Negley Was a Small Man    

Negley Was A Small Man
or
How I Found The Lost Football Room In Only Twenty Minutes

Written for the Northeastern Caver and the SCAG newsletter in October 1995.

Despite caving in the Northeast for just over twenty years I have somehow managed to go to Knox Cave on only three occasions, and the second trip was just a short jaunt to the Mud Room with two companions who were novices; on all three trips, however, I have looked carefully into the many small spaces in the southern portion of the cave hoping that perhaps I could become the instant hero who finally rediscovered the long rumored Lost Football Room. Although I have not made a point of searching the literature for clues, I have done enough reading to know that there is a great suspicion that there is more cave to be found to the south of the known passages, and the Lost Football Room has been thought to be located roughly between the Dungeon and the Indian Passage. My own hunch has long been that the Lost Football Room would be found by some intrepid caver who was either brave enough or stupid enough to climb up and rummage around in the cobbles that constitute the deathtrap above the end of the Indian Passage; I figured that if that person lived through the discovery process by some miracle (and was not entombed alive behind several tons of relocating cobbles and breakdown) they would come back with quite a story to tell. As it happened, on my last trip, on Saturday October 14th, I spent a scant twenty minutes moving perhaps two or three hundred pounds of rock before making the breakthrough that opened the Lost Football Room.

Lest anyone cast disparaging thoughts on my sanity or safety consciousness (or my honesty and integrity, for that matter), I must point out that I was rummaging not in the aforementioned obvious deathtrap, but in the northern end of the cave in a much more obscure deathtrap. As it turns out, everyone has been searching in the wrong place. This is not surprising, of course, as all previous stories about the Lost Football Room have been based on rumor, legend, and perhaps outright fabrication. It should also come as no surprise that the Lost Football Room is not quite so huge as has been hoped, but rivals the Big Room at about 20 by 60 feet; it is possibly the height of the room which invoked the football reference. It was found at the northwestern end of the Alabaster Room, in a place that had attracted my interest on my first trip into the cave, and is accessed through a short crawl at a level about 95 feet below the entrance, in the Manlius Limestone.

For those who have not been to the Alabaster Room, one must overcome three obstacles on the way: the Gunbarrel (a fifty foot tube that is about 14 by 20 inches), the Great Divide (an exposed climb of about 30 feet), and the Crystal Crawl (a narrow canyon about 300 feet long). From the northern end of the Crystal Crawl one climbs down into the Alabaster Room, which is, in fact, mostly brown. On the west side of the Alabaster Room there is a good deal of thinly bedded rock, which is quite broken. There is a short crawl in which I had previously noticed that you could look through the loose rock and see a small space that looked like it might actually be a big space, but I had forgotten this until returning on this trip. At first glance it looked dangerous and less than promising, but after looking for a bit and moving a few small rocks to improve the view it began to look dangerous but promising. After poking at some of the rocks I concluded that it was not quite as unstable as it looked, and began trying to move rocks with one outstretched hand while lying on my belly in the cramped space. My first goal was to move a triangular rock about one by three feet and four inches thick; by repeatedly lifting and dropping the apex I was able to break the rock into two pieces, and remove it. I could now see that once I removed some more rock there was definitely room enough to crawl down, and into the beckoning void. The lift and drop routine quickly reduced the next rock from a four by four inch by three foot piece into many short and thin pieces. I moved a few more modest pieces, got rid of some small ones for good measure, and there was more than enough room to crawl through.

After a short break to cool off, check my lamp, and eat a candy bar, I was ready to check out my find. Visions of walking passage danced in my head, as well as a nagging question: Would I recognize Skull when I got there? I somehow neglected to tell my companions that I had finished digging (a completely innocent oversight), and crawled into the opening.

To my initial disappointment I did not find huge walking passage or more joint maze leading to Skull, but immediately found myself in a room about twenty feet wide, the far end of which I could not see with my carbide lamp. I turned on my mini Dome Blaster and saw the end about sixty feet away. I did not immediately realize that this was in fact the Lost Football Room, or understand the "Football" connection, but after some reflection I have come to realize that the height of much of this large room is, in fact, the length of a football. Around the perimeter of the room the height is about twice that of a football, and I now realize that the reason that Negley was the first person through the Gunbarrel and beyond the broken room is that he was surely a midget, and this caused him to overstate the true size of the room.

Okay, I understand if you may be skeptical, and I won't mind if you continue to look for a large room in the southern portion of the cave, but the room I have just described is real, and it is were I say it is. The floor is sediment, and there was fine, silty mud at the entrance, which leads me to suspect that it is sometimes ponded with flood waters, and as the accompanying memory sketch shows, there may be a drain along the western wall. The ceiling is almost perfectly flat, which rather scared me in light of the broken rock I removed to gain access, and a few places have some thin breakdown. For those willing to work at it, there may possibly be a way on either via the drain or at the northern end; I stayed only long enough for a cursory examination. There is also a very short crawl on the eastern wall that doubles back under some of the broken rock that comprises the wall/ceiling near the entrance to the room. Perhaps Paul Rubin was right, and Skull is still waiting for the next person who pushes the known boundaries just a little further.

Read about the discovery I made during my next trip to what we now call the Flat Room, in
A River Runs Through It