Donaldson Cave is located in Berkeley County, West Virginia, about three miles northeast of Hedgesville.
Donaldson is a small (about 760 feet), mostly horizontal cave, but it contains a little bit of everything except sections that require ropes. It won’t challenge an experienced caver, but it’s an excellent introductory cave because it contains enough novice challenges to be interesting, but not enough to be daunting.
The entrance goes into a downward-sloping room about 20 feet wide, 50 feet long, and 8-10 feet high. A climb-down on the left side of room the leads to a side passage with some formations. (A hand-line may be helpful at the climb-down).
At the bottom of the entrance room, a passage leads to the right (north) and comes into another room after about 50 feet. The lower part of this connecting passage frequently has water in it and is often flooded during wet weather. The room it leads to slopes up to the right (east) and there is an opening at the top that leads down to a passage with a few formations. At the bottom of the climb-down into the passage there is a rather small route over breakdown that leads over a large rock into a passage that goes south and quickly leads back to the north side of the entrance room just inside the gate.
The cave was obviously used as a dump in the past because there are many small pieces of broken glass and other debris in the entrance room. Feel free to bring a few pieces of the broken glass out with you. One old artifact is a metal barrel that was dug out of the mud in the bottom of the cave after the cave was gated. The barrel won’t fit through the gate and attempts to smash it into a smaller profile have proven unsuccessful.
Little is known about the discovery and early exploration of Donaldson, but the land containing the cave was destined to be subdivided into residential building lots in the late 1990s. Through the efforts of several cavers, especially Dave West, the property owner decided to donate the entrance and a small parcel of land around it to the West Virginia Cave Conservancy. One stipulation was that the cave would have to be gated, primarily to keep kids out after the expected houses were built in the area. The gate was constructed in 2003. It is designed to allow bats to easily get through, although only a few bats have ever been noted in the cave.
Donaldson Cave is open to non-commercial visitors who are properly equipped (hardhat and multiple light sources). Since the cave is gated, anyone interested in vising needs to contact the Cave Manager to obtain the current combination to the lock on the gate. His name and contact information is listed at the end of this paper. Use of the cave by commercial “cave for pay” operators is strictly forbidden. If you paid someone to lead you in the cave, you and that person are trespassing.
The entrance is in a shallow sink about eight feet deep. The cave’s gate is clearly visible as you come to the sink. The lock is rather awkward to access, but there’s a trick: Lie on your back and use a flashlight to illuminate the four numbers on the lock’s dial. Set the numbers to the combination and juggle it to open it. Change the numbers and push the clock closed to relock it. Lock yourself in the cave while you are there and be sure to relock the gate when you leave. (Yep, you might get a little dirty opening the lock, but you are going caving so a little early dirt won’t be noticed later).
There is no space to park on the small parcel of land that contains the cave. The best parking option is to park next to the small cemetery at the intersection of Little Georgetown Road and B&O Overpass Road. It’s only a few hundred feet to the cave entrance from the parking area.
Assuming the cave isn’t flooded, there are no unusual hazards in Donaldson Cave aside from the usual cave hazards (slippery rocks, ceilings to bump heads on, a few tight spaces, etc.). There is no flowing water in the cave so when it is flooded the water is just pooled (and often crystal clear). It appears that the local water table is rather high and the water level in the cave simply follows it.
This cave, like all West Virginia caves, is a fragile and protected resource. Anyone caught damaging the cave in any way is subject to criminal prosecution. The West Virginia Cave Protection Act (West Virginia Code – Chapter 20, Article 7A-1 through 7A-6) reads in part:
§20-7A-2. Vandalism; penalties.
It is unlawful for any person, without express, prior, written permission of the owner, to willfully or knowingly:
(a) Break, break off, crack, carve upon, write, burn or otherwise mark upon, remove, or in any manner destroy, disturb, deface, mar or harm the surfaces of any cave or any natural material therein, including speleothems;
(b) Disturb or alter in any manner the natural condition of any cave;
(c) Break, force, tamper with or otherwise disturb a lock, gate, door or other obstruction designed to control or prevent access to any cave, even though entrance thereto may not be gained.
Any person violating a provision of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than one hundred fifty dollars nor more than five hundred dollars, and in addition thereto, may be imprisoned in the county jail for not less than ten days nor more than six months.
The person to contact to get the combination to the gate lock is Bob Bennett. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his phone number is 304-821-4621
If you visit Donaldson, please be nice to the cave and leave it unaltered for future visitors.
(This paper was prepared July 1, 2014, by Bob Hoke)