Maroon Town

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South Trelawny
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March 28, 2005


Position: Cave 1: 18 20' 31.5" N, 77 45' 15.5" W, +/- 15m

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

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

Time in: 12:00 EST, Time out: 17:30 EST


This second day of the JCO involvement on the cave component of the Parks in Peril Project saw us again in Maroon Town, for the Hope River Glade Caves and for Vaughansfield Cave. First on the agenda was to link with Barrington Hill and hike north from Flagstaff on the trail to Springvale, to find the Hope River Glade, about a third of the way across.

The drive from Windsor had been somewhat eventful, involving the clearing of burning logs and hot coals from the Chatsworth road, deposited by one of the many bush-fires that were plaguing the district. These fires were to be a constant presence for the first eight days of the expedition. The great rains and hurricanes of 2004 had been replaced in 2005 by relentless drought. Since early January, little precipitation had fallen on many interior districts; farmers were losing crops that had been replacements for crops lost during Hurricane Ivan, and catchments were exhausted. Conditions island-wide were parched, and tinder-dry. Natural fires, caused by tumbling blocks of flint, and bolts of lightning, had also been augmented in certain districts by riff-raff with lighters and too much time on their hands. On both of the days we spent in the Maroon Town district, when we were in particularly high sections with a distant view, fires could be seen by the dozens, smouldering up hillsides, and creeping across valleys. It was one of these, licking it's way up from bottom-land to the Chatsworth-Springvale road, that delayed us. (This road is very rural, and seldom used, but is a good short-cut to upper St James from north Trelawny). By prodding burning logs with long sticks, and sweeping hot coals with leafy branches, we were able to clear things enough to let us pass.

After having linked with Barrington at the Maroon Town Square, we made the short drive to Flagstaff, and the start of the trail. Four of us, Ivor, Mark, Barry, and myself, were soon hiking east into the Cockpit Country, to visit a district I had wanted to see for years.

On the 1:50k topographic maps of Jamaica, the trail is shown as a minor road, much like the one we had taken to Chatsworth earlier. I had been up the "Flagstaff Road" from the northeast, the Springvale end, several times in the past, visiting Duppy Cave, but had never gone further than about 2 km's and had no idea what lay beyond. From Flagstaff, I had never ever seen the start of it. It was still in my mind that we might be able to drive across, until we'd been set straight on this by Mr. Grey and Barrington. It's not only not a minor road, it's barely a track in places.

The Flagstaff Trail, (as I shall henceforth refer to it, as I know of no proper name), follows a long valley that connects a series of cockpits, some large and elongate, from Flagstaff to Springvale. It curves from the west in Flagstaff, to Springvale in the northeast, and descends in the same direction. As we have now learned, the Hope River follows this valley, at times aboveground, often underground, until it apparently finally sinks at a point unknown to us, to emerge at Duppy Cave and flow seasonally to Springvale. (From here to the Martha Brae, things get complicated).

Hope River is not shown on the topo maps, presumably because much of it is below ground. Along its course, a number of caves are found. In one place, Hope River Glade, a visit was made by the 1967 Bristol University team. At least several caves were missed, (unlisted), during the Bristol visit, probably due to lack of time, determined by our observations of at least three new caves on the approach to the listed position. These were merely noted, because of lack of time to fully explore, map and assess new caves during the PiP Project. We will make a return visit at some point in the future, as part of a separate project, but on this day we concentrated on those caves found that were the best match for those listed.

The limited information in JU describes a "glade" where the listed caves are located. The position plots close to a saddle that divides a cockpit from a very long open stretch of the valley found to the northeast. In the cockpit, 150m from the listed position, we found a section of the river, with an upstream rising and a downstream sink, that seems to match the description. Past the saddle, downstream side, the match is more doubtful. That said, there are so many small stream-caves along this valley that the rough, non-GPS position listed could apply to several. We cannot be sure at this time that we found the right targets. All we can say is that the bioinventory work done in the ones we explored should be representative of the others, especially aquatic inverts, (stygobites), because they are all part of one hydrological system. To nail things down with this abundance of unlisted caves, a repeat visit is necessary that accurately georeferences all of the caves. We strongly suspect that downstream of Hope Glade, before Duppy Cave is reached, there will be even more new caves. Nevertheless, for the time-being we will supply data for those two caves that were visited.

The rising cave, on the southwest side, was the most interesting of what we found. For the trogs, N. farri were present, and a few immature P. americana. For stygobites, things were better. A species of shrimp was noted that is new to us, and not seen on other caves. Sesarma were present, and we are hopeful that these might have included S. fossarum. Identification is underway with the help of Dr Schubart at the U of Regensburg.

The rising cave, temporarily assigned the name Cave 1, was mapped by Conolley and Bellinger.

Getting a GPS position was difficult in this cockpit, and I only had 5 satellites at best, so I am listing the position with a reduced accuracy.

I learned a valuable bit of bush-lore from Barrington this day: one can find a "lost" trail by looking for plants commonly called Parrot Burr. Because there are few animals other than humans that move burrs around, and because humans are usually on the trail, if you know the plant, (as I now do), and keep your eyes open for it, you can follow a trail of Parrot Burr right through the bush on an otherwise vanished trail.

Having completed what was necessary, and fearing being caught out in the dark on a poorly defined trail, we began a quick hike back to the car. This went fast enough that we arrived where we'd parked about an hour before sunset, and decided that we'd have time for Vaughansfield Cave. We piled into the car, and set out for the second target of the day.

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