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.
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.
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.
UPDATE: This dive has now been planned and executed. Successfully I might add.
So here is what I know of this location:
I hiked there a lot as a child with friends. We would come in from Route 183 I believe, along the Appalachian trail, to the dam, located just below the AT trail. I personally can do this hike from 183 in 45 minutes, but that’s at my pace. At a comfortable clip, this is almost a two hour hike. The water is clear….crystal clear….and cold. As kids we hiked up creek from the dam to the rock pile above, and could hear, but not see, the spring that feeds this dam. It popped in my head a few days ago, that I have never swam in this dam/pond as a child because it was just too cold. I have a wet suit now though, and am curious just what may be in there. In addition, I am doubtful anyone has ever dove this location, and if others have, it is but a handful I am sure…because who else would hike into this, uphill from the closest access (dirt road) for 1300+feet…straight up the mountain…with full gear….including a 7 mil wet suit? Who??
Me, that’s who. And if I can talk Shane into it….it’s on.
We used to call it the ‘power dam’ as kids. We didn’t know what it was, where it came from, or what it was for. It is only recently that I looked it up to find out it’s history. I found that it was apparently built for the Scout camp back in the 1900’s at some point. As kids we tried to fish there, but I don’t remember ever catching anything, and am sure I have never seen any fish. How would they get in there? What I am saying is there may be nothing to see. Nothing at all. But we won’t know until we have tried, and hey, let’s face it, who else will have this in their log books? This makes me happy.
I’ll add more information later, but for now this is what I have, along with some maps I pulled just a few minutes ago. Stay tuned….if you wish.
Wednesday the 17th of August 2011: Diving the Susquehanna River – York Haven Dam
Well, I guess I should start at the beginning for this story. I always wanted to learn to Scuba Dive for the adventure of it, but after being certified found that the only thing people ever seem to do is go to quarries and on trips. Quarries are fine for a while and to get regular dives in for the experience, but after a while it gets a bit monotonous. You get sick of looking at the same purposely sunk objects, cars, fire engines….what have you, and the ‘pay to play’ aspect really bugs me. There is just no adventure to it as far as I am concerned. I wanted some real adventure. The thing that I got into diving for in the first place. So I did what any ‘normal’ person would do. I posted an ad on Craigslist looking for someone who was willing to risk a failure in the hopes of something new and amazing that others have never done. I’ll have to pull that ad and post it here also I suppose. I was semi irate as I wrote it. I got two bites, the first one never wrote back after initial contact. The second one, Shane, did continue to write and so we planned a dive. He is from Rochester NY, and so I would do the logistical planning to get us into the dive site. This is the story, as condensed as possible. I’ll have to pull some screen shots of google maps also and mark our track of how we did all of this. Also, it should be noted, that I never contacted anyone about doing this dive, so we had zero permission, I simply went off of whether or not there were signs saying ‘no’. I did not want to be told no, as this was a bit crazy and a bit dangerous. So we had full blown ignorance on our side, except for the parking, there was a sign there, saying no trespassing, but whatever. People think they need to own the world.
My dive buddy for this dive, Shane, and I met up in Goldsboro at the boat launch area. We had never met before, only spoke online and on the phone, so after brief introductions, we loaded his gear into my truck for the short trip to the York Haven area. I had scouted the area a few weeks prior to find our route into the location that was to be our entry point ,and found that if we drove down a small dirt alley, it dumped us along the train tracks. The train tracks had a wide shoulder of loose stone that we could follow the rest of the way. I knew the area where we would put in, as it was under the first set of high voltage lines that we would come across and that there was a very tight opening in the tree line that we could get my truck down into, in order to hide it along another dirt road that was just inside the woods. This narrow opening was a steep 3.5 or so foot downhill which gave us some trouble even just to get down and around a tight corner at the bottom, requiring me to put the vehicle into 4 wheel drive, which I already knew I would need to get back out later.
We parked the truck and got out, discussing how we would ferry the gear across the tracks, number of trips, etc. We settled on two trips, one for most of the gear, and the other for tanks and weights. We would follow the tracks maybe 50 feet or so further down, and then there was a small hill down into a fairly clear tree covered area where we could set up and had easy access to the water. Shane noticed a large, fairly flat boulder that was only sticking out of the ground a few inches that we could use to set up our gear and keep it clean of debris. Once set up, we ran our gear bags and other things that weren’t going with us back to my truck and locked it up.
