Bootlegger Sink Trip Report

Early in the year of 2009, the company I worked for was contracted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to help with a groundwater study in Emigsville in York County, Pennsylvania. The study area contained two caves including Bootlegger Sink and Emig Cave. As part of the work scope, access to Bootlegger Sink was proposed to evaluate bedrock structure and groundwater quality. Charlie Klinger of the Greater Allentown Grotto (GAG and MAKC) and myself from the Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy (MAKC) and Franklin County Grotto (FCG) were chosen from our company to reliably and safely access the cave and perform the assessment since we both had many years of experience caving and in the environmental industry. I couldn’t believe it; this was a first for both of us, getting paid to go caving.

In November 2009, I contacted the property owner representative and discussed Bootlegger Sink access, conditions, recent history, and our purpose for access. The representative reported the last time the caves was accessed was by him about 3 or 4 years ago and he was not aware of anyone who may have entered the cave since 2001. He reported the details on the cave gate which consisted of a locked, steel sheet door with hinges with a fixed steel ladder. The ladder was reported to be corroded and some anchors midway on the ladder were rusted away. As a result, I obtained the vertical equipment necessary to safely access the cave. We then set a date to access the cave for November 23, 2009. The representative scheduled the York County Fire Department on standby in case of an emergency.

On November 23, 2009, Charlie Klinger and I arrived at the property and met with the property owner representative. The site contact was very friendly and accommodating as we got the tour of the property and were provided use of the facilities. We provided a description and map of the cave to the representative and we reviewed the cave gate and opened the lid to take a look. Then we closed up the cave and went to a conference room in a nearby building to review the health and safety procedures and the access plan.

After about one-half hour., we drove near the cave entrance and began gearing up for the trip. As we were setting up an exclusion zone, various fire fighters/EMS personnel, the DEP, other representatives, and the project manger from my company arrived at the cave. After everyone got the opportunity to look in the pit, we finished setting up the exclusion zone with “caution tape”. We then sent down the combustible gas monitor to determine oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon monoxide content along with detecting the presence of explosive gases. All were within acceptable ranges and no air flow was observed going into or out of the entrance.
After determining the cave atmosphere was safe, we descended one at a time down the corroded, steel ladder on belay. The ladder wobbled as I descended on the rungs and I observed an area of the ladder where anchors were broken from corrosion but I deemed it was competent enough to support the limited access for now but that it definitely needed to be replaced. As I approached the landing where the steel ladder rested, I noticed a second wooden ladder that dropped another 10 feet or so.

This ladder was in good condition and did not need replaced. I cleared the drop area and Charlie followed.

The remaining gear (i.e., packs, compass and clinometers, Brunton Compass, camera, sampling equipment, etc.) was lowered into the cave by others on the surface and we glanced around the room where we noted small formations, minor amounts of trash, and a pool of clear water. We immediately sampled the water in the pool prior to disturbing the cave environment and determined the depth from the gate to the pool in the entrance room which was approximately 40 feet below the top of the gate.

After taking some bedrock measurements, we leisurely explored the small side passages. The rimstone passage contained dry rimstone pools and cave pearls were observed in areas where water was dripping from the ceiling. A side passage, which was the highest in elevation in comparison to the floor of the entrance room, contained a snake crawling on ledges along the walls, iron-stained red flowstone, and a small pool of water. Another passage at the lowest level of the cave contained bones and shells cemented in sediment on the ceiling. After crawling further back this side passage, we observed a relatively large room with a deep pool of water and flowstone. After exploring the majority of Bootlegger Sink, we exited the cave.

Overall, the cave is definitely worth visit, especially if you are interested in bones as the cave is a significant “bone” cave. The cave was reported to be closed sometime in the early 1990s. Currently access is off limits until the groundwater study is completed (hopefully by the end of 2010). After this is done access to the cave may be temporarily permitted if a cave group is willing to replace the ladder and gate.

After the trip, we located Emigs Cave in a nearby limestone outcrop but did not enter as we did not have permission.

By Kerry Speelman