Trip Report – Snedegars & Bone Caves

May 25-27, 2001
by Bob Robins

Mary Anne, Ken and I headed off for the Baltimore Grotto’s annual Memorial Day Swine-Dine at Friars Hole. The trip got off to an unpromising start as we left home about 4:15 on a holiday getaway Friday afternoon, with major thunderstorms raking the area, and a PGA golf tournament along our route. We hit the backup when we got on the Washington Beltway at 29 in Silver Spring headed west for 66 – two hours later we crossed the American Legion bridge into Virginia. Virginia traffic wasn’t too bad and we made good time to Manassas where we stopped for dinner, then proceeded out 66 to 81.

When we reached Lexington, we picked up 64 toward Lewisburg. The trip on 64 from Lexington was foggy, but after we left the interstate at Lewisburg the fog on 219 often reduced visibility to near zero. We finally arrived at Droop, and working off a set of memorized instructions, succeeded in finding the first of several signs directing us toward Friars Hole and the Swine Dine. The road into the Cave Preserve was suffering from nearly two weeks of rain, including a 6-inch downpour earlier in the week, that left the road slippery. We reached the end of the road near midnight and, having never been to Friars Hole before, sought out the help of some kind souls who helped us find a lovely campsite near the pond.

Saturday was beautiful, and we decided to spend the day getting acquainted with the Friars Hole area. We started walking down the road and first encountered a stream running into a sinkhole which we discovered was the Staircase entrance to the Friars Hole system. Continuing down a line of sinkholes, we followed another group gathered on a hillside exploring two pits. We were then directed toward the Snedegars Saltpeter entrance on the opposite side of the valley. We then followed a cow trail along the fence line down the valley to the Field Station, opposite the Snedegars North Stream entrance.

Having so quickly found three of the entrances, we next decided to follow some rather vague instructions we had been given to the Crookshank entrance, which we found after a bit of hiking -- definitely worth the effort.

Snedegars Cave, Pocahontas County W.Va.

On Sunday we awakened to a morning shower, which passed quickly leaving cloudy skies for most of the day. We had originally planned to stay for the entire three-day weekend, but determining that Ken had homework to do when he got home, we decided to break camp, do some caving and then head home. After some consultation on caving options we decided to go for a tourist trip to Snedegars and then a stop at Bone on the way back down to Lewisburg.

We drove down to the field station after packing up, and once again slogged down the muddy cow path to the Snedegars entrance. A group from Connecticut on a geology field trip led by the brother of Speleobooks’ Emily Davis preceded us into the cave, but we quickly passed them in the entrance passage and proceeded toward the Saltpeter Maze. We found our way to some well preserved artifacts from the saltpeter mining operations, including two troughs carved from large logs, one around ten to twelve feet in length and the other about half that size.

Returning to the main passage, we went in further until we could hear the roar of water coming from the Waterfall Room passage. We went in until we could see the stream but, having decided not to get wet on this trip, didn’t go all the way in to the waterfall. We had been told that the water was thigh deep in at least one spot on Saturday, but a later encounter with a more courageous soul showed the water level on Sunday to be little more than ankle deep.

Once again returning to the main passage, we continued to where the stream enters the passage, noting the fresh debris along a high water mark at least six feet above the stream. As we clambered through the breakdown above the stream we saw several crayfish, which had apparently been washed in by the storm earlier in the week. We pondered doing a rescue mission but had no suitable container to house the refugees. The sighting of even more crayfish on the way out made it apparent that any rescue would have been a token effort at best.

We continued exploring the large trunk passage and occasional side leads until we had used up our allotted time and then headed for the entrance, making our final trek down the muddy cow path.

Bone Cave, Greenbrier County, W.Va.

Traveling down 219 to Renick, we followed our directions down to a road which paralleled the Greenbrier River. Crossing the old rail line (now a very nice trail) and proceeding further down a potholed section of road that ended back on the old rail line. Parking there, we encountered another group from the campground walking down the roadbed. Turns out they were from the two other vehicles parked there and were trying to find the path up to the cave. We joined forces and headed down the roadbed in the opposite direction looking for the promised view of the quarry.

We finally turned around and one of our new companions mentioned a concrete foundation that I remembered seeing early into our hike, so we returned and confirmed that it was indeed the landmark we were looking for. Having found that landmark, we quickly located the trail – directly across the roadbed and less than twenty feet from where we had parked! It seems we had both been given directions that assumed we would be walking the rail bed rather than driving on the potholed section of road.
Suiting up, we ascended the steep trail to the quarry, thoroughly hidden from below by the abundant foliage. The quarry was more overgrown, but otherwise looked exactly as I remembered it from nearly thirty years earlier, with the cave entrance evident. Proceeding into the cave, it quickly became apparent that my memory was very selective. While I remembered the dust and dried formations that characterize the cave, I had totally forgotten about the many short crawls that punctuate the otherwise comfortable walking passage. Our other companions, being younger and more adventurous than Mary Anne or I, climbed down into the wet dome/pit near the entrance to check out some fissures in the floor. As we continued into the cave, we took time to explore all the side leads, sending Ken, as the smallest member of our group, down several.

As we neared the back of the cave, the floor suddenly became damp and then wet in spots with several small pools. Apparently, the torrential rains in the area earlier in the week had caused some flooding of the back end of the cave. This resulted in a damp section extending much further than I remembered from my previous summertime visit of decades past. The flooding also seems to have raised the overall humidity level of the cave and minimized the amount of dust in the air to be inhaled, even in the front part of the cave. We did not experience the long period of cleansing mud from our nasal passages that we had experienced on our previous trip.

When we reached the end of Bone, we backtracked to the connection to Norman. I followed for a while as our companions pushed down to the Devils Pinch, but then turned around and started out since it was after 7 p.m. and we still had a long trip back to Washington ahead of us. We moved quickly but by the time we got back to our van, the other group had caught up to us. A quick change of clothes made us presentable for a quick meal in Lewisburg and then the trip home to Silver Spring, arriving at 1:30 am on Monday. At least the end of the trip was free of traffic jams.

Return to top of page
  Copyright 2002-2004, Bob Robins
  Last Updated: February 12, 2004