Kentucky Caving: Dead?

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Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby GroundquestMSA » Sep 7, 2013 4:29 pm

A recent drive through central Kentucky got me wondering about the current state of KY caving. It might be my imagination, even more likely my lack of connections, but it seems that caving news out of Kentucky is relatively scarce. Having been told that western VA was "caved out," before going on to find virgin and undocumented caves there, I wonder if Kentucky is assumed to be "caved out" too. If not, and perhaps even if so, I'm interested in picking a region of KY to try and start some new projects. If any of you cavers can give me some insight, I'd be tickled.

The Carter County karst region is relatively small, with pretty thorough coverage by cavers and limited potential. It's the closest to me, and the most familiar.

I've caved a little bit in Rockcastle and Pulaski counties, and read a ton of old Sloans & Surrounding trip reports. Other than that, I don't know much. The entire balance of Kentucky karst is pretty much unknown to me. Is there an area with cave potential that has been less thoroughly scoured? How are landowner relations in the major caving regions? I have very much enjoyed the books dealing with WV counties published by WVACS, are there any similar publications that could help me get a handle on KY karst? Besides original discovery, is there much potential for productive caving due to incomplete, inadequate, or lost data? Thanks for any responses and also for all of the education I've received from you folks over the past few years.

-J
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Chads93GT » Sep 8, 2013 3:24 pm

Join the KSS for starters. There are a lot of survey projects going on in Kentucky.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Scott McCrea » Sep 8, 2013 4:33 pm

Dead? No. Most of the big walk-in entrances may have been found. But, diggers and ridgewalkers will find the next big thing.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby GroundquestMSA » Sep 8, 2013 6:37 pm

Chads93GT wrote:Join the KSS for starters. There are a lot of survey projects going on in Kentucky.


I've been looking at the KSS site. I'm planning to send them the survey of the little pit we did last weekend. I'm most interested in starting my own projects instead of joining them. What are the benefits of KSS membership? Is there access to data that could suggest good ridgewalking territory?
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Chads93GT » Sep 8, 2013 8:24 pm

Are you on Facebook? I can hook you up with someone if so. He is a great guy. Josh Brewer.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby GroundquestMSA » Sep 8, 2013 8:35 pm

Nosir. I've so far resisted such conformity :big grin:
You could send him my email address... I'll pm it to you.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby shibumi » Sep 12, 2013 11:36 am

Kentucky caving is quite active, just not talked a lot about. I'm involved with several projects and have way more caving than I have time for. I know of several other projects that are always looking for new people. One problem is that the big systems are at the point where the level of caving skill and ability needed limits a lot of the newer cavers, but there's still tons of stuff around for everyone.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Cody JW » Sep 23, 2013 3:38 pm

I have caved in Indiana, Kentucky and TAG for over 30 years and I find Kentucky a different animal. Maybe I just got spoiled by the openness of TAG cavers in general . I find it much harder to get info on Kentucky as the project cavers may not be as open with info to the general caving community. Possible I may have it all wrong or just not connected to the "right " people. For a state with the resources Kentucky has I do not see much published. I compare that to the project caving going on in Indiana's Binkley Cave( currently at 37 miles) where anyone can get on an e mail list for weekly updates and project cavers will customize trips to suit the ability of anyone who wishes to participate. A very open and transparent project.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby GroundquestMSA » Sep 23, 2013 4:01 pm

Cody JW wrote:...I find Kentucky a different animal. Maybe I just got spoiled by the openness of TAG cavers in general . I find it much harder to get info on Kentucky as the project cavers may not be as open with info to the general caving community. Possible I may have it all wrong or just not connected to the "right " people. For a state with the resources Kentucky has I do not see much published.


I have a lot less experience than you, but I'm getting the same feeling about KY. I've been doing some stuff in WV lately, and it is very easy to get involved in projects or just to get information on caves for recreational use. Respected cavers in WV, VA, and TN have provided me with dozens of cave locations in their states, and the published material for these states also provides a good basis for anyone who wishes to look for new caves. I've been able to squeeze one KY cave location out of KY cavers. The rest I've found on my own. I agreed to help on a KY survey project last year, but the trip fell through due to lack of support. It was a wet, miserable project, which I suppose is the reason help was actively sought. It's an interesting subculture. Residual secrecy from the old KY cave wars? According to some.

I must say that a few cavers have contacted me with KY information in response to this thread, and I've made some good contacts and have a couple of prospects for meaningful Kentucky caving. Thanks for the help guys.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Roppelcaver » Sep 23, 2013 7:45 pm

I think the real reasons have less to do with old habits of secrecy and more with the ways things seem to work. I am only speaking from my experience in the caves in and around Mammoth Cave (eastern Kentucky is very different).

