Jan 29, 2004
MAFOOTA RIVER CAVE
Position: WGS84 - 18 22' 35.7" N, 77 52' 43.2" W, +/- 5 m
Field notes: R. S. STEWART
Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, S. McCall
Time in: 13:00 EST, Time out: 15:00 EST
THREAT VULNERABILITY: Intermediate
Our plan for the day was to find the Mafoota Caves, i.e. River, Blue Hole, 1, 2, and 3. These are part of the St James project, as is every cave and sinkhole in the parish.
Sarah, Martel and I had been in the district the day before and managed to get an idea of where we would find our targets. By noon, we had reached the right area, and started asking for information from the people of the district, Hampton Estate. We soon found Steven Durie, who claimed to know where the river cave was. For a small sum, about 300 J$, (7 CDN$), he would lead us to the entrance. We piled him into the car, drove back south a few hundred metres, and then turned onto a small secondary road that led west down a steep hill into a wide, open bottom-land. Inexplicably, the road became wet partway down, and then at the bottom actually ran through a rutted, sodden, bog. It had not rained in days...
About two-thirds of the way down, with four of us loaded into the Corolla, I began to have doubts about the wisdom of driving further, but because it would be difficult to stop and reverse up this hill, I went on, hoping to find a turning spot at the bottom. We, of course, reached a bog instead, but I stopped short of this, parked where we were on the "road", and we climbed out. The mystery of the sodden road was soon solved; a pipe leading uphill from a pumping station in the bottom-land had burst and was feeding much of its water into the road rather than the taps that were its intended destination.
We gathered gear and packs, and then headed into the bottom-land, where the road continued on the other side of the mud. In the northeast section there was a large pumping station... we had found Blue Hole. This rising has been tapped into by the Water Commission, something we didn't realize prior to the visit, (or else it would have been easier to find). I had jotted down a few notes prior to the visit, and by using the JU coords thought I had an idea of the bearing and distance to the other caves/holes. At this point, either mental exhaustion, (sixth day straight of caving), or sheer incompetence took over. I told our guide, Steven, that the other entrances should be in a direction that was flipped 180 deg from the actual bearing. Steven said, yes, he knew of the cave, and after finding a trail to the north, our mistaken bearing, we proceeded on an interesting, but unproductive hike.
An hour later, after having explored some nice but obviously wrong terrain, we headed back to the bottom-land of the Blue Hole. I directed everyone to look for holes/sinks/risings/entrances. Within minutes, we had two small versions of Blue Hole. I found a good spot on a little knoll, out in the open, to use as a GPS reference point, and we ran tape and took bearings to the holes. Our guide at this point remembered an entrance to the south, so I directed Martel, with the tape, to proceed to it with Steven... 43 m, bang-on 180 deg true, later, we found Mafoota River Cave.
Mafoota River Cave has a complex entrance. Associated chambers near the true entrance are found to the north and east. Our measured distance from the GPS reference point was taken at the north end of this. The entrances lead into a particularly fine river-cave.
The river passage runs from the east, (upstream), to the west, (downstream), and is reached 15 m south of the entrance chambers. The passage is large where it is first entered, (about 12 x 12 m), and during our visit had a good flow. We chose to go downstream first.
It was apparent within minutes that this was a fine cave. We waded through the river, following the flow, through a high passage that had many bats. Where high-ground allowed, guano deposits were thick and fluffy. In the waters were many crayfish, of a different species than we usually see. Sesarma verleyi, (crabs), were plentiful. On the walls of the passage were many, various species of inverts, including N. ferra. A particular spider, new to us, was found throughout. Incredibly, only one roach was seen, (which I eliminated).
After about 150 metres of following this river through the underground, we reached a waterfall that fell into a chamber below. The waters thundered down, mist rising, into a large circular pool. The drop was about 10 metres to the first rocks, and then a couple of metres more down rapids. It was very beautiful.
We hadn't brought vertigear, the focus being on the assessment project rather than exploration, so we now turned back to look at the upstream branch of the cave.
Upstream of the entrance, the passage becomes smaller. Bedding-planes are more obvious and the cross-section is rectangular. The entire passage is flooded, other than a breakdown chamber found after about 100 m. The water was only about 1 m deep, at most, but through a section mid-way, the ceiling height came down to about 1.5 m. The water was turbid in this entire section, the flow being more contained and faster. At the breakdown chamber, to the north of the main stream-passage, we had a good look around and then headed back out.
Notable speleothems are stals and flowstone downstream, and soda-straws upstream, of the entrance.
There was virtually no garbage seen... we found one plastic bottle cap. The waters enter underground, and the entrance seldom takes surface water, (from a catchment that has no garbage available for rafting).
This is a fine cave. On a scale of 1 to 10 for biologically healthy caves that we've visited, this is a 10.
The other two holes, of the three listed holes, Mafoota-1, Mafoota-2, and Mafoota-3, (all with the exact same coords in JU), that we referenced, are being listed as Mafoota-1 and Mafoota-2. We will find the third one before the St James assessment project is done.