Jamaican Caving Notes
May 30, 2006
Team: RS Stewart, Bob Morris, Dash Morris.
Notes: RS Stewart
[Notes for previous visits to Deeside Cave]
This would be my first cave of the June 2006 expedition. I had arrived in Jamaica the evening before, and today, after having not had enough sleep for three nights in a row (last-minute rush, airplanes, chatting at Miss Lilly's on the way in), I would have to hit the ground running (or crawling, as it were). This situation wasn't unusual (in fact, moreso the way it usually goes), but the first few days of the session were particularly hectic this time.
On the first two days of this session (May 30/31), we would assist Kimberly John in her water sampling project, this being done in a pro bono way. We had been involved with her funding agency, The Nature Conservancy, ourselves, the previous year, and so we were willing to spare a couple of days to help-out. Also, we had an interest in learning a little about the techniques involved in her project. The work required for us to do this was minimal, as they had no need to explore their target sites the way we would, but instead just get to the water to fill some bottles, and then get back out. In the case of Deeside, because there is a rising issuing from the cave right on the roadside, they didn't even have to enter it. Our greatest challenge would be Booth Spring, slated for the next day, a site that we had not visited before (where Elizabeth would save the day by finding the track to it).
Not long before the start of the expedition, I had been contacted by Bob Morris, a writer for National Geographic Traveler, regarding the writing of an article on caving in Jamaica for tourists. This day, May 30, was the only one available when our schedules overlapped; on May 31, he would be outbound to Florida. Fortunately, both of the targets planned for Kimberly's project on May 30, Deeside and Printed Circuit, were suitable for adventurous tourists, so we had hopes of taking care of two entirely different sets of objectives. With the help of Elizabeth Slack, our loyal and feisty Peace Corps girl, we actually managed to pull this off. It might not have been accomplished in a perfect manner, but it all got done and there were no casualties.
The entire crew met at Miss Lilly's in Coxheath on the evening of May 29, to be in place for May 30. Kimberly John and Minke Newman, along with an associate of theirs, had brought Elizabeth across from the east end of the island. Bob Morris and his son, Dash, had come from Negril. I had come from Alex's Car Rental, en route from the airport in MoBay, behind the wheel of a Grand Vitara. I was the last to reach Coxheath, and when I rolled in, I had to immediately change from international-travel mode, to head-of-the-JCO mode. Mindful of my duties, I tried to be on my best behaviour, and be professional (which I am, but do so better when I haven't just taken a plane from Babylon), and things went well enough (or so I like to believe). Bob and his son seemed cool, Kimberly was her usual bright self, and it was nice to see Elizabeth again. Of course, my time at Miss Lilly's had to be kept short, so that we could head down the road to Windsor and get some sleep for the next day. Accordingly, and in a thoroughly professionally manner, I tore myself out of there earlier than I would have liked (the professional manner being that I did it, rather than the way in which I left). The various troops climbed into the various cars (one van, two SUV's), and rolled onwards to the Last Resort.
We were soon in Windsor, and after sleeping arrangements had been taken care of, Bob and I chatted on the porch for a little while. I tried to get across some idea of what the JCO is trying to do (preserve caves, carry out valuable research, do some wicked caving in the process, and get enough funding to carry it all on), while we finished a last couple of beers that we'd brought with us. I don't know how well I communicated all of this, but even if it was poorly done, I hope that the honesty of our aim was apparent. At any rate, relatively early (before midnight), this was wound-up and the last of us were off to bed, to rest up for the first day of the June 2006 expedition.
The day began early, and well. Now that there is only one rooster at the Last Resort (a fine, old, white fowl that is intelligent enough to understand when it is told to "Move down the rud wit dat, man!", to actually do so), mornings are a pleasant waking-up to the breeping of Whistling Frogs, initiated by the occasional crow of the aforementioned bird. This is usually just before sunrise, which is the best time to get up in the Cockpit Country.
The various people who would comprise today's two crews were all awake, and having coffee or breakfast, by about 7:00 AM. I'd gotten up somewhat earlier than the others (6:00 AM), as I had to not only have coffee, but sort out gear for the next few days; we would not be back at Windsor until Thursday night. As it turned out, I managed to get everything into my SUV that we would need, except for one ascender out of the six required. At Deeside, this would cause Bob, Dash, and I, to have to share, with one lowered down the pitch by the first ascender for the use of the second. Wha' fi do... this is the kind of thing that happens when there is little time on the first day.
