|JCO Guidance for Cavers in Jamaica|
|PART I - LOGISTICS||PART II - LOCATION||PART III - CAVING||PART IV - CULTURE|
The Jamaican Caves Organisation is an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of caves and sinkholes in Jamaica.
Caving in Jamaica can be a magnificent experience or it can be a complete nightmare. On these pages we hope to pass along advice that will make the first outcome more likely. The challenges faced are sometimes of a physical nature, sometimes cultural, often logistical, and very often it can be a challenge just finding the desired cave in the first place.
This page will address how to actually find the caves.
Finding the Entrance
There are a number of "Show-caves" on the Island, and although these consist mostly of grottos located near resorts along the coast, some large inland caves may be easily located and will usually have someone closeby that will act as a guide and give you a "tour". If you have no, or limited, experience with caving, it is suggested that you start with one of these tours. For those who have had at least some experience in the underground, and who will be seeking rarely visited systems that seldom see tourists, the actual finding of the cave entrance can be very difficult.
Cavers interested in serious caving in Jamaica are encouraged to make two purchases: Firstly, a copy of Alan Fincham's book, Jamaica Underground, that can be found via the links page on this site. It will give a good overview, and will help greatly in deciding on what caves to pursue and how to find the general area where the caves are found. Nevertheless, many of the sites listed in the book are unknown, or seldom visited, by people of the district and the positions given are accurate to 100 metres nominally, and in practice are at times out by hundreds of metres. The entrances to many large cave systems are sometimes quite small and/or hidden in the bush; it is possible to stand 20 metres from the entrances to many caves and yet see no trace of the way in. This leads us to the second purchase: Topo maps of the 1:50,000 Metric Grid Series for the areas where one will be. These, despite the datum shift problems that render the stated latitudes and longitudes virtually worthless, are invaluable. The metric grid found on these maps is the coordinate system used in the Jamaican Cave Register. The GPS Register found on this site is still of a limited size and lists only some dozens of caves rather than the over 1,000 that are in Alan Fincham's work. More importantly, by using the topos and standard orienteering techniques it is possible to logically deduce where a given cave may be found, and then by use of map and compass, find it.
Hydrologically active systems will always be associated with identifiable features on the topo, either as a source of a river, or a sink that take the waters of one. Often the streambeds will be dry outside of the rainy season, but the feature will be shown on the map and can be found on the ground as an obvious dry river-course.
Caves that consist of simple breakdown chambers usually have the entrances located on the sides of hills, or on saddles, and are seldom found low in a cockpit.
Sinkholes are located in cockpit bottoms, or obvious blind valleys. In fact, if the blind valley has a large enough catchment, i.e. the area funnelling the waters to the low point, then more often than not there will be some sort of sinkhole. These will often be choked or narrow fissures, but it is possible to look at the topo map and predict the presence of such a feature.
When one has completed the homework, it is time to get out in the field to find the cave. The first thing to try, always, is to find an older gentleman who has farmed, or cut lumber, in the area where the cave is thought to be. It is often possible to trade a few cigarettes, or a couple of beers, for valuable information. It can be made clear that you don't actually require any work from the person, just information about openings to caves that the person may have come across over the years. Stress that you are searching for, "a serious, dread cave, man, not just a likkle shelter", or else you may wind up hunting down countless shelter caves and waste the limited time that you'll probably have. Unless the cave has been mined for guano, the local people will have not entered it because of lack of flashlights and will be mostly familiar with shelter caves.
If no one can be found who knows of the sought after cave, then it's time to guess at the most likely place and start beating the bush. Remember, always bring along a machete or two. They'll be required if one is to stand any chance of finding a site that has no trail leading to it. Search methodically. Use the compass and try to approach it by running a grid. Either east-west or north-south, methodically sweep line after line through the bush. This will often, with much work, find you the entrance. Be aware that most of the time you won't be on level ground, but will be working rocky, vined-up hillsides or bamboo-choked bottom lands.
Sometimes it will take more than one attempt to finally succeed. Sometimes you'll never find the thing. Never expect 100% success because it will never happen.
Having now found the cave, (think positively), you can put on the helmet, switch on the lights, and head on in. This brings us to the physical challenges to be expected once you've entered the caves of Jamaica. NEXT >>
(It must always be remembered that caving is inherently dangerous. Proper precautions can greatly reduce the likelihood of injury or death, but there is a definite risk involved and this cannot be forgotten.)
(Look before you leap.)
Jamaica Topo Maps
Jamaica Road Maps
Jamaican Weather Forecast
Donations and Funding
JamaicanCaves.Org is a non-profit organization that is pleased to receive the support of:
Introduction to Jamaican Caves and Sinkholes