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Blarney Stone Cave


Blarney Stone Stairway to Heaven Trip, 17 January 2015



By Tony Canike, with Tom Malabad, Eric Pelkey, Alex Malone, and Tommy ShifflettGroup before entering.

We left the homestead on Saturday morning and drove over to the Blarney Stone entrance. We parked in the lower field at the base of the hill and walked up the entrance to not damage the road and maintain good landowner relations. We unlocked the entrance with no issues (Nevin had checked the locks for us recently) and we began entering at 10:40 am.

Our primary objectives were to clean up leads in Stairway to Heaven and Wobblestone Canyon Creek. We had eight people signed up for the trip, but unfortunately three people had to cancel a few days before the trip, leaving us with five people. So we prepared to split into two teams, one to check out leads in Stairway to Heaven, and one to go through the Leprechaun Forest and check out leads in Wobblestone Canyon Creek. Right before entering the cave, however, we decided to concentrate on Stairway to Heaven and keep the five people together, as Tommy was the only person familar with this part of the cave, and I was the only other person who had been in Blarney Stone before.

Secondary objectives were to familiarize more people with the entrance series to Blarney Stone, re-rig the drop from Ghost Hall to Stairway to Heaven, and to re-start our exploration of this cave, which had been put on the back burner with our other projects in Robins Rift, By The Road, Bobcat, and Butler.

To our knowledge, there have been two trips out to Stairway to Heaven. The first was August 21, 1993 with Tommy Shifflett, Ben Schwartz, Jeff Uhl, and Nevin Davis; they surveyed from Slop Holler to PA58. The second trip was on October 30, 1993, with Nevin Davis, Hope Uhl, Mike Artz, and one Mike “Fiko”; they surveyed from PA57 to PA88. The map and survey notes showed many good-looking leads.

We got to Ghost Hall right at noon, had a snack, and headed over to the entrance to Leprechaun Forest for photos. We didn't enter the Leprechaun Forest due to the sensitivity of the formations, so we stayed at the entrance and enjoyed the anthodites.


Then we backtracked a little and climbed up the little gully in the steep mud bank to the entrance to The Crystal Crawl. We then tiptoed left across the exposed and slick traverse across flowstone and mud south to the 70’ drop into the middle of the Stairway to Heaven at PA36. This route is considerably quicker than that used by the original Stairway to Heaven survey trip(s), which had to go through the Black Diamond Crawl and Slop Holler to get to the start of the Stairway to Heaven.

Tommy had previously suggested we re-rig the drop, as some of the participants on a previous trip declined to do the 70’ drop, as they didn’t like the single self-drive that was backed up to a natural anchor. So I set a couple stainless anchors and retied the anchor. There was an intermediate ledge about half-way down that the rope rubbed on, so I set the top anchor a little further out than the old anchor had been. Tommy suggested we might also need a rebelay or redirect at the intermediate ledge. I rapped down to the ledge, Tommy and I discussed the situation, and there is now a short redirect and no more rubbing. When everyone was at the bottom of the pit and finally in the Stairway to Heaven passage, we walked upstream a little, stashed our vertical gear, and continued up. The passage gains elevation quickly, but was pleasant and clean washed at this point.


Tommy and Alex surveying.

When we got to the leads at PA47 and PA48, we started to setup for two survey teams, but the leads ended up connecting so we all pitched in to push holes. We were in a breakdown maze with some air movement. We found a tight lead with air that will need straws at MS5 (Malabad-Shifflett) and we tried to get up a climb at MS6 that was full of unstable breakdown that came cascading down on the team. When we were satisfied, we regrouped back in the main passage, gathered our gear, and headed upstream.

Tommy remembered much of it from his last visit, but still it took us time to make our way, as there was much to investigate. It had been over 20 years since Tommy had been here, so the trip quickly turned to reorientation, hole pushing,  and routefinding. Near PA53 there is an interesting belly flop onto a slab off 4’ ground with a squeeze and minimal foot hold, and near PA57 a notable 20+’ handline drop. We were now in the room that the August 21st team turned around at, and we found a dynamic climbing rope that Tommy reported was purchased by him in the 1970’s. Do the math.

