Two years ago I began the planning of this dive. The planning was done within a week or two, but working out the schedule was another story. My dive buddy Shane Keller is a busy man, as am I. But now, two years later, we got it done. During my planning I searched maps, as usual, for the shortest route to get us to this dam. According to my original post, we would have to hike a little over 3 miles in from Rt. 183. This is a tough hike, even without gear, with gear… miserable, and requiring 2 trips. So I had to find a better way. You will also notice, from that original post, that I really didn’t know a lot about this dam, as it seems from my time online and contacting people, that not too many do. The information is scattered and a seemingly much forgotten part of history, which is sad, because I was amazed at what I found, as well as impressed and proud of the ingenuity of some of the folks in the rural small town area the I grew up in. I grew up in Rehrersburg Pennsylvania, which will figure into this a bit, as you will see. But we will get into the history in a minute. In September of 2011, I hiked into this location from Rt. 183. This is about a 3 mile hike, perhaps 3.4 miles as I have heard, and it is a rough one toward the end. Coming down into this gap, Schubert’s gap, is steep and rocky. The climb back out is grueling if you aren’t up for it. I had already decided that I wanted to dive this pond, but had to get some details. I took my dive computer with me that day, and a length of rope/string. I wanted to get the depth and temperature of the water, so I tied the string to my dive computer, and started hurling it off of the dam to various locations, letting it settle, then reeling it back in, the whole while praying it wouldn’t get hung up on any unseen obstruction. The deepest depth that I found was 12 feet, and the water was a chilly 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Pretty cold, and not very deep. That is the temperature of a quarry that I like to dive at 90 feet, so… wow. I have the wet suit required for this though, so it’s still a go. Now.. to find a shorter route. A few weeks later, I believe we were into early October at this point, I was searching maps on google, and found that my best way in was to try to get into Arrowhead Estates. There are, what appeared to be, dirt roads that would get me close. I had already hiked a trail leading down the mountain directly below the dam, and found a dirt road with a small bridge across the creek that comes from the dam, Schubert’s Creek. There is a curious looking round building that I knew I would be able to spot on aerial maps as a point of reference. So, with maps printed and in hand, with notes marking my proposed route, I made my way back to the mountain, but this time to see how far into Arrowhead Estates I could get. Not far was my answer. This is a gated community. As luck would have it though, on that day, the gate was open. Should I chance it? I could get locked in behind that gate. Never one to let much stop me, I continued, this might be my only shot. I followed my mapped route up the mountain. The road is quite rough, but manageable if you are careful, even with a car, but I sure wish I had one of my previous four wheel drive vehicles back again. Up the road I went, up to the old Shikellamy Scout Camp and it’s lake. Around the lake to the left, then a left into the tree line, then a right, and up we go. The dirt road held, just as it looked it may on the aerial photos. Homes tucked in trees. Not permanent dwellings, but camps if you will, cabins, but not in the truest sense. They mostly look like regular homes. This community, as I was to find out later, is a part time residence for people looking to get away to the mountain on weekends, or whenever schedules permit. I continued up this road and found the curious round building. Now I had a route, but there was a legal issue. I may be trespassing for all I know. I didn’t see any signs, but you don’t have a locked gate across your road without a reason. The Arrowhead sign did say it was a private community though I believe. So after finding my way up, I turned around and made my way back down, taking note of some for sale signs on wooded lots. I sure do wish I had the money, as this is an area that I have spent a lot of time in my life, and would love to have a place up here. Nevertheless, it was time to get out before the gate was closed and locked, if it wasn’t already. Cringe. Back down the hill, past all the homes I wish I could have a home up the road from, around the old scout camp lake, down the rest of the way and….. the gate is still open. Relief. I passed through, and then parked off to the left. There is a community bulletin board that I wanted to look over and see what information I could glean from it. I got out of the car, and started perusing this board, when not a minute later, someone came driving down the dirt road I had just made my own escape on, and didn’t he get out and lock the gate up behind him. Wow, close call. But this was also my chance. Being the honest person I am, I admitted my trespass to him, and continued to tell him what I was looking to do. To dive in that cold pond further up the mountain. He was very friendly, welcoming even, and gave me his phone number, and informed me that he was the President of the Home Owners Association up there, and he would get me in anytime, right up to where I had wanted to launch this little ‘expedition’ from. Of all the luck! Wow. Kismet. Or something. I tend to fall butt backward into luck, I swear. But I am always grateful, and try to never take it for granted. Enjoy everything. Live a life while you have breath in your lungs. I kept this phone number, got a hold of Shane and told him my progress. We had a solid plan, now just the timing. And that’s where we were stuck. Every time it was good for one of us it wasn’t good for the other. As I said before, we are both busy fellas. There was no rush, we could get this done whenever. So as it would happen, 2 years after the initial plans were set, the chance arose. We had a weekend that lined up, just one day really. Sunday, the 18th of August, 2013 I woke around 7 am and began going through gear, sorting out just what I would need, and packing it into my car. I had gone to Hershey to the dive shop there the day before, Saturday, because I wanted to make sure I had a full tank. We would each only be bringing one tank, since the depth was so shallow it was basically a large swimming pool. But I wanted to get all the time I could and my tank was down a few hundred PSI. The dive shop is Diver’s Descent, and John Weaver (scroll to the bottom) was working that day. He took my tank back for a fill, they have 32% Nitrox banked, so it wasn’t a problem to get the fill. I told them it only needed a few hundred and that I would gladly pay for a full fill for their time. When he returned he informed me that it only took about 300 psi, and that he wouldn’t charge me for it. What a great shop!! (that’s why I included the links). I did purchase 10 lbs of weight, and of course promised that I would be back for another tank fill, they are my local shop, where else would I go. I also told him and another fella that showed up what we were up to after I was asked if I was headed to Dutch Springs for the weekend. Not sure if they found my plans interesting or crazy, but either way, I think my plans are both a little crazy and interesting, and that’s what matters. 🙂 So my car is packed, and Shane was already on his way to our meet up spot from Maryland. I met up with Shane around 11:30am, and moved his gear to my car and off we went. I had contacted the fella that I met 2 years ago, in the last few weeks, once I knew that the weather would work in our favor and that plans were still solid. I asked if he remembered me, and he did. Great news. He would also be available that day to get us in the gate. Fantastic. Charlie is a great guy, and when we called him from the gate, he headed down and let us in. He took us to his cabin, invited us inside, and then proceeded to tell us that he will be in and out all day, but he would leave a key for us to get into his place so we could shower, etc. WOW!! Talk about hospitality! He barely knows me, and he has never met Shane before. We talked about that most of the rest of the day on and off. We just couldn’t believe there are still people that kind out in the world. We though, being the sort that we are, I suppose ‘raised right’ would be a term I would use here, were absolutely not going to overstay our welcome in any way. We were so grateful that someone was willing to help us out and get us access to this great little pond. We headed the rest of the way up to, and then across, the little creek, and found a parking spot tucked in the trees. Charlie came up the road a short time later just to make sure we found our way up there, again, what a great guy. We still have an open invitation from him to come up anytime, all we have to do is let him know. I don’t use last names here often, in case you are wondering, because I don’t want people who are kind to me to be pested.
