Two years ago I began the planning of this dive. The planning was done within a week or two, but working out the schedule was another story. My dive buddy Shane Keller is a busy man, as am I. But now, two years later, we got it done. During my planning I searched maps, as usual, for the shortest route to get us to this dam. According to my original post, we would have to hike a little over 3 miles in from Rt. 183. This is a tough hike, even without gear, with gear… miserable, and requiring 2 trips. So I had to find a better way. You will also notice, from that original post, that I really didn’t know a lot about this dam, as it seems from my time online and contacting people, that not too many do. The information is scattered and a seemingly much forgotten part of history, which is sad, because I was amazed at what I found, as well as impressed and proud of the ingenuity of some of the folks in the rural small town area the I grew up in. I grew up in Rehrersburg Pennsylvania, which will figure into this a bit, as you will see. But we will get into the history in a minute. In September of 2011, I hiked into this location from Rt. 183. This is about a 3 mile hike, perhaps 3.4 miles as I have heard, and it is a rough one toward the end. Coming down into this gap, Schubert’s gap, is steep and rocky. The climb back out is grueling if you aren’t up for it. I had already decided that I wanted to dive this pond, but had to get some details. I took my dive computer with me that day, and a length of rope/string. I wanted to get the depth and temperature of the water, so I tied the string to my dive computer, and started hurling it off of the dam to various locations, letting it settle, then reeling it back in, the whole while praying it wouldn’t get hung up on any unseen obstruction. The deepest depth that I found was 12 feet, and the water was a chilly 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Pretty cold, and not very deep. That is the temperature of a quarry that I like to dive at 90 feet, so… wow. I have the wet suit required for this though, so it’s still a go. Now.. to find a shorter route. A few weeks later, I believe we were into early October at this point, I was searching maps on google, and found that my best way in was to try to get into Arrowhead Estates. There are, what appeared to be, dirt roads that would get me close. I had already hiked a trail leading down the mountain directly below the dam, and found a dirt road with a small bridge across the creek that comes from the dam, Schubert’s Creek. There is a curious looking round building that I knew I would be able to spot on aerial maps as a point of reference. So, with maps printed and in hand, with notes marking my proposed route, I made my way back to the mountain, but this time to see how far into Arrowhead Estates I could get. Not far was my answer. This is a gated community. As luck would have it though, on that day, the gate was open. Should I chance it? I could get locked in behind that gate. Never one to let much stop me, I continued, this might be my only shot. I followed my mapped route up the mountain. The road is quite rough, but manageable if you are careful, even with a car, but I sure wish I had one of my previous four wheel drive vehicles back again. Up the road I went, up to the old Shikellamy Scout Camp and it’s lake. Around the lake to the left, then a left into the tree line, then a right, and up we go. The dirt road held, just as it looked it may on the aerial photos. Homes tucked in trees. Not permanent dwellings, but camps if you will, cabins, but not in the truest sense. They mostly look like regular homes. This community, as I was to find out later, is a part time residence for people looking to get away to the mountain on weekends, or whenever schedules permit. I continued up this road and found the curious round building. Now I had a route, but there was a legal issue. I may be trespassing for all I know. I didn’t see any signs, but you don’t have a locked gate across your road without a reason. The Arrowhead sign did say it was a private community though I believe. So after finding my way up, I turned around and made my way back down, taking note of some for sale signs on wooded lots. I sure do wish I had the money, as this is an area that I have spent a lot of time in my life, and would love to have a place up here. Nevertheless, it was time to get out before the gate was closed and locked, if it wasn’t already. Cringe. Back down the hill, past all the homes I wish I could have a home up the road from, around the old scout camp lake, down the rest of the way and….. the gate is still open. Relief. I passed through, and then parked off to the left. There is a community bulletin board that I wanted to look over and see what information I could glean from it. I got out of the car, and started perusing this board, when