Caving in New York State

During July 1975, I drove a red 68 Mustang from Atlanta to Rochester, NY for a month of training with Eastman Kodak and was looking for something to do on the weekends. I found John Freeman who also worked for Kodak and he invited me on a caving trip for the weekend.

I followed him to the top a hill where the cavers had a small shack with a fair size cave near by. The group had a band and they played most of the night. The rock group was good but I was not into that kind of music, a little too loud for my taste. I started out sleeping in a small tent, Then it started to rain and turned colder, the rain got so hard that I moved into the Mustang. Pushed the passenger seat forward as far as possible and tried to make a bed between the back seat and the front seat. I was not too successful and stayed up most of the night. The rain and lightening were strange, it was sideways running through the clouds like nothing I have ever seen.

The next day Jack took a few of us that were from out of town to show us a new cave. One of the couples was from Australia visiting in the States. He felt that we would be leaving and the cave location could remain a secret for a while. I believe that the name was Raccoon Cave. There were many Raccoon tracks in the cave and even high on the walls.

The entrance was small and tight, just a crack along the side of a small rock wall. The cave was small but had some nice formations. There was even a possibly that it could be pushed through a large crack to deeper levels.

Jack was a member of the Cave Research Foundation (CRF) and he gave me a copy of the CRF Personal Manual. The CRF was the major force behind the exploration of the Flint Ridge System in central Kentucky and the connection of this system with Mammoth Cave. Jack was also a member of a group that explored 7.5 miles, Lee Cave, beneath the northeastern edge of Joppa Ridge, in Mammoth Cave National Park a few years earlier.

New York caves are colder than the ones in the south and much wetter also. I purchased a 3/4 wet suit and used it each time I went caving in New York State. The cave behind the shack followed a stream passage to a small room at the back with few formations. You could see the complete cave in about fifteen minutes.

Herkimer, New York is the home of the Herkimer Diamonds, These are large crystals but not real diamonds. We walked across a farmers field, kicking up a few diamonds along the way until we reached what looked like a mine shaft. The pit had a ladder and we climbed down about 20 feet to the floor of the cave. The passage was cold and damp as we crawl along around several turns. It also kept getting smaller and lower. My friend who brought me to this cave was up ahead and pushing hard. Being young and with a lot to learn, I told him to keep on going, he rolled over and said that I was welcome to pass him and go ahead. I inched passed him and headed for the next turn in the passage to see what surprise might be waiting around the next turn.

Hard hat off and slowly pushing it ahead, exhaling to move forward, I finely gave up. It was just too tight. I announced that I was coming back. With no room to turn around there was only one thing to do, back out the same way I went in. Went I cave I carry an army gas mask bag with all my gear, an army belt with the battery for my head light and all this fits nicely at my sides. When I started to back out, everything started going wrong. All my gear started moving toward my chest where it was already so tight that I could hardly breathe and I had to release all the air in my lungs just to move.

My arms were in front of my head and I could not move them to release my belt. I could not turn around and I was stuck! Panic set in as I lay there against the cold rock and I wondered if this would be my grave. Over the next 20 minutes or longer, I would exhale as much air as possible and dig my toes into the rock, pulling backward a fraction of an inch at a time. Each movement only resulted in the Chinese finger getting tighter. At last, the passage relented and gave me a little more room and I eased on back with my toes. That was the last time that I egged on a fellow caver, I had learned my lesson.

My friend, I cannot recall his name, took me to several small caves around Albany that weekend and even showed me his old swimming hole, which turned out to be the city water reservoir. No swimming was allowed, but that did not stop us or the local kids we ran into along the way. We took the well-worn path along under the low brush to the edge of the lake. There was a high bank with a tree that reached out over the deep water. Attached to a limb was a rope. One of the young boys climbed the tree and by swinging the rope over to the bank we were able to grab it. It was a long swing out over the water and very high. I also did not know how cold the deep water would be.

I hit the water hard and went deep, grasping for air, the cold water took my breath away. I tried it a few more times but was not having as much fun as the younger boys.

I had two or three good and exciting weekends on that trip, and learned a lot. Mostly that I was not as young as I thought I was.

Updated: September 20, 2020 — 3:24 pm

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