|27 OCTOBER 2004
WEDCLUB VISIT TO SILER'S CAVE
by JOEL JACOBS
Harry Sowers picked up my son Dan & I and we motored down to Siler's Cave in Berkeley County in the panhandle of West Virginia on Wednesday, October 27, 2004. We donned our gear and hiked into the woods on a barely discernable trail masked by a new layer of fallen leaves that snaked upwards through the scrubby woods. We split up, Harry following the coordinates from Davies’s “Caves of West Virginia,” Dan going further up the grade and me stumbling around looking into every depression on the forest floor.
Dan hooted from above and we gathered around the pit entrance. Harry took a new reading with his Global Satellite Positioning hand set. According to his device, the "corrected" Siler’s coordinates in degrees seconds and minutes are 39 30 54.0 and 78 03 46.3, which puts the cave about 800 feet off of Davies's WV book.
We descended a jittery ladder and slid down a chute into a little room divided by an imposing, slatted metal wall that contained the gate. It was supposed to be locked, but it was not. Perhaps the last visitors had trouble reaching the tricky hasp for the lock which is blind from the entrance side. It was designed that way to make it impossible to break the lock from the outside.
We pushed open the hinged door, crawled through and set the key in a spot unreachable from the outside, but easy to retrieve for us. We studied the map for the first of many times in the cave and determined a route that would take us to the most places in the time we had to spend there. We were determined to get to the York Section in the back of the cave since many members of the York Grotto were listed as surveyors.
The cave is 7,243 feet long, a complex maze, which should never be explored without a map or some method of marking the way. Harry recounted he had used a ball of string as a teenager some forty years ago. We used a set of reflector sticks with numbers to denote a few intersections.
The entire cave seems to have spent some time embedded in silt as every square inch of passage is shaded in the same brown as the color of the mud on the floor. Beneath this layer is the sparkling white of calcite, which is evident in a few places that may have been cleansed by the scraping of boots or some sharp object. There are a few formations. On 13 foot tall column sprouts up in the middle of a passage. Flowstone covers the walls in surprising places. The phreatic origination of the cave is clear to see in the imposing sculpted structures that present themselves throughout.
It is possible to believe, when poking around this multiple passaged cavern, that you are in the burrow of some manic, outsized rodent, who for no reason at all, dug tunnel after interconnecting tunnel just to prove he could. It is fun to come upon all these branching tubes, the only down side being when your imagination allows you to think what would happen, if you met the whimsical beast who constructed them.
We visited the Pool Room, the Tire Passage, Dick’s Rock, the Fault Room, Bob’s Section and finally checked out the area our fellow grotto members surveyed between 1978 and 1980. It took us 25 minutes to go straight out from the farthest point we had achieved, picking up our markers along the way.
Siler’s cave is protected by the Sligo Grotto and managed by its chairman, Jim McConkey. We noticed no trash and no recent vandalism as a result of their efforts.
We signed the log, locked the gate and climbed into the diamond bright sunlight of a beautiful, late October day. We were sweating in our cave suits by the time we made it back down to Harry’s vehicle. The three of us agreed that this would be a perfect cave for a grotto trip. We could bring novices along because there is little exposure yet some challenging scurries and crawls in a cave that is big enough to handle several parties at once.