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November 21 & 22, 2002

Marta Tick Cave, Quick Step, Jamaica

Field notes: R. S. Stewart

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

The ordeal that we went through on the way to Quick Step has been described in I. C. Conolley's notes. I have little to add other than that my unfortunate meeting with a certain freshwater ecologist resulted primarily in damage to my vehicle. It should also be put on the record that the brakes of the Lada were functioning well despite a minor leak of fluid that was repaired at the first opportunity. My first thought immediately after the accident was that this sort of occurence is inevitable after enough years of driving in the Cockpit and should be accepted with a 50/50 sharing of responsibility.

After our arrival in Quick Step, late afternoon of Nov. 21, it became apparent that caving was out of the question for the day. This loss was ameliorated by the making of some very good contacts, and the meeting of some very nice people from the district. There are more details on this in I C Conolley's notes.

We were up before dawn the next morning and I had the pleasure of watching the most beautiful sunrise that I have ever seen in Jamaica, (photo). The village of Quick Step sits high on a hill to the west of the great fault that extends north into the Cockpit. The deep valley to the east of us was filled with clouds of mist and fog that had formed overnight from the temperature difference between the hilltops and valleys. I watched the sun come over the hills to the east as I studied the topo map on the laptop, memorized the cave map from JU, and sipped on a mug of bushtea, as the rest of the Crew did the same, (photo).
We were on the road before 8:00, although due to the load of people, (myself, Tumpa, Malibu, Ivor and Minocal Stephenson), and gear in the Lada, it was very slow going. I resorted to asking Ivor and Tumpa to sit on the front fenders of the car to shift some of the weight forward and give a little more clearance between the muffler and the rocks. We eventually came to the fork that lies close to the east of the trailhead that takes one through the cockpit glades enroute to Marta Tick. It should be noted that the topo map, sheet 6, 1:50K, shows this fork in the wrong position and places it instead at the start of a small trail found south of the true position.

A series of cockpits with deep shafts at the bottom is encountered along the trail. It was obvious, by the presence of dead vegetation, that these cockpits had been flooded during the rains of late September, in some cases to a depth of over 10 metres. It's hard to imagine that if these were sinks that they'd have been able to back-up that high; it makes one wonder if they are in fact risings rather than sinks... at least when the phreactic zone is high enough. (N.B to self: try to get more info from Minocal next time).
A hike of 45 minutes along the trail brought us to the large breakdown chamber that serves as the main entrance of Marta Tick Cave, (see photo). The entrance is located on the east side of a hill overlooking the Glade Fissures. A GPS position was obtained and has been entered into the GPS Cave Register.

Marta Tick Cave might be more accurately described as "Caves". There are two distinct systems. To the south is a series of breakdown chambers that house a substantial population of bats and inverts; to the north a complex network of small chambers and canyons is reached by a crawl. We did a quick look for biological survey potential in the southern section first.
The number of bats found in the southern area is truly impressive. There has been limited guano extraction, by people of the district, but it appears as though this has not occured to any great extent for a number of years. The deposits are thick and fluffy and show none of the compaction that would be expected if there had been regular traffic. The associated invert populations reflected the health of this system; there were many of the species that we'd seen in the various caves of the June expedition and all of the inverts seen were plentiful. We didn't explore the entire southern branch of the cave due to the disturbance that we were causing to the bats and the accompanying rain of feces and urine that was coming down on us.
A return to the entrance breakdown chamber brought us to the low crawl, slither actually, that leads to the northern section of Marta Tick. The ceiling of this initial stretch is low enough that it is not possible to crawl, instead one must lay on one's belly and use a swimming action to move forward. The route is quite wide but very low. A small passage is encountered to the left that connects back to the rest of the northern section but we carried straight on. At the end of this crawl, a very small squeeze takes one into an area where it is possible to stand and walk. From this point on the formations are marvelous. Several tight squeezes are encountered as you progress but you can walk from one to the next through canyons.
I concentrated on taking us as directly as possible to the far end of the system. Nevertheless, it's slow going and close spacing of flagging is necessary due to the complexity of the cave. It is very easy to go in circles, enter dead-end squeezes, and generally get horribly lost.
Helictites are seen in the further reaches, the stals are magnificent, and soda straws are present. It is a very beautiful cave.
A long way into the system, several bats were seen and a search found a small amount of fresh guano. It seems unlikely that they are coming via the main entrance room so it must be assumed that there is another entrance that is unfound. It isn't possible to say whether this is large enough for a human but as demonstrated by the airflow into the cave, (to be discussed), it certainly exists.
At what I judged to be the point at which we had accomplished what was necessary for a first visit to the system, I recommended that we begin our return to the entrance chamber. We began to make our way out. A short stop was required on the way as we searched out the next piece of flagging even though it was only 10 m from the previous one; this cave is very confusing and gives the impression of travelling through a fantastic, underground sponge in places.

