The buzz was deafening for sophomore Julia Cicale, the journey even murkier.
Nalgene bottles and keys clinking, flip-flops slapping the pavement, shouts and laughter permeating the thick August air — the moving crowds were paradelike.
The sound of the falls was exhilarating.
“There’s so much energy before you make your way down to the gorge,” Cicale said. “You build yourself up before you go because it’s such an established place to see and be seen.”
Like Cicale, Ithaca College students, new and old, gravitate to the gorges, Ithaca’s crown jewels. To most, they constitute the perfect setting for leisure and serenity, as well as social interaction.
The allure of Ithaca’s gorges stems from more than 2 million years ago, when glaciers moving south from Canada carved the rivers and valleys of the Finger Lakes region. The varying heights of the glaciers’ crevasses create the multi-level cliffs that tower over the brooks and serve as the stepping stones for the waterfalls. More than 100 gorges are hidden within the town limits, including Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls and the Six Mile Creek Gorge, according to the Paleontological Research Institute.
While many students carry their own motives for journeying to the gorges, the connections made always result in friendship, according to sophomore Carter Raines.
“You go to the gorges with your friends, and you always leave with more,” he said.
Raines, an Arizona native, counts his initial experience as the perfect foundation for roommate bonding.
“My roommate was from Syracuse, so he knew the area really well,” he said. “We ventured out to the gorges, and it was a really great experience to try something new with someone new.”
Hanging over the edge of the Second Dam gorge, Raines was hesitant to make the plunge, but the bobbing heads below encouraged him to follow through.
“I know with a lot of my friends who try [jumping], they are always worried about belly flopping to landing wrong, but everyone’s always there to support each other,” he said. “That’s the great thing about it: all these strangers that want you to succeed.”
Sophomore Eric Ambrosino found the same support when making his first gorge jump freshman year at the Six Mile Creek Gorge on Giles Street with his roommate.
“He dared me to jump off the highest point, so I went for it,” he said. “I was hesitant at first, not because of the height, but of the potential embarrassment. But everyone was just hanging out down below, cheering me and other jumpers on.”
Beyond the encouragement, spectators also constitute an important facet of the gorges’ social layout.
“Why jump if nobody will watch?” Cornell University sophomore Emily Burke said. “It’s definitely a spectator’s playground. That’s what makes it inherently social.”
Though gorge jumping may be viewed as a social must, the actual act of jumping is technically illegal.
“My fifth or sixth time at the Six Mile, a park ranger came and told us we couldn’t jump because that was city code,” Ambrosino said.
College and park officials do not want students to jump into the gorges when making trips to the glacially carved havens, no matter what the current culture promotes. Wednesday, a man was evacuated from the gorges due to serious injuries after his jump.
Buttermilk Falls park officer John Guilford said the park urges anyone down by the gorges to stay on the designated trails for safety precautions.
“If policemen observe that, [jumpers] could be subject to tickets,” he said. “Unfortunately, there have been deaths. There have been people that have hurt their backs when they hit the water wrong.”
Investigator Tom Dunn of Ithaca College Public Safety said though there are no gorges on campus, Public Safety does care about students’ involvement down at the falls.
“Don’t climb over a sign that says the gorges are closed, because they are closed for your safety,” he said. “If there is a fence, don’t climb over it to get a better shot with your camera.”
Even though students cannot legally jump off the gorges, there are still many other reasons to visit the falls, according to Cornell sophomore Kerianne Dobosz.
“People would make plans from the first day on, in the dining halls and in classes, to go,” she said. “The great thing was everyone was pretty open in inviting others. That’s how you get the hoards.”
For Burke, it’s that atmosphere, and not the jumping, that keeps reeling her in.
“I’m not so much a fan of the jumping, but it’s a great place to go and lounge or swim on a hot afternoon, which is almost every day when you first get back to campus,” she said. “Just because you’re not jumping doesn’t mean you’re not going to meet people. In fact, it’s just the opposite because everyone is there to just chill and have a great time.”
The feeling is mutual here at the college for returning upperclassmen. And with the start of the semester just around the corner, plans are already shaping up. For Raines, this year’s experience will be a special one.
“It sounds cheesy, but when I hear freshmen make plans, I always want to be the guy that takes them first,” he said. “So freshmen, load up the bus. We’re going right away.”