We unpacked gear and began organizing it all onto two dollies I had rented from Uhaul the day before. I wonder if they have ever had dollies rented for quite such a reason. These turned out to be more of a hindrance about 200 feet up the trail, and we abandoned the idea, and just carried all the gear in two trips, but now we were carrying dollies with us too. It didn’t take long though, and now we had all of our gear up at the dive site, almost a quarter mile straight up the mountain from the car. We had done it. All the planning. The waiting. We were here, and it was beautiful.
We did 2 dives, as I just mentioned the first was 62 minutes, the second was 37 minutes. Max depth was just shy of 12 feet, although I did see my dive computer hit 12 once. We did our first part of the first dive following each other, to look around and get an overall feel of what is in here. A few downed trees, a few fish that seemed intent on staying out of sight. It didn’t seem that there was much in there at first pass. Then we started looking a little harder at the bottom, and then it began, the search for the strangest discarded thing we could find. Shane won… hands down. He has some kind of uncanny knack for spotting the out of place that I can’t explain. The fishing pole… whole fishing pole.. was one thing, and not really out of the ordinary. Bottles, including an unopened minute made orange juice from who knows when, CO2 cartridges from BB guns, things like that. The Naval Flare was a curious object he found. But the best, and I wish I had it on film as he pulled it from the muck and we looked at each other laughing and wide eyed, was the 4 quart sauce pan. He pulled it out by the handle, it was just a block shaped thing at the end of a handle, but as he twisted his hand to spin the object, and the muck began to fall away, it revealed itself. What a laugh we had underwater on that one. I want to say that finding that pot is not so odd, but what is odd is that it is a quarter mile from the nearest very private road. It is 3-3.4 miles from the nearest public road with a clear trail to get you there. So the wonder comes from… who carried that here, and then discarded it by chucking it into the middle of this pond? He also found an entire sleeping bag, still rolled up but couldn’t remove it, and then we couldn’t find it again later. Another time perhaps. We piled our collected findings on the dam, perhaps Shane got a picture of it that I can include here, but when the day was over, we packed all of that back down to my car also and discarded in a trash can properly. On the second dive, we mostly split up, but kept an eye on each other. Shane was still on the search for that sleeping bag. I on the other hand, was after fish. There are native brown trout in this pond. Not many, but we would see them jumping occasionally, and we were told by a fella walking his dog as we were packing to head up that they were in here. I would catch glimpses, but they would dart away. I wanted some on film. I eventually located a small school of fingerlings in a few inches to a foot of water, at the upper end where Schubert’s creek enters the pond, and keeps it filled. There is a downed tree there, with all of it’s branches and trunk sections in the water. I had to swim/crawl through this tree, climbing it horizontally if you will, to get close enough for video. I was in perhaps 2-3 feet of water, but the bottom is so thick with muck that standing wasn’t possible, and to mess with the muck only stirred it up badly, so there I am with scuba gear, breathing from the tank, in knee to waist deep water. I felt a little silly, but knew it was also the only way. I would get caught up on branches, snagging my regulator hose or my tank. Back up, get untangled, and try again at a different angle. I finally made it into where they were and got a little video before the swam off. I was happy with that. Quality isn’t the best, but it’s something at least. Then we finished up, got out, changed, and hauled everything back out. And that was that. I called Charlie later that evening to thank him once again and let him know that we had safely done all that we came to do, and had gotten back out of the community. I told him of all we had found, and promised him photos and more information for him to share with his community if they were interested. I will no doubt be calling him tomorrow to get an email address, or let him know that if he wishes he can accept my friend request on FB, and I can get him the link for this page, and anything else that I would like for him to have. Now, for the history of this dam. Upon getting home, I had so many renewed questions. When was it built… why .. was it built. Why was it called the ‘power dam’ as we had called it when we were kids? I believed this to be just a name that was passed on or we had made up, since the dam does resemble something that could have been used at one time for a purpose like Hydro-electricity. Was it part of the Scout camp (Shikellamy) that is now defunct, closed and the land sold, the camp merged with one just on the other side of the mountain? Why would a scout camp want a dam such as this? The list goes on, but after a few days of talking to my uncle Harry, who has been involved in the scouts for decades, and further searches for articles, I found the truth… and I was amazed and excited to say the least. This deserves a separate article which I am linking to here. Read on if you wish to see the history, especially if you grew up in Rehrersburg, Bethel, Straustown, or Schubert PA. Links to videos that I took during the dive. Some are quite awful. My camera work was NOT on par that day, hopefully Shane’s was, but this is what I have for now if you wish to look. Getting Video of some fingerling Brown Trout, squirming through a downed tree, etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMFdAdF63A4 WARNING: Cursing in this one! Dropping into the water, gearing up. I almost fell off the backside. The dam wasn’t level at that spot. All for a dramatic entrance, we walked in after this. 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9nJ_qjzLuo Just another underwater video, I’m not even sure there is anything to see in this one, and the water was getting murky by this point. We had been cleaning up trash on the bottom, stirring the water up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dvnk3eLLEE Just another random video, shoreline at first, then me following Shane and searching the bottom. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuRY-Vy02pA Searching for trash on the bottom, Shane finds a CO2 cartridge near the shoreline. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LF4GpiRU3v0 A fella came along with his dog, named Mellow, while we were down. He never asked a single question, just watched the bubbles coming up. Then he threw a stick for Mellow to fetch, Mellow wasn’t real sure of the strange creatures in the water. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMjEspzAoIA The three of us checking out the water right after we arrived, and had hauled all of our gear up. It’s a little glitchy, sorry. I was a little tired from hauling gear, so I let YouTube correct the shakiness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1ny7ve12uQ Just a short video featuring Shane Keller, to show the clarity of the water. I think this was shortly after we got in, we may have made one lap around the pond at this point. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehaFLHKphTs And a few more photo’s that I figured I would include.
