Nestled amongst the craggy sandstone rock formations on the North-West side of Mt. Toby is perhaps one of the most enchanting hidden places in the Pioneer Valley… The “Pudding Stone” cave, named for the conglomeration of small stones glued together by a sandstone mortar that make up this rock formation, is one of the few caves in the Valley that is actually large enough to walk through. If you are looking for adventure, this is the place to go.
Consisting of two main chambers connected by a twisting rocky hallway this cave is refuge to many local animals in both the summer and winter months. In the summer you’ll find (and smell) the porcupines that call this cave their home, evidenced by large piles of cashew-shaped scat and the occasional discarded quill. In the winter this cave is refuge for many hibernating insects as well as a small population of little brown bats.
Sign of porcupine living in and near this cave indicate that it has been in use by these animals for decades, at the very least. Exploring this section of Mt. Toby you will find many freshly cut hemlock and oak (depending on the time of year) twigs littering the ground. Many of the hemlocks that you find near a porcupine den with have a ‘bushy’ look to them as a result of annual trimmings from the powerful beaver-like teeth of this animal.
Small secluded caves like this are incredibly important to local bat species due to the introduction of ‘white nose fungus’, a European disease that is affecting bats all throughout the United States and Canada.
Also of note is the large and charismatic fissure that splits the ground a little further up hill from the caves themselves. The ground above the caves is covered with many smaller fissures which give this cave a very well lit, non-claustrophobic feel.
The Northern most section of the cave opens up on a narrow, cliff-side path that leads around both sides of the rock formation. The main chamber is accessible through this entrance and is what makes this cave the hidden gem that it is. In the winter, if you are lucky, the combination of a cold Northern breeze and water dripping through the ceiling creates the most beautiful columns of ice which grow up from the floor in some of the most surreal and fantastic of ways. Reminiscent of crystal, these ice formations are sometimes over eight feet tall and shaped like something from a Dr. Seuss story book. Glow sticks or colored flashlights make this place absolutely magical.