Jamaican Caving Notes
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March 25, 2009
The AsunoThe Asuno had been on our to-do list for some time. It had been descended only once before, by the KHE in 1965, and was reported to be a very large sinkhole - 137m deep, and 100m wide near the bottom. For a caver, it was terrifically enticing. Accordingly, two days were set aside to tackle it during the March 2009 session, the 25th and 26th.
March 25, 2009
Team: RS Stewart, K Garrez, J Pauel, G Van Rentergem, Amy Ekparian.
Notes: RS Stewart
Our main concern was finding the site in the first place. Once there, we had no doubt that we could pull it off in good form, but it was listed as being well into the bush somewhere north of Volcano Hole, and as the accuracy of the position was very uncertain, we envisioned a possible long, fruitless search. The best access was either from the south, near Norwood, or from the west, near Grant Bailey - we had no idea which. A bit of late-evening recon at Norwood on the night of March 23 by Jan and I in the Landrover (assisted by cold Red Stripe) determined that we could not drive closer than 1.6 km, straight line, from that direction. However, according to the topo maps, we could get within 1 km from the Grant Bailey side. Recon to check into it was slated for the following morning (before our visit to Coolshade Mountain Cave).
At about 10 AM, March 24, coming from Aenon Town, we reached the minor road that stretches from Linton Park to Grant Bailey and began to wend our way south. The search process (asking locals if they knew of the hole) started a couple of km's north of the near-point so that we could be certain to not miss anyone who might know of it. Judging by the KHE report, which we had an original copy of, it was well known locally as The Asuno, at least in 1965. A bit of encouraging success came early on with the finding of an older couple who vaguely remembered the name. We continued on our way, and closer to Grant Bailey found a man who claimed to know where it was, stating that it was quite close to the road. Although we strongly suspected he was about to take us to the wrong site, we accompanied him anyway to see what he had. About 100m down a track, we reached a smallish pit, which we later determined to be Blocked Shaft 1. There was no need to carry out a descent, as this was definitely not The Asuno, and not a priority, so after taking a GPS position, we returned to the Landrover, and continued south.
Our team arrived at Miss Campbell's at about 10:30 AM on the morning of the 25th. Marlon and Albert Campbell were waiting, along with several local people who were curious and wanted to lend a hand. After sorting and loading up with gear, we headed off, hiking through farmland, eastward from the road. A special mention must be made of Guy's load - he had the 200+ metre 11mm line on his back, tied to a large pack-frame that had been used for the rebreathers at St Clair. The rope is not exactly light (weighs a tonne, or at least feels like it), and in the end he would carry it the entire way in, and out. Respect.
I had entered the listed position for the hole into the GPS before the visit, as well as a basic contour map, and ran the receiver as we went. Surprisingly, I watched as our track steadily closed in on the listed position. It is rare that the listed coordinates actually coincide with the site's location - for some, they are out hundreds of metres, having been recorded before the GPS era. Ahead of us was a final hill, beyond which, if the position was correct, there should be a high cockpit that held The Asuno. On the eastern side, a valley ran up to a saddle, appearing to offer the best access. I asked Marlon, "Bredren, to the left, and up so? Is that where it is?". "Yeah, man, that's it. Not so far now." We had been hiking for less than thirty minutes, and were almost there. We had envisioned hours spent chopping through the bush to reach it. Instead, it was a pleasant stroll (except for Guy) through cropland, on a sunny, breezy day.
The last section of the approach had no track. Marlon and company went ahead, searching out the best route, chopping through with cutlasses. In order to save Guy the effort of winding along with the searchers, covering unnecessary ground, we left him with a radio, and told him we'd give a shout when we had the best route sorted out. This would not take long. About ten minutes later, from the edge of what was definitely the right pit (big, deep, and only 75m from the listed position), I radioed down with the news, and told him he could come forward along the chopped track.
The appearance of the hole from above is this: A rock wall about 10m high, facing NW, rises high on the SE side of the cockpit. In front of this is the hole, about 15m wide, extending about 10m out toward the hillside. The bottom cannot be seen from anywhere around the perimetre. It is surrounded by trees on all sides but the wall. The left and right sides of the hole are sloping hillside, rising about 5m total. The area in front offers the best anchoring points.
As many stones as possible were tossed up to the edge to be moved by the others, but one large rock, too heavy to be lifted, had to be pushed off with my foot into the depths. I watched it fall, it seeming to take forever, growing smaller and smaller as it receded, until it finally hit the slope below with a great, echoing crash. In most deep pits, it's all darkness, and a falling rock just disappears. At the Asuno, one sees the plummetting descent in its entirety. I uttered an appropriate, "Whoahh!". There was no mistaking that it was a hell of a long way down.