Thanks for reading, now go find your own adventure while you have air in your lungs. Every day you can take a mini vacation in your own backyard, if you’ll only look. Denny
I have searched far and wide, for a long time, years perhaps, on and off when the mood would strike me, but now I finally have the answers, and if you grew up in this area, you will find it interesting too I believe. Growing up, we use to trek up to this dam all the time, whether on bicycle, or after we could drive. We hiked in here year after year from RT. 183, a 3-3.5 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Not the easiest one either. Pennsylvania’s section of the AT is known to be one of the rockiest. I have always loved this hike though, and after pulling off this Scuba Dive ‘Expedition’, I really wanted to know more about it.
- What did I call this place in my log book?
- What is it’s history so that I could write up the dive report/article/post on this dive for my blog?
- When was it built?
- WHY.. was it built?
- By whom?
I am a curious person by nature, and I need answers to things or I simply can’t put the thought to rest. I contacted my Uncle Harry about it, since he has been involved in scouting for decades in this area. This goes back into his childhood, and he remembered the scout camp below, describing in detail how I probably got up to the dam by car. He mentioned that there were articles to be found, and that one had been written as recently as a few years ago, so off I went on Google with a renewed vigor to find the answers. He had a few details that got me started on this search, so special thanks to him! Here is what I found….
This article announces that on October 18th, a group of men will be forming a charter for a corporation to be known as the Blue Mountain Electric Company. This corporation’s character and object will be to supply light, heat and power, by means of electricity, to the public in Bethel Township, Berks County. The surprising thing, at least for me, is that it goes on to state that the power will be generated by Hydro-Electric generation, and that the water will come from a large dam at the top of the Blue Mountains. Power, heat and light will be supplied to Bethel, Millersburg, Strausstown, and Rehrersburg. It should be noted, that Millersburg is now Bethel as you can see from this map of the area from 1876. I am not sure why they named it twice in this article, perhaps a misprint? Later articles, as we shall get to, name Schubert as the 4th town to be supplied power. It then goes on to name the members of the company, which reads as an almost who’s who of family names, names we are mostly all familiar with. If you grew up in this area, you most likely have known of one, or several, of these last names. This is a short article, just a little announcement. But judging by the next write up I found, it was a huge success! And that is where the pride in our little area of the world comes into play for me.
December 8, 1907. The Reading eagle. Only 11 pages in the Sunday Edition, but it prints nearly a full page article on these 4 men and their accomplishment titled, “Blue Mountain Streams Furnish Cheap Electricity, Light and Power for Enterprising Villages in NorthWestern Berks”
Read this article, because I cannot do it justice. Here is my overall take on it though.
The first paragraph states that OUR little area was “far in advance of the average village in that they are lighted with electricity”. From Hydro-Electric power! Over 100 years ago! Amazing! Four of our towns, fairly wide spread, were all powered from that one little dam. We had green energy when it simply made sense to harness it, not as a statement. They even mention in the article that for years this resource has simply gone to waste. It goes on to say that two years ago it was announced that these men would be building this electric plant, and that basically many scoffed at the idea and “prophesied” that nothing would come of it and that it was all just talk. It was the idea of a teacher in the Electrical Engineering department of Lehigh University. His name was Stanley S. Seifert, of Strausstown Pennsylvania. He shared his plan at a meeting with several other well known names from our history in this small town area, and after a little checking into the feasibility, they agreed to the plan. They started with a capital of $8,000, the company was incorporated, and work commenced. It doesn’t state exactly when the dam itself was physically build, but from what I can gather this was done either in ’06, or ’07, as the preliminary tests were done during the summer of ’07 and it was put into full use by October of that year. My best guess is that it was built in early to mid 1907.
The dam is 120 feet long, and 22 feet high, and extends into the side of the mountain. This, to me, would explain why this dam is still so solid. It shows no signs of giving way anytime soon. It doesn’t appear to even leak. Go to the York haven Dam near York Haven Pa (it backs up the water known as lake Frederic for Three Mile Island) and look at it from the downstream side, it leaks. Now granted, the Susquehanna river does take it’s toll on that dam. The York Haven dam, but the way, was built in 1904. I only mention so as not to leave that detail dangling.
It goes on. From the dam the water is carried in eight inch steel pipes a distance of 3200 feet to the foot of the mountain where it shoots from a nozzle one and one half inches in diameter to spin a pelton water wheel 23 inches in diameter. The drop from the dam to the power station is 372 feet and can generate 75 horsepower.
The power is then distributed a distance of 10 miles to the 4 towns previously mentioned. It states that the electric plant is a success in every way and that the users of the current are loud in their praises of the conveniences they enjoy, because of the enterprise of a few of their neighbors. Some had power put in their homes, and in the local hotels. The streets were lit. The shirt factories we all remember were provided power. At the point this article was written, and remember, it was JUST after they got the service under way, there were 300 lights in Strausstown, 200 in Rehrersburg, 200 in Bethel, and 35 in Schubert (Schubert is a smaller town, little more spread out in it’s set up). It then goes on to list the various businesses, mostly shirt factories, and how many machines are now powered from this new enterprising source.
