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The Asuno

March 25, 2009

Video: The Asuno - Low resolution (15 minutes - 57 MB wmv)*
Other notes: The Asuno - RS Stewart


The Asuno
March 25, 2009
Team: Amy Ekparian, K. Garret, J. Pauel, R.S. Stewart, G. Van Rentergem
Notes: J Pauel

We first began our mission to assess the entire Cave River System in May 2007. Since then, we'd found and explored all the caves in the system, except for Asuno Hole. It had been a high priority on the to-do list for some time, so we scheduled in a couple nights to stay in nearby Aenon Town, to use as our base for the mission.

Huge Bauxite truck - Photo: A. Ekparian
Huge Bauxite truck - Photo: A. Ekparian
Our first concern was to actually find the remote site. We had a location in JAD 69 coordinates from the ‘bible’ - Jamaica Underground, which Stef had converted to a WGS 84 position and entered into his garmin. But in this dense bush, being off just a few meters can mean a lot of time chopping and searching and still easily missing the target. So we dedicated the second half of a day to do recon and see if we could find someone who could lead us to it, or point us in the general direction, then we could come back and start early the second day. It is just about two kilometers away from Volcano Hole which we know well, but this is hilly, thick forest terrain, so the plan was to get to the nearby district of Grant Bailey and begin our search from there.

It’s less than a half hour drive from cave valley to the turnoff to Grant Bailey from the main road. We were in active mining country, even driving on the huge mining roads. It was a maze of country lanes, passing houses, schools, shops and churches along the way. A few stops to ask directions and a few more to photograph the beautiful landscape.

We started to ask pedestrians about the hole right away and a few, surprisingly, said they knew of it, and directed us on to Grant Bailey. Then we met a farmer on the road who said it was on his property. We parked on the roadside, and followed him down a track on a hillside, being expertly guided by his magnificent ‘brown dog’ who led the group. He guided us to a hole. But it was not Asuno Hole.

A stop on the road to take photos and videos of the stunning countryside
A stop on the road to take photos and videos of the stunning countryside
The farmers house along the main road. Photo: K. Garrez
The farmers house along the main road. Photo: K. Garrez


A thank you and we were off to the next shop to ask again. This time several men in there said they knew who could find it. The three of them jumped on top of the truck and we drove up the road for a few more minutes before finally stopping in front of another shop.

The Farmer, his son, Amy, Stef, Brown dog and I at the edge of the hole. Photo: K. Garrez
The Farmer, his son, Amy, Stef, Brown dog and I at the edge of the hole. Photo: K. Garrez
All aboard for Grant Bailey. Photo A. Ekparian
All aboard for Grant Bailey. Photo A. Ekparian


There were several people gathered here and we began the meet and greet and query process. Nobody knew for sure, and one clown was demanding money, but he too knew nothing.

Asking questions in the square in Grant Bailey. Photo: K. Garrez
Asking questions in the square in Grant Bailey. Photo: K. Garrez


We were about to move on, when someone pointed out a house close by where, they said, lived the lady who owned the land that the sinkhole was on. Stef and I walked up to the house and the lady came out and spoke with us. She said the land was hers and she knew of the hole. She gave us permission to visit it, but could only tell us it was “quite far.” She said her son, who was presently out in the fields, knew how to get there. When we told her that we would return the following morning, she said she would have her son wait for us and take us to it. We were relieved, though not 100% sure we were on the right track.

The next morning we arrived a bit later than we planned to, and I was worried that he might have left to tend to his fields. But as we parked and were getting our gear out he approached us, sharpened cutlass in hand. He is a very friendly and polite gentleman. Marlon, also had several guys from the district with him. He said it was about a mile away. Then he said it was two miles away. We were worried that it might be a long hike, so we carted a good amount of water.

Marlon on the far right, accompanied by several other men from the district
Marlon on the far right, accompanied by several other men from the district
Guy and Marlon on the trail. Photo: K. Garrez
Guy and Marlon on the trail. Photo: K. Garrez



We brought our Super 11mm extreme pit rope. It’s 200+ meters long and weighs over forty something pounds. We use it for the deepest holes. Two days prior, we used all 719 feet of it in Morgans Pond Cave! Guy was the usual champion and strapped the coiled beast to an aluminum frame which he then carried on his back.

Heading off into the bush
Heading off into the bush
Freshly dug yam mounds on the trail. Photo: K. Garrez
Freshly dug yam mounds on the trail. Photo: K. Garrez


All the good people we passed working their plots had pleasant and humorous comments, the discourse was entertaining. The land around here is used solely for farming, an interesting mix of many different crops.

Stef checked the JU position for the cave on the gps and stated that it wasn’t as far as Marlon thought it was. But we were not sure either way.