The rope passed over solid rock at one point, so to lessen the chance of abrasion, I had the bolting hammer passed down to me, and smoothed things off. With everything now as good as I could get it, I began my rappel.
Jan and Kurt then took their turns on rappel to join me in the depths, Jan going first so that he could video Kurt descending. It was incredible how tiny they looked in the upper part of the pit, 125 metres above (the KHE had the depth as 137m - our altimeters indicated that the main pitch is apx 110m, arrived at after checks both down and back up, with a total of apx 130m). We've done deeper single drops, such as the abyss at Smokey at 135m, and the main pitch at Morgans at 150m, but this was the first time I've watched people on a descent of over 100m the whole way. It's usually too dark to see them more than tens of metres above. As this went on, I briefly questioned our sanity in doing such things (then mentally filed it under "whatever").
The hole is typical of deep shafts in Jamaica in that it is relatively narrow at the top, and widens greatly as it goes down. At this site, it also curves under the anchor point, generally outward toward/under the hillside and cockpit (about 90m below the low-point of the cockpit). The widest point, roughly 100m, is about 25m from the bottom near the level where a fossil drainage passage joins the shaft (more on that lower on the page). This is also the level where one first touches down, with a scree slope continuing to the low-point. In the lowest section, it narrows to about 10m, and the floor slopes for about 20m at an angle of about 15 deg toward the current drainage point, all covered with fallen-in trees, dirt and rocks.
At an azimuth of 45 deg from the centre of the floor, a steep hill rises about 15m to the passage noted above. The ascent is very dicey, and I didn't even try it, having been stuck in a bad spot before doing something similar at Volcano Hole. Kurt gave it a go, but wisely decided to not push the upper part. The surface is mostly loose dirt, stones, and serious rocks on a 35+ deg angle. If you manage to get a long way up this, and then slide off, you will hit boulders at the bottom after picking up much speed. An ascent, to be done safely, will require bolting up the wall on the side. It was best seen by us when on rope, about 40m up, and appears to be about 20m wide and 10m high at the junction (about 15m above the floor) narrowing within about 15m to roughly half that size. It wasn't possible to see much further into it than that. The KHE recorded it as being choked after 20m, but we don't know if that was based on reaching it, or a guess from looking at it from the shaft.
I didn't see any bats, although there may have been light-tolerant species roosting under the overhanging section. The morphology didn't suggest it (no bell-holes or other suitable roosting spots), but because of the size of the chamber and our lack of binoculars, it's hard to be certain. No guano deposits were noted.
No trog invertebrates other than a few cave crickets were seen. The entire hole is in the twilight-zone, and indeed, much of it is very brightly lit in the hours around noon.
The floor surface didn't indicate any seasonal flood events. The opening is high on the side of a hill, and input is limited to what falls on a short section of hill above the wall to the SE of the entrance.
Kurt had asked me to attend to a loose rock he'd spotted, when I reached the upper wall, and this was duly taken care of. This consisted of me prying it off, and launching it into the depths (after giving them a good warning and receiving an all-clear). The event was captured on video by both Guy at the top, and Jan at the bottom, and can be seen in the file that accompanies this report (very impressive).
Kurt and Jan then in turn made their ascents. Kurt came up quickly, while Jan took a little longer because of stops to record video while hanging on rope (we have much raw footage from the visit, having had two cameras running). With us all now again assembled at the top, we wasted no time, and set about derigging. Incredibly, the rope was coiled, all the gear loaded, and the return hike underway not long after 4:00 PM. What we had originally expected to take two days had taken one hour for recon on the 24th, and six hours total for the actual visit.
Once back at the truck, we soon had our gear-packing and loading underway, and were hunting down Red Stripe. A number of the local folks were there (late afternoon and back from the farm), so Jan, of course, set up the laptop, moved some pictures, and let everyone see what it was like in the depths. There was great interest - all of them knew of the monster pit, and had heard stories of the 1965 KHE visit. Now, out of the blue, 44 years later, another group of madmen had arrived to descend into the earth. Finest of all was that one of our valuable helpers, Francis, had also assisted the KHE. A great leap of time was solidly linked, being two points on one continuum, rather than separate events.
Before closing this account, I must thank the people of Grant Bailey in general, and the Campbell family in particular. Our first visit to Volcano Hole, in 2004, was possible only because of the help we received from the people of the district. Our visit to The Asuno, in 2009, was possible only because of the gracious assistance of the Campbells, given for no other reason than pride in their land, a fine sense of curiosity, and their common decency. Many thanks.
*[Notes specific to the video file: I repeatedly stated the year of the KHE visit as 1963, although it was actually 1965. We arrived at a final altimeter depth of 130m.]
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