Of interest is the charges for power, I won’t go into them, read for yourself please, but they charged a flat rate per month by what you were powering. For instance, 1 downstairs 16-candle power light was 50 cents per month. If you had two of them, 40 cents each, and the rates kept dropping as such per additional light.
It concludes that many other local areas were going to watch and see how their venture turned out, and no doubt, launch similar plans. “These will have the advantage of the men who engaged in this undertaking for they will have some precedent to go by.”
I can’t seem to find the links anymore, but the company was said to have run this plant for 10 years before taking it out of operation. I assume it was to move to a more ‘modern’ type of generation such as coal firing. The company was then sold to Met Ed around 1927-1928 as a lot of the smaller companies were doing.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this as interesting as I did. That our little area of the world was on the forefront of a technology that we still dream of harnessing well.
Oh, it’s that time of year I suppose. My brain is completely absorbed with caving. To be more precise, the locating of caves.
I am starting to believe it is the research portion that gives me the greatest satisfaction. The knowing that something is out there, having the most general of ideas of where it is located, then taking those details and starting the search.
Little bit by little bit a picture starts to form. New information makes itself available, leading to new searches. Exhilerating. Making the first phone calls and contacts, the awkwardness of it, random call from a random person asking about something so random. Wondering if they put it together…put together the fact that you have been staring at maps of their property for hours, even days sometimes. That you could step onto their property and walk to any tree line or rock outcropping from memory. That you can visually see their property in your head any time you like. That you google their name and now know details about their life, all in the search for something that they may see as trivial. Bizzare, awkward.
So this is where I am at. I have a new interest, a new cave. This one, and I am not giving the name out yet, sits 25 feet down a vertical drop, that is the entrance. The cave itself is quite small, just one large room as far as I can tell from the map that I have of this system from the late 60’s. The interesting thing is the water. There is a pond within this cave. There is a pond AND there is some underwater cave portions! And there in lies the extreme. There in lies the draw….for me at least. I am not cave certified (as a diver), but have a friend that is, so I contact him. He is quite interested, and gives me some background on his experiance with cave diving and sumps in Pennsylvania. I also contact a local Grotto to ask for some updated info. An article in particular, written many years ago, by the two guys, and only two that I know of, who have put tanks in the water in this cave. They say they will help find the old article in the archives, and that there may be a newer article and updated map from the 90’s. I am told that as much as several hundred feet of cave may have been added to this system, and I am hoping that is underwater cave feet. I can’t go into it, at least not yet. Without training, this would be a death sentance. I don’t have a death wish, so I will wait for now. I can, however, get into the pond that is in this cave. Since there are no overhead obstructions, I can get into this portion, and I will.
The pond looks to be 75 feet by 30 feet and up to 10 feet deep. That’s fantastic. There is also some life in this pond that may only be found in this particular cave. I need to do more research on that though. I do know that it was at least discussed at one time, whether or not to add a species to the endangered species list that it appears may only be found in this cave. My desire to get into this pond, is to photograph, and to assist my colleague if he goes into this cave.
So that is where I am at right now. I am trying to do a better job of keeping up with this blog, like a journal of sorts. I need to try to write at least every few days.
It’s about time I get around to this, it’s been nearly a year since I was there for the first time. I have noticed a lot of people searching for ‘wind cave’ and ‘wind cave map’, and coming across this blog, so I will do what would only be decent, and post a map of this fantastic and fairly safe cave.
It was February 19th of 2011 when I went in search of this cave…well, actually it was February 18th, but I started too late in the day and didn’t make it down here in time, so I went back the following day to locate it. I have made one subsequent trip since, on June 9th, with my friend Tom. Like a gleeful little boy, I proudly introduced my my old pal Tom to this wonderful dark earthen place. I would call it a sanctuary, but since the ‘kids’ find, litter, and paint the walls, …..yea…not so much the sanctuary as I would like. I don’t understand it for the life of me. I have never felt the need to spray paint walls, not even in my youth. It just looks hideous. But then hey….perhaps I have a bit of sense. Or my parents raised me correctly, not sure which.
At any rate, this is still a great trip underground into a ‘wild’ cave. And as far as I am concerned, quite safe also. There really isn’t any place to get yourself turned around and lost in here. The whole of it is basically shaped like an upper case ‘I’. There are, however, over a thousand feet of passages, and something for everyone in here. In fact, there may be more undiscovered cave in there that we have yet to find, at least as far as the General Geology Report from 1974 goes. I have seen portions that I haven’t attempted yet, that are not yet mapped, so it just may be possible, and at one time a fella blasted open a section (prior to the Geology report mentioned) and found more cave, so who knows what is out there for the CAREFUL explorer! I stress CAREFUL! If you do not know what you are doing, stick to the simple routes that everyone follows and just be happy you are there to experience it. A good many caves in Pennsylvania have been blown shut, or gated due to people getting lost or hurt. Do not ruin this for the rest of us. Know your abilities and stick to them until you are better prepared. End of lecture son. 🙂
As you walk into this cave, you don’t even need to stoop. So if you have someone in your party who is a little leery, but still curious, this person will feel comfortable for at least the first 50 feet or so. If you don’t mind climbing, there is a bit of that as you head straight in, and past the right hand connection to the rest of the cave. In fact, this section, straight into the cave, winds up around to your right, then you can come back to your starting point by following around and under the passage you took in. Pretty neat.
Venturing off to the right at the previously mentioned connection, will take you down a fairly long section that forces you to stoop a bit, but still no crawling needed. At the end of this section is some breakdown (caver speak for chunks of rock or dirt that have fallen from above) that you will need to climb over. This will lose some of your party also if they are not fully into this, but again, they had an experience in the ‘wild’ without risking their safety or comfort level. For the rest of us….well.
