Jamaican Caving News
The October 2006 Expedition, Updates, and Crew Changes(Dec 8/06)
News on the recently completed three-week session of field work will be found below, but first a couple of other items.
The next main outing of the JCO is scheduled for mid-January, 2007. More on this soon
We've recently completed a new version of the Cockpit Country map (very spiffy), in aid of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group campaign to prevent bauxite mining in this unique part of Jamaica. We'll put a low resolution copy on the website in the next day or two (been saying that for days, but honestly, soon come ;-)
We've put another two videos online. The first is from our work at Golding River Cave on Oct 15. There was some concern expressed by others prior to the the visit (found lower in the News), so we'd like to show exactly what it was like when we finally managed to clear the worst of the boulders at the top of the pitch. As will be seen, we weren't blowing things to smithereens, just trying to worm our way through a tight little vertical, with yet again no success. Please excuse the language - that's what it's like when cavers are in the field. It's on the server in two formats, a 30 MB AVI, and a 15 MB WMV. (The author of this item, Stefan, would like to apologize for once again being the person on camera, but that's the way it worked out - wha' fi do.) The second video is from the approach to the Quick Step Trail, along the Martha Brae River between Windsor and Pantrepant. The water level was up at the time, but not yet in full flood (probably is right now, after all the recent rain). Like the other, it's in two versions, a 17 MB AVI, and a 8 MB WMV.
Guy Van Rentergem has recently produced four more maps for sites visited in 2006. The first, for St Clair Cave, presents the cave from the Inferno to the Acheron, based on data from March 21, 2006. The second is of Vaughansfield Cave in St James, where we carried out the first complete exploration of the site on March 24. The third is of Smokey Hole Cave, where we established a new depth record for Jamaican caves on Mar 26. The fourth is McCoy Cave, a small, but interesting site in St Ann visited on Mar 23. More info can be found in notes online for St Clair, and Smokey Hole.
CD-R's arrived from Jan Pauel on Nov 8 that include a lot of photos and video footage taken during the last session. We'll put this online as time permits, and will start with a video from Quashies River Cave at Freemans Hall, Trelawny. This is one of the main sources for Dornock Rising, the headwaters of the Rio Bueno. Rains had been frequent in the days before, and the flow into the system was heavy. Please note the muddiness of the water (topsoil on the move). We have it on the website in two formats: WMV (5 MB), and AVI (15 MB). Right click and save, or launch them with your browser - whatever works. Much more will follow (we're uploading them to the server on a dial-up connection and it takes a while).
We've also added a photo of Anna Sullivan at Wales Cave 2 in Oct/06 to the News. Anna is one of three new Peace Corps Volunteers we had with us in October, along with Donny Comer, and Drew Snauffer. All three seem to have the right stuff for the JCO (tough, but easy-going, and curious by nature), and they were all a tremendous help during the session (Donny took much of the load bringing the generator up from Golding River, Drew did some serious machete work getting through Macca on the hike to Quashies, and Anna was a big part of the fieldwork at Newport). We hope to see a lot more of them in the future, and to have them carry on the JCO-Peace Corps association that has been so helpful to us in the past (taking the torch from Mark, Sarah, Dietrich, Elizabeth, and Mike).
In other news, the JCO is now part of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG). This is an umbrella organisation that has been put together to educate policy makers and business interests in the need to keep bauxite mining out of the Cockpit Country. Further information on bauxite mining and the CC will be found on the JCO page Cockpit Country Bauxite Mining.
The JCO was on expedition from Oct 7 to 29. Most of the objectives were met, including speleo assessments in the Kellits district, a return to Harties Cave 2 in Rock Spring, a rainy-season journey through the Peterkin/Rota System, GPS referencing of approximately 70% of the Quick Step Trail, an inventory and assessment of the speleo sites in the Newport district of Manchester, and the carrying out of a three-day workshop in Accompong. Several new caves were discovered in the course of the session, including sites in Douglas Castle and Auchtembeddie.
One of the team, Drew Snauffer, has put a number of expedition photos online here. Also, there were many photos and videos taken by Jan Pauel, which will soon be en route to us on CD-R - once they've arrived, we'll start posting the best of them (there's GB's of pics and footage).
