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March 29, 2005

PRINTED CIRCUIT CAVE, aka Rock Spring Cave

Main Entrance: WGS84 - 18 18' 16.3" N, 77 34' 14.2" W
Farmyard Entrance: WGS84 - 18 18' 12.8" N, 77 34' 07.4" W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, I. C. Conolley, D. K. Roggy, E. Slack

Time in: 15:00 EST, Time out: 19:00 EST


This was the third day of the first expedition engaged on the Parks in Peril Project, under contract to The Nature Conservancy - Jamaica, and the first of several days that would be spent finding and assessing the many caves of the Rock Spring district. This district had been a high priority for the first TNC expedition, because many of the targets are river caves and are only accessible during the dry-season. We were fortunate in there having been an extended drought in the area for the previous two months, and high water levels were not a concern during the visit.

The night before had been spent in Windsor by Ivor, Mark, and I. After a swing through Falmouth to drop off Mark, who needed to return to Kingston, Ivor and I made the drive to Albert Town to link with Dietrich and Elizabeth. They would remain with the team for the rest of the expedition. Not long past noon, we were all assembled and en route to find "Miss Jasmine Buckle", at Rock Spring, who had been recommended to us by Adam Hyde as a possibilty for renting room/s. Road construction near Albert Town resulted in a detour via Burnt Hill, and this combined with a number of stops for info in our search resulted in us not getting to Miss Buckle's until about 2:00 PM. Another hour was then consumed by negotiations and considerations. At 3:00 PM, we finally got to work.

Printed Circuit Cave Topo Miss Buckle's is ideally suited as a base for investigation of the Rock Spring Caves being located in close proximity to many of them, as can be seen on the map attached to these notes - her house is about 10m from waypoint "025". All of the other points marked on the map were cave entrances found by us, and GPS referenced, during the next four days, with the exception of points 025 and 028 which are calibration points. This might give a general idea of how much ground we covered, and what we were able to accomplish. Of the fifteen caves, and multiple entrances, that we would hit, the first cave of the bunch, the one we were about to visit today, Printed Circuit Cave, (known locally as Rock Spring Cave), was the closest and most easily found, and a cave that I was already familiar with, from a visit in 2002. It is a pleasant ten minute walk from Miss Buckle's, and we were soon at the main entrance, called "Sober entrance" by the KHE, and shown in their map, which is reproduced in Jamaica Underground, with this designation.

Printed Circuit Cave - Sober EntranceOur visit coincided with a get-together and cook-out by some of the younger people of the community at the main entrance, (a very pleasant spot, right by the river and well suited to it), so we stopped to exchange pleasantries for a few minutes before we headed in. I would again meet many of them later in the week, in the evenings at local pubs, and found this event served well as an introduction. There were a few who were curious about what we were doing, and our answers to their questions resulted in us not being seen as visiting tourists, but as researchers who were in the field, and on the job. Time-pressed, though, so with a "likkle-more", we turned on headlamps and entered Printed Circuit Cave.

Printed Circuit Cave is a labyrinth of active stream passages. It serves as a tributary system, taking water from several upstream sources, and then at the downstream-end feeding it into the Mouth River. It is at times used for tourism by the South Trelawny Environmental Agency, with visitation restricted to several small passages that lead from the Sober Entrance to the main collector, and the main collector itself in its closest section. There are in total about 10 entrances, although not all of these are currently accessible due to rafted debris and siltation. My intention for this visit was to get to the main collector, then follow it upstream to investigate several small feeder passages. This would get us beyond the areas that experience regular visitation, and also get us into the kind of habitat that cave decapods seem to prefer, i.e. a series of small pools with a minor flow. This was accordingly done, with us ultimately entering the "Positive Stream" passages. The bioinventory had begun as soon as we were in the dark zone, past the main entrance. Observations follow:

The main collector is serving as a bat roost for at least fruit-bats, with numbers estimated to be in the 500-5000 range, although probably at the lower end of this. Because the roosting space is restricted to the main collector, which constantly has water in it, guano accumulation is restricted to the passage walls, occurring as spots on the lower sections. Trog inverts that are dependent on substantial deposits are out of luck. Nevertheless, Periplaneta americana are present, (introduced roaches), but not in the great numbers that would be found in roosts with thick beds of bat guano. Cave crickets are present, although again in numbers that reflect the lack of dry floor-space and available nutrients. In the smaller passages upstream of the collector, a species of trog araneae, (spider), was observed with which I am not yet familiar, (identification is underway), and Sesarma spp. are present, with probably two species seen, (Verleyi and Windsor?); identification is also underway for these critters. Surprisingly, we saw no N. farri, (predaceous fly larvae), although it must be strongly suspected that they are present in passages that we did not visit. Buffo marinus are present in the small passages that lead to the main collector. No E. cundalli were heard at the main entrance, although this might be associated with the very dry conditions, rather than the area outside being regularly used for small bashments, (get-togethers).

