Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Summer/Fall 2001

Finding Jo's Hole

By John Stoneman

Jo's hole is a "pit cave" that was rumored for many years to be a "bottomless pit". I'm an avid explorer and caver so when I first heard about this "bottomless pit' in Marshburg, I had to see for myself.

As the rumor went, you could throw a rock down the hole and you wouldn't hear the first "click" for about 6 or 8 seconds, then it would click several more times before it would fade out. This got my attention, and as with any rumors of a cave or pit cave, I had to check it out. It took a lot of research and interviews with old timers to get directions to the hole, and as it turned out there are two very old stone chimneys near the location.

One of the directions I got was to locate the larger stone chimney, stand with my back against the chimney facing up hill and walk in the two o' clock direction. It worked! I found the "hole".

I'd like to explain here that a "pit cave" or "hole" is a cave or cave system that starts out as just a hole or depression in the ground. It may be a large elaborate cave system that appears to be nothing more that just a large ground hog or rabbit hole. Most of the caves in this area are located in and among large rock outcroppings, but we also have a few "hole" or "pit caves".

When I first got to the hole I was excited by the large volume of air coming from the hole. Then I was disappointed to realize that the opening was too small for a human. It was just too small. I found a rock and threw it in, and sure enough It was about six or seven seconds before it hit. Then there were successive "clicks" until fading out.

There seemed to be quite a large sized room in there, judging from the echo, but still the opening was too small. Oh, well, so much for exploring that cave!

I went back after that again on a summers night, near dusk. The hole is near another attraction I was visiting called "Colosmos Rocks", a large rock area with a couple shelter caves. I sat near the entrance to the hole cave, maybe expecting to see bats. Boy was I surprised!

First a few, then several, then what I called a "cloud" of bats came out of the hole. This confirmed to me that there was a cave below that had to be fairly large, if it held such a large bat population. But still the hole was big enough for bats, not humans.

A few months later I was hiking the area (Colosmos Rocks) with an old friend of mine Jo Vermulen. Jo was what you would call a "tough girl", in my days we called them "tom boys". Jo was the kind of girl who could do anything a man can do, only better! After we got done exploring the smaller caves at Colosmos, I told her about the "bottomless pit". Jo wanted to see it.

We got to the hole and started poking around, we noticed that tucked under an overhead shelf there was a second opening that I never noticed before. It took a sharp eye and some real persistence as well as some real contortion to maneuver around this large boulder to find the "upper" opening. But unfortunately this opening was also too small to squeeze through. Jo was in a very contorted position and was able to stick her head in. She reported a large room leading to a hallway.

She was excited and was wiggling, and struggling trying to get through the obviously too restrictive hole.

Then I noticed that the boulder she was laying against moved. It was a triangular shaped boulder laying across the entrance of the cave at about a 45 degree angle. The Boulder was maybe 600 to 1000 lbs and located in a small crawl space where you couldn't reach with a pry bar. It was blocking the top entrance to the cave, and was held up in place by a smaller rock pinned into a crack. The smaller rock looked like a giant railroad spike, and was the only thing holding up the larger boulder blocking the "door."

Just for "kicks" I kicked the smaller rock with my foot. It was loose! I was able to wiggle the "spike" back and forth and to my amazement the rock pulled out of the crack! Jo and I rocked the larger boulder and presto! The boulder slid down a few inches and the cave entrance was opened.

Well, it was opened enough to squeeze into. Jo was the first into the cave, and probably the first human ever to enter the cave. Jo's persistence paid off, we were in! I told her the cave was going to be named after her, "Jo's Hole".

The cave turned out to be a nice sized room leading to a hallway that went a ways, turned 90 degrees two more times. It was a great averaged sized cave for around here.

One thing odd about this cave was the temperature. Most all caves around here are a year round 52 degrees, and this cave was 65. I came back to this cave different times of the year to confirm this and in fact this cave is unusually and inexplicably warmer than similar local caves. It also had a bat population larger than similar caves of the same size.

A few years went by when a fellow caver from Salamanca, Kelly Hart, and my wife Pam wanted to see Jo's hole. We got to the area where the cave is and to my disappointment, the land owners: The Bradford Water Authority, built an access road through the area. Then, as we got near the cave I was horrified! The roadway seem to be right where the cave was! We searched and searched and found no cave! Could they have filled in the cave to build the road?

We spent the whole day digging through the brush where I thought the cave was, but to no avail. No more cave, no more bats, just a new road. I was extremely upset.

We were planning to "map" the cave, and also do a "bat survey" to try to determine how many bats are in the cave, and also try to figure out why this particular cave is warmer than the others. I spent about 7 years locating caves in the Bradford/National Forest area and losing this cave really bothered me. I lost all my enthusiasm for cave hunting.

Jo's hole was one of the smaller, but still one of my favorite caves. All gone! Such is progress.

Another few years went by, and in September I took a few interested people caving. Jim K. and Wendy D. of the Allegheny Defense Project, an organization dedicated to preserving the Allegheny National Forest.

ADP member Wendy Dobrowolski explores a cave in the Allegheny. Photo by Jim Kleissler

We hit Sugar Cave, Buck Lick Cave, then Colosmos Rocks. Then we were talking, and Jim asked to see where Jo's Hole was. I reluctantly agreed, because the loss of that cave bothered me so much. I took them the long way so we could pass the stone chimneys. We decided to look one more time for the cave.

We started with our backs to the large chimney and headed up the hill. Soon we reached the new road. There was no sign of the cave.

My recollection was that the cave was just about at the crest of the hill, but not quite at the top. From the cave there was still a little more to climb before you were at the top, flat part of the hill. The road was just about at the perfect height in relation to the top of the hill. Then I stood in the middle of the road where I thought the cave was, and told Jim and Wendy, "this is where the cave is, right here."

There was nothing to see, just a real wide, smooth logging road.

We all three hung our heads. I guess it was time to go back to the car.

Every time we searched for the cave it was always on the downhill side of the road. The road was too close to the top of the hill to search on the other side of the road. But even though I was sure that the cave couldn't possibly be on the uphill side of the road, I said to my companions, "You know, we probably should look on the other side of the road just once, to rule it out."

I was still standing right where I thought the cave to be, in the middle of the road. We all turned to search the uphill side of the road. I told the other two, that we were searching for a depressed area in the ground, "sort of like ......."

I was pointing to a hole in front of me, and before I could say the word "this" I was looking into the cave!

I was shocked to say the least! There was the cave that I searched for several times before, and even all day once with three people. I was stubborn, and never thought it would be on the other side of the road that I thought it would be on. Many times I ended up at the same spot in the road thinking "this is where the cave is" and I was just 15 feet away!

Thank you Jim and Wendy for wanting to see where the "lost cave" was!

Wendy and Jim went into the cave. They are both smaller than me and much younger. It takes some real contorting to squeeze through the entrance and I was just happy sitting there looking at the cave. I was so glad this natural treasure was not lost forever. Finding this cave the second time was even better than finding it the first time!

The author attempts unsuccessfully to squeeze into Jo's Hole. Photo by Jim Kleissler

 

When am I going to learn to keep an open mind, and to be persistent? We found Jo's hole.

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