The participating cavers in October included Stefan Stewart, Elizabeth Slack, Ivor Conolley, Jan Pauel, Dr David Lee, Andrea Richards, Wendy Lee, Ezekiel Russel, Marcus Russel, Anna Sullivan, Drew Snauffer, Donny Comer, and Andrea Donaldson.
One of the most important of the research visits, an inventory of the existing caves of Newport, Manchester will be addressed in greater detail as soon as possible on this website, and in a report to NEPA, but for now we will note that few of the listed caves have survived Alpart's mining of bauxite in the district. It has become apparent to us that there has been an intentional filling-in of many of the caves and sinkholes of the area, with this occuring during land "reclamation" work. Much of this has taken place within the last twelve months, and is now irreversible. The effects on the drainage of the district are entirely predictable, and we anticipate flooding in the coming years as the main result of this. We intend to present our findings as an example of what will occur in the Cockpit Country if the unholy alliance of political and business interests who intend to to strip mine the last remaining wilderness area of Jamaica have their way. On this, there will be much more in the coming weeks, on a new page recently put online, Cockpit Country Bauxite Mining.
On a lighter note, one of the more interesting cave visits in October was to Tooth Cave, a shelter cave located about 25m up a cliff near Aboukir. The dark 1.5 metre entrance has been a source of mystery for some time to many people, including Wendy Lee of NJCA who brought it to our attention and joined us for the outing with her son, Simon. The site is now known to be a shelter about 1.5m high, 2m wide, and 3m deep, with resident owls and owlets. This was determined by way of Stefan and Jan chopping their way to the top of the cliff, hanging a rope, and then having Stefan rappel down to it to have a look. The cave itself was not entered, just observed, due to a perhaps unreasonable fear that the adult owls would return and tear out the eyes of the caver on-rope.
Golding River Cave was visited, and the upper boulders blocking the entrance were split and removed. However, it was found that there were several smaller boulders blocking the shaft further down, so yet one more visit will be necessary (the sixth).
Quashies River Cave was visited, although high waters prevented us from accessing anything other than the upper dry levels. To get to this section, we had to cross a very active flow of water blasting through boulders into the deeper parts of the system, with this being terrifically impressive and somewhat nerve-wracking (one slip, and it's onward at high speed into the depths).
Five of the JCO crew assisted Andrea Donaldson, NEPA, at Canoe Valley, in search of extant bat-roosts. We were fairly successful, although by the end of the day we had found more grasslice than bats in this very dry, scrubby, goat-infested district.
We'll post much more info on all of our work in the coming weeks, with the top priority being the caves of Newport. Included amongst the various other reports will be a detailed account of how a Newport junior JCF member attempted to shake us down for a bribe in the main square on Sunday, Oct 22. We regard it as a dreadful example of how a small number of police officers in Jamaica are bringing the entire department into disrepute, and we intend to eventually nail him to the wall (although stocks in the main square might be better).
We would like to note a great change in the personnel of the Jamaican-based JCO crew. Today, November 2, Elizabeth Slack is leaving Jamaica after spending three years on the island with the Peace Corps, and over two years with the JCO. It is difficult for us to thank her as much as she deserves, but we'll try anyway.
Since Elizabeth first joined us on June 14, 2004, she has participated in visits to roughly 100 caves and sinkholes. From early on, she became one of the main-stays of the JCO, and someone we could always count on. Her participation in the caves component of the Parks in Peril Project, in 2005, was instrumental in completing what was a very intense period of fieldwork. Her participation in the St James Project, carried out in in 2004-2005, was equally valuable. Apart from these major projects, she assisted us and our collaborators in visits to many other caves scattered around the island. These included Roaring River Cave in Westmoreland, which was assessed for TPDco, water-quality sampling done in the Cockpit Country in assistance to The Nature Conservancy (with her acting as a guide), and assistance to researchers from the National Planning and Environment Agency of Jamaica in inventories of bat-roosts.
Elizabeth's input was not restricted to speleo work. Her deep understanding of Jamaican culture, and her excellent grasp of Patois, were of great help to the non-Jamaican crew (especially to the Chair of this motely outfit), and her wonderful sense of humour was greatly appreciated by the entire group, most importantly when stretches of very long days began to wear us down. Even when things were going well, having her pretty, smiling face across the table in the mornings was always a help for the more-weathered of the crew, as they recovered from the day before with cups of very strong coffee.