not a minute later, someone came driving down the dirt road I had just made my own escape on, and didn’t he get out and lock the gate up behind him. Wow, close call. But this was also my chance. Being the honest person I am, I admitted my trespass to him, and continued to tell him what I was looking to do. To dive in that cold pond further up the mountain. He was very friendly, welcoming even, and gave me his phone number, and informed me that he was the President of the Home Owners Association up there, and he would get me in anytime, right up to where I had wanted to launch this little ‘expedition’ from. Of all the luck! Wow. Kismet. Or something. I tend to fall butt backward into luck, I swear. But I am always grateful, and try to never take it for granted. Enjoy everything. Live a life while you have breath in your lungs. I kept this phone number, got a hold of Shane and told him my progress. We had a solid plan, now just the timing. And that’s where we were stuck. Every time it was good for one of us it wasn’t good for the other. As I said before, we are both busy fellas. There was no rush, we could get this done whenever. So as it would happen, 2 years after the initial plans were set, the chance arose. We had a weekend that lined up, just one day really. Sunday, the 18th of August, 2013 I woke around 7 am and began going through gear, sorting out just what I would need, and packing it into my car. I had gone to Hershey to the dive shop there the day before, Saturday, because I wanted to make sure I had a full tank. We would each only be bringing one tank, since the depth was so shallow it was basically a large swimming pool. But I wanted to get all the time I could and my tank was down a few hundred PSI. The dive shop is Diver’s Descent, and John Weaver (scroll to the bottom) was working that day. He took my tank back for a fill, they have 32% Nitrox banked, so it wasn’t a problem to get the fill. I told them it only needed a few hundred and that I would gladly pay for a full fill for their time. When he returned he informed me that it only took about 300 psi, and that he wouldn’t charge me for it. What a great shop!! (that’s why I included the links). I did purchase 10 lbs of weight, and of course promised that I would be back for another tank fill, they are my local shop, where else would I go. I also told him and another fella that showed up what we were up to after I was asked if I was headed to Dutch Springs for the weekend. Not sure if they found my plans interesting or crazy, but either way, I think my plans are both a little crazy and interesting, and that’s what matters. 🙂 So my car is packed, and Shane was already on his way to our meet up spot from Maryland. I met up with Shane around 11:30am, and moved his gear to my car and off we went. I had contacted the fella that I met 2 years ago, in the last few weeks, once I knew that the weather would work in our favor and that plans were still solid. I asked if he remembered me, and he did. Great news. He would also be available that day to get us in the gate. Fantastic. Charlie is a great guy, and when we called him from the gate, he headed down and let us in. He took us to his cabin, invited us inside, and then proceeded to tell us that he will be in and out all day, but he would leave a key for us to get into his place so we could shower, etc. WOW!! Talk about hospitality! He barely knows me, and he has never met Shane before. We talked about that most of the rest of the day on and off. We just couldn’t believe there are still people that kind out in the world. We though, being the sort that we are, I suppose ‘raised right’ would be a term I would use here, were absolutely not going to overstay our welcome in any way. We were so grateful that someone was willing to help us out and get us access to this great little pond. We headed the rest of the way up to, and then across, the little creek, and found a parking spot tucked in the trees. Charlie came up the road a short time later just to make sure we found our way up there, again, what a great guy. We still have an open invitation from him to come up anytime, all we have to do is let him know. I don’t use last names here often, in case you are wondering, because I don’t want people who are kind to me to be pested.
We unpacked gear and began organizing it all onto two dollies I had rented from Uhaul the day before. I wonder if they have ever had dollies rented for quite such a reason. These turned out to be more of a hindrance about 200 feet up the trail, and we abandoned the idea, and just carried all the gear in two trips, but now we were carrying dollies with us too. It didn’t take long though, and now we had all of our gear up at the dive site, almost a quarter mile straight up the mountain from the car. We had done it. All the planning. The waiting. We were here, and it was beautiful.
