Jamaican Caving Notes
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Morgans Pond Hole---[Edit]---
July 25, 2008
Team: RS Stewart, J Pauel, P Kennedy, M Rohr.
Notes: Mike Rohr [Excerpted from email.]
More notes for Morgans Pond Hole, July 25-26, 2008
On my final day of joining the JCO in the expedition we went to Morgan's Pond, the second deepest cave in Jamaica. The two lead JCO members, Jan and Stefan, told me they'd let me do some vertical work on the ropes for the first time, maybe just 30 feet or so of the entire 200 meter shaft, but enough to get a feel for the gear, the process, and the adreneline.
But about that depth down, everything went wrong, and we raced for our lives. Check out the story below. I'm not a writer and this is my attempt at a short story and i'm sure it could be told better.
Jan, an avid caver with years of experience, yells "Guys, come up now! Now!" Stefan quickly turns and tells Paul and I to stop hammering in the bolt for the next descent; "I'm going up first, Mike you second, and Paul take up the rear", I'm freaked out now, the tone and urgency in Stefan's voice was something new, he's also been caving for decades and doesn't easily stress out. Stefan's frame disappears from the range of my headlamps into the black abyss above.
We are on a ledge in a 200 meter deep shaft, 30 feet down. I just did my first descent and my heart is still shaken up thirty minutes later from the experience. All I can see is black empty space around me, with Paul's figure lit up in my headlamp, shifting awkwardly in the foot thick layer of guano covering this ledge. This is one of the deepest caves in Jamaica and we are probably the first people here in over 30 years. I hear Stefan's distant voice startle and swear then the call "I'm up and off the rope". It's my cue to get on. Paul says "Do you smell that?". "Oh, shit, yeah man…smoke". Paul, with a year of caving making up his proudest Peace Corps moments, helps me make sure my gear is secured right and helps me attach to the rope. I try to remember the technique we talked about before, using a foot loop, chest ascender and hand ascender in the right order to lift yourself up along the rope.
I struggle awkwardly trying to get myself up and am making some progress as the black abyss below me, above me, and all around me goes white. A thick smoke descends upon me just as I reach a difficult part of the ascent. The panic that will be the rest of this expedition takes over ; "Paul! I can't figure this out, something is wrong here..my gear… It's hard to breathe." Twenty feet below Paul tries to give some encouragement and hints, but in the end his voice cracks and he trails off with anxious "Please hurry". Oh god, if the smoke is this bad now, even if I get off the rope, the smoke will smother Paul as he comes up. Keep going. Why do I feel like I'm hanging on by my hands? That's not right, I should feel support from my chest ascender….My arms are getting tired. I finally get to where I'm no longer on the rope in free space, I'm beside a wall where I can place my feet and hopefully go faster. But the wall terrain is rough and I'm panicking and confused and can't remember the order and I flop against the wall time and time again, useless. I yell to Stefan or Jan for help, but no answer comes. They should be there!!!! One of the main rules of caving is you always have a top man. These are their rules. Oh fuck! Fuck! Fuck! OK, keep it together and just get up there. Finally I just start dragging myself upwards, a huge output of energy and dangerously exhausting, but I have no choice. I finally drag myself up over the top and quickly disconnect myself from the rope. "Paul! I'm up and off rope."
The smoke up here is chokingly thick and I can't see 3 feet in any direction. OK Mike, I can get out of here. I know where I am even if I can't see…Remember the trip in… we walked about 50 meters into this tunnel before coming to the shaft.. There were only a couple tricky slopes. As I find my bag the smoke starts burning my eyes and lungs, "Paul, you ok?" A quick "Yeah man, coming up slowly", "Paul, I can't wait for you, I can't breathe, I'm sorry but I've got to go before I pass out". I feel guilty as hell walking away, what if he doesn't make it, but hell there's no point in waiting in that smoke an extra five minutes just to go unconscious, if I can find my way out, so can he. The path down to me was steep but only had two major turns, but to make things much worse, an inch layer of guano, bat droppings, covers EVERYTHING. I bend, with my face two feet from the ground, to see every step in front of me to make sure I don't misstep. I saw a sack of guano that I remembered the position of on the way down, helping gain some bearings. God this smoke is so thick, I can't see anything except this little square foot of ground under my light, I don't know which way to go…Fuck…Fuck…. I spend the first few minutes going straight I thought, until I realized I had went in a circle and ended up staring at the same bag of guano. OK change of strategy, follow the wall to your right. I started half crawling, keeping one hand on the ground at all times.
"Stefan!!!!" A damped response echoes from ahead and to the right, I turn that way and keep yelling. I hear some other responses from them as I crawl up the slope only to slide back down the goopy slope yet again. I hear "Help!! I need Help!!!....." and then comes a host of other garbled words coming from behind me. "Paul! I can't help! I can't come back. Come towards my voice. Paul!" Whats happening, I'm so confused…I can't breathe….I'm in a spot where I can barely hear Paul from one side and Stefan from the other, must be about halfway, now did I turn here or go straight? I must be close, but I've got to get Paul first. I stick my head in my backpack and get a couple breathes of clean air and sit to wait for Paul. After a smoky game of marco polo, I hear Paul breathing hard close to me, I can touch him before I can see even his headlamp through the haze. Paul roars for Stefan, whose voice finally responds, guiding us as we follow the wall. The cave entrance is easily 50 foot wide and 20 feet high, and usually floods the first large chamber with a bright sunlight, I keep looking for a sign of it, but nothing. As I crawl up the next slope, my hand grabs onto a plant. Hey a plant! Oh shit, we're back outside! We made it.
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