Elizabeth has assured us that she will be back whenever her studies in America allow, and we very much intend to actively encourage this. Her importance to the JCO is such that if she delays too long in her return, we will send out a posse to forcibly bring her back.
Many thanks, Miss Elizabeth. You'll be missed.
October 2006 Expedition(Oct 6/06)
The JCO will be in the field from Oct 7 to 29. Many of the usual suspects will be onboard for this (Stewart, Conolley, Slack, Dr Lee, Taylor, Pauel, et al), and we have hopes of accomplishing good things in the course of the session. Chief amongst these are several longstanding items on the to-do list, such as getting into Golding River Cave (see item below), following up on Dave Drew's 1967 exploration of Me No Sen Cave, and finding/georeferencing the Heading - Pantrepant Trail (at least in its southern section). Along with those objectives, we'll be conducting a workshop in safe caving techniques and speleology in Accompong, continuing our investigations into the Newport, Manchester sites, and exploring several caves near Kellits. We'll also be carrying out a workshop in rock-climbing in Coxheath on Sat, Oct 28.
With any luck, we will be reporting here several weeks from now on what has been a very good session of fieldwork. Until then, Jah guide and protect, and if you need to contact us, use the phone numbers at the top of this page.
Golding River Cave(Sep 29/06)
There seems to be some confusion regarding our upcoming activities at Golding River Cave. We'd like to make things clearer for those who have not taken the time to research the material available on this website that addresses it (most of which can be easily found using Google).
The First Entrance to the cave cannot currently be located - those who knew where it was left the island many years ago. We've spent hours looking, with no luck yet (it was described as difficult to find, and this is truly the case) This entrance was originally found decades ago by way of the Second Entrance (that is, finding the First Entrance from the inside of the cave - although they called the second entrance they found the First, because once you know where it is, it's the easiest to hike to).
Stewart, Hyde and Gottgens were able to locate the Second Entrance in Oct of 2005, but found it blocked with several 60-90 cm rocks that had fallen from a steep hillside metres away. We knew that it was indeed the entrance, because it was exactly where the JU area map put it, we could hear the water flowing in the passage below, and could see down into the shaft through gaps in the rocks. We worked long and hard trying to move these rocks by hand, but only shifted a few (they're sitting in a slightly funnel-shaped opening at the top of the 3 foot wide shaft). Another visit in March of 2006, by Stewart, Van Rentergem and De Splenter was more productive, and we essentially cleared the pitch enough to squeeze through, but declined to enter it because of questionable stability of the remaining rocks (the photo with this item is of Guy on top of the choke). It was then suggested to us by a collaborator that we try splitting the remaining rocks next visit, to get them into more manageable sizes. This would be done by drilling narrow holes and sliding in Hilti powerloads, which would then be set off with a steel rod and a hammer. A return in June, 2006, by Stewart, Slack, Taylor, Pauel and Yovandich found that the entrance had been freshly choked by more rocks from the hillside above, but we made an attempt using the powerload technique to get through this. Ultimately, we failed, due to not having a hammer-drill (we couldn't get the holes deep enough).
This Oct 15, we intend to return with a more powerful drill and a generator to run it (and we could use some help carrying it, if anyone wants to volunteer). With any luck, we will finally manage to reestablish a known entrance to what was once regarded as one of Jamaica's most beautiful caves. We do not expect great numbers of people to suddenly enter the cave afterwards, because it is made up of half-flooded stream passages, very narrow in spots, and it is thoroughly uninviting unless you're a caver. Also, you need a rope to get down the shaft in the first place, and the shaft is only a few feet wide. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the Earth's population would never consider doing such a thing - just madmen like us, and researchers.
Most importantly, it must be understood that we will not be altering the morphology of the cave in any way. The rocks that will be moved are not part of the cave - they are, or at least were, part of the hillside above. It must also be realized that this was one of the sites we tried to cover under contract to The Nature Conservancy in 2005 as part of the Parks in Peril Project. We have not even been able to get into the cave yet, let alone carry out a rapid assessment, and our report for the PiP Project on the caves of the Cockpit Country is not truly complete until it's been done.
