Perseverance Dome, located near the southern end of Hellhole in Germany Valley WV, has been successfully climbed using direct aid techniques. The dome measures 526' to the lip of a ledge near the top, and 533' to the anchor at ceiling level. This makes it the 3rd tallest vertical shaft in the US, and the climb is the longest yet done in the Western Hemisphere, surpassing Kansas Twister in Lechuguilla Cave (410') and Topless Dome in Tumbling Rock Cave (396').Discovery
Following the connection of Shoveleater Cave to Hellhole in 2010, Diggers Hall camp was established to help facilitate exploration of the southern end of Hellhole. This area has several active streams, airflow that can be easily felt in borehole passage, and many excellent leads. In January, 2011 the team of Bob Alderson, Yvonne Droms, and Mark Minton pushed through a tight crawl and discovered the 30' diameter Ecstasy Avenue, and beyond they found the even more impressive Perseverance Hall that is 100' high and wide. At the far end of Perseverance Hall they came to the edge of a dome/pit that was about 80' in diameter. From the ledge it turned out to be 50' to the bottom of the pit, and more passage was found on the other side, but the top of the dome was not visible even with the brightest lights. A shower of water droplets and mist obscured the view beyond about 100'. Initial Climbing Trip, November, 2011
The aid climb began during a camp with Aaron Moses belayed by Abby Hohn. He climbed the first 50-60' from the ledge up an overhanging wall to a relatively vertical section.2012 Convention Pre and Post Camps - June, 2012
Pete Johnson and I both planned to travel to WV from Colorado to attend convention. Pete had spent several years involved in project work with GVKS and had participated in several notable climbs in Cass and Memorial Day Caves with Aaron before moving to Denver. He contacted Aaron and got us an invitation to join in continuing the PDome climb. This was just a few weeks after completing Kansas Twister with James Hunter, and there was some excitement that PDome might be the tallest in WV, so it sounded like a great next project. Aaron had some last minute conflict, so Pete and I made up the team the first weekend. Mark and Vonny took us from camp out to the dome where we climbed Aaron's fixed rope and continued the lead. I climbed 30-40 feet using removable bolts, but these were so difficult to clean that we went back to traditional wedge bolts on future trips. We returned Sunday morning where Pete climbed another 30-40 feet and stopped just short of what looked like a possible ledge. I returned to camp the following weekend and got a belay from Vonny, but the climbing didn't last long when our single battery quickly drained. I was only able to drill 7 placements for 30' of progress. We did reach an alcove that provided a nice place to belay, and surpassed an elevation of 170', but we could still not see the top.May, 2013
Returning to continue the climb was delayed by geography, scheduling conflicts, and a workplace injury that took some time for Pete to recover. We were joined by John Groh and planned to spend 3 days to allow enough time to finish the climb ... yeah, right. Pete took the first lead, which turned into a slimy mud-fest, and the fissure we were following narrowed forcing Pete to descend and lose 20 hard-fought feet of progress. I took the next lead with John belaying and was forced to make a long traverse through the main shower of water to clean rock on the far side. I was soaked after 2 minutes, but it took 15 minutes to make it to the other side. The hardest part was trying to clean quick draws and hangers from the long traverse when returning to the alcove. The next couple of pitches were probably the best of the climb as we went straight up a vertical wall with clean, good-quality rock. We finished at what we figured was the 280' level and the top was still not visible. We were discouraged about not finishing the climb, but excited by the fact that this was likely to be not only the highest dome/pit in WV, but probably all of the Virginias.November, 2013
Pete and I flew to DC and planned to spend 4 days in the cave. Surely this would be enough time to finish the climb. We traveled to camp with Mark and Vonny, who were working on finishing their own climb. Pete and I headed out to the dome, which takes some motivation after a long, hard trip to camp. The commute was getting longer as our high point moved further up the wall. We were far enough above the belay alcove that we were running short of rope, so we were forced to do a couple of hanging belays. The next 50' of climbing was pretty muddy and the rock quality was poor. I was forced to scrape off 2-3" of surface mud and then search for bands of better rock. All of the mud then fell onto Pete who was belaying directly below. On the second day Pete took the lead and traversed into a slot that avoided the mud problem, but the rock quality continued to be poor. I took the next pitch and after only 20' climbed into a narrow alcove that had a ledge large enough for both of us, so we set a good anchor and moved the belay. This alcove is at the 360' level, and the top was still not visible. We were tired, and our gear was so coated in mud that it was hard to recognize any of it, but on the 3rd day we put in two more 50' pitches and left a two-bolt anchor at our high point. Yet again, we were unable to finish, having run out of static rope, bolts, batteries, and will-power, but we could now see the flat bedding plane of the dome's ceiling. My Disto couldn't get a reading, but we estimated another 100' remained.April, 2014
Pete and I entered the cave with drill, batteries, bolts, quick draws, and 300' of static rope, determined to finally finish the project. Others would be coming in the next day, but we had to split most of the gear between the two of us. After dropping off camp gear, and spending some time relocating our motivation, we headed out to the dome and ascended to the upper alcove. Pete took the first lead, and after 45' of progress in horribly wet and muddy conditions, the drill quit working. He gave me the bad news when he got back to the belay. The drill was dripping with mud, and it was running through every vent hole. Pete was shivering, so we bagged the drill and headed for camp with the hope that we could conduct some sort of field repair. The next morning we cleaned mud from the drill, dried it over the flame of the camp stove, and cleaned the battery contacts. To our relief it fired back up. We headed back out to the dome and I continued beyond the high point. The drill quickly became saturated and quit again. We found that by removing and reinstalling the battery, the protection circuit would reset long enough to place another bolt, but this had to be repeated for every placement. The lead rope ran short, so one more hanging belay was needed. The final couple of placements were slung natural features in the flowstone curtain the protected the top. There's a ledge at the top and an anchor was placed in the ceiling. There are a couple of poor looking leads that will require a technical traverse to explore, but these were left for another day. We surveyed our way back down the climb with a DistoX, and replaced a few key anchors and rebelay bolts with stainless steel.
It's disappointing that there aren't better leads at the top, but it's amazing to be a part of exploring a dome/pit of this magnitude. This climb, like virtually everything we do underground, was a team effort. The GVKS is probably the most skilled and accomplished group of project cavers in the US and they are exploring one of the most amazing caving areas in the world. They have a culture that's breeding an amazing number of world-class cavers. I'd like to thank everyone in the project for pushing SEC to expand the system, establishing a great camp, showing amazing generosity in lending us camp gear, providing a field house to operate from, lending us drills, batteries, bolts, and other climbing hardware, helping Sherpa the gear we needed into the cave, and otherwise supporting and encouraging this climb.
Three legends of Mexican caving in Diggers Hall camp - Mark Minton, Bill Steele, Bill Stone
Aiding above the first belay alcove.
John Groh ascending a fixed line in the lower part of the dome.
John Groh belays Pete Johnson during the May, 2013 trip.