The plan for the day was that we would all hit Deeside first, with Elizabeth attending to the TNC crew (Kimberly, Minke, and Aisha), while I attended to the National Geographic Traveler crew (Bob and Dash). Elizabeth and company would take care of the sampling by the roadside rising, while I would take Bob and Dash into the actual cave. Eliz and the TNC people would complete their task very quickly, to then head for Rock Spring, and Printed Circuit Cave. Meanwhile, I would guide Bob and Dash as far as the River Pit, in Deeside, get them back out, and we would then make the drive to catch up with the others at Rock Spring. So, with this plan in hand (one we believed to have a very good chance of being successful), we were on the road soon after 8:00 AM, heading off to satisfy our various personal agendas.
We made our journey in three vehicles (Bob and Dash in one, Eliz and TNC in another, and myself alone), with me leading the way. We took the backroad short-cut, via Sherwood Content, Friendship, and Wakefield, and the drive went well (no mufflers ripped-off, goats hit, or madman taxi drivers collided with). By about 9:30, we were at Deeside.
I stopped at the rising only long enough to get a GPS position for Kimberly, and then Bob, Dash, and I headed toward the cave entrance. A short, steep, track of loose soil leads up the hillside to the southeast of the rising, with this little hike surprisingly difficult, especially for those who have not done it before. There is a great tendency to slide back down, unless rocks and trees on the righthand side are grabbed to steady oneself in the worst parts. Nevertheless, the three of us were soon past this, and after making a jaunt across the hill to the west, were climbing into the entrance chamber. A short section of passage leads into the hill from this point, until a crawl is reached at a constriction; beyond this lays the main part of the cave. This squeeze is about 50cm wide and high, but only the same in length, and on the other side the passage immediately opens up to a couple of metres wide and about three high. I went through first, thereby demonstrating that it is indeed possible to do so, and was then followed by Bob and Dash. Now able to again stand upright, and walk rather than slide on our bellies, we covered the remaining 15m that lay beyond to reach the drop into the lower sections. Now would come untangling, tying, and tossing of ropes, donning of harnesses, and Bob and Dash's first session of Single Rope Technique.
As usual, the sorting out of the ropes took a little while - they are regularly coiled back up after use by others in a manner that I am not fond of, and they cannot easily be uncoiled without much tangling. However, things were eventually taken care of, and now would come the harnesses. These seemed to have been twisted around by the last occupants, and it took me some minutes to figure out what was going on, and how to get them on my two guests. It was a bit of an IQ test, involving rotating the leg-loops and waistband inside out, and at this point I wished that I'd had more than six hours of sleep the night before. At any rate, after a little while struggling with this, I had Bob and Dash in them, and began to give them their first lesson in rappelling. They both seemed to grasp the concept quickly, and I would keep them on belay with a second rope when they went down, so I soon had them put theory into practice by sending them on their way down. I can't recall who went first, but I had to go last, of course, to be sure that both of the guests had correctly clipped in with the descender (not wanting casualties on the very first day of the session). Accordingly, they slid into the hole on rappel, one after the other, with an "Off-rope!" between. I kept both of them on a little tension with the belay, but not so much that they weren't actually rappelling (i.e. I didn't lower them into the hole). Despite a degree of nervousness exhibited by both, they did fine, and before too long I had rapped in to join them. Now would come our journey through the Scree Chamber, and the Canyon, to reach the River Pit.
