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.

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  Last Updated: February 12, 2004