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Publication: Jamaica Observer;
Date: Sep 23, 2007;
Section: Career & Education;

Elizabeth Slack... making sinkhole exploration look easy

BY KARYL WALKER, Sunday Observer reporter,

Slack     WHILE most women would hesitate before descending into a 175-foot sinkhole, former US Peace Corps volunteer Elizabeth Slack doesn’t think twice about it. She is, in fact, always excited at the prospect.

    Slack is a member of the Jamaica Caves Organisation (JCO), an independent, non-profit group that researches and promotes the preservation of caves and sinkholes on the island.

    Our Habitat recently accompanied members of the JCO on a fact-finding mission to a previously unexplored sinkhole — Logan’s Hole 2 — in the rustic May Day district of South Manchester, and saw Slack in action.

    Descending into a sinkhole is no child’s play. In fact, it’s a dangerous undertaking. Before going into the hole, one must be hooked up to a harness, complete with a helmet with batteryoperated lights, among other vital equipment, as one braves the danger of falling rocks and all the other perils that being inside a tight, dark space present.

    But danger seems to bring out the best in Slack. The wiry lady was the first of her four-member party — which included JCO chairman Stefan Stewart, Jan Pauel, and Drew Snauffer — to descend into the unknown hole for the first time.

    “She’s an absolutely fearless woman who has been crucial to our research and exploration. She has slithered through narrow spaces in caves, and has been with us on some of our more demanding expeditions,” commented Pauel as Slack disappeared into the darkness.

    The group kept contact with the female caver by two-way radio. Fifteen minutes after she went in, Slack sent a radio signal that she had hit the bottom of Logan’s Hole 2.

    “There are a lot of things Elizabeth can do that I can’t,” Snauffer admitted as he prepared to enter the sinkhole.

    The group had travelled miles into the interior of the island to get to the sinkhole, which they were pointed to by May Day residents, who claimed the sinkhole had no bottom. The cavers found, however, that Logan’s Hole 2 was approximately 175 feet deep.

    After Slack, Stewart and Snauffer had completed their mission and emerged from the darkness — with Slack taking the least amount of time to make her ascent — they began to assess their findings. Among those findings was that Logan’s Hole 2 was home to hundreds of fruit bats, in addition to terrestrial frogs, spiders and cane toads.

    Slack, meanwhile, said she was introduced to caving by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer in 2004 and has been enjoying making descents into sinkholes ever since.

    “The most scary experience was the Minocal’s Glory Hole, which was 200 feet deep. It was my first vertical drop,” said Slack, who lived in Castleton, St Mary for three years.

    She now resides in her native United States, but comes to Jamaica whenever she gets the chance.