We did 2 dives, as I just mentioned the first was 62 minutes, the second was 37 minutes. Max depth was just shy of 12 feet, although I did see my dive computer hit 12 once. We did our first part of the first dive following each other, to look around and get an overall feel of what is in here. A few downed trees, a few fish that seemed intent on staying out of sight. It didn’t seem that there was much in there at first pass. Then we started looking a little harder at the bottom, and then it began, the search for the strangest discarded thing we could find. Shane won… hands down. He has some kind of uncanny knack for spotting the out of place that I can’t explain. The fishing pole… whole fishing pole.. was one thing, and not really out of the ordinary. Bottles, including an unopened minute made orange juice from who knows when, CO2 cartridges from BB guns, things like that. The Naval Flare was a curious object he found. But the best, and I wish I had it on film as he pulled it from the muck and we looked at each other laughing and wide eyed, was the 4 quart sauce pan. He pulled it out by the handle, it was just a block shaped thing at the end of a handle, but as he twisted his hand to spin the object, and the muck began to fall away, it revealed itself. What a laugh we had underwater on that one. I want to say that finding that pot is not so odd, but what is odd is that it is a quarter mile from the nearest very private road. It is 3-3.4 miles from the nearest public road with a clear trail to get you there. So the wonder comes from… who carried that here, and then discarded it by chucking it into the middle of this pond? He also found an entire sleeping bag, still rolled up but couldn’t remove it, and then we couldn’t find it again later. Another time perhaps. We piled our collected findings on the dam, perhaps Shane got a picture of it that I can include here, but when the day was over, we packed all of that back down to my car also and discarded in a trash can properly. On the second dive, we mostly split up, but kept an eye on each other. Shane was still on the search for that sleeping bag. I on the other hand, was after fish. There are native brown trout in this pond. Not many, but we would see them jumping occasionally, and we were told by a fella walking his dog as we were packing to head up that they were in here. I would catch glimpses, but they would dart away. I wanted some on film. I eventually located a small school of fingerlings in a few inches to a foot of water, at the upper end where Schubert’s creek enters the pond, and keeps it filled. There is a downed tree there, with all of it’s branches and trunk sections in the water. I had to swim/crawl through this tree, climbing it horizontally if you will, to get close enough for video. I was in perhaps 2-3 feet of water, but the bottom is so thick with muck that standing wasn’t possible, and to mess with the muck only stirred it up badly, so there I am with scuba gear, breathing from the tank, in knee to waist deep water. I felt a little silly, but knew it was also the only way. I would get caught up on branches, snagging my regulator hose or my tank. Back up, get untangled, and try again at a different angle. I finally made it into where they were and got a little video before the swam off. I was happy with that. Quality isn’t the best, but it’s something at least. Then we finished up, got out, changed, and hauled everything back out. And that was that. I called Charlie later that evening to thank him once again and let him know that we had safely done all that we came to do, and had gotten back out of the community. I told him of all we had found, and promised him photos and more information for him to share with his community if they were interested. I will no doubt be calling him tomorrow to get an email address, or let him know that if he wishes he can accept my friend request on FB, and I can get him the link for this page, and anything else that I would like for him to have. Now, for the history of this dam. Upon getting home, I had so many renewed questions. When was it built… why .. was it built. Why was it called the ‘power dam’ as we had called it when we were kids? I believed this to be just a name that was passed on or we had made up, since the dam does resemble something that could have been used at one time for a purpose like Hydro-electricity. Was it part of the Scout camp (Shikellamy) that is now defunct, closed and the land sold, the camp merged with one just on the other side of the mountain? Why would a scout camp want a dam such as this? The list goes on, but after a few days of talking to my uncle Harry, who has been involved in the scouts for decades, and further searches for articles, I found the truth… and I was amazed and excited to say the least. This deserves a separate article which I am linking to here. Read on if you wish to see the history, especially if you grew up in Rehrersburg, Bethel, Straustown, or Schubert PA. Links to videos that I took during the dive. Some are quite awful. My camera work was NOT on par that day, hopefully Shane’s was, but this is what I have for now if you wish to look. Getting Video of some fingerling Brown Trout, squirming through a downed tree, etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMFdAdF63A4 WARNING: Cursing in this one! Dropping into the water, gearing up. I almost fell off the backside. The dam wasn’t level at that spot. All for a dramatic entrance, we walked in after this. 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9nJ_qjzLuo Just another underwater video, I’m not even sure there is anything to see in this one, and the water was getting murky by this point. We had been cleaning up trash on the bottom, stirring the water up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dvnk3eLLEE Just another random video, shoreline at first, then me following Shane and searching the bottom. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuRY-Vy02pA Searching for trash on the bottom, Shane finds a CO2 cartridge near the shoreline. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LF4GpiRU3v0 A fella came along with his dog, named Mellow, while we were down. He never asked a single question, just watched the bubbles coming up. Then he threw a stick for Mellow to fetch, Mellow wasn’t real sure of the strange creatures in the water. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMjEspzAoIA The three of us checking out the water right after we arrived, and had hauled all of our gear up. It’s a little glitchy, sorry. I was a little tired from hauling gear, so I let YouTube correct the shakiness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1ny7ve12uQ Just a short video featuring Shane Keller, to show the clarity of the water. I think this was shortly after we got in, we may have made one lap around the pond at this point. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehaFLHKphTs And a few more photo’s that I figured I would include.