Climb over this boulder, and drop down to the lower portion of the upper case ‘I’. In here you will find the best parts of the cave I believe, and the parts that all of my pics are from with the exception of the entrance and the map itself. There are very tall areas, as seen in my pictures, and some very low ones, that will require crawling. There are some sections that haven’t been surveyed, possibly because they cannot be gotten into, but I don’t know that for sure as I haven’t tried to get into them either. One is a slide that sort of disappears to God knows where. I would love to get a better look into this drop off, but not without ropes.
Directions to the hike. Oh, I didn’t mention? This is a pretty steep hike, so be in decent shape, or simply take your time.
Get yourself to approximately 618 Bridge Valley Road, Pequea PA. If you google search this, and zoom in on the map to street level, you will see a black car and a white pickup truck parked on the other side of the road on a small pull off spot. Park responsibly, as these two did. You should be able to get three cars in this location at least, and they left room for the third. You can also see them walking the direction you want to travel to the hike, which I will bet is where they were headed.
Once parked, there is a trailhead with an orange diagonal double blaze. Follow this trail across a creek and down a access road to the rail road. Watch carefully for the trail leading up the hill on the left. Follow the trail up the hill and check out the amazing views of the river. At the end of the trail you will arrive at the Wind Cave.
Now, since you may have no cave experience at all, here is the absolute basic of basics that you MUST do if you are to go in here. Take at least 3 sources of light. If one goes out, or you drop them in water, you need backup or you are alone in the dark for who knows how long. There are other things to take that are a good idea (like a helmet) but at least take more than one light source. Absolute minimum. And don’t go alone (says the guy who goes alone quite often on everything he does).
Have fun, but be careful, as always, use your head.
Located in the absolutely beautiful area of Pequea and Holtwood are several gorges with swift flowing streams making their way to the Susquehanna river. Tucquan Creek is one of these. Located on a Nature preserve named after the creek itself are several trails leading from River Rd down the gorge to the River. On this particular trip, I chose to take the a yellow blaze, river right, down to the Susquehanna. I then took the blue blaze, river left, back up to where I had started at the parking area.
This is considered a difficult hike, children can handle the beginning portions, but it does get a little dicey after perhaps half a mile to three quarters of a mile. For very young children (mine are 5 and 6 yrs old) I would choose the blue blaze. Both trails skirt the creek, generally along it’s bank as close as possible without falling into the creek itself. I generally prefer hikes that stay close to water, and chose them purposely.
I parked at the large parking lot located at River Rd, and Tuquan Glen Rd. Directly in front of the parking area, is a very large rock that I believe is called Tuquan rock. That spelling is correct, if I have the correct rock. The spelling was found in the now out of print book “Caves of Southeastern Pennsylvania”.
When I parked and looked up at this ‘rock’, realizing it is 3 to 4 stories high, I was compelled to climb it first thing. To my incredible surprise, I found multiple small caves, or shelters, littering this massive boulder on multiple levels as I made my way up it. At the very top is a peculiar arch carved at the top that one can walk through, crouched slightly. I was excited to find this, as I had just come from Mount Joy in search of a cave called ‘Donegal Cave’ and suffered a near miss in locating it, but did gain permission to search the property, and was informed that it does reside on this particular property. When I returned home and consulted the book that I just mentioned, I found a listing that matches what I found, with the clincher being the stone arch found at the very top. This, if I am correct, is know in collection as Erb’s Mill Shelter Caves. You cannot see them from the ground, it is only by climbing and exploring the rock that you begin to find them.
I continued on to the hike after about an hour exploring the large rock and caves. I headed downstream, as mentioned previously, on the yellow blaze, river right. I followed the trail most of the way, but when it began to ascend well above the creek to the top of the gorge I decided to go off trail and skirt the creek for photos. I do NOT recommend doing this. It was mid January, and the water would have been incredibly cold if I had fallen into it. There isn’t a stream bank in this area, just steep, sometimes vertical walls of solid rock, with some break down that you can hop your way down stream on. At times it was strictly rock climbing, shimmying my way down stream clinging to the walls.
There are many falls on your way downstream. It is incredibly serene and beautiful. The hike down to the river was just over two miles, but again, I had gone off trail and explored quite a bit. If you followed the trail strictly, I would have to guess that the trip is approximately 1.5 or slightly more miles. Toward the bottom of the gorge, meaning as I got close to where it dumped it’s contents into the Susquehanna, I was out in the middle of the creek on large boulders, hopping around and taking pictures and video.
I took the blue blaze trail back. Much easier than my trip down stream. I recommend this trail wholeheartedly. I believe the scenery was every bit as good as from the yellow blaze, and much easier going. There is even a wooden bridge that get’s the hiker over the one section that has a sheer wall on that side of the creek. Again, this trail skirts right up against the creek the entire way, even more so than the Pequea creek hike does.
This is a wonderful trail system that I recommend to anyone looking for a good hike. There are so many areas to explore in this region, and they deserve much more exploration as this year wears on. Expect to hear more.
The picture at the top of my blog. That is something I have been meaning to address. So I shall. I took that picture. That is a real place, and it is more amazing than pictures can do justice. The shear size. Defying words. I discovered it by accident late last summer.
I had been kayaking after work at Gifford Pinchot State Park, then at the Susquehanna River. I’ve been doing contract work at a company located almost equidistant from the two, so I had my choice. I paddled up in the Three Mile Island area for maybe a month, just covering distance around the islands there, exploring the islands themselves a bit, and the impounded water from the York Haven Dam known as Lake Frederic. Then I started looking for more put ins. Access points both down and up river. Down river I went. I found one just below the York Haven Dam on the western shore, but the weekend was coming, and so I decided on the boat launch known as Falmouth on the eastern shore, almost directly across the river from the York Haven launch. And this is what I found…..
My buddy Tom is in a lot of the shots. I did this purposely to show the scale. Amazing. It feels like an alien landscape to paddle through it.
This was my favorite location for a long time. Almost every evening for 2 months. Occasionally I would seek out another spot, but I would always come back within a day or two.
