Checking Out Some Less Popular Caves

Cave: Various
Date: December 28-30, 1998
By: Chuck Hilpert
Personnel: Chuck Hilpert, Charlie Hilpert 9, Tom Griffiths 15, Bob Brannan 13

To finish off the 98 calendar year I planned a winter camping/cave trip to Venango County on December 28th, 29th and 30th. Along with me was my son Charlie 9, my nephew Tom Griffiths 15 and his friend Bob Brannan 13.

The main intent of this excursion was to locate three caves as described in (caves of Western Pennsylvania 1976 by William White). Though the book was revised in 76 most of the information comes from early editions in the 30's and 50's.

First on our list to find was Cimino, located on a power line right-of-way. Although the cave is located exactly as described in the book, we still had some trouble finding it. The area is littered with large sandstone boulders protruding from the ground, many with small openings underneath that look promising but lead to nowhere. The actual cave is several large boulders partially buried in the hillside that give about 40 ft. of passages under and between the smooth gray sandstone. The cave may be more interesting in the summer as it is described as a cold air cave and ice is said to remain during the summer months.

Second on our list was Sanford Cave, located on the same right-of-way as Cimino. Itís described in the book as, " A crawl way for 50 ft. with an exit at the other end to small for human traversal". Tom was determined to not let this cave be as boring as it seemed. After squeezing past a dead porcupine at the midway point, he continued on to the exit. This is the "exit to small for human traversal". As we stood above, Tom slid his helmet through the exit and began to contort and wriggle his body through the Z shaped crack. The escape took about 15 minutes. I think the description in the book is still accurate, the discrepancy lies in the fact that Tom is a little less than human, possibly containing genes of a cave salamander.

From there we headed to Pittsville and made camp along the Allegheny River below Old Rockland Station.

The next dayís adventures led us to Bully Hill Cave, above the town of Franklin. This cave is located from a power line R-O-W that intersects Bully Hill Road. The power line structures have been changed since the book was written and the entrance to the cave is actually located between the 4th and 5th structure not the 3rd. As we discovered on our wild goose hunt, or the other less plausible conclusion is that someone moved the cave. But this sandstone cave is worth finding. After poking around in the front of the cave for about an hour, unable to find the extensive passages described, we began to think that the rest of the cave was closed by break down as many passages ended that way. However, once again Tomís tenacity paid off and he and sidekick Bob found an upper passage that did indeed lead to large and extensive thoroughfares, hundreds of feet, some 25 feet high, some quite small and tight; but dry, fun and interesting. You might expect this from a cave whoís twin side by side entrances resemble the racer at Kennywood.

Being 4:30 p.m. we hastened back toward Pittsville to make camp before dark. This time we would set up near an old iron furnace along Shull Run. As I squeezed my super cab 250 down a narrow jeep trail, (the last squeeze of the day) the thought of warm fire and chili dogs inspired us to work fast. Actually the thought of resting and having a cold beer inspired me.

The weather had been relatively mild for this December trip but thank God and Mother Nature, the boys werenít going to get off easy this time. Our bellies were full, the fire blazing, everyone lying comfortably outside their bags. A tarp awning rustled in the breeze as we consumed junk food in our long johns. "YOU BOYS LOOK A LITTLE TO COMFY!", I heard the wind say as it changed from breeze to gust. The gust became a howling sustained wind bringing in rain. Not to worry the rain didnít last long, the temperature dropped and it changed to sleet. Now 25 degrees colder, our clothes went back on and in the bags we went. YE HAW! This is the winter camping that I wanted the boys to experience.

Charlie is a veteran, heís been coming along since he was six, but Tom and Bob were green and Mother Nature wasnít done teaching her boys yet. The wind continued mercilessly blowing the smoke into our shelter until we were all seasoned like smoke house hams. But luck came our way as the wind finally snapped one of the lines holding the tarp. Luck because this relieved the smoke problem and by now the sleet had changed to snow and at least snow is dry when its that cold. Are we having fun yet?

Late that night when the storm had passed, the cloud cover gave way to one of the most beautiful night skies that I had ever witnessed. With embers glowing in the fire pit, ice glistening on the treetops, the gentle sound of the stream in the valley blow and 3 young men sleeping peacefully dusted with snow. The night gave little clue of the bedtime story that Mom Nature had just read to her disciples.

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Modified: Wednesday, 12-Mar-2014 09:38:26 EDT