Fortunately the trail was relatively easy going, through fields of crops, with no bush or very steep hills. It was a nice walk with the many bird calls and huge limestone cliff faces.

The area is very hilly with many cliffs like this. Photo A. Ekparian

The area is very hilly with many cliffs like this. Photo A. Ekparian



We made a water stop about 30-40 minutes later in a freshly cut and burned out clearing, where the trail came to an end. The men consulted with a coal burner on the direction of the last 100 meters to the pit, and then we set off with all four cutlass men side by side clearing a fast-opening path through the thick cover. One of them stopped briefly to hack off a bunch of bananas from a wild tree, and then rejoined the fray. Guy, with the bulky and heavy load waited back in the clearing with a radio in case we didn’t have the right line and had to trek around in the bush.

I was surprised to see what seemed to me to be an old limestone-block wall, well overgrown with plant life. The oldest of the locals said people used to farm out here many decades before. We got to the rim after about 10 minutes of zigzagging up a rocky and steep slope. We called Guy on the radio and took a drink and smoke break while we waited for him.

Rest stop and consultation with farmers/coal burner. Photo. K. Garrez
Rest stop and consultation with farmers/coal burner. Photo. K. Garrez
At the top of the pit.
At the top of the pit.



You could not see into the pit from the lower side of the rim where we were. As this was the flattest and safest spot on the rim, we decided to rig from here. Anchors were plenty as the entire rim is heavily forested right up to the edge. We uncoiled the rope and Stef and Kurt secured the anchor, after which Stef did the ritual rope call and then tossed the free end over the ledge. All this while the local guides gathered a big pile of wood and got a smoky fire going.

Stef and I uncoiling the rope. Photo K. Garrez
Stef and I uncoiling the rope. Photo K. Garrez
Stef beginning his descent into the pit.
Stef beginning his descent into the pit.


Guy climbed further up the steep slope around the rim to shoot video, as Stef got on-rope and set out over the precipice. There was some shrub growth on the rim, which he first chopped then pulled by hand as he got further down. Then, unfortunately, a big rock came loose and fell into the pit, exploding as it hit the floor below, 100 meters later, on or very close to the rope coils on the floor.

We decided we had to pull it all out again while Stef remained in position. Once it was coiled on top again, Stef worked on the cliff face, prying, hacking and kicking free all the loose rocks and dirt. The rope went back in and Stef continued down. You had to descend a few meters before you could see the entire shaft down to the bottom. Stef was in awe, and gave us a description of the awesome sight, using colorful Jamaican words that can get you locked up here.

I can’t remember exactly, but it may have taken 10-20 minutes for him to touch down, a spot which was actually still a few dozen meters above the very bottom, on a very steep and loose slope.

I rappelled next, moving very slowly to avoid sending more rocks down. Although I’d been anticipating this day for a few years, I was absolutely stunned at the awesome sight of this magnificent shaft. I had not done a 100+ meter shaft that was illuminated completely by sunlight. It was incredible. Though I could see the bottom over 400 ft below me, I could not make out Stef down there. He was not discernible till he looked up, and I could see his headlamp. To me it was a lot more intimidating than doing deep shafts in total darkness; here you could see the depth in its entirety. It was intimidating.

I stopped several times to take photos and to just sit there in a state of awe, looking at this awesome natural wonder. This shaft and Dunns Hole are the two most magnificent natural sights I’ve seen in Jamaica.

View from the touchdown point looking up.

View from the touchdown point looking up the approximately 350+ ft to the opening. Stunning!

I reached the floor, and realized that the last few dozen meters had to be descended still attached to the rope as the slope was just too steep and the floor was covered with loose rocks. Stef had taken a safe seat out of the rock fall area, and after a few photos, I joined him and then gave Kurt the ok to begin his descent. As Kurt passed the undercut and got his first view of the shaft, we heard a loud “Whoa!” He descended quickly, and the three of us looked around while excitedly talking about what a stunning hole this was. Biota was very limited. A few cave crickets and some ants! There were some large trees on the bottom and all were decomposing, thereby staining the floor bottom black, which made it look like a fire site. There were many birds nesting in the wall of the shaft, and they flocked, becoming a wonderful flying choir as they circled around the shaft, in song. The acoustics were really something.

We shot some video and then, after a little rest, Stef started back up the rope. Kurt took a safe seat and stretched out the end of the rope to protect it from rock falls, while I crawled up the slope a few dozen meters to get some photos and video of Stefs ascent.

Kurt and Stef near the bottom of the pit. I was above them on the steep slope.
Kurt and Stef near the bottom of the pit. I was above them on the steep slope.
Here’s a view of Kurt waiting near the bottom. Note the coils of rope at his feet.
Here’s a view of Kurt waiting near the bottom. Note the coils of rope at his feet.