Some observations over many years:

Unlike many cave areas with lots of caves, there are a dearth of caves open for general sport caving. There just are not a lot of caves (beyond the mega-project caves) of significant lenght. You have a few large ones (totalling over 600 miles), and a bunch of FROs (For the record only). This seems odd when looking at the number of caves in Tennessee and elsewhere that have a significant enough length to make caving in those places full of variety.

There is a lot of crummy passages in the Mammoth Cave area. As a rule, many of the small ones are largely terrible (One cave we have worked "is a cave comprised totally of obstacles" -- James Wells, credit). Another is a three hour water crawl to get in that is a death trap if the weather even thinks of rain. etc.

All of us in the area know each other and do cross projects occassionally. But, for the most part we stick with our own projects which makes us de facto isolationists. A cave project draws it members from all over, so there is not usually an opportunity to socialize the project among other cavers. We are not adverse to new cavers, and welcome them, but it is not as easy as that...

Project Cave trips are long and hard, and require "big cave" techniques. People move fast, have learned to be efficient, and know the cave well enough to economize on energy. For the unpracticed, it appears like a sprint. Parties get strung out for the sake of efficiency (avoids clogging up at obstacles) and can operate as an independent unit during travel (although we always adhere to the concept of the strong trailer to push people along, and we keep tabs on those behind, pausing as we pass obstacles to ensure the party member behind us is okay).

Trips are an enormous investment and we are are weary of the unknown, new person who might sink the trip. When folks fly in, drive tremendous distances, and assemble that "crack" team for some far flung objective, they are risk adverse. New people are a risk. Sounds arrogant, I know, but that is the way it is. We have less patience than we should for developing new people, but we do try. When you are miles into the cave traveling to an objective with just the right party with just the right conditions, an abort is expensive and we avoid it.

Yes, we are a little secretive. Our caves are gated, we guard our data carefully, and are aware of all maps that go out. Fortunately for our paranoid sakes, the enormity of the cave is its best protection. Hardly anyone is going to blunder into our leads unless they know where they are going. They are too complicated

I think our "closedness" is somewhat justified. For many of these projects, they have been a significant part of our lives and we want to protect it. Allowing open visitation creates headaches for owners and they might close the cave (and shut down our life's investment). And, these caves are somewhat fragile and don't hold up to lots of visitation well. In Roppel, we still have single file foot trails that have endured for 35 years due to close attention to who goes in.

Most of us have websites or social media pages, and generally welcome interested people to have access. All of us welcome cavers that can contribute, and I know many of us have parts of the project that serve many levels of caving skills. At Roppel, there is cartography activity close to the entrances, and is a great training ground for aspiring project cavers.

We all wince at the idea of recreational caving in our project caves, and we all worry about messing up our projects if we have too many people running around.

Unarguably getting new project cavers is a good investment, but we are arguably not as atuned to making the investment as we should or could. I know we have never turned anyone away that has wanted to step up to participate. We could be guilty of being slow, but rarely, if ever, do we say no.

On a more light note, reliving the cave wars seemed to be the order of the day in the 80s -- Mammoth/Roppel Connection intrigue, Roppel getting within a stone's throw of Fisher Ridge (300-400 feet), "competition" for caving territory, secret meetings among rival cave projects, etc. For good and bad (mostly good), this stuff has moved to the dustbin of history. We have grown up some, and maybe the stakes are differnt. Nowadays, we all just work our projects, share an occasional barbeque, share our knowledge. And we keep finding cave!

Kecntucky Caving dead? No, absolutely not. It just is not there for all to see, but it is there for those who want to look and are persist a little bit.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Cody JW » Sep 23, 2013 9:02 pm

I get your jest Roppel Caver. I was not really referring to getting in on project trips in Roppel/Mammoth or Fisher Ridge. I am well aware of long ongoing projects in big caves such as those. What I speak of is when someone is looking at old Speleofest guidebooks and want to find out current info on access to things. It is hard to get any info like that for Kentucky stuff but seems to be easy in TAG and Indiana by comparison. I have to respectfully disagree with you on your claim of there not being much out side of the monster caves, I know better. Maybe not other 20 plus mile long systems but there are many caves of reasonable length that as far as I know are not currently being worked . Also, several years back I had found some caves in eastern Kentucky (Wayne County) and was not sure if what I found was already known or mapped. I contacted KSS and others who I had known were working area's like that and could not get any info. In this case I already knew where the cave was (so i was not an outsider looking for locations) but was not aware of any known caves in that particular area and just wanted to find out . Over the last few decades I had heard others with the same opinion. I will have to take this chance to say Kentucky is not the worst from my experience. Hawaii has that title locked up. I had vacationed in Hawaii 6 times over the last two decades. All of my trips were with my non caving wife. All my trips were planned months ahead of time. Prior to each trip, I had gone through The NSS Members Manual and had attempted to contact many cavers on the various islands I had visited in an attempt to get in on a caving trip one day I was there. After contacting many NSS members I never received the first offer to cave in a wild cave.I did once get a recommendation on a commercial cave . In all cases i explained who I was and my decades of caving experience in Indiana , Kentucky and TAG and never got any offers from anyone to cave with them as I was with my wife who does not cave so I would of had to of found someone local if I wanted to cave at all. In all cases I had locations of many caves ,just no one to cave with. I ended up taking the day and going on solo hikes and getting photo's of entrances, I guess all was not lost.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Roppelcaver » Sep 24, 2013 11:18 am

