Sept. 23, 2003

Beginner's trip to Clarksville Cave, NY

A mile down the road, past a no-name motel, we pulled off onto the gravel strip and changed from our scruffy clothes into some scruffier caving attire. A hundred paces up the hill we reached, unexpectedly, a garbage dump, but our fearless leader Karen urged us onwards. As we girded up our loins and checked headlamps for the descent into the uncharted (OK, pretty well-travelled) laberynthine depths, the entrance appeared small and uninviting. We had no idea.

As our eyes became accustomed to the rotund glow of our headlamps on each other's asses, we pressed deeper into the cave's claustrophobic depths. At each turn, Karen reassured us that no, this wasn't the tight spot yet. One after another, we squirmed through narrow crannies so small it was like spelunking an English muffin. A low point in the tunnel afforded us the opportunity to belly crawl through stagnant water, before we finally emerged in a massive chamber, killed our lights, and tried to convince each other that we could, in fact, see our hands in front of our faces. A heart-stopping shuffle and daring, commando-style 8-foot rappel brought us, by way of a narrow passage, to the underground lake which, if our fearless leader can be trusted, is in fact one of New Englands few repositories of albino man-eating pirhanas. And also fairies.

After much cajoling and double dog dares, Karen attempted the ass-splitting foot-on-each-wall-over-the-lake chimney traverse, at great risk of dampness and looking like a fool. Gracefully fractioning her way around the corner and out of sight, Ms. Robinson returned to inform us that the other side of the lake boasted treasure, a small and historically insignificant shipwreck and, yes, lots of fairies. Following this exemplary exhibition of mad skillz and daring do, Mike Ep., Todd and I each in turn tried our luck at the deadly stunt, concurring roundly that, really, after the first six or seven feet where the walls got further apart and kind of slick, there was not that much to see.

Returning to the enormous room (the cave chamber, not the pretentious Central Square bar with the elephant on the door), we explored a second route, leading us to a rushing underground river pouring from a small opening in the rock, no larger than a cantaloupe, which Todd and Mariella insisted on working their way astonishly far up and into, and then extricating themselves from with much holding in of the breath. Further exploration by that dynamic duo revealed a ledge overlooking a large room some 20 or 30 feet below. On our return, Emily resourcefully discovered a passage connecting the main tunnel to a smaller and less accessible one below us by dropping her pack down it. As we emerged, dazed and disheveled, into the fresh air and sunshine (well, sunshine anyway -- we were still right above the dump), two things quickly became apparent. One was that we were all skuzzy, gungus-crusted mud beasts, and the other was that for most of us, this was an improvement. After a change of clothes and some rinsing of hair in a nearby trickle, we headed back to the cars and down the road for a four star meal at a quaint and wholesome small town restaurant, which made an impressive show of not being completely appalled by our unkempt refugee appearance and "earthy" smell. The ride home in Todd's vehicle was characterized by a whirlwind tour of contemporary Canadian music, while Mike's car was mercifully spared this ordeal. Although the expedition was unsuccessful in our efforts to catch an albino pirhana by dangling Eric's toes in the lake, the excursion was nevertheless a success as regards eating several cubic feet of mud, and staring at a bunch of people's illuminated butts all afternoon. Also, it should be added that Karen Robinson is a rock star.

Cavers: Mike, Mike, Mariella, Karen, Emily, Eric, Todd, Hrishi

trip report by Mike F.