Jamaican Caving Notes
|MAY 10, 2003|
Position: WGS84 - 18 22 13.7 N, 77 46 45.4 W, Alt 380 m, +/- 5 m
Field notes: R. S. STEWART
Cavers: R. S. Stewart, I. C. Conolley, M. Taylor
This day, Saturday, we had the main crew together for the first time this session. Our aim was to explore the "bottomless pit" that we'd had such difficulties learning of; in March we'd heard of it through shear luck by having an older gentleman of the district mention it while passing, just before we parted company with Victor at the end of the day. Yesterday, May 9, I had linked with Victor while on the return from Maroon Town, and told him that we'd be there today to have a look at it.
Upon our arrival, the small group who met us included the guide to the entrance, Craig Wilkins, who greeted us with the now familiar refrain that he did not want to take us because it was too dangerous. This is why Victor had not told us of the cave, and indeed, it seemed to be something that most of the local community was in agreement with; the Whitie should be kept from killing himself and thus bringing the authorities to ask many questions and assign blame to those who had led him.
I admit that I perhaps approached the situation with not as much tact as I might have, but in any event, I made it quite clear that, "Man, I drove an hour and a half to get here, I told you yesterday we were doing it", and in a slightly more insistent voice, "What is dangerous for you might not be dangerous for I. We're going!" We grabbed gear, ropes, and with Mr. Wilkins and a youth named Franklyn Pinnock, we hiked down though Victor's farm and along the trail that leads toward Rotten Goat Crawl.
Our route took us along a track that we were already familiar with, and after about 25 min's of hiking we found ourselves at a large cave entrance high on a hill, and quite close to Rotten Goat Crawl on a lower part of the same hill complex, 150 m az 215 deg from Rotten Goat to where we were now. We had hiked up the saddle south of the higher saddle that leads to Rotten Goat and were about 30 metres lower on a smaller hill that links to Rotten Goat hill.
The entrance faces east, is about 3 m wide and 6 high, and sits at an angle of about 45 deg high on the side of a hill that is about 200 m E-W and 100 m N-S and connected by a saddle to a larger hill to the north. The entrance is close to this saddle.
There is a short bushy slope that leads down to the entrance proper, and although we could see that the space inside was sizeable we couldn't safely get to the edge to have a look. Mr. Wilkins demonstrated the bottomlessness of the pit by throwing in several large rocks and making us listen. We heard "smash" then "bang" then the wizzing of rocks continuing to fall and not much at all was heard afterwards. While he was doing this, I was tieing the rope to a nice big tree closeby, and preparing to toss it. When I was ready to pitch the rope, Wilkins and the youth got clear and I hurled in as much of the 200 ft rope as I could at once. The rest soon followed into the hole. At this point, Wilkins was talking about the lack of a bottom to the cave again, and despite my being pretty sure, by the feel of the rope, that we had some on the floor, it was decided to haul it up and tie on another 100 ft. Why not... I was certain that this cave wasn't anywhere near 90 metres deep but to be sure we fed 300 ft of rope back into the cave. We'd added a large knot on the end to stop anyone from rappelling off the end of the line, and all in all it seemed pretty bomb-proof to me.
I harnessed up, got on rappel, then moved down the slope to finally have a look into the thing. It was very large and fairly deep and looked very good. By hanging out from the edge I could see a lot of rope on the floor, no sharp edges that would cut the rope... good stuff. With a brief report to the crew up top, I started the rap in.
I'd noticed that Wilkins had wandered off while I was clipping in the figure-8 and jumars, (I went in prepared to change to ascent if necessary), and found it a little surprising that he didn't want to watch, but the youth had stayed and was directly up the rope from me where he could get a good view. I paused to tell him to not knock rocks on me, or I'd get seriously mashed, then carried on down. As I set my feet on the start of the vertical I looked up to see him staring down at me wide-eyed and open-mouthed in absolute astonishment. It dawned on me that he didn't realize we would actually go into this bottomless pit and probably assumed we'd have a look at the entrance and walk away. As he went out of sight, as I descended past the edge, I started laughing and kept it up for the first part of the trip down.