I did not intend to convey that there were do decent caves outside of the big caves around Mammoth. I think I mentioned that east Kentucky, for example, is very different and has tons of great caves that are/could be accessible. I was only speaking of the Mammoth area. I include Wayne County in that mix and know that there has been some interesting politics there, too, but I have only observed from afar.

I have all sorts of theories about distributed caver populations (cave-rich areas tend to be dispersed), versus non-cave-rich areas having a social focus (grotto) that is a great catalyst for cavers (new and experienced alike). I always thought that to be a factor, but I realize Tennessee is similar (lots of caves), but is not as closed as parts of Kentucky. Shrug.

Jeff, sorry about your lack of traction in getting caves lined up to visit. I think it is not an overt thing for the most part, but can't speak specifically about your situation.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby GroundquestMSA » Sep 24, 2013 4:00 pm

Jim, thanks for your input. I've read all of your posts on this forum and it's clear that you have very strong feelings about the goings on in Roppel. If I were in your position, having spent decades on a cave, I wouldn't be very interested in looking for new help, or in accomodating sport cavers. Everything is comfortable and under control and you want to keep it that way. I wondered about your feelings on the matter when I read an NSS News article some months back containing a sport trip report from Roppel. However, your particular situation with Roppel can't illustrate the reasons for a statewide culture of inhospitableness, can it? How many of these big projects; requiring only the best, fastest cavers with high familiarity with the cave; are there? What about the struggles Jeff describes, ones that I have shared? Again, I'm not even interested in sport caving primarily, though I'll happily take all I have time for. I want to ridgewalk and survey, not in Roppel or in Fisher Ridge, or in Mammoth, but in whatever caves have been overlooked or forgotten, no matter how scrawny and miserable they are.
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Cody JW » Sep 24, 2013 4:34 pm

I kind of disagree with the idea of project cavers having exclusive rights to any cave. Of course it is up to the landowner and what he or she say's goes. I have been on a recreational trip in Roppel and was invited back on another last week . I feel if someone can get permission from a landowner to cave somewhere a project is going on that the project cavers should have no "right" to say who goes and who does not. I am talking a recreational trip and not scooping someone else's project. Especially in a huge cave like Roppel or FRCS there should be plenty of room for everyone. I think assuming everyone has permission there can be a balance between responsible recreational caving and project caving. Look at Blue Spring Cave Tennessee. You can go there on a Saturday and sometimes it looks like a car dealership in the parking area. There is also active survey going on there. The active survey is going on in the far reaches of the cave outside of where 99% of all recreational cavers are likely to go. I do not have personal knowledge of where the survey is going on in FRCS or Roppel but I suspect it too is in the far reaches .
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Re: Kentucky Caving: Dead?

Postby Roppelcaver » Sep 24, 2013 5:48 pm

No, project cavers don't own the cave, as you point out, but project cavers may act like they do... Years and years of investment in a project creates these feeling of ownership. That is just human nature. That is why cavers but these entrances.

Groundquest MSA: we DO want more project cavers, and we welcome them, but tend to tread cautiously with unknown people. The reality is that we have plenty of new folks on our trips, having worked their way in via contacts, direct emails, recruiting, etc.

Yes, there are limited sport trips into Roppel. This is the owner's decision and he manages that, but we do work together to ensure that sensitive areas of the cave are protected. Fortunately, everyone (mostly) respects the cave and respects the survey project. The owner advocates that sport trips are recruiting tools for the survey project. I agree, although I would (personally) take a more conservative approach than he is. I have seen where sport trips have messed up some fairly sensitive stuff (even after I advised that visitation to this spot should be limited severely in this case). That's the trade off. Indeed, we have several project participants that came from these activities. Proves the point about openness. (I actively supply trip suggestions to a few folks to give the best sport caving experience possible, and also avoid sensitive parts of the cave that cannot support much travel.) But, I will admit when I am asked for leads that can be checked for fun, I don't supply info as I don't need leads explored that are not surveyed...

I can't speak about the rest of the state and the perception of openness. I will leave that to others to comment.
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