I was here, in this spot, for Hurricane Irene…..and then for Lee. I sat here and watched the water come up to cover those boulders…..water rising a foot or more an hour for Lee. Listening as your heart begins to pound. Listening and feeling the sound of the water crashing over the dam as it gets louder. Wondering how much longer you should stay before the currents get unmanageable. Then when paddling back down, being shoved from one eddy line to the next, trying not to let the still water on the other side of that line hold you in place as her sinister sister, the current, shoves you sideways from the other in an attempt to roll you. Breathtaking. In all ways. Simply breathtaking.
I’ve been here in all conditions. Without words. Only feelings that cannot be expressed. Awed by the power of the water and what it can accomplish. Shaping these rocks. Amazed at how a few inches of extra water on the the gauge in Harrisburg can mean feet of difference down here below the dam.
Have I said amazed yet? 🙂
As I sit here writing this post, it’s late. It’s 1 am. On the floor in the living room. Hunched over a pillow, with my laptop under my fingertips. My sweet girl soundly sleeping on the couch. Cave maps spread out to one side of me from researching new places. New places to me. Several sessions of Google Chrome also open on this laptop, each filled with tabs…..more maps….articles. Putting pieces of a puzzle together for the next breathtaking thing that will leave me at a loss for words yet again.
And I realize.
I am happy. Simply happy.
I discovered the Pequea area of PA, while searching for a cave. Wind Cave. It’s not a tough one to find. Kids find it all the time and party there. It’s fairly large, and fairly safe, so I chose it for my first official foray into the underground world. While traveling to Pequea to find this cave, I traveled 324, which skirts the Pequea creek for a bit as you get closer to it’s confluence with the Susquehanna river, and it’s beautiful. The creek as well as the countryside. The whole of the area. The total distance of the creek is fairly long, 40 plus miles, but this portion, the last 4 miles or so, is the portion I have fallen in love with. The beginning of this section is set in a gorge. It’s when the drop in elevation begins in earnest to make it’s way down into the Susquehanna. Michelle, Rob, and I kayaked the last mile or so up creek from the Susquehanna, and I knew I had to find a way to run this creek.
I did some research online, I’ll include some of that at the end for anyone interested in getting more details. The hike alone is worth it. One of the best in this area that I have seen. Beautiful is the only word I have. The hike, the trail itself, skirts the creek the whole way, even if it is only 1.2 miles. Here is a map showing the start and end points.
Near the green flag is a parking area. Just a short way up the road, just past the ruins of an old hotel foundation, you will see trash cans and the trail head. These trash cans, by the way, were installed and paid for by a local fella who has sort of adopted the trail, and walks it regularly picking up trash that people leave behind.
Do us all a favor and pack out what you pack in.
You will hear, and see the creek a bit, off to your right. Within a few hundred feet you will be next to the creek, and there the rest of the trip. Be aware, that PPL owns the land. They cannot own a creek because it is a navigable waterway, but they can, and do, own the land beside it. If you cross this land to go down creekside and get caught, you can be fined. I do this myself, but just wanted you to be aware also. You really cannot miss the signs though, posted every 50 feet or so on trees. Unsightly. But that’s what happens when people cannot use sound judgement and ruin things for the rest of us.
My original trip here was a quick one. I basically ran the trail, so that I could get in to see the whitewater section. To gauge if I was comfortable running it. It’s a little tricky, but not too bad, so as far as I am concerned this is a go. I went back however, because not only did I really want to see the area again and take a little more leisurely pace, but I wanted to take my boys to see it too, it’s a fairly simple hike. We walked the trail, took pictures, and admired the beauty of the place. It’s like being in a church. Simple peace. We walked the entire section, down to where it ends by a covered bridge that crosses the creek. Then we hiked back up to our starting point. Along the way back, we stopped so that I could get a feel for where the take out should be for anyone who may go with on a kayak run, to see where to portage their kayak should they not want to run a difficult section. It’s short, but it looks as though the center of it could be demanding if you don’t have a really good feel for how your boat will react in currents. I found a great spot…as it happens…right where the sign is posted on a tree warning you of rapids and that you should consider a portage. There is a nice sand bar on river left. So the plan, as it stands now, is to portage anyone uncomfortable with it, around the drops, and then go back and run this with whomever else is on the trip that does want to run it.
At any rate, this is a wonderful hike. It’s great for kids also, even fairly young. My boys are all of 4 and 6, and I plan to take them on this hike again. Not demanding at all, just a nice flat walk through the trees by a creek. There are also two nice side creeks that feed this along the way that deserve some exploration by young kids. When I say creek here, I mean a trickle.
This makes a nice relaxing evening hike after work if you live close enough. I am an hour away, and I still made the trek after work. Well worth it.
Some links to other stories about this section of creek, and the hike. http://www.bluemountainoutfitters.net/Rvrtales/pat_55.html http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/204245_Where-is-Suzy-s-Hole--You-think-you-know--Well--think-again.html
I was out diving with my good friend Kai over the past weekend; it was Sunday the 4th of September. We were setting up for our second dive when a friend of his came over to give us the revelation I am going to try to quantify here. I thought about it a lot the last few days, because things like this bug me greatly. I don’t know this fella’s name, but he is definitely a very skilled diver. I am thinking he is a tech diving instructor, and on this particular day he was doing tri mix dives (oxygen, helium, and nitrogen). He was also diving solo, and this is where the story spawns from.
There was another fella there on Sunday also, who was diving solo. When you dive solo, this particular quarry makes you rent a locator beacon from them so they know where to find you if something should ‘happen’. The cost of the locator is sixteen dollars. One of the owners, or the owner himself, not sure who exactly owns this place asked him to buddy up with the other solo diver, the fella that was telling us this story said he would, but then wanted the sixteen dollars refunded. The quarry operator declined, citing that it was a bad year.
