Jamaican Caving Notes
Aug 23, 2003
Position: 18 18' 32.7" N, 77 43' 22.5" W
Field notes: R. S. STEWART
Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, W. Stephenson, Tumpa
Continued from Marta Tick Cave.
One of my main objectives this day was to find, and GPS reference, Bonafide and Stephenson's Caves. These two caves were first explored by the National Speleological Society expedition of 1986 with logistical assistance from Minocal Stephenson, the father of Walton who was with us on this trip. Indeed, Walton himself had participated and I therefore assumed that the finding of these two caves would be straightforward. This assumption, like often happens when caving in Jamaica, turned out to be false.
Both of the caves are on Forestry Reserve lands in the next cockpit to the north of the one that holds Marta Tick Cave and the Glade Fissures. It is reached by way of a saddle that is situated on the north-west corner of the Marta Tick cockpit. It is an easy hike up and over this saddle and takes no more than 10 minutes. I have left several orange flags at the beginning of the route so that it may be easily found by others.
Soon after we had passed through the saddle, a low cliff rose up on the west, and after we had covered a very short distance northward along this, we came to a breakdown feature that had undercut the wall and deposited a number of very large boulders under an overhang. Walton informed us that this was Bonafide Cave. I was doubtful about this but he seemed very sure. The source of my doubts was that I could in no way imagine anyone calling this a cave. Although I had not refreshed my memory of the maps for Bonafide and Stephenson's earlier in the day before we set out, something I shall be sure to do in the future, I remembered enough to know that Bonafide was an actual cave, not a boulder-littered undercut as we saw before us. A bit of scrambling was done by all four of us, disturbingly unorganized, and occuring in a way that could result in problems greater than having one's hand stepped on in a tight fissure by Tumpa and his over 200 pounds, and this showed that there were no entrances hidden by the boulders, and that there was no cave, just a pile of large boulders with voids beneath and between. With a, "Walton, man, I don't know..." from me, and a, "Yeah, man, that is Bonafide Cave", from him, I decided to move us further along the cliff in search of Stephenson's.
We trekked northward along the western side of the cockpit and after less than 100 metres we came to a breakdown feature similar, but larger, to the one we had just left. This, announced Walton, was Stephenson's Cave. Once again, it should be stated that Stephenson's Cave is named after the family to which Walton belongs, and that Walton had been with the NSS expedition in 1986. One would think that he would know the location of such a cave.
After setting down gear, and putting on headlamps, we scrambled up the large pile of boulders and began to hunt for a way in. A NSS metal tag was soon found, reinforcing the thought that we had reached our target. Walton certainly helped this view by purposefully scrambling down between the boulders and then popping into a downward leading vertical squeeze. As I followed, in second place behind him, I took my time and had a good look around. We were entering into a system much like the northeastern end of Marta Tick, with many squeezes through sponge and fissures. It was small, complex and confusing. As Walton scrambled down further, I backed up to check for a better route, found one that lead to where he was, but was much easier, and lowered myself through it. Martel had decided to follow Walton, but I reached Walton by my alternate route before Martel had caught up. Tumpa stayed up-top, on my instructions, to limit the general confusion that had happened at, "Bonafide". I was realizing that with the present crew, things were not happening the way I prefer them to go, that is, orderly, calmly, and safely. Martel was certainly not the source of this dynamic and Tumpa of course usually stays on the outside anyway. Essentially, the session was being lead by a person whose abilities as a caver were in doubt.