We poked and crawled and climbed around, but could not find the way on upstream. Finally, Tommy did a very exposed 45’ climb above PA57 that looked untraveled and found tracks at the top going onward. At this point Alex looked at his watch, looked at the climb, and then looked at the rest of us. I looked at him and shook my head “no”. Like this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNfYAXUzito

No one else indicated a desire to do that climb. Someone joked “Judy’s got pot roast in the oven; it’s time for me to go get my dinner”. Tommy shouted warm, positive, encouraging words down to us and no one responded. Eventually Tommy backtracked and found an easy but slimy way up, and we circled around to the south, slimed up, easily gained the upper level, and joined Tommy at PA66. Tom Malabad poked down a small pit near PA63 and reported a stream. Tommy traversed the edge of a big pit to PA67 and went a little beyond. When he came back, he suggested it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rig the pit to drop it and rig a traverse line to safely cross it.


Tom starting climb.


Our vertical gear, ropes, and drill were way back down the passage. So we decided to call it a day start heading out. We oozed, slid, and sloshed back to our vertical gear and ascended the rope back up to Ghost Hall.

As we now had rope, electrons, and bolts, Eric rigged a traverse line across the exposed and slick traverse across the flowstone and mud back to The Crystal Crawl. We also used a hammer to make another step at a critical very slick spot.

When we got back to the first aid kit in Ghost Hall, Tommy and Tom headed directly out. Eric, Alex, and I had a snack and chatted for about 10 minutes first.

The three of us crossed Artz’s Attic and squooze up through Tommy’s Pinch. I stopped for a few moments to sort out my danglies. When I caught up Eric and Alex, I found them rigging a grey webbing hand line for the climb where the B survey branches off. We were out of bolts, so it was rigged to a small natural anchor. The next team in should set a bolt, and not flail on the webbing, as the natural anchor isn’t awesome and it isn’t a BFT.

Tommy and Tom exited at 10:45pm, and Alex, Eric, and I exited and had the gate locked at 11:45pm. When we got back down to the trucks, we found that Tom and Tommy had started my truck for me and it was all warmed up. That was a nice surprise, thanks guys! Back to the homestead for dinner, beer, and wine; and some of us conversed until 3am.

Future Work:

  1. Set a bolt for the grey webbing hand line at the where the B Survey branches off.
  2. Perhaps set a spike high on the opposite wall for a foothold at the flop-slab-squeeze climb up at PA53. 
  3. Drop and push the pit near PA63 at the bottom of which Tom Malabad found a stream.
  4. Rig the drop and the traverse at the pit between PA66 and PA67. Drop and push the pit. Cross the traverse.
  5. Rig the climb Ficco did in 1993 at PA70 and check out the branching leads at the top. (Dibs!)
  6. Push and survey more leads beyond PA70 to the end of the passage.
  7. Above the exposed dome climb near PA57 that Tommy did, it looks like there is a large lead at the very top with a trickle of water coming out. Perhaps 10 bolts to get there

Tony re-rigging the drop.Eric checking out a lead.



Blarney Stone Stairway to Heaven Team 1, 03 July 2015

Blarney Stone Cave: Stairway to Heaven High Lead at PA70

July 3, 2015

Reporter: Eric Pelkey

Participants: Hope Brooks, Tony Canike

Objectives: Climb into the high lead at PA 70 and survey any passage discovered

Results: Climb completed, survey started, several new leads generated.

Future Work:  Finish pushing the right lead at TDS5. Install aid at the short squeeze-climb near PA54. The Artz’s Attic Traverse Line could use a new bolt in the middle.

Details: On Friday, July 3rd three teams began preparation to enter Blarney Stone Cave. The personnel composition of each team was solidified that morning, and a massive mountain of just about every type of cave gear imaginable was assembled and divided amongst the nine cavers entering the cave.


