Marshalls Cave Tourist Trip

by Bob Robins

I joined a September 22, 2001, PSC tourist trip to Marshalls Cave accompanied by my wife, Mary Anne, and our youngest son, Ken.  The trip, organized by Mike Kubatz, was an advanced beginner trip planned as an alternative to the various monthly projects weekends that seem to dominate the calendar these days.  I had been on a previous trip that Mike led to Marshalls in May with Dave Roberts and Julie Roberts and we had agreed it would be a good candidate for a tourist trip.

Mike wisely classified Marshalls as an advanced beginner trip because the cave requires enough climbing and chimneying to make it unsuitable for young children.  This resulted in turning away a few folks looking for a children’s trip, but with the Trout Cave Conser-Vacation and beginner’s trip going out the same weekend, there were alternatives available.

We met Mike at the PSC fieldhouse on Friday night and joined up with Art Dunworth and Debbie Abt at Thompson’s Restaurant in Franklin, West Virginia, on Saturday morning for breakfast.  We had expected to pick up a few additional folks at the prearranged meeting spot at the McDowell, Virginia, post office but no one showed so we headed for the cave.

Marshalls Cave is in Virginia’s Highland County, not far from Breathing Cave where I have been surveying with the Gangsta Mappers.  There is a sketchy description and fair map of Marshalls in Caves of Virginia by Henry Douglas (1964).  Parking is in a large parking lot along the river—apparently folks used to camp there as well but it is now prominently posted with “no camping” signs.  Access to the cave is over a sturdy swinging bridge, and then an easy walk along a riverside trail to the right.  Just before the talus slope that leads up to the cave entrance you pass a spring, where the stream seen in the lowest level of the cave resurges.

Scrambling up the talus slope, the cave entrance is easy to spot on the right side.  After getting our breath back we did a final equipment check (it was a comfortably cool day so we were able to walk to the cave fully dressed in our cave gear) and entered the cave.  The upper level of the cave is very nicely decorated, though there has been vandalism and most of the formations are no longer active.  The upper level is fairly short so were able to quickly tour that level and return to the connection to the lower levels, about halfway back to the entrance.

The connection is one of several small pits in the floor but only one, an inconspicuous duck under a rock, leads down to the main part of the cave.  We rigged a hand line to aid in negotiating the steep slope, the first of three hand lines we used.  A belay would have been welcome here on the climb out.  Continuing in a canyon passage occasionally choked with formations we descended to a water-filled section where considerable skill (and luck) was needed to stay out of the water by straddling the canyon on narrow ledges just above the water.  Dave Roberts managed to get dunked at the beginning of this section on our May trip.  At points the passage was wide enough to make straddling difficult but eventually we were able to climb up to a drier section and yet more challenging climbing.

Eventually the narrow canyon passage opened into a large room divided by massive breakdown with a long vein of dogtooth spar on one wall.  The passage continues on, but quickly narrows and develops a decided tilt before pinching out.  At this point we backtracked to the end of the large room to find the duck under (actually a crawl under) that leads to the bottom level of the cave.  We emerged at the top of a steep slope that was a fairly easy down climb to the stream level.  Going upstream, we observed some interesting phreatic features before the ceiling dropped too low to follow.  We didn’t try downstream since it looked like it would quickly become uncomfortably tight and wet.

Coming back up from the lower level to the large room was a bit more difficult than going down due to a lack of handholds near the top.  A short hand line would be a useful addition here.  The trip out was uneventful, though the final climb took a while for the six of us to negotiate, and stretched our comfort factors despite the hand line.  In retrospect our party of six was probably just about the right size, given the time it took us to get up the various climbs.

Having successfully traversed Marshalls, we returned to the cars to change. I suggested that we take a quick look at the entrance to Aqua Cave, which is on a trail directly across the road from the parking area for Marshalls.  The trail crosses the stream that originates at Aqua and continues straight, along the stream, to the cave entrance.  Mary Anne, Ken, and Mike came along while Art and Debbie headed toward Monterey, where we planned to meet for dinner. Unfortunately as we were crossing the stream near the entrance to Aqua, Mary Anne slipped on rocks in the stream, twisting her leg and banging her knee on the rocks.

Mary Anne was unable to put any weight on the injured leg so we had to support her weight as we made our way back to the cars. Mike and I were finally able to get Mary Anne to our van—fortunately Ken had been able to drive most of the way up on a dirt road that ran along the far side of the stream. We eventually made it to Monterey where Art and Debbie were wondering what had happened to us.  On the way back, we stopped in Franklin and took a room at Thompson’s for the night rather than make Mary Anne crawl up the steep stairs at the PSC fieldhouse.

The eventual diagnosis for her leg was a fractured tibia and broken cartilage in the knee, but at least it didn’t happen in a cave. Mary Anne had to wear a brace for a while to support the leg, and then got some physical therapy for the knee. She has to go back in soon for arthroscopic surgery to get broken cartilage removed from the knee—it’s "optional" but the doctor told her she can’t go crawling around in any caves if she doesn't get it done.

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  Copyright 2002-2004, Bob Robins
  Last Updated: February 12, 2004