Several of the JCO crew were in the field last weekend (Conolley, Slack and Pauel) visiting Deeside Cave. A descent into the River Pit was done, just upstream of where this underground river from Maroon Town finally rises at the head of the Roaring River. A short video clip of Elizabeth tossing in a rock to time the depth, before Ivor went down into it on rope, can be found here in WMV. It's also been posted on the video and photo page in a larger .avi format (that page has had some work done on it recently - check the clip for Kate as well).
Plans are now solid for the next expedition, Oct 8-28. We'll post news on this next week. Once again, if we've neglected to contact any interested parties, please get in touch with us as soon as possible.
Elizabeth Slack will soon regain her freedom, after three years spent with the Peace Corps, and will be relocating from Castleton, St Mary, to Windsor, Trelawny, for a final month before she returns to Babylon. One of the main reasons for her doing this is so that she can be with us for the October expedition. We can't thank her enough for this (although we'll try), but as the rest of the JCO crew is of the opinion that she'll be back with us after she completes her graduate work in the USA, her absence is expected to be temporary anyway (the JCO is like the Mafia - you can get in, but you can't get out). That said, we'll have a bashment in her honour, just in case.
We've had some good luck recently in getting much needed info for the Newport caves (a very helpful email that arrived out of the blue from Leigh Anne Geiter). A return to the district was already planned for the next expedition (Oct 7-29) to continue our assessment of the disturbance being caused by Alpart (bauxite mining) to the many speleo sites that once existed in the area, so this is very timely and much appreciated.
The importance of preserving the speleo sites that remain in the Newport district cannot be overstated - a new depth record for Jamaican caves (195m) was set by the JCO in March of 2006 at Smokey Hole Cave, not far to the south. Similar sites were reported by the GSD in the early 1960's in the Wales and Blenheim districts (Newport), also incompletely explored at the time due to the deep verticals encountered. There is a very real chance that an even deeper speleo site than Smokey (there are several promising possibilities) may be filled in during the next several years as part of Alpart's activity. If at all possible, we would like to prevent this. The loss of these sites will not only eliminate beautiful caves, it will lessen the biodiversity in Jamaica, and the filling-in will block natural drains during rainy times resulting in seasonal ponds where they never existed before.
Jan Pauel followed up on these new leads from Leigh on Sunday, Sept 17, with very good results. With any luck, during the third week of October, we will make real progress on completing an inventory of the Newport sites, as they exist in 2006. Then, we will try to do something about the problem.
A report on the caves of Duanvale prepared for the Duanvale Community Tourism Association, based on work done last June, has been posted on the website here.
We would like to note that the JCO website has just passed its fourth anniversary. On Sept 6, 2002, jamaicancaves.org started out with one poorly-done page (/index.htm, which still needs work). Since then, the site has grown to over 450 pages, which collectively draw in a surprising amount of traffic (over 500 unique, non-bot visitors on a normal day - sometimes much more), many emails, and many great tips on speleo sites we should have a look at. We'd like to thank all of the crew who have contributed to this endeavour over the years, and more importantly, all of our visitors, especially those who regularly drop by via bookmarks to keep track of our adventures. We hope that we can continue to supply information on the karst and caves of Jamaica for many years to come.
Plans are firming up for the next extended period of JCO fieldwork, which will take place from Oct 7 to 29. Amongst other things, we will be participating in an ecotourism workshop in Accompong (an independent Maroon nation in the southwestern Cockpit Country), with our input being the training of cave guides; there will be a return to the Newport district, in Manchester, to monitor the interaction between karstic sites and the bauxite industry; we will make yet another visit to Golding River Cave to finally struggle our way through the second entrance (we're bringing serious tools this time, including a generator to power the hammer drill for the hilti charges); and we will continue our systematic assessment of the caves of St Ann. Along with the speleo work, we'll spend some time georeferencing and flagging trails in the Cockpit Country, and we'll conduct a workshop in Coxheath on rock-climbing techniques, this done in aid of community tourism. More news on all of this will be posted as we approach Oct 7, but for now we would like to pass this along as a heads-up to interested parties, and ask that they touch bases with us.
