A dry cave. Short route. Interestingly, when we found the cave and parked the car, it seemed like we may have been parking at a brothel. Kind of funny given the name of the cave.
Wet. Frogs chirping. Good tight squeeze.
Thatchfield Great Cave
A very cool rappel. Dropping through this hole gives you a fabulous view of the speleotherms on the cave walls. Hitting bottom is a bit of a letdown as you have to negotiate around an extraordinary number of used diapers.
The cave is big. In the ‘bat caves’, there were so many bats beating their wings it sounded like the wind.
And as muddy as I have ever seen. I was covered with mud and batshit, and my glasses were all fogged over. The thick mud laying over the textured surface of the cave floor gave me a feeling of never-ending imbalance. It was exhausting to always be fighting for your balance with the mud trying to suck your shoes off. My heavy pack made it harder still.
Water runs thru the cave in well-worn channels. Interestingly, there appeared to be ‘speleotherms’ in the mud as well. The deep pockets in the mud were probably from dripping over many years. The loosened particles were washed out by an occasional heavy water flow. These drip pockets were maybe 8 or 10 inches deep and one or two inches across. So, if these drip pockets are indeed spelological features, how many did we obliterate in our travels thru the cave?
January 31, 2004
My first First Descent. More exciting still was the rappel. I hadn’t done a 200+ foot rappel before so that was new. My experience on Thatchfield the week before made me wanting a lot more friction. So, I wrapped the rope over my waist before descending.
The trip was long and quiet. I was very focused on the heat of the eight. And, then I was stuck. My shirt was caught in the belay device. I’d done it once or twice before, but had caught it in time. This time I could not pull free. Luckily I had left my knife out and was able to cut my way out. I now have a shirt with a big hole in the front.
February 1, 2004
After much backtracking and many stops, we finally landed at the homestead owned by Ms Mac and Uncle. A tentative welcome was warmed by cold Red Stripe and the stories began.
Carlton was maybe always troubled and his living situation was not so good. A bad night, maybe one of many, brought him to Hutchinsons Hole. It was a Monday night and he had run from his house towards the Hole… maybe a quarter or half mile away. He may have been screaming or yelling. Concerned neighbors went to check on him. But, no one saw him jump. No one saw him again. The police were called as was his mother.
We were told by the locals that the hole was deep. Too deep. 500 feet, 1000 feet, maybe 2000 feet. Bottomless?! Some thought the air was so bad that bottled air was required. And, of course, it was dangerous. Too dangerous.
I started the morning with spice bun and a coffee courtesy Ms Mac. We checked gear, packed up and walked the quarter mile to the Hole. Until recently, the hole would have been nicely shaded, but all the trees had been cut down to make way for the first recovery effort.
So, in the open sun, we worked to rig the hole. And the people kept coming. Maybe fifteen people started down the path. By the time the rigging was set, and Steph was ready to descend, our audience was over a hundred. People were on all sides giving the place a stadium feel.
I found everyone wanting to be very helpful. Really too helpful. People with no protection would be precariously balanced against the load. Bare handed good Samaritans were boundless in their enthusiasm and I found myself more than a little anxious watching this.
And, of course, the many rocks that were perched above were on all of our minds. No different really from any hole other than you have 300 people gathered around straining to get the best look.
Eventually we found our stride and people seemed to listen. Uncle and Noel were the local representatives who helped the most. I think at first, they thought we were quite mad to do this thing and were determined to keep us from killing ourselves. Later, when they saw everything was working okay, they seemed to relax and take directions better.
Even TVJ came to visit. I had to ask the camera guy to step back a couple times because he kept getting in the way. And the police came too. They left with a foot in a shoe in a box.
May 27, 2004
Another fun cave with large bat chambers. And, the mud and guano is heavy. There were two vertical drops. The first drop provided my muddiest vertical work so far. Not a bad drop, but covered in mud. By the time I was going back up the rope, the jumars would get caked in mud. They would not lock on the rope and kept slipping down. It felt a little frantic at points getting the damn things to stay up. Maybe a prusik would be a good safety in a muddy situation like that.
