosted Mike and Ed up it on the way out. The trip out to the Boulder Dash was pretty hard. The mud is terrible in this passage and our packs easily gained 10 to 20 pounds in weight. It is a constant battle to keep the mud scraped off your pack and coveralls as you move. I'm not sure how much weight we gained, but moving through the crawls and tilted canyons is a real bear. My arms and shoulders got pretty tired. We finally exited the cave at 4:45 and were greeted by a cold and clear night sky. The 6 hours and 45 minutes it took to get out was not a slow trip. The end of this passage is now a pretty remote place and should not be visited by anyone who is not expecting a long and hard trip.

Our conclusion after exiting the cave was that we should not return to this lead for another attempt at connecting. It is just too hard and not worth the effort to go grovel, hammer, and perhaps even bang, in that miserable and windy crawlway. After a day or two of reflection however, I think it might be worth a return trip someday, but not right away. Give us some time to forget the mud and difficulties before considering a return trip! And if anyone else wants to go out there in the meantime, be my guest! So, the long and short of this very long trip report is that we did not make the second connection in the Burnsville Cove. It still remains to be done. We did survey 456' of new cave, however.

Blarney Stone Photo Trip 7 May 2005

Report By: Nevin Davis

Phil Lucas had persuaded me to give a talk at the US Exploration Session of the 2005 NSS Convention about the extension of Blarney Stone Cave. So that meant that I needed some more pictures to illustrate the talk. After a lot of back and forth I finally assembled a team of Ron Simmons, Ed Kehs, and Mike Kistler. Ron wanted to take large passage shots using film and many flashbulbs, while I had only my point and shoot digital camera with several photo flashes and slaves.

We were in the cave by 11 am and I started taking pictures by 12:45. The four of us stayed together through the first part of the Boondocks to the turn off to Duane's Drop. Mike Kistler and I formed a team as you will see in the pictures. My ultimate objective was Pride of Skyline a very well decorated section on the southeast side of the cave. Ron headed to the Boulder Dash with Ed to try some large passage shots. Ed and Ron exited the cave about 11 pm and Mike and I struggled out at about 1 am.

We have not yet seen the results of Ron's day but I have included a few of my snapshots here on the web site.

Pigeon Tooth Dome Climb 6 Aug 2005

Report by Nevin W. Davis

On Sat 6 Aug. 2005 Tommy Shifflett, Nate Walter and I finally got everything together for an attempt at climbing Pigeon Tooth Dome in Blarney Stone Cave. We could have used more people because the packs were on the heavy side. Tommy had all his personal gear plus bolting gear, Nate had personal gear, survey equipment and what wouldn't fit into Tommy's pack plus a 2 lb. hammer (the young guys get to carry the load) and I had personal gear, 100 ft. of static rope, webbing, plus 4 16" long mud pitons. There was no room for a camera on this trip.

We got into the cave around 10 am and were at the dome a little after 2 pm. Tommy first free climbed 10 ft. up onto a ledge which gave access to a muddy ramp going upward. He then temporarily rigged a rope which I climbed to the ledge. I continued up the ramp to a convenient place to set a bolt to make the way safer. While I was setting the bolt Nate climbed and retrieved the first rope from Pride of Skyline to use.

The way on was a scary traverse across the top of the muddy ramp (we discussed the need for a handline here but did not set one.), a crawl up between some breakdown blocks, and then a climb up a second muddy ramp which had liquid flowing gruel at the top. Here about 70 ft. from the floor was the beginning of the vertical climb. I set a second bolt to secure myself to belay Tommy.

The wall ahead was dense silt with flowstone to the right of it. Tommy set all 4 mud pitons and proceeded to bitch at me for not making more of them since 2 more would have mostly finished the climb. As it was he had to angle over to the flowstone and set 3 bolts to get to the breakover about 25 ft. above me. He then free climbed the flowstone to the top.

For the 5 hours or more that the climb required I jumped around with as much body motion that belaying would allow, trying to keep warm while avoiding the dripping water. Nate stood huddled against the wall also trying to avoid the dripping water. Tommy complained a lot but was very efficient at the climb. After he was up I climbed the dynamic rope and removed 2 of the mud pitons, the quick draws, and the rest of the hangers. Tommy had complained that the last bolt was set too deeply and when cleaning the climb I noticed that the last hanger was only holding by 1/2 to 3/4 of a turn!

We rigged the static rope that I had brought along so that all of us could assemble at the top. The area we were in is not what you'd expect. It is a 80 to 100 ft. in diameter phreatic room that was nearly filled to the ceiling with silt at one time. With the convergence of at least three sources of water the floor has been removed leaving a rim of silt covered in places by flowstone. To the right of the place we climbed up, a 6 ft. wide, 30 ft. high, flat floored, dry canyon leads off but a 25 ft. drop to the floor requires a rope. Across the room, 70 ft. away, and inaccessible from where we climbed except for a narrow, undercut silt ledge (remember it's maybe 100 ft. to the floor.) is a semi-elliptical passage 10 ft. wide and 4 ft. high with stalagmites on the floor and a small stream.

These are the leads. They will require more equipment to explore, especially the lead across the room. It was now after 9 pm. so we elected not to map anything because of the lateness of the hour. On the way out we did manage to locate and remark station F108 for a survey tie in.

The last person exited the cave at 2:30 am. which made for a 16 hour trip... too long for these old bones.

Blarney Stone Trip 3 December 2005

Team One report by:Mike Ficco

Friday night December 2nd, half a dozen of us gathered at the BCCS homestead in preparation for a Sat. morning trip into the Blarneystone entrance of the Chestnut Ridge Cave System.The morning dawned crisp and sunny, breakfast was eaten and we migrated over to the Davis farm for the seemingly mandatory milling-around stage of trips into the Chestnut Ridge caves. The plans were for two teams to go into Blarneystone, Tommy Shifflett was to lead one team to the Pigeon Tooth Dome lead, his trip will be reported separately. I was to lead a second team whose objective was to push the end of the Outer Limits passage for a possible connection to Burns Chestnut Ridge Cave and our exploits are described below.

As was reported previously (January 8, 2005), Ben Schwartz, Ed Kehs and I had previously turned around in Outer Limits at a low sleazy stream crawl that was blowing strongly but too tight to continue. That trip had put a pretty good hurt on us and a return trip had not been high on our list of priorities, however the lure of a connection to Burns was strong, survey data reinforced our suspicion that we were close to connecting to Burns and I felt that the lead resembled one at the top of the Pot Metal Piton climb in Burns where I had turned around during an epic trip in July 1998. Repressing the less pleasant memories of a trip to that section of Chestnut Ridge, we scheduled a return to push the Outer Limits. Our team, consisting of Ed Kehs, Jon Lillestolen and I (Mike Ficco), planned to enter the cave prepared to dig/hammer/enhance our way towards the second deepest cave in Virginia.