We entered the water about 50-75 feet from the beginning of the race, needing to swim up river that distance to the mouth of the race, as we were diving the low head part of the dam above it. A ‘race’, as you may not know, since I didn’t, is where the river narrows considerably do to the damming, and the water races toward the hydroelectric plant. I had noticed even before we entered the water that it was moving pretty quickly, and also knew from the previous Monday when I was out in my kayak taking one last look at the dam from the down river side, that they had cranked up all but one of the hydroelectric units. We waded out into the water floating our packs, waist deep in 2 feet of water…..mud….deep mud…and long grass. We laughed, and grumbled, but got through it. River bottom was stones, no mud, but along the banks was a different story. Once out, we attempted to get our packs on, but the long grass was still giving us problems, so Shane suggested we just swim on our packs to the other side, using them like little surf boards if you will. We put our fins on and headed across.
Then we got into the current and the whole plan I had come up with went straight out the window. We noticed the dam breast on the other side going by rather quickly; there was no swimming against this current. Shane suggested just swimming straight across letting the current take us, because again, there was no fighting it. I had hopes that when we got to the dam breast, which was a good 200 or more feet across from the bank we entered from, that the current would be gone, much as it was on our entry. But the dam face was flat, and the water raced by there also, the most you could do was get a slight handhold and slow down just a little, but no stopping. Looking from where we had entered to where we had now drifted, I don’t mind saying I was a bit worried, really worried to be more precise, but I also knew that we could easily make it back if we were going to ditch the dive and head straight back over. I had never bothered to look into how the hydroelectric plant works, with regards to where it’s intakes are, the risk of us being either sucked into one of them or up against a grating system and held there until we simply ran out of air, etc. So I really did not want to get anywhere near it. But again, I hadn’t expected this current. I made my suggestion known, of the possibility of ditching the dive, when Shane noticed a downed tree, one of many, that had parts of itself hanging down the dam wall into the water. I might mention that the reason we didn’t simply climb up onto the dam is because it was a good 3 feet, maybe more, out of the water. It was decided that if the tree did not hold us, we would have to ditch the dive and swim back across….defeated….at least that was my plan, but Shane was determined, and very cool-headed about it. He reached the tree branches first, and they held. I came up on it next, and they still held, in fact the tree never budged an inch. After a brief discussion of the logistics of how we would get up onto the dam face, Shane handed me his pack and took off his fins, climbed up onto a branch that was just out of the water, and tossed his fins up onto the dam. It was settled, he had found our way. I handed him our packs, one at a time, and he carefully placed them onto the dam, after which he climbed up. I then pulled myself over to this perch he had been working from, popped my butt up on the branch, removed my fins, spun around and climbed up myself.
Once up on the dam, we both shouldered our packs, which were now free of the river grass due to the current we had just come out of, and proceeded to hike along the dam crest toward the low head portion. We talked and laughed about how it was going so far, climbed over more trees that were also hung up on the dam, even having to take our packs back off and slide them over one very large tree that I would guess was 5 feet in diameter, but in my head and memory this thing was a red wood. You could not straddle it, and that seems rare to me in Pennsylvania.
We eventually make it to the low head portion, and surprisingly, there were actual concrete steps built into the dam crest to allow you to easily step down from the race portion of the dam to the low head portion. The majority of this entire dam system is a low head dam. The total height of the dam, I might add, is 23 feet. We had probably hiked 200 to 300 feet across the race portion of the dam to get here, that would be my guess at least.
Once down on the low head, we were both a little tired, and decided to leave our packs near the steps while we scouted the area that I believed we should dive. The width of the race portion of the dam that we hiked along went from around 7 feet or so wide, down to 4-5 feet in the area where it met the low head portion, but the low head portion is very wide. I would guess easily 14 feet but probably more, with a slow decline on both the up and down dam side. Basically plenty of room to walk around, although slippery where there is water running over, which was only a trickle on this day.
We slid down the backside of the dam, and walked around in the water and on the rocks for a bit, then climbed back up to the dam crest to start working out our dive.
