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Field Notes, August 2002

R. S. Stewart

Aug 19 2002


Cavers: S. Koenig, R. S. Stewart, 2 TNC, 2 Birders

I’m not sure of the names of the other four who accompanied Susan and I into Windsor. Two were South African birders visiting Windsor who wanted to have a look and the other two were TNC associates of Susan’s. I’d arrived on the island the day before, (late PM 17th), and was asked if I might like to take them in. We entered the main entrance at 9:10 AM.

Things went along fine until we started the climb up Jaram Top. Unfortunately at that point the birders decided that it would be best if they turned back. Susan took them back and out while I carried on with the others. I’d brought a 30m line and my intention was to get to the top of the 2nd drop to check for flow in the lower streamway. The couple from The Nature Conservancy were good on their feet so we were able to make decent time to the 1st drop. The cave en route was only a little less muddy than during the June rains.

We got to the 1st drop fine; I tied and tossed the rope, then went down just using body friction for the rap and showed the others what to do, (I only had one set of gear and the slope isn’t that bad). At the bottom, after I was off the rope, I scrambled up the slope as far as possible to the side of the route and gave them a bit of help as they came down. They handled it no problem. Next we headed off to the top of the 2nd drop, they had a look and I had a good listen. I could hear no sound of flowing water in the lower streamway. From there, it was back out to the Bamboo Bottom passage and off to the south. We went until the passage starts to descend to the approach to the Bamboo Bottom sump then we turned back. I offered the use of my Jumars to them at the base of the 1st drop; they each took one. I hauled myself up the line and then they followed. The line gets so muddy on that pitch that you have to plough the stuff off with the ascenders as you come up. I could see fresh wear after that session.

We made good time out and exited at 11:30. N.B. Surprisingly, there were still old footprints visible in the sticky mud in the area of the 1st drop where I had watched the river blasting through in June. Neither the flow nor the standing water 6 days afterwards had erased them. (See June notes).

Aug 21, 2002


Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, I. C. Conolley

GPS: Wpt 001, 002. Entrance is 12 m, Az 265º (true), from wpt's

The Duppy was home.

Mallie, Ivor and I drove over to Duppy Cave. The drive was fine via Fontabelle and although the Flagstaff Road was even more beaten up than June, the Lada handled it well.

Before we went in I got a very good GPS WAAS position 12 metres, (paced), from the entrance. The cave from the very start was much muddier than Mar 14; the heavy June rains had evidently brought the river up enough that it had deposited thick fresh sticky mud over most formerly clean rock. The water that pools in the trough 30m into the cave was about 50 cm higher, demonstrating the continuing high rainfall. Since our arrival on the 17th there had been regular afternoon rain.

We made our way through the initial low section, picking up kilos of mud as we went, and soon after the righthand choked passage we heard a sound ahead of us much like that of water siphoning down a sink. It wasn’t surprising considering the rain we’d had. It continued as we approached the drop then stopped exactly when we reached the edge. Only momentarily nonplussed, we tied the rope to the slab we’d used before and I headed down. As soon as I was off the rope, I went ahead to see where the water was and found it at the bottom of the pebble slope, much higher than it was in March. In the 10 minutes that I sat there waiting for Malibu and Ivor, I heard several very low-pitched booming sounds coming from the passage but no more siphoning. Nicely enough, it started up just as Malibu and Ivor reached me.

An echoing sound like we’d heard at the top began and went for 1 ½ min, (timed), then stopped. Three and one-half minutes later it resumed and went for slightly longer. Three and one-half minutes later it resumed once again, went for close to two minutes and then stopped. I thought I’d found a nice repeating pattern, (though I didn’t understand why it hadn’t happened for the 15 minutes it took for us to all get down the drop), and watched the time coming up for the next one, confidently telling Malibu and Ivor, “alright here it comes…...”

Shortly after I’d reached where I sat, I’d noted the water level at a couple of spots to watch if it started to rise. As we sat, and the time approached six minutes without us hearing anything, I looked down to check the water level. It was down over 15 cm. I began to time it. At about this time the sound of siphoning started up again, louder and lasting twice as long. The water in the flooded passage dropped another three cm. We began to mark the water level, with Ivor reaching down and planting matchsticks at the waterline in a good spot, and were able to see it visibly drop as we watched. The noise now began again with a new repertoire, and as we sat and listened to irregular rounds of gurgling and banging, with an occasional bass line of low booming sounds, we watched the water level fall at 1 cm/min. We watched one matchstick that was thrown in drift slowly away in a current that receded into the cave. By the time we decided to head back up, the water had fallen ~60 cm, at a very constant rate, in the 60 minutes that I timed it. The soundtrack that accompanied this disappearance of water was very cool. There was a nice bit toward the end that sounded like someone running up the flooded passage towards us.