The descent was truly marvellous. I was rappelling down into an enormous breakdown chamber with the highest part of the floor some hundred feet directly below me, and could see another smaller chamber dropping off to the south. The vertical wall soon receded, as the chamber cut back in below the entrance, and I drifted down into a giant void. This was a fine moment for me; I knew for a fact that I was the first to ever enter this cave, I knew that I was on a fairly new rope that wouldn't break if you hung several elephants on it, the harness felt good, the scenery was magnificent and I'd had the pleasure of seeing the disbelief on the face of the youth at the top as I, with no fear, entered a "bottomless pit" into which none of them had even dared look. I took my time as I went down, enjoying the moment, but after a short while I touched bottom, got off rappel, and gave a shout of "Off rope!" up to Ivor.
While I awaited Ivor, I began a circuit of the chamber, looking for inhabitants and signs of extensions. After a short time Ivor was down and had joined me at the top of the second chamber. While I got the camera out and began to take pictures of some very fine formations, Ivor worked his way down the talus slope that led into this next chamber. I took some pics and then caught up with him down at the bottom. There was one localized area of bat guano but we saw no bats in residence. Even this furthest point is still in the twilight zone so it may be expected that the bats that periodically inhabit this cave are Artibeus fruitbats, light tolerant, and somewhat more prone to come and go from one roost to another.
We worked our way back to the first chamber, taking a few more pics en route, and had a close look at the formations and the particularly pure sparkling calcite crystals that lay here and there where past stalactites had come to the floor and shattered. A very fine example of about 3 kg's, consisting of long clustered crystals of about 3 cm dia each, was put in my pack. I seldom do this but it was already on the floor and I felt some small reward was due for being the first to explore this "bottomless pit". It was left in the care of Miss Lilly, in Coxheath, and will be displayed in the future at an appropriate time and place.
We returned to the high point of the cave, a hill of sand and dirt, fallen in from the entrance and sitting atop large breakdown boulders, and came to where our rope reached the floor of the cave. Ivor rigged for ascent and I moved well clear of the rockfall zone to sit and enjoy a cigarette while he jumared up and out. Ivor's ascent went fine and he soon disappeared out the entrance 30 metres above me. I was already geared and was quickly on rope and moving, and after pausing for a brief moment to hang my pack from the bottom of the rope once I'd moved a couple of metres and taken the stretch out, I carried on up. I was using brand new jumars, had the footloops adjusted nicely, and was moving on a fairly new, smooth rope, so the ascent went well and although not as pleasurable as the trip down, it was fun all the same.
When I pulled myself out the entrance at the top, I said to the youth, Franklyn, "See, man, not dangerous, just a nice likkle hole". While Malibu hauled rope, I got a very good GPS position; the canopy was thin since we were high on the hill and I had a lot of satellites in view including the WAAS geo-synch.
It had rained on the hike to the cave, stopped just before we went in, and now as we began our hike it out it started to pour again. We were very sodden by the time we made it back to Victor's; Jah-Jah seems to think I like the rain and thusly obliges with much of it whenever possible.
This cave has little bioinventory potential but physically is very beautiful. The main chamber is about 65 m long on an axis of 30 - 210 deg true, about 40 m wide, 50 m high, and has a smaller chamber that joins at the 210 deg end and drops apx 15 m further. The full vertical extent of the cave is in the vicinity of 60 - 70 m. The entrance is located high, midway on the main chamber, at az 120 deg. The hill that contains it is of no great size and is probably about 25% hollow. The cave, both in its morphology and limestone, is similar to the nearby Belfield Cave. It is not listed in JU, no one of the district knows of a previous trip into it, and although it has had no proper name, it is on land owned by Barrow. We are assigning it the name "Barrow's Cave".
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