Baltimore Grotto Swine & Dine May 2002

by Bob Robins

Mary Anne and I arrived, with our son Ken, at the Friars Hole Cave Preserve late on Friday night May 24, 2002 to participate in the Baltimore Grotto’s annual Swine & Dine event. Since it was already late, we quickly set up camp in the “family area” near the gate and bedded down after a short trip down the road to see what else was going on.

Upon waking up early on Saturday, we decided to have a relatively low impact caving day by heading to Snedegars and doing the connection from the Upper North Entrance to the Saltpeter Entrance. While we were getting organized, we ran into Kevin Mulligan who was planning to go along with Drew on a trip to Norman Cave. As we talked, Kevin decided that since he had not seen Drew and it was getting late, he would jump ship and come along with us. We all drove down to the camping area and got into our cave gear. While we were getting ready I ran into Rick Orben and Mark Gardas, some Northern New Jersey Grotto folks that I know from the Germany Valley Karst Survey. They were down with two others planning to work on a dig off the North Stream Entrance and I spent some time with Rick at the map posted by the campground discussing their dig.

We finally got ourselves suited up and headed into the North Stream Entrance to take a look at the main stream passage before doing our connection trip. We made our way downstream in reasonably large passage with occasional ducks, squeezes and logjams, as far as a fourteen-foot horseshoe shaped waterfall that effectively blocked further progress with some serious climbing. There was a ledge on the right wall that appeared to offer a route down, but it was sufficiently narrow and exposed that none of us felt like attempting it. As we headed back out we could hear voices and soon encountered part of the digging party coming out on a resupply trip, emerging from a small hole in the wall at stream level.

We continued on out and reentered the cave through the Upper North Entrance, which none of the rest of my group had even noticed on the way in. We were anticipating a bit of challenging route finding to get through the Saltpeter Maze, but found our way fairly easily, following a strong breeze most of the way. Not realizing how far we had come, we emerged from a short climb and ran into a cast of thousands, including many kids, coming in from the Saltpeter Entrance to find the saltpeter works. In the ensuing confusion we soon found ourselves wandering down the Snedegars main passage without realizing we had left the Saltpeter Maze area.

Mary Anne and Kevin wanted to see the saltpeter workings so, once we regained our bearings, we reentered the Saltpeter Maze to try to find our way down to the wooden troughs we had seen last year. We wandered around for a while, but started looking too far in and missed the area we were looking for so we wandered out into the main passage again to regroup. At that point Ken decided to go out and take a nap in the van, and the rest of us headed back into the Saltpeter Maze one more time. This time I found the correct climb down to the area with the troughs and we spent some time wandering around the nearby passages.

One passage had a small stream, probably the water source for the miners, which we followed to a waterfall in a narrow canyon. Once again the climb looked a bit more challenging than we felt up to so we retraced our route back to the main passage and continued further into the cave. The next side passage was where the main stream from the North Entrance enters the Amphitheatre. We walked up the passage and quickly encountered the high, horseshoe shaped waterfall we had seen from the top early in our trip. From the bottom it still looked like a challenging climb – getting up to the ledge was fairly easy but the narrow, sloping ledge kept us in the “rather crawl than fall” camp. We learned later that a hardy few of the large group we encountered earlier had climbed the waterfall to exit via the North Stream Entrance.

Having accomplished all of our rather limited objectives for the day, we exited the cave through the Saltpeter Entrance and returned to the cars with plenty of time to relax and position ourselves for the big Swine & Dine feed. A hearty dinner of salad, pork, beef, chicken, baked potatoes and pie ala mode – accompanied by age appropriate beverages – revived us enough to start thinking about what we should do on Sunday. Since Kevin had skipped the trip to Norman Cave, we thought that might be a good candidate. We talked to Drew, who gave us directions to the cave, and some hints on negotiating the front section. Drew also mentioned that Dwight Livingston was planning to go to Norman, so we promptly looked up Dwight and talked him into taking on our crew as well.

The next morning Mary Anne and I arose before 8:00 and were soon joined by Kevin to share some morning coffee. We let Ken sleep in till 9:30 figuring that Dwight and his family would be awhile getting up and organized. Around 10:30, with no signs of imminent action from Dwight’s campsite, we wandered up to prod him along. He directed us to track down Hank Ratrie who it turned out would be our co leader for a trip that quickly grew to a total of thirteen. Eventually everyone was organized and we left Friars Hole for Norman Cave. The trip was uneventful except for Hank’s right rear tire going flat along the way. When we got Hank’s attention and told him about it he decided to drive the last mile to the garage near the cave parking area and he and Dwight quickly changed the tire (I was told Hank has a lot of experience changing flats).

By the time Hank came down to the parking area, most of us were changed and ready to start up so we began trickling up the hill to the entrance. Once we were all together, we entered the cave around noon and started down the steep breakdown slope. Before we entered the breakdown crawl around the waterfall, Hank did a head count to make sure we had everyone. As we emerged near the base of the waterfall we had an opportunity to get a good look at the water cascading down. We started off down the stream passage trying to keep our feet dry, but it wasn’t too far before we had to enter knee-deep water. Having heard Drew’s story the night before about one of his crew stepping into a hole and getting soaked, we all obediently followed the leader past the hole, staying near the right wall.

Continuing downstream, we were sometimes walking in a shallow stream with occasional pools a few times soaked us above the knees, and at other times crossing sandbars or climbing up breakdown around the stream passage, only to rejoin it after a short distance. We made several stops along the way to let everyone catch up, grab a snack or change carbide or batteries, giving everyone an equal opportunity to get cold. Finally we made one last climb up from the stream, having arrived at the climb up to our goal for this trip, the Great White Way.

The Great White Way is a comfortable walking passage with white encrustations covering much of the lower half of the walls, often tracing interesting patterns of intersecting lines and loops. In at least one case a longer crystal could be seen curving out from the wall, but generally the crystals making up the crust were fairly short. Sporadic clusters of helictites appeared along the way, providing some variety. The length of the passage and its relatively flat floor were in many ways as interesting as the formations seen along the way. Near the end, a moderate crawl led to another cluster of crystals and helictites, though only a few of the group bothered with the crawl.

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