Aid climbing gear readyPaul is readyPlaying with cameras and slave flashes.

After an extensive milling around period, everyone loaded into cars and drove to the cave. We all changed in a downpour and made the damp hike to the entrance.

Our team was first to enter at around 11:30 AM. As there were three separate teams going in, we needed a way to ensure the last team out knew to lock the gate. Instead of the traditional note saying “our entered at X o’clock” followed by “our team left at Y o’clock,” we elected to hang a duck decoy, which Hope found while doing field work, in the entrance. After securing our mascot, I took the lead and tried to move as quickly as possible (while still maintaining voice connection) to prevent a nine-person pile up in the constricted passages of the entrance series. Hope and I picked up Tony’s 100 foot and 50 foot ropes left at the top of the drop out of the Tobacco Barn. Once we reached John’s Bypass, I doubled back to help people with a few climbs in this part of the cave, while Tony went ahead to set a bolt at the final up-climb before Artz’s Attic (Tommy eventually was able to find a natural anchor for a webbing hand-line, negating the need for said bolt). Then, we all continued across Artz’s Attic into Ghost Hall.

Once in Ghost Hall, the team consisting of Tommy Shifflet, Bob Alderson, and Alex Malone soldiered on ahead to rig a safety traverse line at PA67 in Stairway to Heaven; Paul, Nathan and Scott headed for the Bobcat connection and Tony, Hope, and I took a few photographs at the Ghost formation (thus achieving Hope’s goal of taking a “selfie” with the Ghost). We then continued through Ghost Hall and made a brief stop at the entrance of the Leprechaun Forest for Hope’s benefit, since every new visitor should get this glimpse at some of the ridiculous anthodite formations that Chestnut ridge has to offer.

Hope and GhostEric and GhostTony and Ghost

Sightseeing completed, we continued up the mud mountain in Ghost Hall and across the exposed traverse we had rigged on the January 17, 2015 trip (we all agreed that we felt much better with the rope). We rappelled the drop into Stairway to Heaven and took our time negotiating the many obstacles between us and the other team. We made it to the PA67 traverse just as the other team finished rigging it. We gave them the 100 foot rope we had been carrying, and the six of us headed across the traverse. We made it to PA 70 in short order, and Hope and Tony took a snack break. I could hear a lot of talking about another bad traverse ahead, so I decided to help look for a bypass. I went low around PA71 and walked past the lead at PA74 (this looks like a promising pit and takes water). I found an awkward etrier climb past a too-tight, grim infeeder to a vertical squeeze that bypassed the scary traverse. Having helped (I think) the other team I headed back to my team, and Tony got ready to bolt up into the lead. Tony had planned to mostly free climb it with a couple bolts for protection, but after a large hand-hold broke, he called down for an etrier and aid climbed it. After five bolts, Tony was able to rig the 50 foot rope and descend.

Eric Belaying Tony Tony Starting the Climb

We got ourselves ready to survey. There were no clearly marked stations near the lead, so we used the notes in conjunction with the DistoX2 to ascertain where PA70 and PA71 must have been. We tied into pseudo PA70 and began surveying under the designation TDS (Tony Doing Stuff) after an inside joke about the photographer never having any evidence of their participation in adventures. Hope was on book, Tony set stations, and I shot double front sights with Tony’s DistoX2. The passage was a very steeply sloping, walking-sized tube which began to level out where Tony had rigged the rope. We shot ahead to TDS5 where there is a “T” intersection. Tony explored the left fork for a few feet and reported it will require a little soft mud digging to continue. No air was noted. We doubled back to TDS6 at a walking size side passage to the left that seemed to be moving all of the previously noted air. We followed this for a few generally pleasant stations to where it dead ends at a mud plug. We speculate that the air may be ascending through a 5” diameter hole in the ceiling, but we were running short on time, so we did not explore this completely. It will require enlargement to get through.