Getting up the drop was much more difficult than March. The mud made it very hard to get any good footing. It went quickly enough anyway and we soon had the rope up and made our way out.

A sesarma verleyi was seen part way up the drop. American roaches were present.

Aug 25, 2002


Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, Elyse and Harlan Stewart, Ray

The water level had fallen ~2m since the 21st. We all successfully got down the drop, the kids being webbed, tied in and lowered, the rest of us using the rope as a handline and sliding down through the mud. We were able to head along the now much drier lower passage for ~15m further than the 21st. At the edge of a little drop into a clear pool, we sat and listened. Only occasional sounds were heard this time, but interestingly, one was directly under where we sat, in the rock below us. It seemed as though it might have been the nearer of the sources of noise that we’d heard the previous time.

We spent close to an hour there, the kids enjoying the, for them, bizarre environment, (this was only their second cave), then made our way back out.

The ascent went fine; I went first then hauled the kids up while Malibu helped them from lower down on the slope.

N.B. The slab that now covers the opening to the sump, soon inside the cave, seemed slightly lower than March, (see notes for Feb/Mar).

Aug 26, 2002

Site Finding: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, Salla, Ray

Wpt 007, 008 Troy-Windsor Trail
009 Trail at turn off to Bamboo Bottom
014, 017 Sinkholes close to Trail
018, 019, 020 Devil’s Staircase
021 On Trail at top of Mosquito Hill
032, 033, 045 Bad Hole

We went on a mission to get GPS positions for new and old caves south on the Troy Trail and to get into anything we could that wouldn’t take too much time.

I hired Salla, a 67-year-old man who had been raised in the Cockpit south of Windsor to walk with us and show us the location for DEVIL’S STAIRCASE and any other openings that he knew of. He’s a cool old guy. I also hired Ray, as the mule, in hopes that some hard work, for meagre pay, might help him to atone for his thieving ways in March. I put about 30 lb’s on his back… all the gear, the spare batteries, and lots of water.

We left Windsor at 7:50. The hike up the Troy Trail was as nice as any I’ve had, there being only about 1 kg on my back, and the weather quite pleasant. The idea was that we would head directly to Devil’s Staircase, stopping only for GPS positions on the Trail, then work our way back more slowly and have a look at other openings. I was able to add to my collection of positions on the Trail during the outing. It was great having Salla along; well past the turn to Bamboo Bottom he was pointing up at now forested hillsides and saying, “My grandparents lived there”, then, “My aunt lived there”. At one point he went off to the side of the trail, returned with a coconut from an ancient tree, and then husked it and shared it around. The plants and trees that they put in, those still eking out an existence in the bush, are the only things left that mark where a little community once existed.

The Troy-Windsor Trail swings east for a distance south of Bamboo Bottom, until it joins for several hundred metres the top end of the Peru Mountain Road. The "road" is now overgrown with sizable trees but may be identified by the wide, flat route that suddenly appears as the trail joins it. Salla pointed out where the trucks used to turn around at the end of the road. It’s now part of a young forest. Where the road turns east to head for the main, the trail ascends west to the top of Mosquito Hill, (Salla’s name for it). The other side is a series of switchbacks that brings one down to the last, mostly horizontal, stretch before the cave. We had made very good time, although Ray lagged behind occasionally, and arrived at Devil’s Staircase at 10:25, despite about 15 minutes worth of GPS stops on the way.

Devil’s Staircase is found on the slopes of a cockpit, to the west of the trail, although underneath might be a better description. One scrambles down about 8 m of hill, and there it is, basically cutting in under the trail. It consists of a simple shaft that is said to be 45 m deep, but I think this might be a little generous. There was no chance of ascending out in the time that I had available, so we didn’t go down. We did tie into a tree and lean out over the pit with lights to have a look. In November we’ll go down, and also measure it while we’re at it. The position was well marked; the GPS managed to get the WAAS geo-synch sat fine thanks to the satellite being, as always, high in the sky, and the GA29 antenna was pulling in everything else well, as usual. The first 2 wpts were taken 1 m to the west of the edge of the shaft; the 3rd was on the trail above.