We entered the Blarneystone entrance a little before noon; loaded for bear. This was Jon's first introduction to Chestnut Ridge caving and regardless of the extent of preparatory warnings/descriptions, one really has to experience these cave's entrance series to appreciate them. He was about to taste his first dose of Chestnut Ridge "poison". Despite our heavy packs, we moved at a pretty good clip down the entrance drops, through Strychnine Canyon, across Artz's Attic and into Ghost Hall.

After a brief stop to catch our breath and to allow Jon to take in the sudden increase in passage volume, we proceeded to Upper Ghost Hall and down through the series of dig sites leading to The Boondocks. From here we quickly covered the several thousand feet of large trunk out to Duane's Drop, rappelling down to Boulder Dash, where we were pleasantly surprised to find minimal indications of flooding from heavy rains earlier in the week. Had the flooding been more severe, our traverse over the namesake boulders would have been much more treacherous.

Climbing up from Boulder Dash into Opportunity Knocks we found that the wind was blowing strongly into the passage, and we prepared ourselves for the hardest part of our journey to the lead. While only half a mile in length, the trip through Opportunity Knocks and The Outer Limits is a non-stop fun-fest of mud, crawling, mud, more mud, and more crawling, with a few vertical drops and climbs thrown in for good measure; in essence it's one long obstacle. We grunted and cursed our way through this obstacle and arrived at our destination after approx. 6 hours of travel.

The lead was as I remembered, a low (one foot high) flowstone shelf with a stream flowing under it into a crawlway choked with cemented stream cobbles, flowstone and copious quantities of mud, leaving perhaps four inches of open space to the ceiling. Jon had one look at the lead and exclaimed (only half jokingly I believe) "I didn't sign up for this!" We unpacked our tools of destruction and tried to find solid surfaces to place things, while we sank up to our knees in the muck. I convinced Ed to have the first go at the dig and he dove right in, lying on his back in the stream, loosening material primarily with his hands and a crowbar and placing it in voids along the sides of the dig. He slowly inched forward while a slurry of mud and water flowed into the pant legs of his cave suit.

Meanwhile, Jon, a resident of Tennessee and presumably a wannabe engineer for the TVA, began building a series of dams up-stream of the dig. While the intent was to control the flow of water through periodic "scheduled releases", the grand project was short lived as the series of mud dams slowly failed, sending small flood pulses of spooge in Ed's direction. TVA would have been proud!

After about 20 minutes of heroic groveling, Ed extricated himself having progressed approximately two body lengths into the dig and reported that the way on looked "gnarly" and was going to require significant hammering. Ed got the full effect of the sleaze factor when he stood up, and all of the accumulated water and spooge drained into those areas that up until that point had managed to remain relatively dry.

Wielding the three pound hammer and crowbar, I then inserted myself into the slot and lying on my back, began pounding on the ceiling, systematically removing small projections which would allow me to force myself inch by inch closer to Burns. After progressing about three feet, my heart sank as I was presented with a lowering of the flowstone ceiling, leaving only an inch or two of open space through which to pass. This was going to be a real problem and I inspected the ceiling for a possible weakness that I could exploit. Seeing none, I gave the hammer a good swing...."Thunk" the characteristic sound of solid flowstone, the variety that is just soft enough to absorb the energy of hammer blows without breaking. We had brought additional "tools" of the highly exothermic variety for this sort of situation, however using it on the ceiling was going to be problematic; once again I paused and scrutinized the now scarred but fully intact barrier.

Then I saw it, a faint hairline crack on the far left side where the ceiling met a small vertical partition, I resumed hammering, now focused on taking advantage of the rock's vulnerability. "Thunk, Thunk, Thunk-SPLASH!" a 1-foot by 2-foot section of ceiling, 6-inches thick had peeled off and dropped down into the slurry. I quickly maneuvered the slab into a pocket along the right hand side of the crawl and for the first time got a good look of what lay ahead. The good news was that clearing the way for the next body length would be easy, just some rotten doo-doo on the ceiling that had no aesthetic value in a hell-hole like this. The bad news was that beyond that body length, a large flowstone mound extended the entire way across the passage, with what looked like a very tight open slot remaining between it and the ceiling. Half a dozen swipes of the crowbar cleared the way ahead, and I discovered that I had just enough space to roll over from my back onto my belly (It was getting big!). I looked through the flowstone slot, and beyond I could see it enlarged to hands-and-knees sized. I tried hammering on the mound, but with only a few inches with which to swing the hammer, it was futile. The opening appeared to be right at my limit, I test fit my helmet...it fit with an inch to spare! After a moment of hesitation, considering if this was really such a good idea, I forced my way into the chest compressor. Thankfully I was fully lubricated by mud, and I squeezed over the smooth flowstone rather easily, and scrambled on my hands and knees into the enlarging passage beyond.

A body length past the flowstone mound, the passage T'd into a six-foot by 8-foot passage that looked vaguely familiar, and suddenly my heart raced as I saw the rope and bolts I had set in the ceiling of Burns seven years prior. WE HAD MADE THE CONNECTION!!! I excitedly told the news to Ed and Jon, and with the increased space in which to swing the hammer, I completely removed the offending flowstone mound. After scrambling back through the crawl, we got out the already muddy survey gear, found a tie in station and began the survey. To add insult to injury, Ed was partway through the crawlway/sleazeway when the end of the tape broke off!

The survey continued despite the now non-standard tape length, and we were all soon standing in Burns. The only thing remaining to do was to rappel down the Pot Metal Piton Climb and tie into the Burns survey below. The aluminum carabiners that I had been forced to use for rigging at the top of the Pot Metal Piton Climb had deteriorated over the intervening seven years, and we hammered them open and replaced them with stainless steel links. The rope was still in good shape so we descended down through the waterfall into the large passage below, found station R204 and connected the two surveys. WHOO...HOOO!!

It was 9:00 PM and we collectively decided to get the hell out of there, so up the rope we went and through the Sleazeway back to Blarneystone. Prior to leaving, I checked out an infeeder lead I had discovered on the Pot Metal Piton trip. Consisting of a low wide crawlway floored in smooth sandstone, I traversed upstream for perhaps 100 feet to a intersection with two walking-size canyons; one carrying the stream, the other dry. These leads are definitely worth returning to and could be the key to unlocking the upstream portions of the Cathedral drainage basin.

