Diving Doolittles Cave Sump

On June 3rd we returned to make an attempt at the sump in Doolittles Cave. As eluded to in my precious post, the cave is fed from a pond on a large pond. The water in June was REALLY warm, making for an incredibly smelly and all around nasty endeavor. Accompanying me on the trip were Nathan, Joey, Tree, Trenton and Garrett.

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My sherpa team, from left to right: Nathan, Joey, Tree, Trenton and Garrett.

Our commute to the sump was uneventful. We rigged a cable ladder for the drop and all managed to safely descend despite the drastically increased water flow. I geared up at the bottom of the waterfall and we all started towards the sump. Lacking in anything to tie into, I utilized Nathan’s leg as the nearest immovable object and wriggled my way backwards into the foamy abyss. Water visibility was a solid 0′, I could barely even make out the glow of my dive light when shined in my face. I was sidemounting 45’s and using no fins, using my feet to feel along the bottom and negotiate the way on. After descending at nearly a 45° for about 30′ of penetration (and at a depth of 12′) I felt the passage level out. The passage remained a fissure, but only the belled-out bottom was actually wide enough for my body to fit through. Using my feet as a gauge, I estimated the dimensions of where it had leveled out to be about 18″ tall and around the same width. I likely could fit through in a wetsuit and dragging a tank behind me, but no thanks. This passage is far too choked up with mud and debris to make it a worthwhile endeavor. I reeled in my line and we started towards the exit. That night all of my equipment got a nice bath in some germicidal disinfectant. A fun trip, but not doing that again!

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Teddy at the entrance to the sump. NASTY.

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Teddy “washes off” in the farm-pond runoff.

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Doolittles Cave Sump Scouting, NY

The weekend following our trip to Turbine and Spider we headed back to Schoharie county to check out the terminal sump of Doolittles cave, a project the Rockeaters dug out back in 2002. The date was January 29th. For the trip I was accompanied by Nathan, Luke, Joe, Trenton and Tim. The weather was a brisk 20° at the surface, with an ice-covered pond feeding water into the cave. For this venture I brought two 46cuft steel tanks along with my typical sump gear setup. Since the cave is relatively short, we decided to leave the gear in the entrance room while we scouted out conditions at the sump. This gave us a chance to venture down there without fully committing to a dive, and all the waiting/freezing that would entail.

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The cave starts with a small room leading directly into some wet and crawly passage. There is a low bedding-plane section where the ceiling drops within 10″ of the floor, and about 4″ of that space was ice cold, fast-flowing water. Following that pinch you float your body through a water-slide shaped passage that literally “spits” you out  into a room large enough to kneel in. A short crawlway from here leads to walking stream passage and a 10′ tall water-fall drop which we rigged with a cable ladder. After exiting the waterfall room there is a long section of stoop-height passage that gets smaller and smaller before terminating in a foamy little sump. Visibility appeared decent considering the source of the water, and we even saw a few fish. I returned to the entrance room to retrieve my sonar sounder to help “see” if it went. I figured it might.

When I arrived back at the entrance room to grab some dive gear, the state of my sherpa crew (and myself) dictated this not the time of year to dive this sump. I feared a sherpa mutiny and decided to come back later. We left the dive gear and I went all the way back to the sump, poking around with the sonar. The sump remained a high priority until we could check it out in the spring…

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Doolittles Cave Entrance

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Entrance room where we staged dive gear. Following Joe Armstrong’s light, you can see the next bit of passage, tight water-floored crawlways.

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Luke’s fanny-pack for scale. Some low, tight stuff!

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Trenton Witham navigates through the 10″ restriction in Doolittles Cave.

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Luke Mazza looks on as Nathan Roser descends down the cable ladder drop. The water flowing into the cave is about 36° degrees, flowing in from a frozen farm pond.

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Teddy Garlock sitting in the terminal sump, a small fissure passage with foamy water.

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My sherpa team for this dive. From left to right: Tim Bova, Trenton Witham, Joe Armstrong, Luke Mazza and Nathan Roser.