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Jan 24, 2004

COMFORT HALL ST JAMES CAVE


Position:
West Entrance - WGS84 - 18 24' 40.5" N, 77 55' 24.5" W
East Entrance - WGS84 - 18 24' 40.4" N, 77 55' 22.7" W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, I. C. Conolley, M. Bellinger, S. McCall, R. Ranger

Time in: 17:15 EST, Time out: 17:45 EST

THREAT VULNERABILITY: Intermediate

Mark Bellinger, Rohan Ranger, Sarah McCall, and Ivor Courtney Conolley at the East Entrance of Comfort Cave. Photo by R.S.Stewart Comfort Hall was the third cave visited on Jan 24, 2004, after Roehampton School Cave, and a stymied attempt on what was subsequently determined to be Windsor Castle Cave. This new cave was unlisted in the Register and we had learned of it from Joan Blake, a valuable contact who is very familiar with this part of St James. She had previously supplied the information that had found us Roehampton School Cave in August of 2003. I must once again express my gratitude for her ongoing assistance.

Because there is already a Comfort Hall Cave listed in JU, located in Manchester, and because the district where this new cave is situated is called Comfort Hall, and the cave is known locally with this name, I am differentiating between the two by calling this new one, "Comfort Hall Saint James Cave".

Rohan, being from the district, knew exactly where the entrance was, up a hill a short distance to the south of the Wales Pond road, and little time was spent in getting to it. This was good since it was now after 5:00 PM and we had less than an hour and a half of usable daylight left. We had spent over an hour in our intitial pursuit of Windsor Castle Cave, after Roehampton, thwarted by wasps at a cave entrance and no Pyro to spray them with. In the end, it took three visits to Windsor Castle to determine that we had the right cave, and to assess it, before we were finally done. One thing that can be said is that, on this first day, Mark and Sarah got a taste of the difficulties in tracking down some of these caves. Since it's very much part of caving in Jamaica, this was probably a good part of their first day of training.

Despite our delay at Windsor Castle, we were able to reach Comfort Hall with enough of the day left. It might seem odd that cavers would be concerned with sunset, but although nightfall isn't a factor inside the cave, it makes quite a difference on the approach and retreat to the entrance. Even with headlamps, it is dicey hiking on bushed up hills in the dark. In any event, at 5:15, with plenty of time left, we were at the entrance.

The entrance, determined after exploration of the cave to be the western of two entrances, looks to the west over pastured bottom-land. It is some 15 - 20 m higher than the pasture and is about two-thirds of the way to the top of the hill in which it is found. The opening is not large, perhaps two metres across and less than that high. A small outer chamber leads to a crawl to the east that was conducting a strong inward flow of air. It was immediately apparent that there was a second entrance. We headed into the crawl, a low, wide passage, and after some 10 m reached a decent sized break-down chamber about 8 m wide and the same high. At the far eastern end of this, the other entrance was found. The total travelled distance between the two entrances was about 60 m, with a GPS determined straight-line distance between the two at 52 m +/- 5 m. The east entrance is about 5 m higher than the west, but the strong flow of air through the cave was primarily caused by a stiff breeze outside blowing directly at the west entrance.

The cave, because it so high on the hill, and because of a regular breeze through it, is very dry. A contributing factor to this is that much of the cave, because it cuts through the top of a hill, is not far removed from outside conditions; the extent of rock at the two ends and the top is not great, the forest cover is scrappy second growth shrubs and bush, and the rock surrounding the cave is warmed considerably every sunny day. There is little available buffering.

The geomorphology of the cave is interesting; it appears to have originally been part of a stream-passage countless millennia ago before erosion and collapse lowered the land on either end of it. Like Roehampton School Cave, it sits in strongly-bedded limestone and has had its development restricted primarily to the horizontal. In the break-down chamber near the eastern entrance, the ceiling is very flat with few formations. The flatness of the roof also places restraints on its availability as roosting space for bats.

Biologically, there are some bats, not many, probably Artibeus, and we have listed the population at < 100. American Roaches are unfortunately present. Eleuths were dwelling near to both entrances. Other than that, we didn't see much of anything else.

The dry nature of the cave, especially in the roomier eastern end, suggests that it would have been attractive to the Taino. I looked for pictograms, without seeing any, but the search was much less than exhaustive. Ivor seemed to think it had good potential and took a few samples of debris on the floor, including a small bone. It appeared to me that the great number of snail shells that we saw near the east entrance, in the break-down chamber had been rafted in during times of heavy rain, rather than carried, but there is no doubt that this cave because of its proximity to coastal areas where Taino usually dwelt, and because of it's invitingly comfortable nature, should be looked at more closely for archaeological resources.

Minor deposits of breccia were seen near the ceiling of the break-down chamber in the western end, but nothing so glaringly valuable that I will contact Don about it.


Comfort Hall Cave, St James, Jamaica

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