Thanks for reading, now go find your own adventure while you have air in your lungs. Every day you can take a mini vacation in your own backyard, if you’ll only look. Denny
I have searched far and wide, for a long time, years perhaps, on and off when the mood would strike me, but now I finally have the answers, and if you grew up in this area, you will find it interesting too I believe. Growing up, we use to trek up to this dam all the time, whether on bicycle, or after we could drive. We hiked in here year after year from RT. 183, a 3-3.5 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Not the easiest one either. Pennsylvania’s section of the AT is known to be one of the rockiest. I have always loved this hike though, and after pulling off this Scuba Dive ‘Expedition’, I really wanted to know more about it.
- What did I call this place in my log book?
- What is it’s history so that I could write up the dive report/article/post on this dive for my blog?
- When was it built?
- WHY.. was it built?
- By whom?
I am a curious person by nature, and I need answers to things or I simply can’t put the thought to rest. I contacted my Uncle Harry about it, since he has been involved in scouting for decades in this area. This goes back into his childhood, and he remembered the scout camp below, describing in detail how I probably got up to the dam by car. He mentioned that there were articles to be found, and that one had been written as recently as a few years ago, so off I went on Google with a renewed vigor to find the answers. He had a few details that got me started on this search, so special thanks to him! Here is what I found….
This article announces that on October 18th, a group of men will be forming a charter for a corporation to be known as the Blue Mountain Electric Company. This corporation’s character and object will be to supply light, heat and power, by means of electricity, to the public in Bethel Township, Berks County. The surprising thing, at least for me, is that it goes on to state that the power will be generated by Hydro-Electric generation, and that the water will come from a large dam at the top of the Blue Mountains. Power, heat and light will be supplied to Bethel, Millersburg, Strausstown, and Rehrersburg. It should be noted, that Millersburg is now Bethel as you can see from this map of the area from 1876. I am not sure why they named it twice in this article, perhaps a misprint? Later articles, as we shall get to, name Schubert as the 4th town to be supplied power. It then goes on to name the members of the company, which reads as an almost who’s who of family names, names we are mostly all familiar with. If you grew up in this area, you most likely have known of one, or several, of these last names. This is a short article, just a little announcement. But judging by the next write up I found, it was a huge success! And that is where the pride in our little area of the world comes into play for me.
December 8, 1907. The Reading eagle. Only 11 pages in the Sunday Edition, but it prints nearly a full page article on these 4 men and their accomplishment titled, “Blue Mountain Streams Furnish Cheap Electricity, Light and Power for Enterprising Villages in NorthWestern Berks”
Read this article, because I cannot do it justice. Here is my overall take on it though.
The first paragraph states that OUR little area was “far in advance of the average village in that they are lighted with electricity”. From Hydro-Electric power! Over 100 years ago! Amazing! Four of our towns, fairly wide spread, were all powered from that one little dam. We had green energy when it simply made sense to harness it, not as a statement. They even mention in the article that for years this resource has simply gone to waste. It goes on to say that two years ago it was announced that these men would be building this electric plant, and that basically many scoffed at the idea and “prophesied” that nothing would come of it and that it was all just talk. It was the idea of a teacher in the Electrical Engineering department of Lehigh University. His name was Stanley S. Seifert, of Strausstown Pennsylvania. He shared his plan at a meeting with several other well known names from our history in this small town area, and after a little checking into the feasibility, they agreed to the plan. They started with a capital of $8,000, the company was incorporated, and work commenced. It doesn’t state exactly when the dam itself was physically build, but from what I can gather this was done either in ’06, or ’07, as the preliminary tests were done during the summer of ’07 and it was put into full use by October of that year. My best guess is that it was built in early to mid 1907.
The dam is 120 feet long, and 22 feet high, and extends into the side of the mountain. This, to me, would explain why this dam is still so solid. It shows no signs of giving way anytime soon. It doesn’t appear to even leak. Go to the York haven Dam near York Haven Pa (it backs up the water known as lake Frederic for Three Mile Island) and look at it from the downstream side, it leaks. Now granted, the Susquehanna river does take it’s toll on that dam. The York Haven dam, but the way, was built in 1904. I only mention so as not to leave that detail dangling.