Soon after we had first entered the northern section I had noticed a definite smell of herb smoke; Minocal had been puffing on a large spliff when we had left him in the entrance room but it seemed remarkable that this smoke had managed to make it to where we were. It was good to see that Malibu had refrained from enjoying what Minocal had been puffing on, and all three of us, myself, Malibu, and Ivor, were as clear headed as we could be. After recovering our route, and after a slide onto some rocks by me that resulted in a mashed up thumb, we returned to the trickiest squeeze, made our way through, and found ourselves entering a haze of smoke that was obviously much greater than Minocal's spliff could supply. By the time we reached the slither to the entrance room we were travelling through a thick cloud of fumes. This was very disconcerting and was a first for me. The only air that we had to breathe was almost unbreathable. Our lights shone as beams through a fog. I was mystified. Being in the lead, and judging myself to be within shouting distance of the entrance where Tumpa and Minocal waited for us, I yelled, "what's with the f***ing smoke?!" A minute later Tumpa yelled back an unintelligible reply. Another 20 metres of slithering along in the mud brought me to the entrance room where I found a fire burning and the entire chamber in a fog of wood smoke. I once again said, "what's with the f***ing smoke? You're choking us out in there!". Tumpa yelled back, "mosquitoes!" They had lit a fire to keep the bugs away and had no idea that it was being sucked into the cave. I insisted that they put it out. They complied.
It should be noted that Minocal had been along on the NSS survey of 1985 who, it is believed, as did the JCC in 1973, camped in the entrance room. One must wonder if the very nice firepit found here had been used every evening. If so, not only the part of the cave that we had just crawled out of, but also the southern section with the wonderful bat population, had been smoked out on a nightly basis.
Survey "grafitti" is found in various locations in the northern section consisting of mud or charcoal text and arrows on the walls.

I. C. Conolley has deduced the origin of the name, "Marta Tick". This cave is also know as, "Comenight Cave", "Macca Stick Cave", and "Mattastick Cave". In Jamaica, a Matta Tick is a synonym for, "Mortar Stick", from a mortar and pestle. Why the cave has been described this way is unknown but it seems to be the origin.

On the way back to the Quick Step Road, Minocal showed us a shaft that was flooded, with standing water in it, that he called, "Drowned Hole Gully". This shaft is not in the Register and has been noted with a GPS position for future exploration during the dry season.
I ran the GPS for much of the hike out and have saved the trail as a track file.

I was quite impressed with Ivor Conolley's handling of the crawls and squeezes found in the northern section of Marta Tick. He shows no signs of claustrophobia and remained unperturbed by the difficult route that we had followed. Malibu was his ever dependable self. Minocal is an interesting character with a great love of my Canadian cigarettes. I look forward to more caving outings with him.

(A special note for Kimberley if you stumble across this: You owe me a door.)

More notes for Marta Tick.

TNC-J Report for Marta Tick Cave, May 6, 2005.

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