It was off to a great day. The sun was out and temperatures in the 60s. Sara, Amy, and I had planned a Carnegie Cave trip weeks ago and were finally going to go. It was Amy’s first time doing a cave of great length (greater than 50 feet). Previously she had done the Johnson Caves in Mifflin County, PA. We arrived at the parking area around 12:30 p.m. after obtaining permission from a landowner near the cave. He was delighted as usual that we asked for permission as generally most people don’t ask. Local Shippensburg college students usually park in the grass along the road and go to the cave. He had no real complaints about cavers. I asked about garbage and he said only a little is left here and there and had no concerns on this issue. He mentioned usually he can tell who the “real” cavers are compared to spelunkers and he will approach them as needed.
We geared up, walked to the highway culvert entrance pipe, took some “before” pictures, and headed in the cave. The ribbed culvert pipe that goes underneath I-81 contained the usual pools of muddy, standing water throughout. I once again forgot my knee pads and my knees got a good beating getting into the cave. When we got to the end of the culvert pipe, Sara noticed Amy had a brown mark on the back of her jeans. We made a few jokes and comments and then took another picture of her rear before heading deeper underground. Once we entered the first walking passage encountered in the cave, I immediately noticed some new orange spray-painted graffiti that I did not see early on in the summer on a trip to the cave with a Harrisburg scout troop. I looked elsewhere in the entrance area and only found that one section of the paint. Obviously the vandals didn’t make it too far into the cave or ran out of paint. We explored basically all the eastern sections of the branchwork cave without incident. There was no flowing water this trip, just the very muddy standing pools everywhere. I figured this would be the case since the stream which flows outside of the cave was dry as usual during the fall season. We stopped got some pictures and looked at both damaged and un-damaged formations.
Once we got back to the main room, we explored the northwestern canyon of the cave. For being in the cave probably over 20 trips myself, all went as expected. When we got the intimidating cork-screw type belly crawl, Sara and Amy made it through like pros but right before we started through I splashed my face with the muddy pool in front of the crawl and needed to flush my eye. Luckily Sara packed contact solution in the my cave pack and I flushed out the dirt. We leisurely continued exploring the rest of the cave passages. On the way back out of the cork-screw crawl, Sara took her helmet off coming out the crawl, and fell into a muddy pool of water, completely covering her face and hair. Amy helped her up and once again the contact solution came in handy. Sara looked like a mud covered monster or as if she came out of Harlansburg Cave. We exited the cave around 3:30 p.m. or so and took some “after” photos at the culvert entrance pipe and started walking back to the vehicle where I slid on the hillside near the cave entrance and gently and gracefully fell. It was all a good laugh. With all the mud and slickness inside the cave, I end up falling while walking outside. I got back up and we changed at the vehicle and attempted to clean up Sara with baby wipes. I didn’t have enough but Sara improvised and got her face cleaned up. As for the hair, it would wait for 3 hours or so for her and Amy’s trip back home to New Jersey. Overall a great trip and excellent beginners cave during low water levels but as always it is a muddy mess which you have to make the best out of it which we successfully did.
By Kerry Speelman