It was getting late, so we all headed back to PA70 and packed up for the trip out. We left the rope rigged since the right lead at TDS5 is still unexplored. For a brief time, we heard the voices of the other team and expected to meet up with them. We heard Alex yell something about being close to a connection, and then the voices faded away again (we later found out that they were on the other side of the too tight infeeder at the etrier climb, and were unable to come through it) When the other team did not appear, we decided to head for the surface. For a while Tony was in the lead, and he was the first one to climb down and out of the short squeeze-climb near PA54. While he was stretching his feet looking for the invisible foothold, his harness snagged and then released suddenly, completely getting his attention. An etrier or peg here would save a lot of time. We made slow progress back to the entrance, with frequent breaks to make sure everyone was managing their fatigue and maintaining safety.

Gear Cache

In Ghost Hall, Tony dropped off some hardware for future use. When we finally reached the entrance ropes, Hope realized she had left her rack between the Tobacco Barn and the drop into Strychnine Canyon (A rescue mission is in short order, as the rack is believed to be a few feet down a fissure.) We finally made it back to the surface and pulled out the duck decoy marking our presence in the cave at 4:30 AM, marking an approximately 17 hour trip. We walked back down the hill, changed, drove back to the Homestead, cooked a delicious dinner planned by Hope, and crashed around 6AM as the sun was rising. We were sincerely hoping that the other team was not far behind.

Lead note: the map shows a second lead at PA70 and the notes show an ambiguous open ended alcove. I believe this is the floor level alcove we were hanging out near all day. It defiantly does NOT go. 

Blarney Stone Stairway to Heaven Team 2, 03 July 2015

Blarney Stone Cave, Stairway to Heaven
July 3, 2015
Participants: Tommy Shifflett, Bob Alderson, and Alex Malone (reporting)


1) Rig and cross an exposed traverse between stations PA66 and PA67
2) Drop into the "big pit" near top of Stairway to Heaven and survey onward

1) Traverse has been rigged. Tommy set three bolts and used a length of rope from the bottom of the 20 ft drop near station PA58. The bottom of traverse pit was eventually accessed via another route.
2) The "big pit" turned out to be only 15ft deep. We widened a hole at the bottom and dropped into a narrow stream passage and surveyed 10 stations until the passage became too tight. About 6 ft ahead, one can see it open up into known passage.  

Detailed Report:
Tommy Shifflett, Bob Alderson, and Alex Malone (reporting) entered Blarney Stone around 11:45 am on Friday morning along with two other three-man teams. (Paul Winter, Nathan Farrar, and Scott Wahlquist searched for the elusive Bobcat connection while Tony Canike, Hope Brooks and Eric Pelkey followed us into the Stairway to pursue an enticing side lead.)

We had been experiencing a misty fog all morning, but the rain had held off up until the very point we stepped out of our cars. We did our best to stay dry while changing, then walked up from the lowest parking area in a steady rain. Dropping into the somewhat drier cave was a huge relief! 

The three teams made our way to Ghost Hall in about 1.5 hours. Despite the wet summer we've been having, the pools and crawlways in the entrance series seemed to be at about the same water level as they were in January. Before heading to our own objectives in the Stairway, Tommy, Bob and I took a detour to view the anthrodites at the entrance to Leprechaun Forest, which Bob was seeing for the first time.

We took the shortcut off of Ghost Hall and rappelled the 70-foot open drop into the middle of the Stairway. Navigating upwards was much easier than during our trip last winter now that we've mostly figured out the route. The only exception is a tight climb near station PA54 which is completely devoid of any footholds and can be very tricky, both going up and combing back down. The next team to climb the Stairway should install some webbing and possibly a peg or two on the opposite wall.

At the bottom of the 20-foot drop near station PA58, Tommy cut off ~40 feet of static rope for our traverse, leaving ~20 feet remaining at the bottom. We also picked up a length of dynamic rope that had been left at the bottom of the drop to use as a belay line (Tommy informed us the dynamic rope had been purchased by him back in college and came into the cave on his first trip into the Stairway, but he was confident it had enough strength left).

