Jamaican Caving Notes

Maroon Town
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Cockpit Cave Survey

Field notes: R. S. Stewart

These notes were written in three stages:

1/ Quick notes of pertinent facts while in the caves.
2/ More detail added later in the day when the excursion was finished.
3/ General cleaning up of the notes, and putting of them in a more readable form at the computer, after the completion of the expedition

Cavers mentioned in these notes are: Susan Koenig (Windsor Research Centre), Geo Graening (The Nature Conservancy), Shelley McGinnis (The Nature Conservancy), R. S. Stewart (JamaicanCaves.Org), Martel “Malibu” Taylor (JamaicanCaves.Org) and Guy Graening.

All GPS positions are 3D DGPS (WAAS) in WGS84 L/L unless otherwise noted. The GPS receiver was a Garmin GPS76, WAAS enabled, used with a GA 29 external antenna giving 7 dB of gain.

JUNE 9, 2002


Cavers: S. Koenig, G. Graening, S. McGinnis, R. S. Stewart

The route to the main entrance was underwater at the flood entrance; we had to belay across, (see photo), doing a traverse on the rocks just above the trail. Faunal surveying began at the main entrance. We spent quite a while in the twilight zone, as Geo tallied up a lot of little inverts, and then we headed across Jaram Top working our way towards the 1st drop.

We could hear the noise of the river in the Bamboo Bottom passage by the time we were at Brer Rabbit. After working our way through the low western approach to the first drop, we reached the top of it and looked down upon a river blasting through from the southern part of the system and roaring down into the second drop chamber. An area at the bottom of the first drop was still high and dry so Geo and I rapped down to have a closer look. At the bottom, our lights showed the Bamboo Bottom passage to be wall-to-wall river with no formations visible. A small waterfall lay some distance upstream; to our left the river crashed through the breakdown boulders into the drop to the lower stream passage. We spent 10 minutes or so admiring the view then hauled ourselves up the rope to rejoin the others. During our time at the bottom the others had seen a Sesarma Verleyi at the top of the pitch; that's the first time I've heard of that.

It is interesting to note that the lower stream passage couldn’t be heard underneath us in “Wharf” due to the passage being well into the phreatic zone. I expect that it would be best heard/felt during the first part of the rainy season before it goes completely underwater.

We hiked back out to the main entrance after a short delay at Jaram Top. At the top of the breakdown boulders, I looked down at the opening to the exit chamber, and wondered if I’d lost my bearings and was taking us into the main roosting chamber. I wasn’t, but it took me a couple of minutes to be sure. I’d just arrived in Jamaica the night before and wasn’t quite up to speed.

(Photo as we exited the cave).

We went via the top entrance saddle on the return to Windsor to avoid the flooded part of the main trail.

JUNE 10, 2002


Cavers: S. Koenig, G. Graening, S. McGinnis, M. Taylor, R. S. Stewart

We took a different route up to the cave this time, taking the old trail through Trumpet Bottom (?) from the end of the cane field. We hoped to find the hike to the top of the Escarpment easier but, as it turned out, it was just as bad…. there is no easy way up to Home Away. I had plotted waypoints on the topo the previous night and transferred them to the Garmin so we were able to hit the cave bang-on, but there is a long wall on the east side of Home Away Mtn that blocked our progress upwards for some distance, (the route is saved as a track file). The Cowitch is doing well throughout the whole area, (it was well cursed by me on several occasions).

We rapped down from the 1st entrance, did the bioinventory in the main chamber, and went into the north chamber to check the bats. To my amazement, there were none. I have no idea why, but all the bats that had been in there have left for parts unknown.

To get out, we scrambled up the slope to the 2nd entrance. At the top I hung a rope into the opening I found last February, rapped in to have a look, then jumared back up. The area at the bottom appears to be an extension of the main chamber, choked at both ends, with a roof formed by breakdown slabs. It all looks fairly unstable.

We contoured back around to the main entrance saddle, and then hiked down the Escarpment to the north along our original trail. Fortunately, Mike was waiting in the Landrover at the end of the cane field to give us a lift back to the Great House…. my back was killing me because, as usual, I had too heavy a load in my pack. I need a new, cheap porter.

JUNE 13, 2002


Cavers: S. Koenig, G. Graening, S. McGinnis, G. Graening, R. S. Stewart

Cave entrance position marked as Wpt 005, at 11:30, Garmin GPS76 with external antenna, DGPS, accuracy +/- 5 m 18 23’ 19.0” N, 77 44’ 50.7 W, WGS84, (photo)
I got a decent WAAS fix about 1.5 m north of the entrance.