The plan was for me to lead, at least for a bit, and then either switch, or come up and do a second dive with Shane in the lead. Shane, unbeknownst to me, was doing little but trying to keep an eye on where I was the entire time, as visibility was maybe a foot or slightly more. We dropped down in around 5-7 feet of water and hugged the bottom, which was really the only way to tell where you were at. If I lost sight of the bottom I became disoriented pretty quickly. We had both tried to get our buoyancy in place to get off of the bottom, but again, with visibility so low, and having a rocky bottom to begin with, we found it better to just be on the bottom, negatively buoyant. We didn’t stir up much, we also didn’t see much, mostly just small boulders and in between those, small river pebbles and rocks. There were quite a few snails to be seen though. As we worked our way out away from the dam, I was actually kind of surprised to feel my ears needing adjusting, and looked at my gauges. We had hit 10 feet. Then 14. Then eventually 18. That seemed to be the deepest we were finding, and upon ending the dive, that indeed was our deepest. We did at one point come across a peculiar little catfish, perhaps 2 inches long, just darting around on a small boulder. Luck had it that we both spotted the little guy, so at the least we both saw something on this dive. He played around our lights for a few seconds before darting in different directions and then out of sight. Shane and I kept in pretty good contact throughout the dive, which was difficult in the low visibility, but my hats off to the two of us for maintaining awareness of the other’s safety. At one point I drifted off the bottom a little bit and felt some vertigo, this concerned me, and when I reacquired the bottom I noticed that it was starting to go past me ever so slightly, and from the direction we had swam out, and the direction now being taken, I knew that it was back toward the race. We had a long way to go before we got there, but not being on the surface I couldn’t exactly tell how much time we had, so when Shane asked about going up, I agreed and we made a controlled ascent.
Upon reaching the surface we were both surprised how far out we had gotten from the dam and that the current was indeed beginning to carry us back toward the race, but not very quickly. We swam back to the dam breast and started discussing the dive, what we had seen, how little we had seen, and whether we wanted to do a second dive. We both had plenty of air left, at least an hours’ worth at that depth. We decided that he would lead this next dive, and I would follow. Also that to avoid the current, we would work our way out as we had before, but then use our compasses to follow a north west heading to follow the curve of the dam breast. We began our second dive, but I did not descend fast enough and lost track of him in seconds. We stayed down for a little trying to find each other, and then both surfaced and took another shot at it. The second attempt worked and I managed to stay with him, but was surprised at how difficult it was to just keep an eye on where he was. All my concentration was absorbed in trying to keep an eye on any part of him, whether the tank, a fin, his light, anything. Now I could see what his first dive was like, and it sucked. For me the first dive was kind of nice, even though I didn’t see much, but this was just downright stressful. We managed only 2 minutes and suddenly found ourselves back at the dam coming out of the water. Shane had gotten turned around somehow, and it was long before we were thinking of checking compass headings, so both of us were surprised to start seeing surface light so quickly again. We both had a laugh and discussed taking another stab at it, but it was coming up on 7PM, and with what we still had to do to get back out of there I was really hesitant. We ended up ditching the second dive and heading back across the river to our entry point.
The exit worked a lot better than the entrance to this dive. We were now up river, and could let the current carry us to our landing spot. We started heading across, watching for boats, which were all curious of the divers in the water. This is something rarely seen in this river, which made me proud that I was one of those guys. While we were first gearing up on the dam to head into the water, three people on jet skis that were riding back and forth spotted us and stopped to watch us for a minute or so. I waved, they waved back, and were soon on their way again. We managed our landing quite well, even pulling out a little ahead of where we put in. We spotted a more rocky area to get out at and thus had a lot less muck to walk through. Much better.
We got back to our setup rock, and started taking our gear apart and packing up. I needed a cigarette badly. We got all of the gear hauled back across the tracks and repacked into the back of my blazer, and were on our way. Back through the narrow opening in the trees we went, back down the train tracks, and then back to Goldsboro where we had met up. We had done it. Several weeks of planning, one failed attempt when Shane was local but we recently had some significant rain and the water was undivable, and then a matchup in schedules and weather permitting….we had done it.
When we reached his car it was getting pretty dark. We moved Shane’s gear to his car, filled out our log books, said our goodbyes, and were on our way. I was so jacked up I didn’t get to sleep until after 1am that night.
Now that’s the sort of thing that I got into scuba diving for. No trip planned for me, no amusement park set up underwater, just me and friends finding adventure.
It should be noted, that a few days later while out in my kayak below the dam, I climbed up on the dam and a boat was dispatched from the hydro plant and I was kicked off of the dam citing private property. Apparently you are not allowed within 100 feet of the dam on either side. Considering how much time Shane and I had spent milling about on the dam that day, I am surprised we weren’t booted then and there. It also adds to the adventure that we were not booted, and that we may have been the only, or at least one of the very few private citizens to ever do this dive.
End of story, one adventure down and working on the next one! This next one could require an hour hike up the Appalachian Trail…..sweet! I am nearly certain this next one has never been done.