On the other side, we packed up most of the gear deciding to leave the hammer, crowbar and the 50 feet of rope Jon had de-rigged from a high dead-end lead. These items are now stashed above the flowstone shelf at the beginning of the Sleazeway. Trying not to dwell on the hard trip we had ahead of us, we began the long slog towards the entrance. Partway through Outer Limits, we assessed a high lead into an apparent large passage/room above that we had seen during the previous trip. A small amount of bolting will be required to gain access to this lead, but I feel that it holds great promise for leading into the upstream Cathedral system.

We exited the cave slowly but without incident, reaching the surface around 5:30 AM. It took us approximately 8 hours to make the trip out from Burns; not a trivial exercise. We were greeted by frigid temperatures and freezing rain, changed out of our gear and drove back to the warm homestead where Scott Olsen had a warm pot of turkey stew waiting for us next to the wood stove. We filled our bellies with warm stew and cold beers, and then hit the sack for a few hours of much needed sleep. What a great way to end a difficult, historic trip into one of the country's great caves!

Data reduction indicates that the connection and additional survey by the two teams pushed the Chestnut Ridge Cave System to 20.03 miles in length, making it the third Virginia cave to break the 20-mile mark!

A couple of notes for the next trip back to the Outer Limits section of cave (the horror!):



Blarneystone Trip Report – Mapping beyond "Bull in a China Closet"

Team Two report by Tommy Shifflett

Team Members: Nevin Davis, Nate Walter, Chris Wezyk, and Tommy Shifflett

Two teams of cavers met on a cold Friday night at the Homestead with the objective of connecting Burns Chestnut Ridge Cave to the Chestnut Ridge Cave System, and mapping up into the Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome. The connection trip is covered by Mike Ficco’s report.

To our benefit and comfort Scott Olsen had contacted me earlier in the week, offering his services to warm the cabin and provide a hot meal when we exited the cave. How can you turn that down? Scott, we owe you many thanks. Only wish you can someday share some of the booty with us down there.

I was next to last (Nate Walter following shortly behind) to arrive to a cabin warming up under a hot wood stove. We chatted for nearly a couple hours before people began moving upstairs to prepare for the long, hard trip to come. We were greeted with an equally cold morning. Like an old, high time farm tractor sitting out in the open frigid cold, we were equally slow in warming up and getting moving. It was well after 10 AM before arriving at Nevin’s house, a fatal mistake if plans are to get into the cave early. Upon arrival at the gate we found that Rick Cecil, the owner, had locked the gate to restrict unauthorized hunters from accessing his land. In combination with our late departure from Nevin’s house and the hike to the cave from the road, we did not arrive at the cave entrance until around noon, a certain late start for sure and guaranteed late hour exit.

Mike’s group headed into the cave first and we followed immediately behind. I had taken up the rear to ensure Chris found his way without having to expend any extra physical effort by taking a wrong turn. After a short rest in Ghost Hall, we proceeded on towards our destination, first crossing the large expanse of Ghost Hall, then climbing the steep slope up into Upper Ghost Hall and on through the air blower, a passage made up of tight, steeply descending twists and turns that only artificial means can create. Once through this we were back into large borehole, albeit a workout in its own right, created by slick climbs up and down over tall mud mounds and breakdown.

The final leg to the Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome is from a climb down into a narrow canyon from trunk leading to Bull in a China Closet. A couple hundred feet into the passage is a drop before beginning a gradual climb through low, muddy and exposed passage to the bottom of the dome. Chris and I entered the dome first and were greeted by a loud thunderous, heavy spray of water pouring from the far reaches above. The first leg of the climb up ensured one would get wet to some degree. Upon eyeing the rope snaking up one wall of the dome into the darkness above, Chris was hot to get going. The curiosity of the blackness above was overwhelming. To his chagrin Nate and Nevin wanted no part in mapping up into the dome on this day, already feeling the bone chill from the wind and spray the heavy water falling from the dome had created. Quick consensus focused on the lead left beyond the Bull in a China Closet, so named because of having to belly crawl under delicate soda straws for nearly a hundred feet. Up to this point we had hauled in two short ropes of 45’ and 50’ lengths, and a bolt kit. However, this was not wasted because the lead would require setting some bolts and rigging a short rope for a climb in order to access the lead. And, beyond the initial climb Nate, who had previously explored a short distance into the passage, spoke of yet another possible exposed climb.

We tossed a rope up into the lead and over through a hole that forms a bridge at the lip. I belayed one end while Chris climbed up and set a bolt and rigged the 10’ drop for the rest of us to follow. We mapped down a nice dry gypsum walking canyon to a short climb-up of 7’. Though short, it wasn’t easy. This led into a nice size room of approximately 40’ dimensions with a mesa of dry, silt/sand. For this feature we named the room The Sandy Mesa. From here we followed a passage heading northwest to a standing pool with climb up and over to a canyon with exquisite pure white flowstone and pools with spar. There was absolutely no way to get around a portion of the white flowstone without crawling on a portion of it. We stared at it for awhile and Nate, on lead tape, pondered at just how to best negotiate this passage, if at all. Unfortunately, for the pristine preservation of this passage, a brisk breeze was issuing from it. Nate chose the edge around a small breakdown island in the floor of white, to traverse forward. Choosing this path instead of crossing over a pool filled with long blades of pure white spar. We managed to sacrifice only a one foot width strip of pure white flowstone in our progression into the passage. From this point we gained a ledge and avoided the rest of the pretty white stuff. Beyond the formation area we continued in a canyon with ceiling just above our heads to where it lowered, and then popped up as a hole in the ceiling and short climb to the beginning of something large. The first impression was similar to crawling into Bobcat Cave's Camp Room and Nevin instantly recounted this memory. The room instantly expanded into large voluminous proportions with massive sized breakdown blocks precariously stacked in ascending order. With the strong breeze coming from this room into the much smaller approaching passage we had come from, our first impression was of large borehole marching into the unknown. However, that would not be the case. We followed the room in its northerly trend, requiring climbing up and over massive living room sized breakdown blocks. Nothing obvious headed off though some mop-up remains. On the west side where we had entered, pits in the floor and a canyon passage exiting from the bottom of these spoke of a continuation and probable source of the air. Upon climbing down to a point where further traverse would require a rope, Nevin could discern the sounds of a large stream or waterfall below. Had we somehow come into a position above the stream entering the top of Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome? It didn’t seem likely, but if it did it would negate the necessity of an 80’ traverse at the top to reach it.

I managed to find a short climb down to a floored passage leading to some very beautiful flowstone filled rooms with possible high leads. Working my way down further I came closer to the sound below and discerned that it was a stream. The walls turned vertical and so I could not reach the stream below, nor see the stream itself though I feel certain I came close to it. Upon returning, Nevin dropped one of the pits out of Tortured Chamber, the name we gave the room for the large breakdown and pitted floor. From the bottom he could see yet another drop that he feels would give us access to the stream passage. At this point in time it was after 10 PM. We thought it too late to be rigging drops and surveying down to the stream or into the flowstone rooms and began mobilizing for the long haul out. We had mapped 660 feet, not bad for a lead I thought would not go.