Geo pointed out, “cave pearls”, on the way to the drop. These are calcium pebbles formed in pools of water. I hadn’t noticed them before.

Guy rigged the pitch and we all rapped down. We found the crawl through the low stal curtain right away; I’d left 2 flags last Feb. I left them in place again this time... the crawl back out is a bit hard to spot at first. In the canyon, Geo pointed out hordes of tiny red mites in smallish patches on the boulders. They seemed to glisten as they moved... there were literally thousands in a space smaller than your hand. In the same area I spotted a very old, corroded wristwatch half-buried in the muddy floor. It could be from the JCC 30 years ago. I left it there on top of a small stalagmite.

The cave was markedly warmer than Feb 23. As we approached the final crawl to the river pit I kept expecting to hear the sound of the river echoing back into the canyon like it was last Feb 23, but it stayed quiet. Water levels were high so it couldn’t be dry. After we’d entered the river pit chamber, Geo figured it out… the river pit was a standing sump with the current down in the stream passage under metres of water. By leaning over the edge I could see the water prob 5-10 m higher than Feb. Time seemed was short so I didn’t carry on past the pit. We went back to the drop, jumared out, hauled rope and crawled back out of the cave.

JUNE 13, 2002 (Cont.)


Cavers: S. Koenig, Geo Graening, S. McGinnis, Guy Graening, R. S. Stewart

Cave entrance position marked as Wpt 006, at 16:30, DGPS, accuracy +/- 3 m, entrance is 3 m Az 40 from Wpt.

Position: Reserved due to biological resources. Contact JCO

The cane field at the base of the hill that holds Dromilly Cave had standing water over much of it. I took a fall on a loose rock on the hike up the hill to the entrance with only minor damage as a result; I had about 10 Kg in my pack and my legs were getting a bit rubbery. A survey was done, primarily in the eastern branch of the cave and then we headed back to Windsor.

JUNE 14, 2002


Cavers: S. Koenig, Geo Graening, S. McGinnis, Guy Graening, R. S. Stewart

Second Entrance position marked as Wpt 007, at 11:15, DGPS, +/- 3 m 18 17’ 52.9” N, 77 31’ 14.3” W

We set the rope at the 2nd entrance then Guy rapped down to the top of the talus slope. I followed but stopped at the shelf halfway down to assist Shelley if necessary. Geo kept her on belay until she joined me on the shelf, then Geo came down, (see photo), and carried on to the bottom. Shelley then followed and I came last. Susan stayed at the top due to a bad reaction to Maiden Plum that she’d run into on the hike to Home Away. Rockfall was a problem as well as poor communications between Geo and myself. He waited about 10 min’s before he rapped down because I hadn’t properly let him know that we were set and waiting on him.

Time was limited so Geo and Shelley did a quick survey then prepared to prusik out. I went up to the shelf first to retrieve a rope and assist if necessary. They followed up and out with rockfall again a problem. I rapped down to rejoin Guy at the top of the talus slope then we moved down-slope to the main upper level.

At the bottom of the talus we headed right. On the way to the drop into the chamber at the end of that branch, we crawled into a smallish chamber, (~ 10 x 10 x 2m), that has very fine formations and remarkably, cow bones at the bottom of a choked looking vertical. They’re being washed in from somewhere near the 2nd entrance some 50 m above. The location of the chamber suggests that it’s the gully we first looked into on Feb 28 when we were searching for the 2nd entrance. It’s being used as a dump apparently.

We next went back past the talus slope and looked for an anchor at the 2nd drop, (into the lower stream passage). We found the expansion part of a bolt and a very dodgy looking stal backup that had been used by the Bristol Caving Club. They must have been more fearless than me to use those rigging points. There are no boulders or large formations close to the 2nd drop. Bombproof rigging will require a long static rope run back to the base of the talus slope.

Next we headed to the base of the 1st entrance and with a cool little manoeuvre, (Guy braced himself, I stepped on his knee, then shoulders, then up), managed to get up a slope with a 2 m vertical at the bottom where Susan and I had stopped in Feb. Past this there is another muddy slope with steps cut into it that climbs to the side of a large chamber near the 1st entrance. I headed up, found it fine, and Guy followed. Close to the top of this, the cable ladder reaches the floor from the 1st entrance. There were signs of recent guano mining activity, (fresh fertilizer bag, gallon jug of drinking water). After a good look around we headed back down the cut steps using the 30 m static line looped around a knob on the wall above as a safety. We recalled the rope and made our way back to the talus slope.