It goes on. From the dam the water is carried in eight inch steel pipes a distance of 3200 feet to the foot of the mountain where it shoots from a nozzle one and one half inches in diameter to spin a pelton water wheel 23 inches in diameter. The drop from the dam to the power station is 372 feet and can generate 75 horsepower.
The power is then distributed a distance of 10 miles to the 4 towns previously mentioned. It states that the electric plant is a success in every way and that the users of the current are loud in their praises of the conveniences they enjoy, because of the enterprise of a few of their neighbors. Some had power put in their homes, and in the local hotels. The streets were lit. The shirt factories we all remember were provided power. At the point this article was written, and remember, it was JUST after they got the service under way, there were 300 lights in Strausstown, 200 in Rehrersburg, 200 in Bethel, and 35 in Schubert (Schubert is a smaller town, little more spread out in it’s set up). It then goes on to list the various businesses, mostly shirt factories, and how many machines are now powered from this new enterprising source.
Of interest is the charges for power, I won’t go into them, read for yourself please, but they charged a flat rate per month by what you were powering. For instance, 1 downstairs 16-candle power light was 50 cents per month. If you had two of them, 40 cents each, and the rates kept dropping as such per additional light.
It concludes that many other local areas were going to watch and see how their venture turned out, and no doubt, launch similar plans. “These will have the advantage of the men who engaged in this undertaking for they will have some precedent to go by.”
I can’t seem to find the links anymore, but the company was said to have run this plant for 10 years before taking it out of operation. I assume it was to move to a more ‘modern’ type of generation such as coal firing. The company was then sold to Met Ed around 1927-1928 as a lot of the smaller companies were doing.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this as interesting as I did. That our little area of the world was on the forefront of a technology that we still dream of harnessing well.
Oh, it’s that time of year I suppose. My brain is completely absorbed with caving. To be more precise, the locating of caves.
I am starting to believe it is the research portion that gives me the greatest satisfaction. The knowing that something is out there, having the most general of ideas of where it is located, then taking those details and starting the search.
Little bit by little bit a picture starts to form. New information makes itself available, leading to new searches. Exhilerating. Making the first phone calls and contacts, the awkwardness of it, random call from a random person asking about something so random. Wondering if they put it together…put together the fact that you have been staring at maps of their property for hours, even days sometimes. That you could step onto their property and walk to any tree line or rock outcropping from memory. That you can visually see their property in your head any time you like. That you google their name and now know details about their life, all in the search for something that they may see as trivial. Bizzare, awkward.
So this is where I am at. I have a new interest, a new cave. This one, and I am not giving the name out yet, sits 25 feet down a vertical drop, that is the entrance. The cave itself is quite small, just one large room as far as I can tell from the map that I have of this system from the late 60’s. The interesting thing is the water. There is a pond within this cave. There is a pond AND there is some underwater cave portions! And there in lies the extreme. There in lies the draw….for me at least. I am not cave certified (as a diver), but have a friend that is, so I contact him. He is quite interested, and gives me some background on his experiance with cave diving and sumps in Pennsylvania. I also contact a local Grotto to ask for some updated info. An article in particular, written many years ago, by the two guys, and only two that I know of, who have put tanks in the water in this cave. They say they will help find the old article in the archives, and that there may be a newer article and updated map from the 90’s. I am told that as much as several hundred feet of cave may have been added to this system, and I am hoping that is underwater cave feet. I can’t go into it, at least not yet. Without training, this would be a death sentance. I don’t have a death wish, so I will wait for now. I can, however, get into the pond that is in this cave. Since there are no overhead obstructions, I can get into this portion, and I will.
The pond looks to be 75 feet by 30 feet and up to 10 feet deep. That’s fantastic. There is also some life in this pond that may only be found in this particular cave. I need to do more research on that though. I do know that it was at least discussed at one time, whether or not to add a species to the endangered species list that it appears may only be found in this cave. My desire to get into this pond, is to photograph, and to assist my colleague if he goes into this cave.
So that is where I am at right now. I am trying to do a better job of keeping up with this blog, like a journal of sorts. I need to try to write at least every few days.
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.
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.