The trip out went smoothly. Chris and I were in the lead and kept up a slow but steady pace. We hadn’t seen where Nate had hidden his keys and fearing bad weather on the surface (snow was predicted), we wanted Nevin and Nate to be close behind and waited at the drops for them to catch up. I exited the cave first into a freezing rain. Not the best of circumstances for the long hike back to the road. Chris followed immediately behind and both Nevin and Nate followed shortly thereafter. We all had left the cave by 3 AM, for a 15 hour trip.

Back at the warm Homestead, and to make up for the bad weather, Scott had a large pot of soup waiting along with warmed up bread rolls. We eagerly dove in with generous portions and cold beer to wash it down. We all crashed just after 5 AM, less than 30 minutes before Mike’s team arrived.

The next day at Nevin’s the survey information was entered into the computer. According to the survey the stream we could hear is Falling Water. If so, this would enable a route to this area without having to go through Bull in a China Closet, a very delicate area. It would also create a sizable loop in the survey to test our survey accuracy.

Blarney Stone Trip 22 July 2006

Survey up Pigeon Tooth Dome to the Avalanche Room

Personnel: Mike Ficco, Nevin Davis, Nate Walter and Tommy Shifflett

Report By: Tommy Shifflett

It had been a long time in coming, the previous trip last December was foiled by high water, but plans had finally been made to survey up the Pigeon Tooth Dome and explore the mysterious pit dropping back down the other side. At first planning it appeared two teams would be available to look at this lead and look at leads in The Outer Limits; however, as usual, people began dropping out. I was almost one of them, but a knee condition aggravated from an Omega trip the weekend before had settled down enough to offer confidence in caving again. Going into the weekend it seemed certain we would have at least five team members.

In email correspondence Nate indicated he would be arriving at The Homestead around midnight. Both Mike and I had plans to arrive at Nevin’s house on Saturday morning. Gregg Clemmer, the fifth member, hadn’t been heard from. Mike and I arrived within minutes of each other at Nevin’s around 9:30 AM. Nate was already there, but Gregg had not arrived. It was after 11:00 AM when the four of us left for Blarney Stone as one team.

Besides mapping gear we brought along 50’ of rope and a bolt kit for the drop. We would find out later that we would need more rope. We got in the cave around noon. In less than 2 hrs we made it beyond the crawl series beyond Upper Ghost Hall, a very decent pace. On the way in we had noticed the stream in Strychnine Canyon was up which caused concern about having to deal with lots of water coming down Pigeon Tooth Dome. We were surprised when we arrived at Pigeon Tooth Dome that the waterfall was minimal considering the past rains and the amount of water in Strychnine Canyon.

Our survey progress up the dome was slow because of a need to rig a safety line across a precarious traverse part way up the dome. We had crossed this before during the first trip to the top and before the trip we determined that we could cross it again without protection, in order to travel in light. However, upon seeing it again and re-evaluating the risks we decided it would be best to rig it. Fortunately we were able to cut off excess rope from the drop leading down into the Pigeon Tooth Dome area. Mike and I placed bolts and were able to rig the piece almost across the entire traverse. A short amount of rope is still needed to complete the remaining stretch. In addition to this activity slowing the survey progress, shooting a survey station up to the top of the chamber was difficult because of the nature of the break-over part way up and the profile of the very top. After completing two climbs in reaching the top, the down sloping floor of the chamber discouraged Nate from getting near the edge to set the next station, which was where it needed to be set for Nevin to read compass and inclination. It took awhile before a suitable point was located to read, but one was finally found before Nate was forced to go back down one of the drops.

The top of the chamber is characterized by a hard, sloping mud floor smooth on one side with a large column, and on the other side a very irregular floor caused by mud with boulders. The irregular portion was created by an obvious avalanche caused by some ancient flooding event. Because of this feature we came up with the name - The Avalanche Room. Later reduction of the survey data would indicate that the room is nearly 125 feet high. Across the room, about 80 ft. away, is a large lead with incoming stream that supplies the water falling down the dome. It appears that the best way to reach it is by use of a narrow, possibly unstable mud shelf near the ceiling. The mud shelf ends maybe 8 ft. from the lead. On a future trip, bolts and safety equipment will be needed the entire way across.

Upon reaching our objective a search for a rigging point was made. The walls consisted of punky rock except for an exposed limestone seam some 8’ off the floor. Upon first reconnaissance it appeared a large piece of breakdown spanning the pit would offer a point for a rebelay to center the rope, but further inspection made us decide against this. We ended up climbing onto a ledge to set two bolts in the limestone layer with the rope breaking over the edge. A rope pad should be brought on the next trip to add protection, though the break over is not particularly sharp.

About two thirds way down the pit a dry canyon several feet wide with flat floor takes off. The pit continues down another 13’ to a small room with incoming canyon with a small stream. Downstream the passage quickly becomes too low to follow. Upstream an initial climb of about 8’ is required. My attempt to negotiate this was futile as the wall would disintegrate to mud when placing my foot to climb up. A mud piton driven in the cave’s wall or a boost will be required to gain access. Beyond this climb I can see another climb of perhaps 6’ height.

To gain access to the dry canyon you are required to stay on rope and do a short pendulum swing to reach it. We followed the canyon a few feet to another drop. We didn’t have rope so Nate went back and retrieved the dynamic rope. Because the cave was at this point formed in a narrow, vertical bed of sandstone, we could not set any bolts nor find a suitable natural anchor. The sandstone walls are crumbly and nothing could be trusted. Some 10’ to 12’ above the floor we found a piece of sandstone breakdown wedged in wall to wall offering a questionable anchor. However, it does provide a clean drop into the pit. Much air could be felt coming through this canyon and initially it was assumed it was going down the pit.

Mike and I dropped the pit while Nevin and Nate stayed behind. We quickly came to a second pit estimated to be 50’. Beyond this second pit the dimensions increase substantially. However, the air was not going into the pit. On the contrary, air was actually coming out. Which probably indicates a hidden upper level across the first pit. After one shot to near the top of the pit we all decided to head out, as we had no rope to go further. In addition, a safety line will be required to search for the air crossing over the pit rigged with the dynamic rope. This next drop will be the 10th pit from the entrance, 13th rope to negotiate if you count the handline at the Tobacco Room, Artz Attic Traverse, and the tension traverse part way up the dome. For the day 410’ was surveyed.

