Jamaican Caving Notes
Barbecue Bottom Hole-2
April 3, 2005
Team: Stewart, Slack, Conolley, Roggy.
Notes: RS Stewart
The Barbecue Bottom Holes were found and visited while on our return to Windsor, after 4 days spent exploring the caves of Rock Spring. Due to lack of time, we would only be able to descend into one - the more interesting of the two sites, Hole-2. We knew, from JU, that during the one JCC exploration they had not descended a pitch found in the cave, but had guessed it at over 15 metres. Hole-1 had already been completely explored by the JCC, and we would defer it for a return in the second PiP expedition.
Hole-2 is described in JU as a cave to a shaft. It is actually a cave with a 15+ metre pitch that drops to a larger area of chambers on a lower level. Until we descended into this, it had never been entered. This is what the historical record indicates, and this is what we observed. It had a pristine character, and it was clear that every step we took was on untrodden material. We stepped carefully.
The day had begun at Miss Buckles, where we had been staying in Rock Spring. Soon after breakfast, we loaded up the Rover, got some gas in Albert Town, and headed down the Barbecue Bottom road. I had the Bristol positions from JU transformed into WGS84, and entered into the GPS, so we had a good idea of where to look, but getting down into the valley along the giant Barbecue Bottom fault-line was the tricky part. I knew a route further to the north (learned when we had found Ramgoat Cave), but it was over 2 km away. I'd closely examined the topos before the expedition, and had plotted GPS waypoints for a few possible routes, so the plan was to check them out and see which one would get us down. After about an hour of looking, and hiking short distances, we found a good track that hits the road at 18 20 55.6, 77 33 23.0 W. By coincidence, there is a geodetic marker on a low concrete monument placed right at the start of the track. Detailed access notes will be found in the entry for BBQ Hole-1.
This district, like so many others during the first week of the expedition, was plagued by bushfires. We were fortunate that the entrances to the Barbecue Bottom caves are high, close to a saddle on the south side of the bottomland, because the lower sections were thick with smoke, with active fires sending plumes upwards through the general haze. Time constraints prevented us from entering both caves, it having taken some time to merely locate our targets, so we decided on the most promising of the two, Barbecue Bottom Hole-2. The logistics of the visit were this: Dietrich stayed with the car, which was parked high above us on the road, because this rather isolated district has had occasional incidents in the past; of the three of who hiked into the bottom land, Ivor safe-guarded things at the top of the pitch at Hole-2; Elizabeth and Stefan descended into the new chambers, past the 15m drop. This was quite rewarding, for a series of four pristine chambers were found. The first contained a medium-sized bat roost, with fine fluffy guano, and all of the chambers were observed to be in a biologically undisturbed state (no P. americana, no guano extraction, no tourists tramping around).
The lower section of the cave is reached by looking low on the right side of the entrance chamber (northwest) to find a wide opening, about 1 metre high, partly blocked by boulders. A muddy slope will be seen that drops at an angle of about 30 deg into a chamber. A rope is needed here. Once on rappel, a descent down the slope for about 15 metres ends in a vertical, overhanging pitch of about 10 metres. At the bottom of this pitch is a chamber with a muddy slope that drops for another six metres of vertical to a somewhat level floor. The rope touches bottom at the top of the mud slope.
The bottom of the mud-slope is covered with thick deposits of guano, to both left and right. We moved carefully down the left side of this. A small extension is located to the right, and to the left is an opening into another chamber. Two more chambers are found beyond this. All of the chambers are roughly 15m wide, and 10m high.
The pristine character of the cave deserves some attention in these notes. I have been in other caves that have never been entered by a human before, all involving serious verticals (Home Away, Barrows, Belfield, et. al.), but they have all been limited to one or two large chambers, sitting on the sides of high saddles, with entrances large enough to allow some light into a good fraction of the cave during the day, and to keep internal temperature and humidity not far from outside-ambient at all times. The lower section of Barbecue Bottom Hole-2 is the first first-exploration I've had in an extended area of cave that is all dark-zone, has large chambers and a good bat-roost, that is not prone to flooding, and independent of outside humidity/temperature. There was a particular quality to it. The floor of the cave, away from the bat-roosts, where there were no guano deposits, had a thin crust on top of it that when stepped on gave way to a more solid surface mm's lower, this happening with a small crunching sound. The general appearance of surfaces, walls, and formations had an ancient, untouched look. I find it hard to describe afterwards, but notes supplied by Elizabeth Slack, found after these, might give a better idea of what it was like.
The walls of the entry pitch are carved through an interesting conglomerate, consisting of rounded small stones concreted by more recent white limestone. It has the appearance of a fluvial deposit that later went under the seas to be cemented by marine sediments.
The bat-roost here is not enormous, but judging by the great accumulation of guano, it has been in regular use for a very long time. Fluffy deposits sit on top of older layers that are metres thick in places.
Cave-adapted spiders, Nesticidae fam, were present, and a relatively uncommon amblypygid, Phrynus spp.
Given the high nutrient input of the cave, there are no doubt other interesting inverts, but we did not want to walk around in this cave a great amount to look for them. We were very careful to limit contact with guano deposits, formations on the floor, etc, and stayed on one narrow line to the farpoint of the cave, and then returned on the same route, making only short forays to the side where the floor seemed as though it wouldn't be damaged.
Our ascent from the cave was uneventful, Elizabeth now very experienced in vertical work. After pulling rope, checking the GPS position again to compare it to the one I'd taken on the way in, we hiked back to rejoin Dietrich at the car.
We are listing this cave with a high vulnerability due to the undisturbed bat-roost and guano deposits. There is no threat of anyone going down into it again for many years, but this is one of the few pristine bat-roosts in the Cockpit Country, and should remain so. In fact, it would be best if this cave were never entered again, by anyone, including us. Protection would be best accomplished by maintaining the quality of the forest around the entrance to the cave, and asking that no one enter it.
Barbecue Bottom Hole-2
April 3, 2005
Notes: E Slack
As for BBQ Bottom 2, this is what I remember. Walking on the guano reminded me of walking on freshly fallen powdery snow (if you ignore temperature and colour). The crunch sound, as I recall, came not from a crust on top, but from squishing the guano as we walked through. It's the same sound that new powder snow makes, though I realise it's been a while since I saw snow. The guano sounded that way because nothing but a few inverts had ever walked on it before, and because the cave was not particularly wet (water, either dripping or flowing in, would have compacted the guano). I do not recall any area without guano, except of course the part from the entrance to the mud slope. Aside from not being squished, the guano was also pristine in that it had no funky odour, none of that mustiness that I've smelled in places that have roaches and are wetter. It smelled like guano, but in a much milder way. The cave did look untouched, but I wonder if we would be seeing that if it looked different; perhaps, because we knew that we were the first humans to see it, we automatically saw it as untouched. I don't know that except for the guano, and the unusually tall height, that the cave looked much different from any other. Age-wise, I'm guessing that it was formed at roughly the same time other caves we've seen were. I've heard that the oils on human skin can damage coral, and maybe the same is true with caves. Or maybe just people's traipsing through a cave, with goodness knows what from the outside world, is enough to change its appearance in ways that I can see but can't describe.
Barbecue Bottom Hole-2
April 3, 2005
Notes: DK Roggy
I had spent the previous several days nursing along an old pair of jeans that were falling apart and I finally had a critical "pants malfunction" on this day. I didn't want to go into the bush without my legs covered, so I stayed by the car to ensure that it was secure.
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