Our party decreased by two at the first drop. Rona and Delroy were not comfortable with the rappel. Perhaps this was the best, as the ascent up that muddy drop was quite challenging... It's important that our group allows for the unexpected. Someone not wishing or able to continue, needs to be prepared to say so.
All of Guy's new gear got us talking and sent me to the web to find a decent link to different gear. Here is one:
May 28, 2004
A big group! Some folks from the National Environmental Protection Agency and a conservation group. For me, it felt easier than when I went in the first time. But, I could see the strain on some of our new friends.
Neatest thing was a cool, little room of white crystals - Hecalites?
And, caving is tough. I lost my boots in this cave; the entire sole ripped off one of my boots!
April 3, 2004
This cave was tight and wet. Slogging thru the wet on your knees and belly was pretty standard.
I started this cave supporting Guy in a survey. It's painstaking work, but very interesting to see the results. We took distance, direction and inclination/declination measurements at 52? separate points. That night at Miss Lilly's, Guy put the data in to provide a skeleton of the cave route we followed. Along with his pictures and drawings, Guy will be making a map of the cave. Fascinating.
Personal observations include the leaving of my bag (and batteries) while continuing to explore. The tight squeeze made me want to be rid of my bag. However, fresh batteries were in the bag and I would have been better off with them. And, as my sense of direction is so poor, I like more flags rather than less.
This set of caves will probably be one of my favorites. It was kind of like going into a wonderland of caves. We started first with Peterkin, which led to Rota and then, sort of, led to the Rota Sink.
The caves were wet and required a fair bit of slogging and swimming. We brought our life vests.
The ultimate was swimming thru the Rota Sink. I think I had the best method. Instead of grappling to the sides of the large open pools, I just hopped in and paddled across. With the vest, you can keep your head above the water and easily float-paddle your way across.
When we came to the end of the route, we were presented with two large 'tubes'. The one I went down could only be described as a drainage tube. The tube as maybe 10 feet across and was coated in a thick layer of fine mud and rock. It spiraled down and choked with boulders. A lot of water flows thru this pipe...
We saw some really interesting cauliflower-like formation. We saw a bunch of crayfish and some neat spiders (Harp?) which hung single, sticky strands silk to catch its prey. I wish I had my camera! Soon...
June 6, 2004
Bellaire Cave shares its location with a retirement home. We never saw the old people, but two sows and their piglets were seen wandering around.
The cave was small – less than 30 feet deep. Their was nothing remarkable cavewise, but a skull had been found in the cave recently; and a pot made by the Tainos a few years back.
We took a fair amount of time dissecting this cave. It was measured, drawn and examined. A number of artifacts were found. I guess time will tell if they are really artifacts. One thing is true, the difference between an artifact and a rock is pretty small when looking at them in the dirt.
Vertical gear, a rope, a tree and beer found the team working on crossing over knots. Ivor and I struggled with the cross over and made ourselves weary and sore. Stef was well into a third or fourth beer and completed the exercise with barely a sweat.
Finding this cave was half the adventure. The road was overgrown with weeds and fallen trees had begun to block the road. We walked short distances to clear path and spare the car’s underbelly. Finally, Martel and Stef discovered the road leading to the cave. A fairly stiff hike up the hill brought us to the a large opening. Two openings actually.
The first leg was a rappel. Thru a dark hole and somewhat slippery beginning, the rappel became a nice smooth descent.
Going thru the cave took us into a cave full of white, chalky limestone. The nicest feature was the long ribbons of deposit. A few ten thousand years and these ribbons will look like drapes.
One of the more memorable parts of the journey were the numerous rockfalls. Starting from early, we managed to dislodge more than a couple rocks. No one was hurt, but it is a sobering sight to watch that slow moving rock begin its journey to your friends below. Lesson Re-Learned: Treat the top edges with the utmost care and stay away from the fallzone.
We must also double-check our gear as well as each other’s. A triple-check is okay too.
June 7, 2004
The entrance to Cave 1 is close to Cave 2. Indeed, you would think they are the same cave. But, as they don’t connect, it seems appropriate to have different names for each.
