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.
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.