A giant ray of sunlight came down through the opening and beamed into the side of the shaft hundreds of feet above me. We watched it slowly move as we waited the 30 something minutes for Stef to climb up. I went next, stopping many times on the way up to shoot photos/video, and to just look at and enjoy the scene.

Following are some shots of Stefs ascent up the rope.

Here Stef has just attached to the rope to begin the climb out.
Here Stef has just attached to the rope to begin the climb out.
Stef on rope.
Stef on rope.

Stef on rope.
Stef on rope.

Stef on rope a few hundred feet up, heading ‘towards the light’.
Stef on rope a few hundred feet up, heading ‘towards the light’.



A view looking down from a point about halfway up the rope.

A view looking down from a point about halfway up the rope. The white dot between the top left corner of the photo and the rope is Kurt on the bottom of the pit. Bloody Deep!

The walls of the shaft have plant cover on them close to the top/ Ferns and other low growth. Deeper down the shaft it’s only moss and algae. Small stalactites grow near the top of the rim.

On rope looking up to the entrance, about 100 ft below the rim.
On rope looking up to the entrance, about 100 ft below the rim.

About 40 ft below the top.
About 40 ft below the top. Those are big trees along the rim, so you get an idea of how huge this opening is. It’s several dozen meters across at the widest part.


While we waited on Kurt, Amy told me how one of the guys shot a bird with a slingshot so hard and accurately that he shot the head clean off. I sat there having a cigarette and wondered if that was possible or if he chopped it off.

Stef and Amy at the top, waiting to help me get out of the pit.
Amy and Stef at the top, waiting for me get out of the pit.
Anyway, she got her first taste of bush-bird and I was thankful that I wasn’t there for that. They also roasted some wild yams that one of the men dug up.

Wild yams and bird for bush nourishment.
Wild yams and bird for bush nourishment.
Kurt came up the rope in record time. He’s a bullet on a rope. We then sat for a while in excited discussion about the experience. The fire was burning down and it was time to start heading back, so Stef and Marlon pulled down the rope and coiled it.

We did our final check for gear on the ground, and Guy strapped the brute of a rope onto his back again. Fifteen minutes later we were off for the return trek to Grant Bailey.

Legs now weary from the pit climb; it was a much slower walk back to the truck.
Legs now weary from the pit climb; it was a much slower walk back to the truck.
Forty minutes later we got back to the square where we parked. It was late afternoon and farmers who had returned from their fields were hanging around the shop. Taxis appeared frequently, dropping off school kids, and everybody hung around in the square, curious about what we were doing there. Our first task was to acquire Cold Red Stripes. We then all took a seat on the roadside among some residents, sipping the cold and mighty refreshing native lager brews.

Now it was time for Outreach and Education. We downloaded the day’s photos to the laptop, and then by using them, and a copy of Jamaica Underground as our tools, we did an education session for the gathering. We showed them what the sinkhole was all about and provided info on caves in general. We emphasized that this was a unique and special site, and that it must be fiercely protected from threats like ‘development’ and especially bauxite mining.

The crew enjoying cold Red Stripes.
The crew enjoying cold Red Stripes.
The JCO does this at the end of every day of caving. Getting information to the local communities about the importance of caves and how and why they must be protected. Interest and enthusiasm is ALWAYS very high and we reach a large number of people, directly, on every expedition. We’ve had nights with over 70 people gathered around the truck or in a shop or bar watching caving photos and videos on the computer. This is an important part of JCO field work.

Finally it was time to load the gear into the truck, and return to base camp in Aenon town. It was getting quite cool and more importantly, the shop ran out of cold beers.

We expressed our gratitude for the expert help and wonderful hospitality shown by everyone.

Grant Bailey is a great example of a typical Jamaican community. Everyone is polite and friendly and helpful. A strong sense of community and decency in a wonderful district, tucked away in a very beautiful part of Jamaica.

I look forward to the return visit one day soon, to document further how beautiful and special Asuno Hole is.

Respect and Love to the wonderful people in Grant Bailey.

Jan Pauel
Jamaican Caves Organisation


Photos of the Outreach session taken by Kurt. The crowd got quite a bit bigger than this too.

Outreach
Some residents expressed pride that their community housed such a magnificent wonder.
Grant Bailey residents enjoying the outreach session.
Grant Bailey residents enjoying the outreach session.

Grant Bailey residents enjoying the outreach session.
Grant Bailey residents enjoying the outreach session.



A view looking down from a point about halfway up the rope.

Taxi drivers stopped and got out their cars, and shopkeepers came out of their shops to watch the presentation. A great time was had by all.



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