Sinnett Cave in 1956

My First Caving Trip, 28 October 1956

Last Update: 2 November 2006

In September 1956 I arrived at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as an incoming first-year student. I had been to Luray Caverns with my family but I had never been in a wild cave. My interest had been piqued by an article about caves in The Washington Post a few months earlier and I had spent some time as a child exploring the storm sewers in Falls Church, where I grew up.

At some point I learned of the UVa Cave Club, which was my entry into the world of caves. The first meeting of the season was on 25 September in Madison Hall. I believe the club ran a beginners trip to Breathing Cave soon thereafter, which I was unable to attend for reasons long forgotten. The second trip that fall was to Sinnett Cave on Sunday 28 October. Despite being on a very tight budget, I was sufficiently certain of my continuing interest in caving to buy a used MSA Comfo Cap from a member of the club so that I would not have to use one of the club-owned soft caps with a lamp bracket. This is the only caving hard hat I have ever used. I had jeans and work shoes but no jacket suitable for caving so I had to buy that as well. I still use that jacket today, though I have been through several others over the years. A carbide lamp borrowed from the club completed the outfit.

Cave Club trips usually met at the University Diner at 6 a.m., and I imagine that was the case for this one. I don’t recall the name of anyone on that trip. There were several with some caving experience and several more like me, eager neophytes, perhaps 8 or 9 in all, possibly more. We piled into a couple of cars and headed west on US 250 for the two hour drive. We crossed the Blue Ridge, went through Waynesboro and Staunton, then over Shenandoah and Bullpasture Mountains to McDowell. Turning north on route 654, we went through Doe Hill, crossed into West Virginia, and turned left at Moyers for a half mile or so to the cave entrance.

US 250 was a two-lane road except on the Blue Ridge, where it was three lanes. The section west of Churchville, while still two lanes in 2006, has been greatly widened and the curves eased over the years. Route 654 was paved but very narrow and rough. It turned to dirt at the WV line but was well graded and much wider and smoother than in VA. There was a narrow wooden bridge across the creek that runs past the cave entrance. Staunton was interesting in that US 11 and 250 joined briefly and went through a two-lane underpass under the C&O Railway. Imagine all of today’s traffic on those roads plus I-81 negotiating a two-lane underpass!!

The cave made a lasting impression. We went upstream to the waterfall. We were told about recent discoveries of passage beyond but did not go there. We climbed up the Silo to the Big Room. Wow! We saw bats and a few formations but the cave is not highly decorated. We also climbed some of the other fissures leading from the entrance passage up to the Big Room. After leaving the cave some of us climbed up an incredibly steep hillside to locate Thorn Mountain Cave for a future trip. I was ready for another trip as soon as possible. That happened three weeks later when I visited Stratosphere Balloon Cave, another small cave nearby, and Schoolhouse Cave as far as the Jumping Off Place. Two weeks after that I went to Crossroads Cave in Bath County, VA, and my caving career was underway.