While relaying this story to us, this diver expounded on the monetary issue and the safety issue. He pointed out that many years ago when new divers were going for their open water certification, a lot of dive shops would make you find a dive buddy to take the class with. From a safety point of view this makes perfect sense, until you stop and think about the fact that when learning to fly a plane and getting your pilots license, the focus is on solo flight. Isn’t it also fairly dangerous in the air? Wouldn’t a second set of eyes, ears, thoughts, etc help a pilot during user error, much as a second diver in this buddy system is a backup for the first?
But …..when you have divers learn in pairs, you sell two sets of dive gear, not just one. If you had pilots learn in pairs, you may only sell one plane. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not faulting the flight industry. I believe they are doing it right. This is a choice that you as an individual make, as far as how much of your own life to take into your own hands. I just believe the dive industry should be the same also.
I go kayaking alone all the time, sometimes when conditions are such that I should not. I, however, am free to make that decision and free to determine my own life’s bad and good choices. I take full responsibility for me. I also hike alone, again, if I fell while running on boulders through the Appalachian trail and badly hurt myself, I could be alone there to starve or whatever, yet there are no checks on the AT (AT is short for Appalachian Trail) to see if you have a buddy with you, just as there are no checks or such requirements for being out in a boat on a river or creek, no matter what the conditions.
Now, all that said, I do feel safer having a buddy with for deeper dives, and prefer that, but that is MY choice. I DO however, have no fear of hoping into 20-30 feet of water and carrying out a dive alone, and even though not certified as a ‘solo diver’ I would not hesitate to do it. If I was staying shallow, there were no overhead obstructions, or any sort of obstructions that looked like I could get caught up in them, I would do it without a second thought. At that shallow depth, I can pop to the surface like a cork with little problem other than perhaps a headache. Not the greatest idea, but in a life or death scenario, something goes horribly wrong with my equipment, it can be done relatively safely.
I do not need a nanny telling me what is right for me. I always learn the risks, and decide for myself. I always have. And when things go wrong, I also take full responsibility on myself.
But hey…..that’s just my two cents worth.
So…Tom brings up the subject the other day of an overnight kayak trip. I ask if he and Mitch want to try the Swatara creek, lower section, possibly the weekend of the 17th and 18th of September. Right now the creek is headed for some pretty bad flooding with hurricane Lee hanging over us. It looks to let up in the next few days, leaving only isolated and scattered rains until the Tuesday before that weekend. This creek is only around 60 miles long, so that should leave enough time for it to drain it’s area and go back to a more normal flow before the weekend we want to run it. I would really like to finish this creek before the year is out. That leads me to the first two attempts in June.
I had spent weeks planning this trip out. The entire creek from Pine Grove, PA to Middletown, PA where it empties into the Susquehanna River was what I mapped out. This is almost 60 miles in length, and the rate that I paddle this is doable. The first time I tried it, we had heavy rains that morning, almost 6 inches I believe in just a few hours. Undeterred, I had decided to continue with the plan. I packed my gear, and headed out when my ride showed up. I would need assistance with dropping my vehicle and shuttling me up to Pine Grove from Middletown. I was going this alone. Tom had shown interest, but I really wanted to do this by myself. I tend to do that too much I believe, and am trying to break that habit.
My shuttle service was provided by my mom. Yes, my mommy drove me. You can always count on mommy. She was not really thrilled when she saw the creek, which I knew from checking the river gauge levels that morning was now a half a foot above flood stage. It was running, according to the gauge at Pine Grove, at 9.5 feet, where it was merely 3 feet or so before the rains. This had risen 6.5 feet in just a matter of a few hours. I packed my gear into my kayak and was off.
I’m not going to go into the full story, because it is a long one, I’ll just hit some highlights.
- Just minutes after entering and heading downstream, an entire tree came down behind me 4 seconds or so after I passed beneath it. Then it followed me for a bit.
- There were downed trees that completely bridged the creek. I was lucking in that I could get over, or under, all that I had encountered.
- I watched the creek slam off of an embankment that I was coming up on, and bring down a wall of dirt and shrubs; this was in the beginning of tight S turn that I had to try to navigate, with a partial tree down covering half of the creek on the last turn of the S turn. That was the most frightening maneuver I had to make.
- I covered 10 miles in just 2 hours, and this was including all the back paddling I had to do to find lines through debris and some of the turns.
- I found an eddy about 1-2 miles from where I planned to ditch the trip and get out before this creek killed me. Had to hike through a marsh that was maybe 200 feet or so wide to get to the trail, thorns tearing my legs up, all with around 100 pounds of kayak and gear on my shoulder.
- I lost my water shoes in that marsh, and had to go bare foot from there.
- Then had to walk the trail a mile or more downstream to where my mommy was going to pick me up.
The second trip attempt went much better. This was two weeks after the first attempt. The creek levels were normal. This was a very pleasant run without the heart pounding adrenaline of the first one. I like adrenaline, but that was a bit much for a guy new to kayaking. It was a dumb thing to attempt….I am aware. So for this second attempt I decided to simply continue from where I had pulled out the first time. I also had decided that I would quit smoking on this trip. And there in lay the mistake.
The trip was uneventful. Very relaxing minus the fact that I have a need to cover ground quickly, and if I am just floating I am bored, so I am always paddling. I went 9 hours the first day, covering 24 miles, with a few pit stops to eat, or check out things that I came across. Somewhere along the way though, I had discovered my car keys in my swim suit pocket, and wanted to put them into a dry bag. I was dumping the water out of my kayak at the moment and instead of stopping what I was doing and putting the keys into a dry bag, I set them on a rock……where they were left. I was in a fog from the lack of nicotine at this point and simply not thinking straight. I did not discover the keys were missing until the following morning, while packing up my gear to finish the trek. I once again called my shuttle service…..mommy….to come and get me.
I could go into much more detail, but that’s enough. It’s in the past and I don’t care to elaborate much. That’s why I am keeping this blog, so that while things are fresh in my head and I am still excited about them I can get them down.
I know that Mitch and Tom don’t want to go at my pace, so I am thinking of chopping the trip to a reasonable 30 miles or so total. That leaves a comfortable 15 to cover per day, and it will give me an excuse to take it easier for once.
Sounds like fun, I cannot wait!