The ascent back out was real work for both Guy and myself due to a lot of weight on our backs. It didn’t help either being hit on the knee with a fair sized rock just as I started my ascent. The rope had shifted across the rock-face during Guy’s climb, I didn’t notice, and my first moves caused the rope to dislodge a rock directly above me. I saw it coming and only had time enough to think, “shit, f**king big one!”. Amazingly enough, all I got was a bruise out of it. I was last out of the cave and it took a while to finally reach the top. Hauling out the rope was work as well; it had caught on something or gotten pinched and it took both of us pulling on it with all our strength to get it moving. I was afraid I’d have to go back down in so I was very happy to have it finally start sliding up for us. We didn’t get out of the cave until 18:30; we spent 7 hours in there.

Annoyingly enough, as soon as we were out I could see a local hustler waiting by the Lada for us. He had been there when we arrived, had hoped for a handout and gotten nothing, but had waited for god knows how long for us to come back out in hopes of getting something. The guy starts shouting instructions down to us trying to direct us across that old pasture full of Macca that I had the misfortune to cross in Feb. We hiked out the clean way, of course. Once we got to the Lada I brushed him off, (he didn’t like it much but I couldn’t see a machete or friends in the bush), and we finally hit the road.

Guy was a great partner for Bristol. It was cool having a rock-climber along with me. The rockfall going into this cave via the 2nd entrance is a constant danger! Despite the longer drop from the 1st entrance, it’s the best way in. The pitch is much cleaner. It’s only a matter of time before that 2nd entrance really mashes someone up.

JUNE 15, 2002


Cavers: Guy Graening, R. S. Stewart

Guy and myself took the Troy Trail, then through the top entrance saddle to the main entrance, to avoid the flooded main trail. The cave seemed particularly muddy. We headed directly towards the 1st drop and by the time we were at Brer Rabbit I could tell things had changed since June 9; there was no river noise. I was amazed to discover standing water in the eastern approach to the drop. I had never realized the water came up that high. The western approach to the drop was still open but by the looks of it only about a metre higher than the water table. I knew the drop was close to being cut off from the northern section of the cave so I suggested to Guy that we, “get there, have a quick look, and then get out”.

We went through the low western passage to the 1st drop and were greeted with the sight of water sumped up most of the way to the top of the drop! Where the drop had been there was now a little slope running down to a placid lake. The water must have been at least 7 m higher than it was on the 9th… over 7 m in 6 days. The eastern approach to the drop was submerged and I knew we were about 1 metres worth of water away from being trapped; it didn’t seem advisable to dawdle so we stayed about 2 minutes and with a, “let’s get the f**k out of here”, from me, we scooted back out to Brer Rabbit.

I now understand why that crab had been so high up on the 9th. I would never have believed the water table could come up so far in there. I have to think it was a bit of an anomaly due to the unusually heavy rains during the previous few weeks. I feel quite privileged to have seen the entire southern part of the cave reduced to a quiet-looking lake exposed only at the 1st drop. Everything past that point was underwater, hiding an incredible underground river. Give thanks and praise. After a short break, we made fast time back to the main entrance. We were in the cave for 1 hour 10 minutes.

JUNE 17, 2002

SITE FINDING: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor

Malibu and I did a circle up the Troy Trail, through Bamboo Bottom and out via Guthries.

The RIVERHEAD was reached by going down-slope at the point where the side trail cuts off to the top entrance saddle. A 2D fix was obtained and marked as Wpt 020, (18 21’ 02.2” N, 77 38’ 34.4” W). The Riverhead consists of a number of springs resurging over an area about 25 m square and is only active in the rainy season. We rejoined the Troy Trail by following the valley up to where it intersects the trail a fairly short distance on from where we’d gone down.

Further south along the trail, we came to the two SINKHOLES that we intended to have a look at. The western one was dry and appears to be no longer active but the eastern one was quite different. A substantial river was flowing into it and disappearing underground in a pool about 10 m across. At the northern edge of the pool, the water was flowing down into holes accompanied by a loud gurgling sound. Out further, whirlpools could be seen looking like water going down a drain. Pieces of wood were sailing round in circles, often being erected vertically by the flow attempting to suck them down. We followed the river upstream for about 100 m then turned back to regain the trail and continue on to Bamboo Bottom. I was unable to get a GPS fix at the eastern sink due to canopy, hills and mosquitoes, (they were absolutely fierce and prevented us from staying too long in any one spot).

