Camping & Caving at Bowden & Hamilton

This will be a 3 part trip report, that takes place over 3 days of camping and caving.
This trip started out Friday afternoon after I got home from work. Ben, Sam, Ezra, and I were on this trip. Ezra is an old time friend, and had not gotten the chance to go out with us in a long time. He had only done one other caving trip to Sinks of Gandy Cave a couple years ago with Ben, and was excited to go on another caving trip.
     Part 1:   Camping out near Bowden
     We all met at my house to load up the trucks. I rode with Sam, and Ezra rode with Ben. We left about 6 PM on our way to the mountains, which was alittle over 1.5 hours away. There are two camping spots at Bowden, one at the very top of the mountain, and one at the base. We checked to see if anyone was at the top camp ground first, there was a motor home there, so we headed down to the bottom spot. I don’t think anyone really camps here except us, I think the spot is used mostly by hunters.
There is a rough dirt road that leads into the woods to the camping spot. You have to cross a stream a couple times, which can be rather rough, with boulders to drive over. About half way down the road, Sam mentioned that it would really suck if a tree was down. Well, he just had to say that and jinx us. Turns out, there was a large tree that had fell in the road, not more than 5 feet from the camping spot.

     We could have just carried our supplies about 30 feet up the bank to the camp spot, and left the trucks there on the road. But I wasn’t about to let this damn tree beat us. The worst part was, all we had were a couple machetes, a hatchet, and my Ranger RD9 knife to cut the tree with. My chainsaw needs a new chain and blade, so I didn’t bring it along.
Luckily, Ben had a coma long in his truck. So we took turns cutting away at the tree, until it was about 3/4 of the way through. Then we attached the coma long to where we had cut, connected it to another nearby tree, and proceeded to ratchet the tree. Ben had a nice coma long, but it still took alot of pressure to snap the tree. We were all jumping on it at once point to help it along.

     Once he had the tree snapped, it was still staying in place from the pressure it was under.
Sam used the coma long some more until it finally gave way and fell.

     In case you are wondering what the tarp is for, we place it over the coma longs cable, so that if it would happen to snap, it would not slash back at us as much. This is a good idea when working with any metal cable that is under a load.
     Here is a video of the tree finally giving way.     bowden_tree_removal.wmv
     Finally, after over an hour of chopping and pulling, we got to actually park at the camp site and start setting up camp. We did the usual setup with our tarp over head. Ben setup his tent for him and Ezra to sleep in, Sam and I slept in the back of his truck, which has a camper top.
Ezra got the fire going, and gathered up some wood for that night. We sat around the camp fire, eating hotdogs and drinking beers. We had a rather late night, and didn’t end up crashing out till about 4 AM. I was amazed the next morning, when we all got up alittle before 9 AM. We were all tired, but not as much as I would have thought, knowing what we did the night before.
Ben cooked us up some breakfast on my Coleman stove. After having our breakfast, and a couple cups of coffee, we were ready to get our day started. We packed up some of camp, but left things setup. We were only a 10 minute walk from the cave entrance.

Part 2:   Bowden’s Third Entrance
     Ben, Sam, and I had been to this part of the cave once before, and knew that it wasn’t going to be all that easy. Not exactly a good place to go on your second caving trip, so we were not sure how Ezra would do in this cave.
The cave doesn’t waste any time getting difficult. Just a short 15 feet into the cave is the “Hairy Traverse”. There is a small opening that is at the top of a 25 to 30 foot cliff. Off to the left, is a small ledge, that you have to plop yourself onto, and shoot across it, until you are over toward the left where there is room to crawl. Ezra is a bit afraid of heights, so he wasn’t very comfortable with this area. It is rather intimidating, even though there is a piece of webbing running across to give you a bit of a safety line. The webbing is rather old, and not anchored in very well, so its best not to rely on it, or put much weight on it.
Sam went across first to show Ezra how to go about it, and then guided him onto the ledge. Ben kept an eye on him from behind, though there is not much he could have done if Ezra was to fall. You could tell he was very nervous, but he didn’t do bad at all for his first time. We didn’t fell all that good about doing it our first times either. I did notice that going across it this time was much easier, and I was much more relaxed.

     You have to climb down a couple more 10 to 12 foot drop offs, but they aren’t bad at all. There are some rocks piled up to give you something to step down onto.

     That’s where the fun ends. There are a few nice rooms in the back of the cave, but to get to them, you have to go through a series of very low crawlways. If you can actually do a hands and knees crawl, you are lucky, most of the way is all belly crawl. We had been through all this on our first time here, but we also had a map with us, which we did not have this time. I only had my one master copy left, and Ben couldn’t find his copies. There are about 3 places where the crawlways will split off in 2 or 3 other crawlways.

     We tried our best to remember which ones were the way to the back of the cave, but soon it was very evident that we had taken a wrong turn or two. We ended up going through a wet crawlway into a very small room, just large enough for the 4 of us to cram into. I knew this wasn’t the way once we got into the water, since our last trip in was rather dry. There was one very small passage leading out of this room, that none of us wanted to try to push. I am not sure we could have fit at all.
So, we headed back through the wet crawl to one of the intersections of crawlways, trying to get out bearings. We were not very far back into the cave, but it felt like miles. The belly crawls can really wear you out quickly. Most of the crawlways are so low, that you cant even tilt you head up to look ahead of you.