The route from the bottom of the entry pitch to the River Pit is straightforward and fairly easy. It begins at the bottom of the rope in a high chamber of moderate width, the Stalactite Pit, at the end of which there is a low crawl under stals, with the route not immediately apparent (we have left several flags here). Past the stals, there is small chamber made up of a t-junction, with the left branch choking in boulders after 10m, and the right one leading up a scree slope to reach a narrow gap into the Canyon. The Canyon is 10-15m wide, and a similar amount high, and extends westward for about 100m, over a floor of boulders of various sizes. Toward the end, passing under a large boulder on the left side takes one into the Hanging Gardens Chamber (this is essentially part of the same passage as the Canyon, but is separated by boulders and stals). In the left-rear corner (SW), a corkscrew down through stals leads into the River Pit, with arrival at a high bouldery ledge overlooking the pit below. Here, the waters that eventually rise at the roadside pass through the cave, 15m below. In rainy times, the water is high, and covers the ingress and egress points, resulting in the flow being quiet, and unheard, as it passes below the surface of the risen pool. In dry times, the sound of the stream flowing through an only partially-flooded passage causes an impressive roar from the depths below. By moving carefully around the lefthand side of the ledge, and climbing over boulders, one can leave the pit behind and continue on in a passage running at about the same level as the Canyon. After about 50m, a final chamber is reached, with a low, partially-choked passage that extends from the righthand side to apparently reach the surface (evidenced by rafted snail shells, tree roots, and many of the cave frog E. cundalli, which must forage outside of caves at night). Today, we would only go as far as the ledge in the River Pit, and then turn back.
Bob and Dash seemed to enjoy the trip through the Canyon, noting the fine formations that are found en route . The squeeze through the corkscrew into the Pit didn't bother them overly much, just the amount that would be expected by someone who had never done such a thing before, and we were now on the ledge above the River Pit. The flow below us could be heard well, although not terrifically loud . After taking 10 or 15 minutes to enjoy the sights and sounds, we began to make our way out. I suggested that Dash, as he was no longer a novice caver, lead the way. He was able to find the route back out, no problem, and I let him carry on until we were at the Scree chamber, where the difficult to find crawl leads outward to the Hanging Gardens. Once we were through this, we were back at the ropes, and ready to begin Bob and Dash's first lesson in ascending a rope.
The entry pitch at Deeside is perhaps not the best one to use for teaching vertical techniques; the wall has several boulders sticking out, and a couple of overhangy bits. If you are experienced in ascending a rope over such ground, it is not a problem, and the 10m vertical can be done in a couple of minutes. However, once again, I would watch people with no experience struggle greatly on this little pitch. Part of the problem on this day was that there was only one JCO crew, me. I couldn't go first to demonstrate how to get past the boulders, because I had to be at the bottom to get both of the guests on rope. Normally, in a situation such as this, we would have two of our crew: one to go first, demonstrate, and be at the top to assist, and a second at the bottom to get people on the rope. Compounding this was the fact that we were one ascender short, this not discovered until we were at the bottom of the rope, with this necessitating the lowering of an ascender by the first person up (this resulted in the rope having slack that we at the bottom were not immediately aware of when the next caver attempted to head-up, with us then switching to the belay line, which I had tied-off before I came down). Consequently, it was over an hour until the last of us had reached the top of the rope. Bob described it afterwards in an email as a "battering and humbling" experience, but in truth, both him and Dash did fine considering that this was their very first attempt at such a thing, with no lessons having been carried out on shorter, simpler pitches beforehand.
With all of us up the pitch, ropes were hauled out, and coiled, and the three of us made our way out of the last part of the cave. The steep slope back down to the road caused some damage to at least one of my guests, after an attempt to slide down it, but nothing too serious (I really should have talked them down that slope, and not left it to their own decisions on the method). Now, we were back at the road, and back at the cars, and stowing gear. Unfortunately, there was not much time for me to chat about the visit, as it was 2:00 PM and I was running quite late. Ahead of me, I had a long drive to Rock Spring, to catch up to Elizabeth and the others. Bob and Dash had their own vehicle, and were quite sure they could find their back to Montego Bay. So, after shaking hands, checking to see if I had all the gear, and receiving some extra batteries that Bob had (put to good use later in the session), I was on my way.
 The depth of rock above this cave, especially over the Canyon, is not great. It seems that this a factor in the notable development of the formations - much of the rain that falls above the cave percolates through, by way of fine fissures that extend from surface to passage. Along, and under, these, many stals have formed, in places forming curtains. A comparable cave is Good Hope Cave, in Rock Spring, which has also developed not far under the top of a hill.
 At the time of our visit, May 30, during many years, the River Pit would have already backed up high enough that we would hear no flow, but in 2006, conditions had been fairly dry for the preceding month. However, one could hear that there was not a lot of free passage left in the extensions to the bottom of the Pit - it was certainly quieter than in a normal March visit, when water levels would be at the lowest, and the sound of the flow greater as it passed over steps downward and outward.
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