We hiked on south along the trail and because neither Malibu nor I had ever gone to Bamboo Bottom overland, only departed from it after going through the Great Cave, we missed the easy route into it. When we realized that we’d gone too far, I got a GPS position and took us back along the trail until it was showing us directly across from the polje. I steered and Malibu chopped with the machete and within minutes we could hear the roar of water ahead of us through the bush. We came to Bamboo Bottom at the FLOOD EXIT which was very much living up to its name. The Flood Exit cave was resurging with a flow about 2 x 5 m wide blasting out into the flooded floor of Bamboo Bottom. It was quite pretty and the bush had given way to open stands of bamboo that let air move through and clear out the mosquitoes somewhat. We took a break and watched for a while. I was able to get a good 3D DGPS position, (Wpt 023), (18 20 26.1 N, 77 38’ 34.3” W), about 10 m SE of the cave entrance.

Heading on, we kept to the south part of Bamboo Bottom, skirted the edge of the flooded section and passed through a very open area with a coconut palm growing in it that supplied us with two ripe jelly coconuts; Malibu chopped drinking holes in them and we had a refreshing draught of cool juice. Close by, 3 goats were wandering around and looking on with curiosity. It was all very idyllic. I was able to get a good GPS position and used it to set a bearing to an old waypoint I had from the top end of Guthries. Using the compass and steering Malibu with his machete, I directed us as best I could in the right direction although we had to take to high ground when we hit floodwaters at the southwest corner of Bamboo Bottom. In this area blood-red water seeped from small springs into the pond. A short stretch of contouring brought us to the Guthries saddle where we found and followed an old trail. In 10 minutes time we were out into the sun in upper Guthries. We expected to be left with only a pleasant stroll back down to Windsor and then a cold Red Stripe at Dango’s shop. This was not to be.

The old pastureland that Forestry has made an attempt at reforesting is currently very overgrown with wild morning glory(?); the trees that have been put in seem to have been choked out. Several minutes of stumbling through the vines brought us to the start of the Guthries trail; it also was the start of a large swamp where the road normally is during the dry season. It began as little springs issuing from the road itself. The best course seemed to be accepting wet feet and wading through it so we carried on. It got deeper. When it was almost to my waist I hoisted my pack onto my head. When it was over my waist, I emptied my vest pockets, stashed everything in my pack and put it back on my head. When it reached our chests, we struggled through the water off to the side of the trail and headed for high ground. With a quick stop to empty our boots, we pushed through the bush on high ground to the east of the trail in the direction of Windsor. After several hundred metres we waded back into the swamp; the water seemed to be shallower and we found ourselves able to resume our previous course. Avoiding tripping on the water-hidden vines was a trick but neither of us fell. At last, the trail rose over the high ground that was damming the water in Guthries and we were able to squish our way in fast time the rest of the way to Windsor.

The old road up to Guthries seems very overgrown these days. It might need machetes and chainsaws to get a 4x4 up there although it’s hard to tell since so much of it was underwater. I had a very hard time getting fixes on parts of the Troy Trail… the mosquitoes didn’t help things either. The trail goes further to the east of Bamboo Bottom than I’d realized. It looks like there hasn’t been much traffic on it lately; it’s very overgrown and difficult to trace in places. The bamboo doesn’t seem to interfere with GPS signal acquisition… I was getting good signals under thick stands of it

JUNE 18, 2002

SITE FINDING: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor

We searched for and found PRINTED CIRCUIT CAVE in the Rock Spring area. This cave is known locally as John Fowden Cave and is on land owned by the Robe family.

Our route to the cave required us to cross the river in a shallow spot close to the Sober Entrance and we barely had our feet in the water when Shawn Robe, the family member in charge, was on the other bank asking what we were doing. We finished crossing the river and were met by an interrogation by Shawn demanding to know our intentions in the cave. I assured him that it was research-based with us acting as an advance crew. During the discussion it became apparent that this is one of the two caves, along with Quashies, that a local environmental organization was using for tourism. I had kept hearing the name Rock Spring Cave used in that regard and didn’t know they were actually at Printed Circuit Cave, otherwise I would have been more respectful about our search. As it turned out, I was able to receive his permission to enter the cave with one proviso, that I get a copy of the cave map to him. I had showed him JU as I had it with me. The request was passed along to Susan with phone #’s for him. He seems like an intelligent, reasonable man who had some encounters with cave tourism that had pissed him off. He’s interested in tourism in the cave if he gets a share. The cave could be considered for tourism, it’s less fragile or susceptible to damage than a lot of others. We saw evidence of fruit bats, but not much else.