Our trip out went well and Mike and I exited before 2 AM. About ½ hour later Nevin and Nate exited. For a return trip a bolt kit will be required in addition to at least 200’ more rope. An additional short piece of about 20’ is required to rig the remaining traverse on the way up.

Blarney Stone Trip 18 November 2006

Return to Pigeon Tooth Dome

Personnel: Nevin Davis, Nate Walter, Mark Stover and Tommy Shifflett

Report By: Tommy Shifflett

Just two days prior to the trip Burnsville Cove experienced 3.4 inches of rain over a brief period of time (personal communication Nevin Davis). News of the rain and flooding quickly passed on to committed trip participants, and soon email hinted at the possibility of the trip being scrapped altogether. There were fears that the Boulder Dash breakdown would be recoated with the characteristic slippery film of mud encountered during the initial exploration; and that Pigeon Tooth Dome would be filled wall to wall with sheets of torrential water slamming down on the breakdown below. Nevertheless, two teams came together on a cold Friday night at the Homestead, leftovers from a planned three. Was it the rain, or was it the fear of possibly having to traverse a tyrolean, but one member canceled at the last minute, desiring to frolic one more time with an old friend for a last hoorah (or something like that).

Team 1, led by Mike Ficco to the far reaches of Outer Limits, included members Ed Kehs, and newcomer Philip Schuchardt. Ben Schwartz had come all the way to the field house that night but canceled due to illness that morning. Their adventure is covered in a separate report. Team 2, led by Tommy Shifflett included members Nevin Davis, Nate Walter, and newcomer Mark Stover. In actuality this was Mark’s second trip to Blarney Stone, having previously assisted with the survey of the Air Blower which led to the motivation to continue the digging effort.

Both teams awoke early Saturday morning, prepared breakfast and headed to Nevin’s house in order to get a decent start. Along the way was continuing evidence of the large amount of rain two days earlier; leaf dams, eroded ditches, and streams cascading down from the mountain side and ridges were seen everywhere on the west side of Chestnut Ridge in Burnsville Cove. At Nevin’s house, 80 feet of the new 9mm rope purchased by BCCS, was sliced off for Team 1, while Team 2 sliced off another 150 feet.

Both teams arrived at Rick Cecil’s property sometime after 10 AM ready for a long hike up from the bottom of the ridge to the cave entrance, fearing it too wet and soft to drive up the steep roadway to the usual parking site. However, the east side of Chestnut Ridge revealed that it had rained considerably less than the other side. No leaf dams, eroded ditches, or flowing streams were encountered. In fact, the roadway was quite firm and appeared to be only damp from a light rain. Driving up the road to the usual parking area was not a problem.

Team 1 got the first start into the cave. Team 2 lagged behind, dragging along Tommy’s new rotary hammer drill, and some rudimentary climbing gear in addition to the 150 feet of rope. Strychnine Canyon was a little wetter than usual but no more so than other trips in the past. It certainly was a pain having to haul the drill in, but taking turns dragging it helped much. Before long the Team arrived at the junction to Pigeon Tooth River. Upon arrival at the dome, Nevin’s fear became reality; a maelstrom of spray thundered down, bouncing from wall to wall and completing covering the floor of Pigeon Tooth Dome. In the dome there was nowhere to stay dry. Staying back outside the dome until each person quickly climbed the short rope to the first ledge minimized getting wet. At the traverse Tommy set a bolt to shore up the beginning of the traverse and connect the rope along the slope, providing an additional margin of safety. At the other end he set another bolt and rigged an additional piece of rope for completing the traverse. From there the team headed onward up the Liquefaction Ramp, characterized by deep flowing mud, and then the direct aid portion, until finally reaching the Avalanche Room 125 feet above the bottom of the dome. Down one drop and they were at the lead. Tommy de-rigged the climbing rope that had been used to descend the second drop and replaced it with a piece of the 9mm rope, the lead was directly across this pit. Upon closer examination, crossing over the gaping chasm of this pit appeared easier than had been imagined from the last trip. Using the climbing rope for belay and connecting to the static rope, as a pivot point, it became a simple step across to the other side for which there is a natural tie-off anchor for protection with a quick draw. While on belay Tommy gave a cursory look at the situation by climbing out further until it became too risky without setting additional protection. Looking below in a narrow, deep canyon it was unclear whether or not Tommy was above the third pit, undescended from lack of rope during the last trip. Looking ahead and down he could see a defined passage with a flat floor that could be rappelled down to if he could only traverse out further. Strong air was coming from this direction, but was it from the passage or just below at the bottom of the third pit? Tommy decided at this point better to retreat and bottom the third pit first to fully ascertain what was going on.

Except for Nevin the team descended the second pit hauling all gear along with them except the climbing rope. Immediately, at the top of the third pit, it was quickly determined most all air was lost. Tommy surveyed closely for rigging the third pit. A clean drop was desired both for the smaller diameter of the rope and because a small stream was descending down over the edge of the pit. While staying connected to the rope rigged to the second drop Tommy leaned over the pit surveying closely for a spot to set a bolt. All walls were lined with a crumbly, thin bedded sandstone chert conglomeration of rock. The first two trial holes, after some pounding with the bolting hammer to level what appeared a solid flat surface, were insufficient. One was too soft to hold, the other punched into liquid mud after one half inch of solid rock. Finally, a third seemed to do the trick, and put the rope free hanging and outside the cascade of water pouring down. Luckily Tommy had 3 ½ inch long bolts, otherwise that one too may have been insufficient. A second good bolt was needed but nowhere on the remaining wall or opposite side could a solit placement be located. Tommy turned to the wall on the left leading to the pit. After much surveillance a second location was found for a bolt. A piece of webbing Nevin had brought along was used to back the one bolt to the other as it had already appeared close as to whether or not the remaining rope would reach the bottom. The remaining piece of webbing was used to back off to a large thin piece of crumbly breakdown, at the narrow end. The static rope was then cut, and short roped on the second pit to guarantee reaching the third pit’s bottom.