Ivor Conolley, Elizabeth Slack, and Jan Pauel, of the JCO, were in the field from Aug 28 to 30 assisting Kimberly John, and Minke Newman, of The Nature Conservancy, in an ongoing water quality project being carried out in the Cockpit Country. Early reports indicate that all has gone well.
We'd like to note that three of the JCO crew have celebrated birthdays over the last week. First was Jan, on August 26, then Stefan on the 28th, and then Elizabeth on the 30th. Collectively, the age is around 120, but the older of the crew would rather not get into specifics (this is the advantage of having youth on board - they average things down).
Members of the JCO were also busy the weekend of Aug 19-20, attending to two important tasks: First, on Saturday, Ivor Conolley, Martel Taylor, Elizabeth Slack, Jan Pauel, Rona Sterling, Pem-Pem, Cetu, the Silvera family, and Marcella Phillips, fully established and flagged a new hiking trail in the Cockpit Country, out of Windsor, this in aid of our fund-raising efforts. A report on the outing, by Jan Pauel, can be found here. A full resolution version of the group photo, seen above, can be found here (5.5 MB). On Sunday, a visit to Mountain River Cave, in St Catherine, took place, also for funding purposes. Ivor, Jan, Eliz, et al, assisted Janet and Steve Andrews in a visit to this important archaeological site. We'd like to thank Janet for having helped with JCO funding, and we're glad things went well.
We've recently added a new page to the site, JCO Publications, with two items available at present: the DVD of the March 2006 Expedition, and a 287 page work, "The Caves of the Cockpit Country", based on a JCO project done under contract to The Nature Conservancy in 2005. Along with this, we have finally figured out how to use our Paypal account, and can now accept payments by credit card.
The Donations and Funding page has recently undergone a major change, including having the title altered to "JCO Funding and Tours". We would like to assure everyone that our aim continues to be true, and the focus of the JCO has not shifted from assessment and research - we're just in need of financial assistance.
Ivor Conolley and Jan Pauel were in the field this past weekend, near Coxheath, Trelawny, checking into an interesting feature found via satellite photos. It seems to be a very old collapse, probably of a chamber cave (this remains undetermined).
We've been informed recently via email that we can expect to hear from a National Geographic Traveler fact-checker soon, so it seems as though things are moving along on that front (this is an article being written by Bob Morris, NGT, based on our visit to Deeside Cave last May 30). Indications are at this time that it will appear in the Oct issue.
The DVD of the March 2006 session, produced by Guy Van Rentergem, is now finished and ready for prime-time. As soon as we have shipping logistics worked out, we'll make it available via the new "Publications" page (just about ready to go online). The video will also be shopped around to Ja TV as soon as the first copies make it through the mail from Belgium to Jamaica (on their way now). Adam Hyde is going to pitch in on this, as he's not only a wicked caver, but one of the stars of Royal Palm Estate (Richard Blackburn). We'll post info on broadcast times when we have it.
Major changes to the Donations and Funding page are in the works. In order to keep the JCO alive, and keep some of the crew in Ja, we're breaking down and offering official "tours". These are intended to be small-scale, up-market, and geared to people who have a great need for adventure in their lives. None of the outings will be particularly easy, but they will be memorable. We'll have more on this later in the week.
An outing to several sites in Trelawny took place last weekend. These included Deeside Cave, Benta Well, and the Baptist Holes in Sherwood Content (unfortunately now determined to be highly degraded due to in-filling and garbage). The participating cavers were Ivor Conolley, Jan Pauel, Katherine Faulhaber, and Rim. A full acount of the session will soon be posted via the appropriate fieldnotes page (probably June 2006, which will become Jun/Jul 2006, this saving us the time having to do extra html).
A return visit to Coxheath, to pursue the exploration of the mysterious collapse pit in the hills to the east, is in the works, with this probably happening in the next few weeks. During this session, there will also be a return to Deeside. We intend to drag Elizabeth away from her summer camp duties for this. The plan is that she leads the visit to Deeside, thereby demonstrating her skills as a JCO guide. Upon her successful completion of this, we'll give her a new ID badge, and maybe a T-shirt, and trust her to guide novice cavers into sites that she has experience with.
(July 13/06) June 2006 Expedition * JCO Update (May 28/06) *
June 2006 Expedition(Jun 28/06)
(May 28/06) *