Walton carried on down through spongey fissures taking a route that seemed motivated by a determination to keep moving more than anything else. Once again, I began to wonder if there was a misidentification of caves going on. My recollection of the description and map of Stehenson's Cave suggested that we should find large chambers with the cave on several levels and requiring vertigear in one section. What Walton crawled further into was entirely different. There were no chambers whatsoever, just a series of intersecting tight squeezes. I had begun to flag at the top, and tried to methodically search for any passages that might lead to the sizeable chambers that we should find. I found none, only more Marta Tick sponge. Walton had reached a point some 10 metres further down, and I made my way towards him flagging at an increasing rate. It should be realized that what we moved through was so tight that one could not even fully sit up in many sections, just slither and crawl through voids that were seldom straight for more than a metre. It was the most dangerous kind of system to get lost in... you would be very lucky to get out if you did. This did not seem to deter Walton, who forged ahead on a random course. I was cognizant of the fact that he was demonstrating his worth, both as a caver and as a recipient of funds that he hoped to receive, despite it having been made clear that this would not happen, but his activity in this cave was dangerous, pure and simple. Martel and I are highly experienced, we flag, we do not get lost, but if Walton had done this with an adventurous tourist, not a caver, mishap would be probable.
We eventually joined up again when Walton finally ran out of passages to crawl through. We seemed to be at the lowest, most westerly, accessible part of the cave. From here, spongey fissures carried on but from what we could see, they were too tight to get through. At this point, I was able to make an observation of some worth; there was a flow of air out of the narrow voids ahead of us. It seemed to me that it must be coming from Marta Tick Cave. The direction was right, and when we had been in Marta Tick in Nov, air had been flowing into the cave. At the part of Marta Tick closest to where we were now, the morphology, formations, sponge is very, very similar. It continues towards where we were through passages too small to move through. The two systems, Marta Tick, and what we were slithering through, appear to be connected. It cannot be said that it would be impossible to make the connection from one to the other; there are perhaps circuitous tight routes that could be followed through. I was very pleased to make this observation, and as part of it, smoked a half a cigarette and watched the smoke drift. While I did this, Walton began to work his way back to the entrance.
While I smoked, and watched, I observed Walton heading into a very small upward-leading passage that was in fact not one that we had come down. He was going the wrong way and was not aware of it. It must be said that the route into this very small area where I sat was tremendously hard to remember. That is why it had two orange ribbons, one on either side of the tiny hole through which we had crawled. There were no easily identifiable passages anywhere. It was like crawling though a sponge with tiny openings on every side. I let Walton go ahead on his new course for a short distance to see if he would realize that he was lost, but when I saw that he tried to carry on, appearing confused but moving forward anyway, I called him back. When he was with me again, I pointed out the flags and suggested he follow those out. I let him go ahead, and then slowly began to make my own way out of the labyrinth, enjoying the site of every one of those orange ribbons as I went.
Martel had stayed somewhat higher up on the route, and along with Walton, was soon back on the surface. I followed several minutes later. Because I was fairly certain at this point that either Alan Fincham had erred in Jamaica Underground in his attributing of the NSS description and map of Stephenson's Cave, or Walton was in error, I questioned Walton on whether this might not actually be Stephenson's Cave. He was insistent that we were at the right one. I took a GPS position, then we began the hike back towards the car, stopping at Marta Tick long enough for me to get another GPS position.
Subsequent checking of the maps for Bonafide and Stephenson's, when I had returned to Quick Step, showed to my satisfaction that Walton, and apparently Minocal also, are confused as to the identity of the features found in this Cockpit. What they call Bonafide Cave is not in fact a cave and was not listed by the NSS. What they call Stephenson's Cave is in fact Bonafide Cave. Stepehnson's Cave is further to the north in the Cockpit and we did not reach it. The cave maps, the NSS descriptions, and the reported locations of these two caves in the cockpit all strongly suggest that in the 17 years since the NSS expedition, Walton and Minocal have become confused as to what is what. In their defense, they seldom visit this cockpit... it is a very long hike to it and is seldom visited by anyone at all. The local lumbermen come no closer than a kilometre to the south and I don't think even the Forestry Dept goes that far. I fully expect that when we are next there, no one will have been to it during the interval.
Continue to August 23 Pit.
Notes for Bonafide Cave, May 6, 2005.
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