By Bill Walker
Photos: Brian Williams
I used to be an active caver when I lived in Florida, and I thought that when I moved to Virginia I’d be just as active. I only live about an hour away from the world class caves of the Virginias, but for some reason I never seem to go caving now that I’m here. Brian Williams, another relocated Florida caver, knew of a trip over Memorial Day weekend, so we jumped on the opportunity to get underground.
We met up with a great bunch of cavers from the Blue Ridge Grotto in Roanoke, and then made a short road trip over to Culverson Creek Cave in West Virginia. Besides Brian and me, trip members included Susan Burr, Doug Feller, Pat Simms, Stephanie Petri, Aaron Moses, and Carl Cornett.
Culverson Creek Cave in Greenbrier County is one of the longest caves in West Virginia. This 20 mile long cave is known as the premier water
cave in the area, and for good reason: the cave drains a 50 square mile area. Giant logs wedged in the
cave ceiling 50 feet above attest to the fact that the cave takes a little water when it rains. A massive logjam 2 miles from the entrance blocks the passage. Even though most of the cave passage is large borehole, in flood conditions, this cave fills completely to the ceiling. Someone checked the weather forecast, right?
We went in through the Wildcat Entrance which is actually two entrances. One climb down leads to the Death Canyon section. The other is a culvert lined climb down which leads to the main Overflow Passage. The culvert was installed because of instability issues, and I was told “don’t touch anything when you get to the bottom.” The high water flow of Culverson Creek makes it a very “dynamic” cave.
Here is a YouTube video that I found of a trip to the Death Canyon section, an area we didn’t go to but it shows them in the Wildcat Entrance.
The cave is mostly huge borehole with some large breakdown sections. Most everything is covered in slippery mud, which made traveling through the cave in my old, worn out Wellies a bit difficult (I would have been better equipped in roller skates.) You could see signs of high water everywhere – like tree trunks wedged in the ceiling 50 above. These weren’t little trees either. They ranged from telephone pole size on up to about 3 feet in diameter. Some were 40 feet long. The force of water in the cave is so strong that I even saw a large boulder lying on top of a rotting log.
We made our way a mile down to the “terminal” log jam, a massive jumble of trees that blocked the passage. It’s absolutely incredible to think that these trees made their way here down 2 miles of huge borehole cave passage. I think the cave might continue on here, but it effectively stopped our hardcore tourist trip in its tracks. We turned around and made our way back past the Wildcat Entrance, following the
stream to the main Culverson Creek entrance. Just before we got to the entrance, the floor dropped out of the bottom of the passage and the creek turned into a large pool. Swimming in a cave is normally not a problem, but there was a lot of organic matter floating in this water – mostly limbs, leaves, and beer cans but I imagine there’s a carcass or two floating in there as well. It was one of those swims where you have to keep your mouth closed and hope that your tetanus shot is up to date. Stephanie later joked that she was going to start a course of antibiotics just in case.
The entrance is blocked by
a logjam, but there is a small hole in the pile that allows access in and out of the cave. After climbing through the middle of the pile we were greeted by warm sunshine. The Culverson Creek Entrance is spectacular. The creek cuts steeply down through a ravine and enters the cave at the base of a 100+ foot high cliff. We sat in the warm creek for a while and hoped
it would wash all the pathogens off of our cave suits. We walked back through gorgeous West Virginia pastures and were met by a herd of horses at the cars. It was a great day to be underground in West Virginia; I just wouldn’t want to be in Culverson Creek when it was raining.