Looking for a volunteer to go down and be the first to bottom a virgin pit, there were no takers; seems the witnessing of the failed bolt placement attempts and collapsing walls when looking for a placement was all that was needed to scare everyone off. Tommy decided he would go down but before doing so, called for the climbing rope to be sent down to back off to the piece of breakdown at its largest girth. To the best effort he could, Tommy applied weight to the bolt before finally entrusting it and rappelling down. There was only about three feet of rope on the bottom so all the short roping strategy paid off. Tommy had rappelled down to the bottom of a flat floored 20 foot diameter dome. On the downstream end the ceiling had quickly lowered to form a less than walking height passage, requiring climbing up and over muddy lined breakdown. The passage shortly disintegrated into having to squeeze through openings, the passage forking to two separate ones left and right, with the stream flowing into the right passage. In another few feet the stream passage became too tight to follow without some very intimate contact with the stream and squeezing around obstacles. The left turned into a 3 foot high by 2 foot wide passage with a very muddy floor and walls. It had air, though nothing of the amount experienced at the top of the second drop. Retreating back to the dome, Tommy then surveyed the dome itself. On one wall a passage had formed into a wide canyon some 20 to 25 feet off the floor. Direct aid would be required to reach it. Enough of the canyon could be seen to determine it continued away from the dome and might even fork into two separate passages, and it was the same passage Tommy could see beyond the traverse. Only two quick draws had been brought on this trip, not enough to attempt the aid climb.

Tommy then decided it best to at least survey a station to the bottom of the dome. He called for some one to come down with the tape. For whatever reason no one would come down, though the bolt had been proven solid. After much communicating a survey tape was finally lowered and a station placed on the lead side of the dome (though Mark recommends it should be resurveyed). The drop measured 49 feet in depth.

Back at the top of the second drop Tommy geared up to attempt following the traverse over the pit to see if a point could be reached to rappel down to the lead. Mark provided the belay. The rope hanging down the pit was pulled up to be used for rigging a safety line across and along the traverse. A placement for a bolt was found to anchor the rope before crossing, though the rope was left rigged above for added safety. Along the traverse Tommy used two natural anchors for rigging the traverse, considering how crappy the rock is for placing bolts. He finally reached a point where he would need to rappel a short ways down to continue traversing horizontally. At this point he was around 20 feet or more from the top of the second pit. A solid bolt placement was found and one set. However, before he could go further talk coming from the group was of abandoning the effort due to a combination of problems from back spasms, being cold, and it getting late.

Surveying the situation on the climb, Tommy could see at least another 15 feet of horizontal traverse would be required before being far enough along to rappel down to the floor of the lead. While the short distance would indicate success is close at hand, the walls are crumbly and questionable whether any good anchors can be found. For the next trip it would be advised to come prepared to aid climb the wall from the bottom of the third drop for accessing the lead. However, it would also be advised to re-evaluate the traverse first before de-rigging it for the alternate access. Bring at least 60 feet of rope for either descending down from the traverse or rigging the aid climb for access. Also, bring either an additional length of rope or webbing (another 20 feet) for backing off the bolt on the third drop to tie around the thicker part of the breakdown block near the top. An additional bolt with hanger and quick link is at the bottom of the third drop, having been accidentally dropped while Tommy was negotiating the traverse.

The trip out went smoothly and fast despite having to haul the extra piece of gear (hammer drill). Thanks to Mike Ficco for constructing the fine case for the drill, which made hauling it in and out much easier. Tommy would also like to thank both Nate and Mark for hauling the drill most of the way out of Strychnine Canyon, saving aggravating his rotary cuff impingement syndrome any further. The group exited sometime around 3 AM giving an approximately 16 hour trip. Just before driving off the ridge, Team 1 exited.

Blarney Stone Trip November 18, 2006

Outer Limits Climb

Personnel: Ed Kehs, Philip Schuchardt and Mike Ficco

Report by: Mike Ficco

A long awaited return trip to the Outer Limits section of Blarneystone was finally organized for November 18th 2006, along with a parallel trip to the Pigeon Tooth Dome area. The Pigeon Tooth Dome lead was to be pushed by a team led by Tommy Shifflett, whose trip is reported separately. The Outer Limits team was originally expected to include Ed Kehs, Ben Schwartz, Philip Schuchardt and myself (Mike Ficco), however Ben was feeling under the weather and decided to stay on the surface.

The objective for the Outer Limits trip was to investigate an upper-level room/passage that was observed during previous trips, located approximately three quarters of the way out towards the connection with Burns Chestnut Ridge. Based upon previous observations, a short (one or two bolt) aid climb was expected give us access to the apparent room/passage which appeared to be developed along strike. Additionally, an intersecting passage could seen approximately 20-30 feet up the far wall of the room, thus providing us with a good "backup" lead should the primary lead fizzle out.

So, after the obligatory milling around at the Davis farm and sorting/packing of gear, we headed over to the cave and managed to get underground by approx. 11:00. This was Philip’s introductory trip to Chestnut Ridge caving and I had promised that he’d get his money’s worth. I figured that a "baptism by fire" trip such as this would either sell Philip (a young hard-charging VPI caver) on the virtues of hardcore Chestnut Ridge caving, or it would simply kill him off. I was hoping for the former rather than the latter!

Despite our relatively heavy packs containing aid climbing gear and rope, we made good time through the entrance series and into the Boondocks section. We had been concerned that the significant rainfall from earlier in the week would manifest itself as high water levels (possibly even flooded conditions) in the cave, and the roar that greeted us as we approached Duane’s Drop confirmed our fears. Water was actually flowing down Duane’s Drop, a condition that I had not see before, and the Falling Waters stream was flowing at about twice its normal volume. Upon reaching Boulder Dash, we were greeted by slick mud-covered breakdown from an apparent complete flooding of that part of the cave. Traversing Boulder Dash in these conditions thus took longer than normal but we did eventually arrive at Opportunity Knocks and the seemingly endless forced march/crawl out through the Outer Limits. Along the way we set a bolt at the top of the Baby Poop Chute where we rigged a webbing handline.

Arriving at our lead after six hours of travel, we unpacked our gear and I prepared to start hammering in bolts. The lead opened up through a window above the narrow canyon typified by this part of the cave. Philip belayed me as I worked my way up the first 12 feet or so, struggling to find competent rock in which to set bolts. To my dismay, as I gained height I soon realized that there was no floor to the upper level, the walls simply flared out briefly before becoming nearly vertical again for another 30 or 40 feet. Similarly disappointing was the fact that the passage/room pinched out at both ends after only 50 feet or so. Therefore our only option was to continue up the wall to the intersecting lead 30 feet above. Fortunately the rock quality improved as I worked my way higher and because of the 70 degree slope of the wall, I was able to stand in the very top steps of my etriers (and in some cases on the bolt hanger itself) to maximize vertical progress with each bolt. Nonetheless, it was a slow process and Ed and Philip somehow managed to stay warm in the stiff breeze that blows through that part of the cave. After setting ten bolts, I was poised below the overhanging lip of the lead, which appeared to consist of a six foot by five foot clean-washed abandoned streamway. Calling for slack in the belay rope and committing myself, I reached above my head and mantled my way up over the lip and into the virgin passage. Peering into continuing passage, I hollered down to the others that it looked pretty good and decided to set a bolt for rigging the rope prior to reconning ahead. After tying off the rope, I scooped ahead, following the stooping-height passage for 30 feet at which point it turned to the right for a short distance before intersecting a large canyon. The canyon floor was 30 feet below, which I confirmed by tossing a rock. It was 20 feet wide and continued in both directions; Whoo Hoo!!

