Uncharted Lancaster: Wind Cave Adventure
Distance: 0.3 miles walk up a gradual slope (one way).
What to bring: Water resistant jacket, flashlight or headlamp, and a map of Wind Cave.
Caution: Go with a friend or tell someone if going alone.
Just south of Pequea high on the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River lies one of the more dangerous places in Lancaster County—Wind Cave. While the location has never claimed a life, five people have needed rescuing there since 1993. The most recent was in February 2018.
If you are ready to start this adventure, click here. But read on for more history on this fascinating area of Lancaster County.
It’s not just the danger that makes this place unique. Visit Wind Cave on the hottest summer day, and you will probably still need a coat. While Pennsylvania caves typically range in temperature from 50° to 57°F, Wind Cave registers with refrigerator like coldness at 38°F. In addition to the cave’s chill, you will also be guaranteed a strong cold breeze at the cave’s mouth. It is this phenomenon that gives Wind Cave its name.
But what truly makes this location unique is its geology. Wind Cave is not a normal cave and nothing like Crystal Cave, Laurel Cave, or Indian Echo Caverns. For starters, these caves—like most in the United States—are “solutional.” This means they are formed when soluble rocks, such as limestone, are slowly dissolved or eroded by rainwater’s natural acidity. Over time as the water seeps through the ground, it enlarges cracks into caves.
Wind Cave, on the other hand, is a tectonic (also known as a fault) cave. But in this case, tectonic doesn’t mean caused by an earthquake. Tectonic caves are typically created when massive rocks on the sides of ridges or mountains slip due to gravity’s pull and then separate along vertical fractures. That’s exactly how Wind Cave was formed many thousands of years ago as the walls of the Susquehanna gorge settled. This event formed fissures inside the mountain by splitting apart the walls of three or more systems of nearly vertical joints.
There are no stalactites or stalagmites in Wind Cave. Speleothems, like these, are formed from dripping water in solutional caves and typically not present in tectonic caves. Furthermore, due to the lack of flowing water, the walls and ceilings in Wind Cave are rough.
Tectonic caves are usually unremarkable. Many go barely noticed and even fewer cataloged. Most are small ranging in size from several feet to a few hundred in length. Some tectonic “caves” are not even caves but instead deep chasms which are open at the top. But Wind Cave is entirely underground and, in comparison to other tectonic caves, is huge with almost 2,000 feet of underground passageways and rooms. Sources everywhere agree that Wind Cave is the largest tectonic cave in the state and likely the Eastern United States; however, some believe it is, in fact, the largest in the entire country. After extensive research Uncharted Lancaster was unable to find any mention of a larger tectonic cave anywhere in the country.
All these things make Wind Cave a worthy Uncharted Lancaster adventure. Because unlike other caves you can visit, this one is on public land, free to visit, and unguided. Translation: Enter at your own risk because you’re on your own. This explains why five people have needed rescuing over the past 15 years.
Wind Cave is a nearly lifeless cave except for its one resident species, Neotoma magister or the Allegheny Cave Rat. This type of rat has been known to nest in certain parts of the cave for many years and by some reports since the 1880s.
In 1953, Charles Mohr President of the National Speleological Society said, “In Wind Cave, I watched 40 persons file by a ledge where a cave rat sat, seemingly fascinated by the unprecedented parade.” Experts have wondered why Wind Cave has no other fauna. Is it this lack of life due to the formation of the cave or its cold temperatures? We may never know.
Uncharted Lancaster: Wind Cave Adventure
But that’s enough geology and fauna. If you are ready to start this adventure, click here.
While Wind Cave is not technically difficult for spelunkers, but it can be slippery, dark and confusing, with tight spaces and channels that require climbing to access so don’t go alone. It is advisable that only those with proper experience and/or applicable guides enter Wind Cave. Go prepared with appropriate clothing and safety gear. It is also advisable to notify first responders prior to entering the cave in case of emergency.