Baltimore Grotto Trip to Scott Hollow Cave
November 10, 2001
by Bob Robins
Baltimore Grotto scheduled a trip to Scott Hollow Cave as a cover for
a surprise presentation of an award from the Virginia Region to Mike and
Pat Dore, the cave owners. I had never been to Scott Hollow so I decided
to join the group for the opportunity to see the Tourist Area of the cave.
The Tourist Area of Scott Hollow Cave includes the route down to Mystic
River, about 2,500 feet of the river itself, and a loop from the Junction
Room along Chris’ Trunk as far as the W Room to the North and back along
the Omega Trail to the Mystic River.
I left town early since I was driving alone and didn’t want to do the
whole trip in the dark. Traffic around the Washington beltway was bad as
usual, but nothing like it would be a few hours later. I made the trip
down in less than six hours, including gas and dinner stops, but then spent
about a half hour driving back roads in Monroe and Greenbrier counties
as I searched for the road into the Scott Hollow Cave campground. First
I missed Scott Hollow Road, realizing my mistake when I crossed into Greenbrier
County. Then I drove the full length of Scott Hollow Road without seeing
any signs to direct me to the campground. I was expecting the Baltimore
Grotto folks to put out a sign by the road, but I finally discovered that
there was a permanent sign at the road – just above the area lit by my high
I found a level spot to park the van and joined the group already gathered
around the campfire. During a break in conversation I asked where the cave
was and was pointed back toward the main road and offered a tour of the
“cave house”. Even in the dark the cave house is an impressive building,
looking like a nice resort home.
|Scott Hollow Cave House
Once inside, its unique architectural features became apparent. Our
tour first took us up the steps to the first floor and across the room to
a circular plywood hatch in the floor. Upon opening the hatch we were looking
down a large corrugated pipe, with rebar ladder rungs, descending vertically
for thirty feet into the darkness. A turn to the right and we were looking
at a belay loft and climbing wall extending from the basement level to the
high ceiling above the second floor (and beyond since the climbing wall extends
above the roof). Going all the down to the lowest level brought us to a
construction area that will become a walk-in entrance to the cave when finished.
The campfire was cozy, but after a long drive I decided to turn in early
hoping for an early start to caving since the entrance was so close. It
was a cold night with temperatures down around 20°F and a warm breakfast
was welcome as we rekindled the fire. Alas, an early start was not to be
had. Milling around like good cavers, we managed to not get into the cave
until noon. Finally though, we entered the cave house and descended the pipe
into the cave.
|The Entrance to Scott Hollow Cave
Gathering at the top of the entry passage, we proceeded down the steep,
breakdown-covered slope of Mastodon Avenue, presumably named for the jawbone
of a young Mastodon found when the cave was first entered. We missed the
crossover to Patty Lane, halfway down Mastodon Avenue, and continued on
to the Junction Room where we entered the North-South Passage, quickly getting
our feet wet in the stream.
We exited the stream, climbing up and through breakdown in the Middle
Earth area, and then descended back down once more to a stream, where we
could hear a faint roar ahead. Since my group consisted of first-time visitors
to Scott Hollow, our leader sent us through one at a time to maximize the
dramatic affect of first entering the large passage of Mystic River. The
river was a fairly modest stream at this point due to protracted dry weather,
but the passage dimensions were impressive.
Once at the river, we made our way downstream, working our way from
bank to bank trying to avoid the deeper pools, occasionally climbing the
banks where we encountered some formations, rimstone dams and a rope hanging
tantalizingly from a high ledge. Before long we reached the First Sump,
a large pool of still, clear greenish water and the Northern limits of the
Tourist Area. If we had climbed the rope encountered earlier, we would have
been able to bypass this sump and continue on downstream.
From the sump, we turned around and headed upstream, setting our sights
on reaching the Double Waterfall that constitutes the Southern limit of
the Tourist Area. As we neared the Double Waterfall area, we encounter a
large breakdown pile. Climbing the breakdown gave us a view of a deep lake
that seemed to fill the passage from wall to wall. I tried going along the
left wall and ended up at a high ledge over a beach, clear of the lake but
with no obvious way down. Meanwhile our leaders – we now had two as another
couple that entered with us had caught up again – were searching the breakdown
pile for a climb down through the breakdown on the left wall that would
get us past the lake.
Just as they rediscovered the route we heard a loud crash from the downstream
side of the breakdown pile followed by several loud cries for help. Two
other cavers from our group had split off earlier and were attempting to
rejoin us when one of them had grabbed a piece of breakdown about the size
of a small file cabinet for a handhold, which then proceeded to fall. The
rock wedged between two massive blocks of breakdown trapping his leg just
above the ankle and leaving him hanging by the trapped foot. The foot was
tightly wedged in a notch at the top of the junction between one breakdown
block and the rock.
Fortunately his companion’s cries for help brought six of us scrambling
over the breakdown in short order. We were able to stabilize him and begin
working to shift the rock With one person under the rock and several of
us pulling up on slings wrapped around the rock, we were able to lift the
rock just enough to allow another person to remove his foot. Our leader,
a former Army medic, determined there were no broken bones or other major
damage. With the ingredients magically appearing out of various cave packs,
he cleaned the wound (an avulsion) with an antiseptic solution, butterflied
the wound shut, wrapped the injured area with an elastic bandage and administered
some oral pain medication. The victim was able to exit the cave under his
own power, with some occasional support, and actually made it out of the
cave well ahead of the slower half of our group.
The trip out was relatively uneventful, though we had one false start
finding our way out of the junction room and up the notorious “Drag
Ass Hill”, so named because of the long, steep climb out. This time we
started up Patty Lane and, finding the crossover this time, finished in
Mastodon Avenue. We were traveling at a slow pace and the climb didn’t
seem too grueling, but several days later I can feel my sore knees. When
we reached the exit, we took turns chimneying up about eight feet to the
bottom of the pipe for the climb out, reaching the surface around 5:00pm.
As everyone returned from the cave, most of us gathered around the fire.
Temperatures had risen but were accompanied by a strong, gusty wind that
was constantly moving round the fire, chasing us with smoke and occasional
bursts of sparks. Meanwhile a few dedicated souls were working on preparation
of our evening feast – a spaghetti & ham dinner. After dinner we got
to the primary reason for the weekend – the surprise presentation to Mike
& Pat Dore of a VAR Landowner Recognition Award. Baltimore Grotto had
nominated the Dore’s, owners of Scott Hollow Cave, for the award. Following
the award we relaxed around fire assisted by calmer winds.