I scrambled back to report the bittersweet news to Ed and Philip. The good news was that the cave went; the bad news was that we did not have enough rope to rig both the climb and the drop into the canyon. Unfortunately the other’s had news of their own...they had heard my thrown rock land in a room further back the passage from where we came! Rather than gaining access to a hot new lead in the cave, we had just spent almost 3 hours of toil only to loop back into known cave! ARGHHH!! We made a visual confirmation of the connection and deemed the minimal amount of passage undeserving of survey. I cleaned the climb while doing a pulldown rappel, and we pack up our gear. Being too late in the day to start another lead, we began the slog towards the entrance. I for one was very dejected by the lead’s failure to pan out since we had such high hopes for a possible bypass of the upstream Burns sump, and I pissed and moaned about it for a while. We stashed our 80 feet of 9mm rope at the top of Duane’s Drop for future use.

The trip out of the cave was uneventful and we exited around 3:30 am to crisp cool evening, meeting up with the other team at the trucks, they having exited immediately prior to us. As for Philip’s impression of the cave…you’ll have to ask him, but I’d say he gained an appreciation for the mud, sleaze and relentlessness of Chestnut Ridge. Despite all that, I have a feeling he’ll be back!

Blarney Stone Trip 19 July 2008

Pigeon Tooth Dome Traverse and Survey

Personnel: Mike Ficco, Nate Walter Jon Lillestolen and Tony Canike

Report By: Tony Canike

On Saturday July 19, 2008, The team entered Blarneystone cave with the objective of checking a lead described by Nevin as "a semi-elliptical passage 10 ft. wide and 4 ft. high with stalagmites on the floor and a small stream" high up in Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome. The lead had been spotted by Tommy Shifflett, Nate Walter, and Nevin W. Davis on August 6, 2005, and has been the subject of more than one fireside conversation in the intervening three years. This was the trip that Tommy lead the 40 foot and 15 foot climbs discussed below. Nevin recently posted the report from that trip, it's a good read, well worth your time:

Pigeon Tooth Dome Climb 6 Aug. 2005

Back to the trip. After passing through Ghost Hall and 'the dig", we arrived at Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome in a reasonable time. Reaching the 33 foot climb, we went up the rope, past a rebelay, and up some more. Across the traverse rope, hike up a muddy hill, and onto a 40 foot rope up a flowstone and mud wall. There is an alcove at the top of this rope, and we staged our gear there. Just left of the alcove is a 8 foot wide mud ledge suspended on the wall. Apparently the room had been nearly filled with mud in the past, and then most of mud washed away, leaving the ledge of mud just clinging to the wall. The ledge runs left (west) for about 30 feet from the alcove, and then there is about 10 feet of blank vertical rock wall to traverse to reach our objective.

Mike and Jon walked halfway out the mud ledge, and set an anchor bolt. Mike continued out on the mud ledge, belayed by Jon, setting a couple bolts for protection. At the end of the ledge, Mike set three bolts for aid, quickly dispatching the traverse to gain the entrance of the huge passage. Success! However, after 20 minutes of inspection, Mike reported that the "passage" was a decorated hanging room with no exit or leads. Due to the difficulties of getting a survey team across the traverse and the lack of any leads, the room was sketched by Mike with no survey shots. The climb was derigged and hangers removed.

The sense of disappointment was quickly dispelled by talk of another lead that needed attention. From the alcove, we tiptoed right on slick sloping flowstone and eased onto another rope, this one a 15 foot climb up a mud wall. Then we crossed the Avalanche room, down a 31 foot drop, through a windy (and chilly!) horizontal passage, down a 20 foot drop, arriving at the top of a 50 foot drop. We scavenged some rope, rerigged the drop, and rapped down, landing at the bottom of a flat-floored dome. The dome had a unsurveyed sleazy drain pocketed with numerous muddy wet potholes that were generally between 2 and 4 feet deep. Starting at station F315, we surveyed the drain until we came to a 25 foot deep pit and turned around. Nate was in the lead, and he missed his chance to get the pit named after him in memoriam, as the pit initially appeared to be another pothole with a floor. Surprise! We surveyed 178.5 feet in ten shots, ending at F325.

There is another lead from the bottom of the flat-floored dome. It is a 30 foot climb up a slightly less-than-vertical slope that appears to lead to a rift passage. Tommy had previously examined this lead. It could be relatively easy aid climb (and a 15th rope – read on!)

Tommy has updated the CRCS map with the survey from this trip. An annotated section of the map follows:

19 July 2008 Blarney Stone Pigeon Tooth Map


Fourteen Ropes and Counting

By Tony Canike.

At one point, while hanging out at the bottom of the flat-floored dome, Nate Walter pointed out that we were 14 ropes from the entrance. In terms of number of ropes, that's probably the farthest I've ever been into a cave. Here's how we counted the ropes:

  1. Entrance Drop (40 feet)
  2. Shitty Drop (15 feet)
  3. Big Drop (48 feet)
  4. Last Real Drop of the entrance series – 18 feet
    (then there are a few handlines/etries let's not count.)
  5. 15 foot drop from Tobacco Barn to Strychnine Canyon
  6. Artz's Attic
    (then through Ghost Hall and the dig)
  7. 12 foot nuisance drop
    (then into Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome)
  8. 33' up (with a rebelay, but let's count as one rope)
  9. Traverse
  10. 40' foot up flowstone
  11. 15' foot up
    (then across the Avalanche Room)
  12. 31' drop
    (then through the Windy Passage)
  13. 20' drop
  14. 50' drop

Blarney Stone Trip 30 May 2010

Survey: The Booty Bomb

Participants: Nathan Farrar (Book); Tommy Shifflett (Instruments); Ed Kehs (Lead Tape)

Report By: Tommy Shifflett

Memorial Day Weekend saw lots of BCCS members and friends at the Butler Homestead performing chores for tidying up the cabin and grounds for summer caving season. Saturday was a dedicated day for this work but for a few Sunday was reserved for caving. One team with numerous members returned to the Air Blower in Butler to continue digging in an effort to follow the air. Two teams had their sights on Blarneystone however one of the team leaders – Mike Ficco, following a restless night after the Saturday night feast elected to work in By the Road Cave instead. Mike’s team consisted of Jon Lillestolen and Molly ***.

This report documents the Team led by Tommy Shifflett with members Ed Kehs and Nathan Farrar. Nathan Farrar is a relative newcomer to the Burnsville Cove; this would be his first trip into the Blarneystone Entrance of the Chestnut Ridge Cave System.