     None of us really knew which way was correct, and none of the ways is easy. We didn’t want to crawl all the way down one, just to find out it was the wrong way, and have to crawl back. I found one passage that I am almost positive was the way to the back of the cave. This crawlway has alot of rocks in the way, that you have to either crawl over, or push out of your way, and I distinctly remember having to do that. But, again, not knowing for sure, we really didn’t want to do alot of crawling that we didn’t have to do. We ended up deciding to head back out of the cave. Rather disappointing, as the back of the cave is the best part, and we never got to it this time.
Climbing back up out of this cave is a bit easier than climbing down. You can at least see where you are going, and where your hand and foot holds are. Going down, you are sometimes blindly stepping down the wall.

     Once again, we all had to conquer the Hairy Traverse. This is also easier on the way out, but just as intimidating. Ben went out first, followed by Ezra. Again, you could tell that Ezra was not very comfortable with this, and was taking small movements to get across the ledge. But, he made it safe and sound and I think was proud that he forced himself to do it.
Being only a very short walk from camp made it very nice. Our first trip to this entrance was not as enjoyable. We camped out at the top of the mountain, and for some stupid reason, thought it would be a good idea to hike down the mountain to the cave. After 6 hours of caving, we exited the cave, into 30 degree weather, pouring down the rain and snow. It took us over 3 hours to reach the top. We had never been so exhausted in our entire lives, but had learned a very valuable lesson.

Part 3:   Pushing the Back of Hamilton
     This was the third day of the trip, and we were all a bit hazy when we awoke in the morning. Again, I was amazed they we were all up by about 9 AM. We got to bed alittle earlier last night, at about midnight. We were all beat, but still excited to go caving at Hamilton today. We grabbed a bite to eat, drank our required coffee dosages, and packed up camp.
Hamilton Cave was over an hour drive from our Bowden camping spot. I think we got on the road at about 2 PM. Ben, Sam, and I had been to Hamilton before, and really enjoyed it. Hamilton is basically a large grid of passages making up a maze. There are some crawlways, but they generally are not as bad as the ones in Bowden’s third entrance. Most of the passages are low walkways, or hands and knees crawls.

     The best thing about Hamilton, is the abundance of formations that it has, especially toward the beginning. There are sections that are entirely covered with soda straw formations. Everywhere you look there is something to look at.

     We actually had a map to this cave, and wanted to push our way to the back of the cave, where there are a few fairly large rooms. The cave is very confusing, even with a map and compass. We would stop at each intersection, taking a look at the map, and deciding where to go next.

     After only a couple intersections, we began to get confused about where we were. The sections on the map were not matching up with what we were seeing. The first half of the cave is a grid pattern, with a north east heading when you go in. So we at least knew we were heading back further into the cave. We would still try to compare the shape of the cave to the map though, trying to keep a feeling for where we were. We also placed glow sticks in certain places to ensure we could find our way back out.

     We made our way back into the cave, to a large room, well, at least it was large for this cave. We took a break here and grabbed a bite to eat, while still looking over the map. We had a pretty good idea where we were, and there were at least 3 passages leading out of this room. There was one particular passage that looked promising, both on the map, and looking at it. The passage was also heading in the direction we needed to go, so we started down the passage hoping it would open up into another set of rooms.

     We made it only about 40 feet into this narrow passage, when we came upon a spot that got very tight. It looked like you could crawl up under a shelf, but it was very tight. Both Ben and Ezra took a turn looking at it, and both said there was no way they were making it through it. This was rather disappointing, as it seemed this was the way to go. This has happened to us before though, some of the cave sections are surveyed by very slim people. Just because its on the map, doesn’t mean you can get to it.

     We headed back to that larger room we were in, and checked out some of the other passages leading off of it. A couple of them went in a ways, but got too tight after 15 feet or so. Another looked to be passable, but it was also very very tight, and none of us felt like squeezing through it that day.
We headed back out of the cave, taking our time looking at the many formations and fossils in the rock face. We were expecting there to be more formations toward the back of the cave. Since not as many people go that deep in the cave, and maybe more of the formations would be preserved. But there were actually less formations toward the back of the cave.
Only a couple turns from the entrance, is the coolest part of the cave that we have seen. off to the left side, are a couple passages that are absolutely covered in formations. I wanted to make sure Ezra got a chance to see this section of the cave. I think he really enjoyed it, and it was a nice change from the grueling crawlways he had to deal with the day before.

     It was a really fun trip, and it was nice to get all 4 of us out there at once this time. We were all completely exhausted by the time we got home. Ben and Ezra stopped by a swimming hole at Seneca Rocks on their way home. Sam and I went straight to my house to unload all my gear. Sam and I were definitely not looking forward to going to work the next morning, and we only had a couple hours to get a shower, put away some of the gear, and crash out.