We headed back north along the trail. At the southern of the two places where Salla, on the way up, had said there are sinkholes I scrambled down and had a look. It's apx 7 m across and 4 deep, with vertical rocky walls and didn’t have anything that could be entered, (wpt 017). To the SW there is an enormous Cotton Tree that has buttress roots spreading out for 8 m around it. Give thanks to the Duppies for keeping the Cottons safe; they’re fairly much the only giant trees left in the Cockpit. At the top of the switchbacks, at Mosquito Hill, we took a break; I got a good GPS position and the others re-fuelled with their usual trail mix.

After about 20 minutes we headed down to the end of the Peru Mountain Road, then followed it towards Coxheath. There are several reported, un-entered shafts to the south of this trail. I looked, from the trail, as we went but time was short, (the kids were with Dango), so I couldn’t go beating the bush for them. Our route would take us to the turn, partway down the Peru Mtn Rd, that leads back to the Troy Trail and we still had a long way ahead of us.

The trail, after several hundred metres, became very overgrown and required a lot of machete work to follow. After 20 minutes of this, the trail suddenly cleared and became a road. Someone is bushing it out that far. No great distance north of that point, there is a trail that leads west towards Bad Hole and the Troy Trail. We made the turn, and about 15 minutes of walking brought us to Bad Hole.

BAD HOLE is a rising. It’s impressive in two ways: Firstly, it's big for a rising. Secondly, it is the source of a substantial seasonal river that rises out of a chamber cave, fills a large basin, then a river channel, flows for a distance of only a few hundred metres and then disappears into a sinkhole near the Troy Trail. All of this takes place at an elevation higher than Windsor, (165m versus 95). (The sink that swallows it is the one in the June notes; I’d had the pleasure of seeing it in action two months before).

Salla had looked at it from the top many times but had never gone in. As soon as we’d tied a rope and tossed it down the slope, he grabbed it and headed down. I got the impression he'd wanted to do that for years.

The way down is just a bushed up slope; the rope makes it easier but one could scramble it no problem. The cave itself is an open chamber with a large entrance, about 50% of the distance that the cave extends into the hill. The floor is one long slope at a pitch of about 25 deg. At the very bottom there was a small pool of water left, a remnant of the June activity. I believe it indicated the top of the local phreatic zone. The floor is a sand/clay mix, similar to other hydrologically active caves that are risings rather than sinks, (e.g. Duppy Cave).

We hauled ourselves out, and after a session of Malibu climbing a breadfruit tree that grew nearby, and poking a large fruit down with a long stick, we hiked the riverside back to the Troy Trail, and then made quick time back to Windsor. We walked about 15 km in total.

Aug 30, 2002


Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, I. C. Conolley

I wanted to have a look at the lower stream passage; I hadn't gone down the 2nd drop since I arrived Aug 17. I also wanted to get into the pit that is to the west of the base of the 1st drop. Ivor wanted to have a look at the lower stream passage; he'd only been through the Bamboo Bottom passage to the south side of the system.

We made fast time to the 1st drop, tied and tossed the rope and went down. At the bottom, we tied another rope to a formation and I rapped down into the western pit. The thickness of clay on the walls and floor was similar to the drop at Duppy Cave on Aug 21. The pit is about 6 m deep and is choked with mud at the bottom. It was work getting back out because of the clay.

We could hear the sound of the river flowing before we reached the 2nd drop chamber, while on the 19th there had been no noise whatsoever right at the top. After crossing to the 2nd drop, we tied and tossed the 2nd rope again, and I headed down. At the bottom, I tied my harness and descender to the rope, they hauled it up, and Ivor used it to follow me down. Malibu came last using his own gear.

While waiting for them to come down, I scrambled down into the stream passage, passing a sesarma verleyii just inside the lower section, and saw the river rising out of rocks in the floor, flowing past, and then into a choked opening before one reaches the main stream passage channel. Where the water rose, it actually formed several fountains that came up about 20 cm high. It was quite nice. The others joined me and we stayed and watched for about 10 minutes.

A bizarre illusion happens at that part of the cave. If one goes down without a compass, and relies on sense of direction, one would swear that the water is flowing from north to south. There’s an extra bit of turning en route that totally fooled me the first time I was down there when the water was flowing, and had me reporting that the water was going the wrong way. I still feel like an idiot over that. This time, I made sure that I had a compass and confirmed that, yes, the water flows to the north in the lower stream passage, as it of course must.

We headed back to the 2nd drop, prusiked up, Ivor doing really well on his first ever ascent, and then hauled ourselves up the 1st drop and made our way out.

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