In November of 2017 I had the opportunity to make the first dive into the upstream sump of Rich Creek Cave in Monroe County, West Virginia. On the dive I explored 270′ of large passage, ending in an ascending breakdown passage. I attempted to return in June of 2018 but unfortunately the low-airspace entrance to the cave was completely sumped. After some failed attempts at freediving the short entrance sump we abandoned efforts and went caving elsewhere.
In September of 2018 I had the opportunity to return and pick up where I had left off. Joining me for this two-day effort was Jon Lillestolen, Nathan Roser, Joey O’Reilly and Tyler Baldino. Nick Shaer met us on-site and gave us the latest dye tracing and mapping efforts in the area.
Conditions were great in the cave and we made it to the sump in about a half hour. Another half hour later and I was ready to set off into the sump, prepped for big passage with two LP95’s filled to 3700psi each. I had a lot of gas. The sump descends abruptly before first leveling off at 20′ and then again at 55′. As I arrived at the 20′ level I was disappointed to see my guideline had been severed since I was last in there. I made a repair and tied in a new reel. Turning back towards the sump entrance I began ascended, thinking I had missed the way on last year. I continued up until (to my surprise) I surfaced in a large air chamber. I swam to one end and didn’t see a continuation. Coming back the other way I swam to the far end and after going under a “duck under” I was in a continuation of the room. The bottom of this room had deep water as well, and I figured this would present another diving lead. After running some line through the room I left the reel ready to go for the next day’s effort and returned into the sump. I had intended on trying to re-line my previous dive lead but instead exited due to cold and low visibility. We left my tanks and dive gear in the cave and took off for the Bat Ranch where we enjoyed a nice evening with the VPI Cave Club.
On Saturday we returned to the cave. Jon Lillestolen was to dive with me and had packed his Disto and some LP50’s for the short commute through the sump to this new air chamber. While Jon assembled his gear I set off alone with camera in hand to get some “good vis” footage of the sump before we started working in it. I also went back to the dive lead at the far end of the new room and moved my reel another 30′ into that lead before realizing I had no zip-ties readily available to secure the line to my silt-stake. I decided to just leave the reel there, I’ll be back soon enough and will just pick it up and go! This lead is trending back towards the entrance to the sump and there was no discernible flow. I suspect it may just be part of a large room to which the air chamber is the top, and the bottom is where I had come from (just 100′ over).
Jon was in the air chamber by the time I made it back. We found a good ledge to stow the gear and took our tanks off. More mobile with less equipment, we spent about 2hrs surveying and exploring the new air chamber. Jon made a scramble up one part of the room but soon had to abandon efforts due to passage size. A notable feature of this room- we could hear the sherpas from the entrance of the sump! Someone will need to do some climbing and confirm this connection. When Jon and I were done surveying we dove out in some pretty low visibility and exited the cave.
Special thank you to our sherpas who carried gear: Nathan Roser, Joey O’Reilly and Tyler Baldino. Special special thank you to Jon Lillestolen for showing me the simple side of dry cave survey!