This system consists of a maze of stream passages with few formations and frequent scouring by active water. The main stream passages are active year round it seems. American cockroaches have already invaded the cave and there is a lot of garbage in the outer parts near Sober Entrance. It could stand a cleanup crew in there for a couple of hours. We ranged around the system in the vicinity of the Sober Entrance but didn’t get down into the river that was flowing through. This should wait until the dry season. A DGPS position was obtained at SOBER ENTRANCE and marked as Wpt 026, (18 18’ 16.3” N, 77 34’ 14.2” W). The road intersection closest to where we parked was marked as Wpt 025, (18 18’ 05.9” N, 77 34’ 15.1” W), and used as a calibration point on the digitized topos. A nearby shop, “Zane’s”, was being tended by the owner’s son who expressed curiosity and requested copies of the cave maps. This was marked as Wpt 027, (18 18’ 01.2” N, 77 33’ 27.9” W). Shawn Robe’s tel #’s are: 610-0927 373-2772 (cell) Future visits will require prior permission from Mr Robe although this isn’t expected to present problems as long as the man is treated with respect.

JUNE 20, 2002

SITE FINDING: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, I. C. Conolley

We took the road from Deeside to Maroon town to search for caves in the area.

Our hunt started at the PETERKIN-ROTA cave system. An initial search to the west of the road found several choked and trashed openings at the base of a low cliff on the north side of a pasture. A fellow who lived nearby warned us that they are subject to rapid flooding in June. That and the trash suggested that we should enter Peterkin from the east side. Just as we’d gotten up and out of the pasture onto the road, a large storm that had been growling out in the distance came moving in. We continued our search on the east side of the road but had a number of houses and fields, with no one home, to deal with and we weren’t that keen to start wandering through people’s yards. The rain became very heavy so we temporarily gave it up and took refuge in a nearby shop. After over an hour, the rain let up and we went back at it.

We returned to the part of the road that passes over Peterkin Cave and found the formerly dry pasture on the west side to now have a large river flowing through it that drained into the openings we’d looked into before. A foray uphill to the east produced results with the discovery of, “Lieber Maggy”, the farmer working the land that we had to pass over to find the east entrance of Peterkin. A short negotiation resulted in the trading of 200 Ja$ for the accompaniment of Mr Maggy to a large entrance he knew about. It became apparent by the length of the hike that we were going further than Peterkin Cave extended; I wasn’t sure which cave we were headed towards but we hadn’t gotten into anything yet so, “any port in a storm”, and we carried on. En route we passed a large opening that dropped vertically about 8 m into a chamber. It didn’t seem to match anything in JU. I got a DGPS position marked Wpt 040, (18 21’ 09.4” N, 77 48’ 12.8” W).

A short while more brought us to the entrance he knew of. At first view, it certainly appeared to resemble the Peterkin East Entrance as shown in a photo in JU although I didn’t have the book with me on the hike. I wondered if something was wonky in the JU maps and positions but some investigation showed that it was probably the East Entrance of ROTA CAVE. I got a DGPS position, marked as Wpt 041, (18 21’ 12.0” N, 77 47’ 59.7” W). The entrance is located about 20 m Az 230 from the waypoint. As one looks at the entrance, one sees a large shelter cave on the right and a lower opening to the left. The shelter cave extends only a short distance into the cliff but has a colony of bats high at the back behind a large pile of breakdown boulders. To the left the cave enters a large hall that heads off into the hill. The area immediately inside the entrance was acting as a sink for a substantial river that was flowing out from further in the cave. Multiple spots were acting as drains on both sides of the hall. It was very unusual to be seeing a river almost exiting a cave. It had quite a flow and was about 10 m wide and every drop of it disappeared just before it left the cave. We were told that this is dry outside of the rainy season. The river prevented any further exploration. To the SE of the entrance to the cave we could hear the sound of a large resurgence. I believe that this is surface breakout from the Peterkin-Rota system due to heavy rains and that this water would be going back underground at Rota Sink.

We hiked back out to where we’d left the car on the road above the pasture. The pasture, incredibly, had gone from sudden river to being completely flooded and under a metre of water! The openings we’d looked into were submerged! I was glad we’d decided to hit the east side of the system instead. A few minutes of driving brought us to Maldon Primary School.

MALDON SCHOOL CAVE is the larger of two caves found a short distance to the SW of the school building. A small cave is met before one comes to the main cave. The main cave was DGPS marked as Wpt 043, (18 20’ 51.6” N, 77 48’ 17.3” W). The cave is entered in a small, bushed sink. Just inside, a slope to the right takes one down to a narrow, active stream passage. On the left is a small opening into a larger flooded passage. Water barred any progress in both directions. Eleuthera Dactyla were heard at the opening. In the left branch a worm with green stripes on its sides, about 15 cm was seen. No other inverts were observed in about 10 minutes of looking. There was evidence of fruit bats in the form of sprouting rose apple. The map in JU bears no resemblance to the cave itself although the text description is accurate. Several good DGPS positions were obtained during the day at road intersections to assist in the calibration of topo 6.

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