Kayaking trip on the Swatty update:
Well, we didn’t end up running an overnight trip on this creek, which was probably for the best. It was a bit cold, and most of the islands we passed as well as the stream banks were wrecked from Hurricane Lee and the flood that ensued. The creek hit 26 feet! That was a full 10 feet above the previous record. Homes were completely destroyed to the point of being washed away. The power of the water flow in this storm left entire islands uprooted. Yes….I said Islands! We found the entire roof of a house left stranded on top of a bridge, part of a house in the middle of the creek itself, a canoe that was unregistered left hanging 8 feet up in a tree, full blown chemical spills…complete with people in hazmat suits in the process of cleaning up, and so much more. But what a day of fun it was.
Tom, Mitch, and I put in near RT 39 in the Hershey park area. We dropped our kayaks, then Mitch waited with them while Tom and I ran my truck to Middletown where the Swattara creek ends by spilling it’s contents into the Susquehanna River. This would be a 17 mile trip. This was when we saw the Hazmat suited people in the water at the boat launch ramp. We asked a fella that was standing around in the parking lot what was going on. He told us that up creek there was a chemical storage facility that was flooded. Some of the totes containing different caustic materials broke through the chain link fence that surrounds the property and many of these totes were washed away. The men at the dock were pulling some of these out of the water. Surely many of these washed all the way into the Susquehanna, and hopefully they never made it past the York Haven damn, since passing over this damn would lead to a boulder filled area below that would surely split these containers open if they had survived the trip that far, as well as down the 23 foot dam.
<insert the totes pics>
We did the car drop and were back in Hershey and in the water by 11:30AM. We were only in a few minutes when I spotted a canoe up in a tree. Tom started yelling to ‘get it’ and paddling like a wild man for shore, and of course I followed. I somehow reached the bank and was out first, and up the small hill to where the canoe was. It was a good 8 feet off the ground, just hanging in the limbs of the tree. All in all, I would say it was a good 12 to 17 feet off the water, which was still running around 2-3 feet above normal. As Tom was coming up the embankment to help, I yanked at the canoe, which came crashing down with ….I swear…half a tree behind it. There was a HUGE limb hung up above it. Tom went careening back the direction he had come screaming obscenities at me and laughing. Good stuff. We got the canoe in the water, all laughing like little kids at our luck. We had lost the canoe that I found weeks ago and here was another, seemingly almost identical to the first one, and in perfect condition. We floated it behind me for a little….perhaps a mile, and I knew this was going to make the trip a pain in the ass. We had a long way to go yet with unknown obstacles. We all decided that we would stash the canoe at the next bridge we came across and come back later for it. It ended up being the Pennsy Supply bridge, which we didn’t know was somewhat private property. I got out, and dragged the canoe all the way up to the bridge and shoved it up to where no one would see it. Then we continued on, spotting canoe’s left and right and joking about grabbing all of them, taking them later to the pub, laying them out in the parking lot, and telling everyone we know to ‘pick one’.
<insert a canoe pic>
We continued on. I don’t remember exact order of events, which would make for too long a story anyway, so I’ll just hit highlights.
- This was Mitch’s first time in a kayak, and he loved it. He totally gets why Tom and I do this when we can. He did really well too. My first few times out were in currentless lakes, and we thrust him into a still slightly swollen creek. Really funny watching his reaction to strange currents that shoved him into tree branches. He has been after me to mountain bike with him. Since he was such a good sport about getting a kayak and finally coming out with us, I decided to give in. I jumped on his bike one day after work and just putzed around in the alley by his house for a few minutes, but I was hooked. I had forgotten that childhood feeling of being on a bike.
- Tom going up a side creek, wondering where it leads. We kept going down the Swatty. We encountered a current around a slight bend that almost shoved me into downed tree branches. I had enough experience to see it coming and paddled hard to avoid it, Mitch did not, and ended up in the branches. Then Tom caught back up and ended up in the branches too. Too funny.
- Mitch attempted to sneak up on a ‘duck…..or….whatever it is’ (his words not mine). It was a Heron, white one. I don’t think he had ever seen one before. I said they are like the sparrow of the waterways. They are everywhere around here, both white and blue. I believe the blue are or at least were protected at one time because they were going extinct, but they are fine now. He of course didn’t get anywhere close to getting one, which I knew he wouldn’t, but him trying was an awesome laugh.
- We found a cave, and of course went in it. It’s just down creek from Indian Echo Caverns. I knew it was there because it was on the map I had, and had been talking about it most of the way. After we passed Indian Echo, Tom started yelling about this cave, where is it….you promised….I’m gonna kick your ass….how much further?!!? Too funny. Then we spotted it, couldn’t believe we found it. We got to shore, three little boys freaking out over our adventurous fortune. Tom and I were out in no time, pulling our boats ashore, getting ourselves together to go up to the cave, and I noticed Mitch was still in his kayak trying to get himself beached enough to be stable and get out. At this point he was struggling and it just got funny. I started in on him “dude, we’re getting out here”…..”Mitch get out of your kayak” … then Tom started chiming in. “Seriously dude….get out”…..me again “Mitch, get the fuck out of your kayak!”…..he’s laughing at this point, still struggling to not flip it and get out…Tom “Get out of the kayak or I’m gonna kick your fucking ass!” ……me again “What the fuck are you doing…..get out dick!”. He eventually did.
- The cave was really cool, small, but cool. None of us had ever been in a cave that you didn’t pay to go to. The inside of the first room was pretty big, with a tall ceiling, then there were a few openings that went away from the main room. One of them was a narrow slit that just kept getting more narrow. Two of them were up high, 15 feet or so off the floor, with ropes hanging. One had a thin rope that started pretty high, and we didn’t really trust. The other I managed to get up after I talked myself into it. Didn’t want to fall in here and get hurt, not really dressed for this sort of thing, had flashlights but they were handheld, etc. I got up in as far as I could go in that on, then we eventually got back on the water and continued to the end, which wasn’t much further. Maybe 5 more miles or so.