Nov. 7, 1994
It was a great weekend to ridgewalk! The weather was far too nice to be underground so we used it to locate new caves. Dave Crenshaw and I caravaned up to the slopes of Spruce Knob early on Friday and, after prepositioning my truck at the parking lot two miles below Seneca Falls, we proceeded to a prearranged camping spot near the road to the summit. I king of blew it for us when I misinterpreted our location on the topo map and pitched my tent on unmarked but private land. Things were quiet enough when Scott Smith showed up and again when Pete Penczer and Madeline Li arrived. Miles Drake and Joanne Smith arrove at midnight and informed us we were a half mile short of the national forest land. We immediately began a bugout. Miles and Jo escaped clean but the rest of us were intercepted by the land owner. After some terse questions and my profuse apologies said landowner took our tag numbers, made sure I saw that he was armed and then told us we were "two" miles short of "gubmint land". We regrouped down the road and decided to head over the mountain to Spruce Knob lake camping area. When we settled in it was 1:30 a.m.
An early start the next day got us to the trailhead by 8:30. The weather was beautiful! I carried a GPS (Global Positioning System) and used it to get fixes on the positions of Lumberjack and Ice caves. Due to a lack of fresh batteries I wasn't leaving the GPS on long enough to get a solid fix (as I learned later), fortunately Miles backtracked our trail and got the readings for me later.
Moving at a kick butt pace our plan was to cover the 5 miles to the jumping off point as quickly as possible. We took one short break at three miles and later stopped for lunch at the five mile point. While there we had a look around for the cave Dave Roberts had found on our first ridgewalk. In the process I located a crack that issued a strong, cold breeze but was too narrow for passage. Dave Crenshaw bellied into the hole we were looking for and found a low, wet but going lead. I went in next and led by Jasper the cave dog made it through about 100 feet of low crawl before wimping out. Not having a dry change of clothes on the surface I wasn't willing to crawl through the puddle Jasper had just crossed. I did use Jasper's wonderfully reflective eyes to guestimate another 50 feet of crawl ahead. This is a wet cave and will require dry weather to do it. Unfortunately it's remoteness makes it a weekend pack in trip, not easily accomplished in the bitter winters of the Spruce Knob area. The spring will later find high water levels in the entrance making it too dangerous to enter so it looks like a lead for next summer.
Picking ourselves up we discussed strategy and stretched out in a tiger line. The people at the top of the slope had it easiest, those at the bottom had it really rough. Due to the difficult terrain we found ourselves continually getting stretched out across the hills and ravines. Those on top would wait impatiently for those at the bottom. Those at the bottom were killing themselves to cover all the exposed limestone and possible leads. Because of the rugged terrain we were only able to cover about two miles, half of our original goal. In those two miles however, we did come across two items of significance.
After stopping for a rest in a meadow we decided to press on for another half mile before setting up camp. As we got to our feet and ambled away Miles spotted a small pit plugged with stones. He pulled a few rocks out but soon gave it up. I began digging and after a few encouraging words from Pete was able to pull the key stone that let the entire plug drop into the two foot diameter shaft. You never saw such an organized reflex as seven cavers and a dog all lept back from that collapsing hole. I had the best view and was surprised at how quickly the plug went from stone to 18 feet deep. I poked my head in and used a flashlight to illuminate our find. A beautifully built well. Obviously very old but without the slightest deterioration. The walls were lined with rock, neatly stacked and perfectly circular. There was no water at the bottom however and that prompted a discussion as to why anyone would dig a well on a shallow alluvial plain supported by limestone. Come to think of it, maybe there's more there than meets the eye. Later it was suggested that this might have been a cistern.
We covered the hole with logs, got a good GPS lock, and continued on our way. Dave walked up on the next find, a small sink with headwall at the bottom. It looked as if any entrance that might have existed at the bottom of the sink had been "throwed in". No air movement was noted but it appeared that rain water did run down through the stone piled at the bottom of the outcrop. We mused awhile and kept on moving.
Two ridgelines later it was 4:00 p.m. and we were all bushed. Our cumulative mileage ranged from about 7 to 10 miles depending on where you walked on the mountain and how long you got lost for. I think Jo set the record for the day. We found a quiet saddle behind a knob above Seneca Creek and put up our tents. From then on it was rest, food and campfire. Everybody relaxed and enjoyed the setting. The only other evidence of humans was the occasional jetliner passing high overhead.
The sun was down quickly and by 8 p.m. I felt like it was 1 a.m. The weather was terrific! But most of us were too tired to sit up and enjoy the evening. I think Pete and I sat around the fire until 11 p.m. before calling it a night. The last thing I heard as I drifted off to sleep was the wind in the trees overhead and the does on the ridge above us snorting at our foreign scent.
Sometime during the night I was awakened by a fast falling rain. I worried about my pack, hung from a branch, and hoped that Pete and Madeline would be dry under their tarp. All three came out none the worse for wear the next morning.
Sunday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, it was decided that we would split up for the hike out. Miles and Joe would head to the top of the ridge and follow Lumberjack trail back to the parking lot. Dave, Scott, Pete, Madeline and I would drop down into the Seneca Creek canyon and head down stream to my prepositioned truck. We checked one more ravine for caves, loaded our water bottles and walked downhill to where the ravine and its stream dropped into the Seneca Creek canyon from a 30 foot precipice. The next two miles were a tedious process of picking our way through rain slick boulders and across slippery creek crossings. After 6 crossings in 1/2 mile I gave up and started wading across. It was safer and I was gonna get wet eventually, anyway. I might have regretted my decision to come down this route if it weren't for the beautiful pools full of trout and cascades of water over sandstone outcrops. At it's worst the canyon was about 40 feet wide but that's also when it was the most spectacular, water poured from ledge to pool, reversed direction and poured into other pools below.
At times we were able to make good progress on the intermittent remnants of the old logging railroad grade, but the flood of 1985 had left little to work with. After two miles of canyon "passage" we made it to a place I'd seen on the topo, an area where the valley widened to over 100 feet across and found the railroad grade to be largely intact. This made the remaining 4 miles to the car a lot more bearable. We passed lots of pools and small falls, stopped for a while at Seneca Falls. We chatted a bit with guests of the landowner just below Seneca Falls and found them to be congenial enough. They inquired as to how far we had come and then replied that we didn't have much farther to go (nudge, nudge, nod, nod, wink, wink). In the last two miles to the truck we passed lots of day trippers, one a kayaker who claims to have traversed the entire length of Seneca Creek during the spring flood. He said there are seven waterfalls along its length.
It was 1 p.m. when we reached the truck and with fantasies of a 4-U lunch on our tongues we pulled away only to find I had a flat tire. A quick change later and we were on the road. Greasy food never tastes so good as when you've been living on water based food for two days. We filled up and piled back in for the ride up the mountain to where everyone had left their vehicle. On the way up the knob we passed Miles and Jo. Knowing they were o.k. we were all able to beat feet out of there as quickly as possible. In the aftermath I think we can say that it was a success. We had a larger turn out than at our first walk but we had significantly steeper terrain to cover, thus our progress was only half of what we had hoped. We quit at a spot that will be easy to return to when we get that rambling fever again in spring. After we accomplish those next two miles everything else will be cakewalk, all within easy distance of a road. Other than the lack of lea it was a great weekend to be out and probably the last one like that for th year. Shame you weren't there.
And did I mention that the weather was beautiful?
Devin S. Kouts