Jamaican Caving Notes
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May 20, 2005
Team: Stewart, Conolley.
Notes: RS Stewart
On May 7, 2005, we had carried out explorations in the Sawmill district, north of Quick Step, that had greatly expanded our knowledge of the locations of the NSS discovered shafts south of Marta Tick Cave. The NSS, in 1985 and 1986, had been shown these various pits and caves by Minocal Stephenson, with whom we are well acquainted. Because Mr Stephenson has acquired a great sense of his own importance through the years (and perhaps he was very well paid by the NSS cavers), his knowledge is not something that we, the JCO, can afford to partake of. Indeed, we have found that by using our own search techniques, we have no need of it.
The standard JCO procedure for finding caves (and then determining which sites they are) has evolved over the years to now consist of simply finding and GPS georeferencing every cave in a district, making notes of entrance aspect and internal layout, and then comparing this information with that which is available in Alan G Fincham's, Jamaica Underground. The approach is not complicated, but it does involve much time in the bush, armed with machetes, and the learning of much local terrain. For the sites south of Marta Tick, this has been an ongoing process, furthered by our work on May 7, and on this day, May 20, 2005. At the time of this writing, although we do not have everything sorted out, we have a good idea of where the remaining sites are located, and more importantly, how to reach them.
Our goals for this day were the two caves, Gremlin and Undernose, found amongst the long series of shafts that extends from Belmore Castle Pit-1 in the south, to Drowned Hole Gully, on the Marta Tick trail, to the north. During our previous visit, Ivor and I had found a route that we believed would take us to these sites
On the south side of Drowned Hole Gully cockpit, a scramble through a bouldery saddle gives access to the first of the series of cockpits that contains the western series of shafts. Eventually, if one were to follow this chain of cockpits south, one would arrive back at the Quick Step road, two kilometres to the south. In the northern section of this route, there is at present no discernible trail through the bush, and no knowledge of one that we could learn of from the people of the district. This did not trouble us greatly, but we did, for the only time during the entire Parks in Peril Project work, hire a man to accompany us with a machete. Although he did not know the area that we would be exploring, Ivor, and I were still rather exhausted from Minocal's Glory Hole two days before (with that on top of two solid weeks already spent roaming through the Cockpit Country bush looking for caves). Myself, I was starting to fade at this point and could not imagine another full day of swinging a cutlass, quite apart from the caving itself. Accordingly, Robert Andrew Green, a solid citizen of Quick Step, was hired to assist us. Two other younger gentlemen, Fitzroy Salmon, and Howard Chambers, friends of Joanne and Hortense, also volunteered to pitch in and come with us. At 10:00 AM, we had finished the 5 km drive from Quick Step to the start of the hike, and were heading into the bush, laden with gear, ropes, water, and machetes.
At 11:00 AM, we had reached Drowned Hole Gully, and after getting a fresh GPS waypoint for backtracking purposes, we headed up into the saddle that we had decided offered the best route to reach our targets. This would prove to be somewhat difficult at first, because even though the saddle is not high, it is necessary to contour along the east side to pass above a very broken-up, bushed-up area in the lowest section. Essentially, it was the kind of hiking/scrambling that you often encounter in the Cockpit Country - rough and rocky.
Beyond this first saddle at no great distance, a shallow pit was found, possibly Linda's Minipit. We merely noted it and kept on going. Next was found a cave that matched Undernose in some respects, but was not at the JU listed position. We decided to explore this on the way back and kept on going, intending to first find and explore the furthest of our targets, Gremlin Cave. The cockpit that we were now in is more of a high extension of a valley that begins at Drowned Hole, rather than surrounded on all sides. Towards the southern end of this, on the west, was found a shaft that we believe to be Rolling Rock Pit, although this identification is tentative. It was georeferenced, and we kept on going. Next was another saddle that led into a very deep cockpit. At the bottom of this, only 25 metres from the JU listed position for Gremlin, we found a cave that is a not bad match for the JU received information for Gremlin Cave. The entrance aspect is not in agreement with the published map, but because the orientation of the entrance is somewhat horizontal, this might not be a problem. We could not find a way into the supposed deeper sections, but because of the tremendous build-up of mud in the cave, no doubt courtesy of Hurricane Ivan, this might also not be a problem. Now follows a description of the site located at the coordinates listed above.
At the very bottom of a very deep cockpit, a bouldered collapse, under a cut in the hillside, leads into a sloping breakdown chamber. This chamber is about 15m wide, 10m high, and extends for about 20m. At the bottom, fissures and voids through boulders are found that appear to offer routes downwards except for the great amount of silt and mud currently half-choking them. We believe that this may be the route to the lower sections denoted in the NSS map that we did not find. On May 20, 2005, much digging would have been required to recover the route, and not only did we not have a shovel, the many hours that would have been involved precluded this option. Instead, we looked carefully at what we could access.
This cave serves as an occasional bat-roost, probably of light-tolerant species such as Artibeus. Guano was limited to spots and splashes on the muddy boulders. No bats were present during our visit, but it appeared that there had been bats present at times since Hurricane Ivan. Crickets are in abundance, and a number of E. cundalli, but no trog species were seen. The cave appears to have been flooded in at least the lower section during Ivan, and this flooding might also occur during normal rainy-seasons (we have no proof either way). The siltation that accompanied the flooding has covered older guano deposits, rendering them unavailable is a food input for invertebrates, and this mud coating will also no doubt inhibit the success of microinvertebrate colonies. The mud that we are talking about is very fine-grained, and very dense - it is not an accumulation of "top-soil". Opportunistic terrestrial species, such as the eleuth frogs, and the Artibeus bats, have no problem re-colonising, but true troglobites might have difficulties becoming established in this cave due to seasonal flooding. At any rate, we saw none during our visit.
It would be interesting to re-visit this cave after several years of "normal" rainy-seasons, to see what degree of flushing-out of the mud has taken place. If the lower section can be found, it will confirm that this is indeed the same cave explored and named by the NSS. At the moment, all we can say is that the position matches, we found no other caves in the immediate vicinity, and it seems to probably be the right site.
After getting a GPS position (only 2D WAAS differential due to problems with satellite reception in this deep, bushed-up cockpit, but good to +/- 20 metres), we hiked back up to the saddle to the north to return to what we believe to be Undernose Cave. The time was now 3:30 in the afternoon.
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