Our first objective was the traverse between stations PA66 and PA67 which can be navigated by walking a thin ledge ledge on the left-hand side that has some decent footholds. Half-way across the traverse though, a pit opens below and can be quite unnerving, hence the decision to rig it. Tommy got on rope while I belayed, and despite some nasty mud, he quickly had three bolts set. Meanwhile, as we were wrapping up, Tony's team had caught up with us.

Having rigged and crossed the traverse, we soon found ourselves faced with an even longer and wider traverse. Tommy, doing what Tommy does best, crossed it and reported back that he found footprints on the other side, meaning it was the way to go. None of us were too enthusiastic about the exposure, so Eric decided to try going low and slid into a shallow pit in the floor. He soon called back that he found webbing hanging down with tied footloops. Bob and I followed and found that the webbing led halfway up a climb to where Tommy had traversed to. We spotted a station a little ways back which must be PA74. The webbing was tricky and required the rarely used and under appreciated half-inverted-ankle-hook. From a landing at the top of the webbing, Bob tried making it up all the way, but first needed to hammer away at a constriction in the climb. When my turn came, I was immediately unnerved by the exposure involved. I was standing on a loose dirt platform about 15 feet up and needed to hug a block while slithering up. I gave it a go, but the best foothold I could find quickly gave way - had it not been for the webbing tied below me to grab on to, I may have slipped all the way down! I asked for a belay and Bob was kind enough to toss down Tony's rope that we had brought along for later. (On the way out we rigged this rope to a natural anchor just above the climb, leaving about 50 feet coiled below)

From here on it was a brief trek to the top of the Stairway. Passing station PA80, the passage seemed to change character and leveled out into a wide room with the largest soda straws I've ever seen. Many of the straws had formed bulbs at the bottom that grew large enough to combine with nearby straws. 

Our main objective was an enticing pit labeled "big pit" on the original survey notes. We were hoping for something epic and were a bit disappointed when we arrived. It was certainly wide, but the bottom was clearly visible. Nonetheless, Tommy rigged it and we began our survey. Our first shot was from PA83 to the newly created PA89. Our second shot, a vertical down the pit, was a whopping 15.3 ft. There was nothing new to survey from the bottom, so we began widening a constriction in the breakdown floor where tossed rocks could be heard rolling for a ways. While Bob was hammering, I wandered up a slope that pops out behind where we rigged the drop. It's a bit tight and needs a hammer, but should offer another way down into the pit without the need for rope. After we had all taken turns hammering at the constriction, Tommy squeezed through and found himself on a tiny landing atop a sloping block that was taking up the width of a muddy canyon passage. He cleared the landing, then came back up to get on rope. We surveyed the muddy canyon which had a trickle stream for ~100 feet until it became too tight. At the constriction near the end I was able to lay on my belly and see the passage open into a room, along with the yellow webbing we had climbed up earlier. It was only about 6 feet away!!

It was already about 10:30pm, so we derigged the pit and began our trek down the Stairway. We stopped at the small pools just before the 70-foot climb and cleaned our gear which had become comically unrecognizable balls of mud. The next team in could make all our lives a bit easier by bringing in an extra scrub brush to leave behind here. 

We popped out of the cave at exactly 5 am for just over a 17 hour trip. The sun came up as we were changing and we got back to the homestead just after 6 am. All-in-all a very rewarding but tiring trip. I made the easy decision to sit out the next day's trip into Barberry, and instead enjoyed a long nap at the homestead, then took a nice trip to the river with Scott, Tony, Hope and Eric to clean gear.

Future work:
  1. Install an etrier and/or pegs on the opposite wall at the short squeeze-climb near PA54.
  2. Follow the lower stream level lead. Nearest station is PA74.
  3. Great leads are still waiting to be surveyed at the top of the Stairway.
  4. Leave a scrub brush for cleaning gear at the base of the 70 ft drop into Stairway.