It was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Ok, wasn’t so much stormy as much as just raining, but I was headed towards Knox Cave again. People often ask me what my favorite cave is. Honestly, there is no answer. I have some caves I like less than others (cough, Parks Ranch Cave in New Mexico) and some I like more than others. Knox is in that latter category. It’s what I could call an “optionally vertical” cave. By that I mean it has a ladder at the bottom of the entrance sinkhole. Some adults prefer a belay (and under 16 it’s basically mandatory).

The brief amount of vertical is one of the reasons I like this particular cave. The other is that geologically, it’s fairly interesting. For one thing, it passes through three distinct layers of limestone, though I’ve only really seen two of them, the Coeymans and Manlius. Below the Manlius is the Cobleskill-Brayman. There’s a brief spot this can be seen from the main part of the cave, but otherwise, getting to it is quite difficult and I haven’t done it.

Besides seeing distinct types of limestone, the cave is basically a series of parallel fissures that give the cave a certain geometry that I like. As a result of these fissures, there’s a section I call the “Foundation of the Gods” since it’s almost like large foundation blocks were put in a 2-3 rows parallel to each other. Only I really call it that, but for those curious to the area I mean, I’m referring to the passage that leads back to the so called “Mudroom”.

This part of the cave I rarely get back to these days for a variety of reasons, but one in particular is interesting to note. Getting into the Mudroom is not necessarily easy. It requires a bit of contortion to navigate a tight crawl that ends in a passage where one has to rotate to a sitting position before standing. We’ve determined the limiting factor at getting in or out is femur length. It’s not easy, and I’ve found my cave suit often sticks to the cave mud in the crawl so I find myself crawling into the shoulders of my cave suit, but not really moving. It’s frustrating. One ends up breathing a bit heavily and feeling stressed.

Well over a decade ago a buddy of mine and my son and I decided to go into Knox and get at least as far as the Mudroom. My friend’s intent was to collect some gas level data for a project he’s been working on. One of the gasses measured is CO2 levels. His monitor immediately started to alarm as soon as he started to measure the level. This had never happened before. In other words, the CO2 levels here were higher than any other cave he had measured things in up to that point. Well, funny enough CO2 levels are correlated to hyperventilation and can induce feelings of stress. For once I could honestly say “it’s the cave, not me.” (ok, honestly, it’s partly me, I’m larger than I was as a freshman college student cave so that has made this a bit harder to get into.)

One last detail that makes this area interesting, is if you can get into a crawlway past the Mudroom, after about a dozen feet, with a bit of further contortion one can get into a decent sized room that has a unique feature in it: a well pipe from the surface that goes right through it. It’s been even longer since I’ve been into this room though.

Another area I haven’t been too in decades, but hope to get back to is an area called “The Alabaster Room”. To safely get back there a climb needs to be rigged and then a tight crawl followed. This room is the first place I gave very serious thought to what might be involved in a rescue. The crawl sort of comes into the top of the room and you have to lower yourself down into it. While doing that the one and only time I was there, my foot slipped and I slid about a body length down the wall onto the floor. I had to sit there for about 30 seconds while I tested moving my feet then legs then arms to make sure nothing was broken. Fortunately nothing was otherwise I realized that getting me out of there would have been a very serious issue. This is one part of the cave I do hope to get back to someday again soon.

In any event, it last night was a rather short, uneventful trip where I got wetter outside the cave than in due to the rain, but it was good to be back underground again.

Two last notes: Knox Cave is closed from October 1st through May 15th. Please do not enter the caving during this time.

In addition if you lack proper training or equipment, please do not go caving on your own. I’m always more than willing to take beginners and teach you how to safely cave. I can also provide equipment.

A third note: Knox requires a permit (which is fairly easy to obtain, but please make sure you do!)

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