This cave required more of a scramble to descend, but a fixed line was laid anyway. This is never a bad idea, especially when it takes less than 5 minutes to rig. It had been raining and things were slippery.
And, did I mention the mosquitos. Never have I seen so many. They were truly swarming. Everywhere they were. I took a shower in the river the night before and found my entire body itching from bites.
The cave looked similar to the first. It was a large cavern. I found some graphitti, too. Not so different from other things I have seen. But these were dated from the 19th century. So, the interesting question for me is when does graphitti become an artifact?
The journey began up a steep hill. Our six-person crew quickly became ten or twelve with the addition of some local youths. Not much is happening in this community and we were the most interesting things in it.
So, with our helmets, harnesses and other cool gear, we slithered into the cave along with some of the community. The kids, of course, did not have helmets or socks and one brought his Red Stripe and spliff.
Our first drop was just a few minutes into the cave. And, as we had company, Rona and Ivor stayed at the top to keep our new friends company. It’s not that we assumed the kids were bad, but certainly they are restless and curious.
So, Stef, Mel, Cory and myself rappelled about 40 feet. Our path was twisty and turny and, as always, filled with more curious formations. Odd little bumpy formations seemed to fill this cave. The ascent was a bit muddy and required some navigation around an outcropping of rock.
The ascent was made easier by the fact that we knew the rope and anchor were in good hands. We should always be ready to leave someone at the top of a drop if we have unexpected uncertainties.
June 13, 2004
We got an early start this day. We found the place, waited for the last of our party and got started at a not-so-early 11am. We walked about 45 minutes to get to the top of this hole. This was a pretty walk thru the hills of Cockpit. Very nice, except for the run-in with the dreaded “cow itch”. Cow itch is very similar to the “itch weed” of Shenandoah only I think it hurts more. It gives me welts and, I think, left me with the skin rash that I always seem to get after one of these outings.
Volcano Hole has a high side and a low side. We opted for the low side as it was lower by 60 to 100 feet. It also gave us access to some solid anchors that were another 30 feet lower and would give us a clean drop from that point down.
Prepping the rope for this exercise is a fair bit of work. Managing 300 feet of stiff, heavy rope is no small task. The anchor setting was straight forward, but we spent a fair amount of time untangling. This would be a good area to do some research.
So, the good news was we did not need to pass a knot on the descent. We had practiced passing the knot and I had some anxiety about this process.
The rappel was long, but fun. The rope was really stiff and gave a good drag on the descender. After a rocky little drop of about 20 feet, we were in a full drop. We dropped into a cloud of mist. Kind of spooky to see. As I dropped deeper into the hole, the ground below became clearer. My sense of depth was really off as it seemed to take forever to reach the bottom. I think it took about 7 or 8 minutes to complete the rappel.
There was some discussion about everyone going into the hole. It seemed that we would not have enough time for everyone, but we all got down. At the bottom, you could hear the stream. Lots of boulders and rock prevented us from actually seeing it. We scrambled around for an hour or two while folks started back up. Perhaps when the river higher, you can see the water moving thru.
Once again, I saw interesting mud formations. Fascinating things. I wonder how old they are?
We had so many falling rocks that it was almost funny. It seemed like the top of every rappel was covered with rocks. So, at the beginning of the descent and the end of the ascent, rocks were being kicked down to those below.
Mostly it was a matter of standing out of the way during somebody’s ascent and descent, but even then random rocks came down. Just before I began my ascent, two rocks fell close. And, about 20 feet from the top, a rock bonked me on the helmet. I think Stef got hit on the arm with a falling rock.
In hindsight, because of the falling rock issue, I wonder if it would not make more sense to rig the high side. This would be at least 100 feet longer than our chosen approach, and would require us to pass a knot. But, it might be preferred to deal with a knot rather than falling debris.
The day ended effectively twenty hours later. From our departure at 7:30am on Sunday to our arrival in Kingston around 3:30am on Monday, made for a long day. Longer still was the ten or so hours that our crew had to sit on top. I don’t think they minded so much, but it is a long day. And, they applauded everyone as they came up; that was nice. We do, however, need to be sensitive to our friends who are willing to sit and wait for us so long.