The objective of the trip was to climb the lead at the bottom of the 50’ drop and dome beyond the Avalanche Room. On a previous trip Tommy had tried to reach the top of this climb two drops up by traversing out a narrow canyon above both drops (see earlier report). Rotten rock foiled his attempt to follow the canyon to where he could rappel down to the top of the climb. The next trip to this location was led by Mike Ficco. Mike and his team surveyed the stream passage leading out of the dome to the top of a 25’ drop (see separate report). This lead is reported to have good air and potential.

On an early Sunday morning Tommy, Ed and Nathan left the Homestead cabin for Nevin Davis’s home for the entrance gate key and rope. This did not take long and soon they were kitting up at the usual parking area for hiking up to the entrance. With some calculated swapping of gear they managed to haul all climbing and survey gear, including a rigging rope of 48’ length into two cave packs and the drill pack. Except for Tommy’s food, Ed and Nathan shared between them Tommy’s other personal gear, including carrying his ascenders when not needed. This strategy would prove to work out fine. They entered the cave sometime near 10:30 AM.

The water was up after the day before thunderstorm providing a little more water to crawl through in the tight squeezes, a little more spray on the drops, and definitely more mud to slop through. After much grunting, groaning, and sliding through the many steeply, descending crevice slots in Strychnine Canyon they emerged into Ghost Hall in good time. Nathan was having a good time with his first Chestnut Ridge Caving System entrance series. He compared it in difficulty with recent trips he had been having in a Russell County Cave but was reminded that Blarneystone represents the easiest of the CRCS entrance series. From there they entered Upper Ghost Hall and then into the Air Blower Squeeze and steeply down what are mostly a series of enlarged slots and squeezes that are hell to negotiate on the trip out. While this stretch is only a couple hundred feet or so it sometimes feels like a thousand. Thank goodness that on the other side the passage pops out in large, dry fossil trunk albeit much climbing up and down is required. This is followed for nearly 3,000 feet to 10 PM Junction. Along the way one can spot anthodites, aragonite and similar crystalline formations to gawk at. From 10 PM Junction the team turned right, following a nice dry and large passage to where a deep fissure crosses the floor. The climb down into this enters a walking canyon passage that requires a short rappel down to reach the lower level floor. In a short distance a junction is reached and taking the right fork leads into the bottom of Pigeon Tooth Falls Dome. In earlier trips (see separate reports) this dome was scaled to the top using protected free climbing and aid to reach the Avalanche Room. The top leads to a dry passage that quickly descends three pits to the bottom of the dome having the subject lead. Before descending the last two pits Tommy derigged the traverse and rerigged both pits. The passage and pits out of the Avalanche Room follow a narrow width vertical bedded rock formation made up of a sandy, calcareous formation that is scaly and very punky rock.

At the bottom of the lead the team began digging out the aid climbing gear. Tommy’s climbing rope that had been left behind from previous climbing trips was retrieved at the top of the second pit out. It took the team over 4 hours to reach this point, including the time to derig and rerig. Once kitted up for climbing and on belay from Ed, Tommy began the climb on the left side which appeared to offer the shortest ascent. He pounded the rock above his head and it seemed competent. He then drilled a short hole for using his bolt hook for enabling a good start to the climb however upon placing the hook in and stepping up the bolt hook peeled off. Dazzled by this event, as the bolt hook generally seats solid, Tommy noticed that the hole had disintegrated and the reason for the pop out. It became apparent that despite what seemed to be competent rock, that the rock was actually quite punky and friable. Tommy then took the back of the bolt hammer and dug out an inch and a half deep pocket out of the rock and drilled another hole for placement of a bolt. On pulling out the bit at least 1 inch of the hole crumbled. The climbing bolts are 2 ¼ inch long and don’t afford much depth for finding solid rock in a formation of this type. To shorten the story, on this climb several false holes and dubious bolts were set before the top was reached. The top is lined with loose breakdown and climbs steeply up at least ten vertical feet before reaching a stable location. Upon reaching this point Tommy could not find any natural anchors to rig to or solid rock for placing bolts. He was able to find better rock on the opposite side and rigged a traverse line and rope at the edge of the drop, affording a clean climb and rappel. Once Nathan and Ed were up the survey began, the team choosing to begin with a hanging station at the top and surveying in, and completing the connecting survey to a known station when they would return.

The passage started off with a very nice dimension of 20’ x 20’ with a long shot ahead. To everyone’s dismay the passage gradually tapered down to a smaller dimension heading in to hands and knees crawl nearly two hundred feet in. From there the passage degenerated to a muddy crawl, interspersed with some scramble passage and with tight squeezes in places. Near the end a small stream is picked up and with the last shot, Tommy’s light kept turning off due to a loose contact he could not tighten back up because of not having brought a screwdriver. Based on time and not wanting to rely on a back up light in such nasty passage, Tommy decided to turn the trip. The last station set is F421, marked by survey tape. There was decent air heading in.

Back at the drop Ed descended first for tying into an existing station. After this Tommy belayed Nathan down using the climbing rope for Nathan to clean the climb. When it was Tommy’s turn to rappel down he further examined a high small alcove he had spotted after the climb, not far from the edge of the drop. It is exposed but Tommy was able to climb safely up to it. For a distance it appeared it would be only an alcove, or at best a small tight lead heading back in the direction of the main passage. However just the opposite was found when reached. A passage immediately drops vertically down, perpendicular to the passage heading inward from the climb. The pit appears to be about 20’ with a short landing, then another pit into sheer blackness and appearing large. Tommy could feel air swirling around.

The trip out took considerably longer than coming in, more than 5 hours, probably caused by the uphill climb against gravity and slippery mud on the way out. Ed was the last to exit at 3:35 AM, a nearly 17 hour trip. Though tired, Nathan had done well for his first CRCS trip and the long haul to that area. There was 402’ of survey in the book, not as much that was expected but good leads remain. The attached map to this report shows that the passage is well beyond the extent of the Pigeon Tooth Stream (see F197 on the map) and offers good hope of picking that water back up in addition to the possibility of finding upper dry levels. In pursuit of this goal the stream passage survey and lead Mike’s group left (see the parallel passage to the west) may be a better bet to push first. Who knows what the side lead at the top of the climb will do. Vertically, there is room for something to take off towards the northwest. For the group that decides to pursue this lead may want to take a drill and long bolts for rigging as the rock is not reliable. There is sufficient rope left over on the rope down the 50’ drop and a separate piece (48’) to rig the 25’ pit or the side lead. Also, it would be good to set another backup bolt next to the one at the top of the 50’ drop.