After visiting the smaller upstream passages, we returned to the main collector, traveled past our entry passage, and then downstream for about 100m. I found myself well in front of the group, and took the opportunity to explore a small dry passage feeding in from the direction of the Mouth River, as does Sober Entrance, and found evidence that access has sometimes been gained via this route, (old coal-oil lantern). I suspect that it leads back to the main entrance, via the passages shown on the map that are to the northwest. After venturing about 30m, much of it crawling, I returned to the main collector where the others were now within talking distance. It seemed that we'd done about as much as we could in this section for the moment, and there were more entrances to the cave that I hoped to locate from the outside, so I pulled the plug and we began to make our way out.

At about 6:00 PM, we were again outside at the Sober Entrance. It was decided that we would split into two groups of two and search upstream, and downstream, for more entrances. Dietrich and I took the upstream part, and headed southeast to see what we could find. We skirted around the low hill that rises over the cave, looking for seasonal streambeds that might feed into the system, finding nothing on the Mouth River side. Once around to the east side, we came into the back of a small farm, with house, and stopped to call out a "hello", so that the owners of the land would know that there were two men with helmets on their heads wandering through their yard. A friendly woman in her 30's appeared, and after hearing our explanation of what we were doing, directed us to a small hole near-by that might be one of the entrances that we sought. As we moved in that direction, asking if we were going the right way, the lady of the house volunteered to show us the route, and led us about 100m to a small entrance at the downstream end of a seasonal streambed. Good stuff. We thanked her greatly, and she then left us to it. I wish that I had noted her name, as we were to meet her again several times during the visit, as we searched for entrances, and her help was greatly appreciated. I remember exactly where her house is, and will try to drop by some time, get her name, and then amend these notes.

The GPS point that I recorded for the position is time-stamped 6:28 PM. Dietrich had been having some trouble with his headlamp, and it was getting close to sunset, so it was decided that I would go in by myself far enough to see if the passage went anywhere, then rejoin D and return to Miss Buckle's. The entrance is small, about 1.5m high and wide, and faces southeast. It seasonally takes water. Within 5m of the entrance, I reached a low point where there was only about 40cm of airspace, this through stalactites, so that I almost had my chin in the water. I worked my way past this, and found that the ceiling soon got higher. I pushed on, following a sinuous passage, in places 3m high, and 2 wide, and all of it with water on the floor, that just kept going. The plan was for me to have a good enough look to see if this was one of the Printed Circuit entrances, and to do this I needed to follow it until I hit side passages that I could use to compare to the map created by the Karst Hydrology Expedition, (KHE), in 1965. It took about 150m for me to hit any other passages of consequence. At this point, a t-junction was reached where the passage I followed connected with a larger passage, some 4m high and 3 wide. This junction was very nice to look at; the passage I had taken ended in a large rimstone pool about 2m above the passage it joined, and a scramble down led on, upstream to the right, and downstream to the left. This gave me something to work with, so I called it quits and retraced my route. Subsequent work, and a return visit the next day, showed that the entrance we'd found was the one near Farmyard Cave, and this was indeed part of Printed Circuit Cave.

I thoroughly enjoyed that little solo exploration. Of course, I knew that Dietrich was aware of my whereabouts, and also knew that he's tremendously solid and wouldn't have written me off as a goner if I'd had problems inside. He would have had to have fixed his light first, and probably gotten the others on the scene, but nonetheless, it isn't really solo when you have good crew on the outside who can come to your rescue, (you hope). It did, though, feel somewhat that way when I was 400 feet into the cave, pushing onwards. [A personal note to myself, that I will reread at some point in the future: don't get too enticed by these times alone in sections of caves - it happened 4 or 5 times this session and you shouldn't push your luck.]

When we linked with Ivor and Elizabeth at Miss Buckle's, we heard that they had had some success downstream, and were in a good position to tackle it again in the morning. This was how the next day would begin, with Ivor and Elizabeth searching out the downstream entrances, and Dietrich and I re-entering the cave via my route to see what we could find.

[More notes for Printed Circuit Cave, March 30, 2005.]

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