Mystic Cave Tourist Trip - October 27, 2001
by Bob Robins (PSC #255)
My youngest son Ken and I joined a PSC tourist trip to Mystic Cave, organized
by Mike Kubatz, on October 27, 2001. The trip was the latest in a series of
beginner trips PSC has been sponsoring in an attempt to provide some alternatives
to all the project weekends. By coincidence the trip ended up scheduled on
the same weekend as the Halloween Party at the PSC Field House, so we elected
to stay there and take advantage of both activities. A number of our group
were planning to drive in from town that morning or stay elsewhere in the
area so Mike had selected the Seneca Rocks Visitor Center parking area as
our meeting spot.
Despite last minute cancellations that created some initial confusion about
who was coming, we ended up with a manageable party of eleven hardy souls
with Debbie Abt, Pam and Rick Colby, Kelly Davidson, Art Dunworth, Ellen Kays,
Mike Skipper, and Beth Strausser rounding out our group. We did some minor
rearranging of vehicles and proceeded through the Seneca Rocks intersection
towards Onego, taking the first left onto a steep road heading toward Teterton.
Reaching the area of the cave, we parked between the owner's house and a trailer
that is apparently now the residence of the Mud Duck Cavers. The cave owner
was sick and not at home, but we were able to talk to a neighbor who lived
closer to the cave and left a signed waiver.
Mystic was just a short walk down the road, then through a gate and across
a field to the entrance, at the end of a blind stream valley. There is a nice
description of Mystic in the new "The Caves and Karst of Pendleton County"
by George Dasher, including pictures and two maps, one dated 1946. The map
packet for the book includes a more recent, detailed map produced by Bob Gulden.
The cave is closed from April 1st to September 15th to protect Virginia Big
Eared Bats, none of which were in evidence by late October.
A short distance inside the entrance we found an aluminum ladder and parachute
cord hand line used to descend the 4th Waterfall. Below this point, the entrance
stream joins the main cave stream. The cave goes both upstream and downstream
from the main entrance and we started with the upstream (southern) branch.
The stream level was quite low due to the long dry spell -- several forest
fires were burning in the area that weekend. As a result, we didn't get very
wet until we hit the first pool, which got us wet above the knees. Farther
on we hit the second, waist-deep pool, at the base of a low waterfall. This
waterfall was one of two short climbs that we rigged with sling to provide
handholds while climbing.
Continuing on we passed through an area with nice formations and then encountered
a stream crawl. Due to the low water level, we were able to avoid most of
the water in the crawl. A high climb over the crawl was attempted by one group
but proved a bit too hairy. We ended up in the Big Room at the 3rd Waterfall,
not the end of the cave, but our agreed turnaround point since the cave becomes
much tighter past that point. We then began to retrace our steps toward the
ladder. Part of the group decided to avoid the crawl by going over the top
(easier in this direction) but we all had the opportunity to once again enjoy
a dip in the two pools.
Arriving back at the 4th Waterfall, we found we had to retrieve Debbie who
had hit the ladder and headed out for a smoke, not realizing we still planned
to continue downstream. Art went to retrieve her and, with a complete complement,
we headed into the downstream (western) branch to complete our adventure.
The downstream passage started out as easy walking until we encountered a
decent down climb at the 5th Waterfall that required use of a hand line (already
rigged) to descend.
After the waterfall, travel was comfortable again for a while until we hit
a tight series of short drops. While the first group followed the stream,
squeezing through that section, another group tried a tight twisting (but
dry) passage to the left. This passage took several sharp turns, crossing
several three-foot deep dry rimstone pools, and led back to the stream near
the end of the tight section. We continued a short distance beyond to a point
where we were able to look down on the 6th Waterfall from the fissure above.
The cave continued into the Waterfall Room but we weren't prepared to attempt
the climb down with the equipment and group we had with us.
On the return trip, most people seemed content to retrace their steps through
the tight section, returning the way they had come in - up the tight stream
section or around the tight dry bypass. With the help of the hand line, everyone
made it back up the 5th Waterfall with no problems, quickly returning to the
ladder and then out of the cave. On leaving the cave, we were greeted with
temperatures in the 30's and snow flurries -- great encouragement to get
back to the vehicles quickly and get out of our wet gear. We arrived back
at the Field House in time for Barry Chute’s chili and a pleasant evening
of partying, tombstone decoration and squeeze box challenges.