Hannacroix Maze, Merritts Cave, Schoharie Cavern, Barber Cave, etc. - 6/7/14-6/8/14

Cavers: Ellena, Emily, Mitch, Kayla, Adam, Austin, Sarah

More photos from this trip

The group leaving from campus set out early Saturday morning for a weekend of checking out some of the less commonly visited caves in our favorite area, after spending longer than you might think trying to cram all of the stuff we were bringing for this weekend-long adventure into the 1.5 cars we were bringing (Emily's car is... cute). A few hours later, we met up with Kayla, who'd been enjoying a nap on the grass not too far from the first caves on our list.

Joralemon park

Merritts Cave and Hanacroix Maze are near a frisbee golf park called Joralemon Park. When we arrived, there was some sort of birthday party going on, and everyone involved looked at us very strangely. And we weren't even in our muddy caving gear yet!

Merritts Cave

After a brief exploration of the park, we decided we didn't really want to play frisbee golf, but would rather go caving. We trekked along a hiking path in the woods, looking for the entrance to Merritts Cave, which was on the way to Hannacroix. All we knew about this cave was its approximate location, its name, and that it didn't have leeches. Since Mitch hadn't been able to find a cave map, we assumed it was a tiny cave, probably basically a straight line, and therefore not worth mapping. We bravely battled the mosquitoes as we got into our cave gear, sliding into the cave without very high expectations. At every turn, climb, and squeeze, we expected to find the end of the cave, but every time we were about to declare a dead end, a cry of "I think it keeps going this way" would come from Emily. The cave we expected to be a tiny, straight line turned out to be a really lovely cave with crawling, climbing, some wet and dry squeezes, and overall a lot of fun. The excitement of not quite knowing how long it went definitely added to the enjoyment. Advice: don't leave your cave packs behind. It keeps going.
The entrance to Merritts Cave

Hannacroix Maze

Finished with our 'warmup' cave, we walked over to Hannacroix Maze. Before getting into gear for Merritts, we had explored the area and found several of the entrances to Hannacroix, and we dismissed what we now think was the Choice entrance since it appeared to require submerging ourselves in the swamp. Now, in our gear, we unwittingly ventured into the most miserable of the four possible entrances - the one named the Engel Cave Entrance after Thom Engel who'd had a particularly unpleasant experience with it years ago when the cave was first being explored. After each of Adam and Austin had begun to enter the cave and quickly backed out reporting that there were spiders and that they didn't want to go in, Mitch asked "how many?" and was told "four!" He didn't think that sounded so horrible, and was dared to try getting past them. After getting some assurance that if he actually went in, people would follow, he proceeded to greet the spiders, look away from them, and dive into the cave, and then while wondering why he was alone in the cave, heard someone outside ask "where's Mitch?" Finally the rest of the intrepid explorers entered the terrible entrance.

None of the passages was taller than 2 feet, and all of the passages that led to the rest of the cave were tiny squeezes. We spent about 20 minutes crawling around, frequently stopping to try to locate ourselves on the map. Eventually, Sarah correctly ascertained from the map that we'd ended up in the Engel Entrance instead of the Sleeping Aligator or Choice Entrances we'd been hoping for, and while it should connect to the enjoyable part of the cave, the connection was unpleasantly tight, and Mitch had been stuck in a tiny crawlspace for too long with a headache he couldn't fix because he couldn't turn around and reach his pack in that space, so we decided to crawl back out and contemplate the map on the surface. We realized we had definitely entered through the unlabelled Engel Entrance on the map (North was pointing downwards and had confused us), and briefly considered trying one of the other entrances. Eventually we decided that since Merritts had been so much more satisfying than expected, we would punt Hannacroix and just go to the cabin. The moral of the story is: don't drop into the first hole you see in the ground.
The swamp that feeds Hannacroix Maze

Schoharie Cabin

After changing back out of our muddy gear and checking out a bit more of the frisbee golf course, we headed off to our "luxury accomodations" - Schoharie Cabin. Warm and content at the cabin, Mitch told us a bit about the preserve we were staying at, and we enjoyed Emily's culinary offerings - pasta, potatoes, and s'mores. Be wary of the millipede colony that lives in one of the logs by the fire pit. Enjoy the chipmunk colony that lives in the log pile and the trees right behind the cabin. Eventually, it was bedtime.

Schoharie Cavern

The following morning, hours after Mitch had snuck out to go to an NCC meeting, the rest of us lazily rolled out of bed and got into our (surprisingly dry) cave gear to go to Schoharie Cavern. Protip: you can wander through Schoharie Caverns without a wetsuit on, just with thermal layers, if you plan on using your wetsuit later and want it to stay dry. Also, the cavern works great as a washing machine for bottom layers. We spent about half an hour touring through, looking at the pretty features. Scohaire has a very cool iron gate shaped like a giant cobweb with a spider on it. The cavern is entirely walking, and has some amazing rooms with beautiful flowstone, underground waterfalls, and other really pretty formations.

The Gas Up

After Schoharie, we left our gear to dry again and went to a nearby fair called "The Gas Up" where we met back up with Mitch. It's a fair for steam and gas powered machines that runs two weekends each summer, and we saw all sorts of mechanical things that made fun noises and performed important tasks like sawing logs and shucking corn. We briefly contemplated asking to clean our caving gear on the several old-fasioned washing machines (with washing boards and large tubs to boil water in!). We talked to a neat guy with fun puzzles, had some ice cream made by a steam-powered churn, and Emily got to ride in an antique car (I think it was a 1947 Chevy, or something along those lines).
Adam and Ellena trying to solve some puzzles
Emily taking a joyride in an antique

The Carrot Barn

The food at the Gas Up was mostly barbeque-type fare, and since it wasn't terribly vegetarian friendly (and we had one of those in the group), we went for lunch at the Carrot Barn. This place would be hipster if it weren't actually a farm in the middle of nowhere. Clover wishes it were this cool. The food was delicious, the seating was comfortable and stylish, and there was also a little fresh produce shop. Unfortunately, the cider donuts were out of season.
Emily finds the play area, and Adam and Sarah order food at the Carrot Barn

Barber Cave

Having finished our lunch, we went back to the cabin and gathered all our things, and headed for Barber Cave. After meeting the owners, and then having some minor difficulties with finding the entrance, we entered the training maze cave. It was a delightful small cave, with tons of intersecting passages, some passing over and under each other, and rivers of porcupine shit. Remember, the way out of a maze is to always go left!

Spider Cave

Muddy and vaguely smelling of porcupine shit, we stripped our caving gear off, and went to talk with the owner of Spider Cave. Midge is a lovely old lady who *really* likes talking to cavers. We sat down with her and she told us stories for so long that it was almost dark by the time we politely excused ourselves to see the cave before we had to head home. We then began searching for the cave, going on memory that it was near the end of a guardrail. After Mitch and Ellena bushwacked up several different parts of the hill unsuccessfully in the dark, we decided that it was already very late, and we should just head home. I guess it's hard to find a dark hole in the ground in the dark.


We wrapped up the trip with a late-night visit to Applebees, just narrowly missing closing time.