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Collected notes for Roehampton School Cave

Aug 25, 2003


Position: WGS84 - 18 24' 17.2" N, 77 54' 36.7" W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, R. Ranger

Roehampton School Cave, located near Anchovy, St. James, was brought to our attention by Joan Blake of the near-by village of Wales Pond. She had given us valuable assistance in the past, and on this day her help was to prove to be even more important. At no great distance from Lawson Bottom Cave, there is a hydrologically active cave that had somehow been missed by explorers and cave surveyors of the past. This stream-passage cave, possibly associated with Lawson Bottom, was a true pleasure to find.

Martel and I had journeyed from Windsor to Wales Pond early in the day, and had then linked with Ian Blake at his shop in Wales Pond. Our visit was intended to accomplish several things; we were scouting for good rock-climbing walls in the Montego Bay area, hoping to get tips on unlisted caves, and also getting ourselves closer to the airport to pick up someone in the early evening. We were successful with the latter two goals but had no success finding good climbing potential in the Anchovy district. The new cave more than made up for it.

After linking with Ian, and a solid friend of his with the wonderful, true name of Rohan Ranger, we were at last able to meet Joan in person. Her very impressive house is up the road a short distance from Ian's shop. During my previous visit, she had been in her "other home" in Canada. Mrs. Blake proved to be a very charming, well-spoken, well-educated woman, and in the course of our conversation, she mentioned that she had heard of a cave near Roehampton School. After a visit of some 20 minutes, we headed off with Ian, and Rohan, to Roehampton in pursuit of it.

The description of the location that we had from Joan put it quite close to Roehampton School, and most easily found by way of the school property. Because it was August, and school was not in session, we found the gates to the school locked and so parked on the road close by the entrance. To the left of the gates we found an easy place to get over the surrounding wall, and headed off to the northwest where we hoped to find the entrance. None of us, Martel, Ian, Rohan, or myself, had ever been to this system so we went into search mode.

To the north of the school, a wide, flat bottomland is found. It was expected that the entrance would be somewhere on the side of this, where the land rose, so as the main group searched along the eastern side, I worked my way towards the hill that rises to the road on the western side. After skirting pools, and copses of Cowitch, I arrived in what were essentially the backyards of those whose houses were on the road above. In hopes of getting info on the location, I made my way through a collection of pigs and chickens to inquire at the closest house. The first person I came across was a child who seemed startled to see a white man suddenly appear through the pigs with a bright red helmet on his head. Fortunately, she didn't run in terror, and I was able to have her lead me to her mother.

The child's mother was delighted to see us, knew of the cave that I sought, and in exchange for several cigarettes told her son, Ian Weatherburn, to lead us to the entrance. With several shouts and whistles, I reassembled the party and we headed off. Humorously, as we passed the next neighbour's yard to the south, en route to the entrance, a man appeared from his house to demand money, a demand that had absolutely no effect on any of the party. He neither owned the land across which we walked, nor had any credibility beyond what any common bumba-clot possesses. In five minutes time, we reached a very promising entrance on the side of the hill that rises to the west of the Roehampton School Valley.

The entrance to the cave faces 50 deg true, is 2.5 m wide and 6 m high, and sits under a low cliff. The position was marked as waypoints 136/137, 18 24' 17.2" N, 77 54' 36.7" W, with the actual entrance 12 m, azimuth 230 deg true, from the waypoints. The fix was 3D Differential, WAAS, and will have an accuracy of less than +/- 5 metres.

Ian Blake remained on the outside while Martel, Rohan, and myself went in. We soon discovered that this was a fine cave.

Roehampton School Cave, the obvious name for this new river cave, takes the waters of a small stream that flows from the bottomland that lies to the east. It has been carved into very hard, strongly bedded, Montpellier limestone. The best description is "labyrinth". Within 20 metres of the entrance, a climbable drop of 3 m is reached, and then the water flows further in with small branching passages encountered that join with what we determined to be the main river passage. The cross-section of the passages is very particular. The height is 2 - 3 metres, with a width of under 1 metre, and has a profile that is corrugated on both sides due to alternating strata of sedimentary layers with differing resistance to erosion. A sketch of the cross-section is in the notebook and should be scanned. The general trend of the active stream course is to the northwest. A line survey will follow below.

Martel, Rohan, and I worked our way slowly into the system. We could see signs in the outer parts of long-term visitation by youths of the district in the form of scratched initials and love-notes on the walls of the main passage. After a time, we left these behind. The passage that we followed, that which seemed to be the main stream course, had been joined by many other more narrow passages as we made our way along. I flagged the route well having no desire to make circuitous detours on the way out in search of the way home. On a first visit, this cave was confusing enough that we didn't want to take chances. At a point well into the cave, but not as far as we might have gone if it had not been a wet time of year, I called a halt. We turned around and began a line survey of the flagged route out. The vectors follow:

A-B, 3.5 m, 205 deg true
B-C, 7.5, 117
C-D, 6.5, 125
D-E, 18, 190
E-F, 2, 305
F-G, 9, 190
G-H, 12, 110
H-I(Entrance), 20, 95

Side passages are marked in the notebook. A more accurate survey, that extends to the furthest reaches of the cave and includes all the side passages, will be done next session, (Jan 2004).

Plotting the line survey on the topo, after the visit, suggests that this cave is part of a larger system associated with the near-by Lawson Bottom Cave. Lawson Bottom, to the southwest, trends in the direction of passages that feed water into the main route that we followed. It appears that Lawson Bottom is an upstream part of a common system that has its downstream section in Roehampton School Cave. It is unknown if a connection might be made between the two caves, i.e. one that a human may pass through, but we will find out next time.

Sesarma Verleyi were present in good numbers in the active river passages. No American Cockroaches were seen. No suitable chambers are available for bats and none were seen. Amblypygi and other inverts that might be found in a dry cave, associated with bats and guano deposits, were not present. No paleo resources were observed and would not be expected due to the hydrological activity of the system and the restricted active passages.

After having left the cave, and taken the GPS position noted above, we made a brief return to Wales Pond and then headed to the airport to await our visitor.

To summarize: Roehampton School Cave is found to the northwest of the school. A stream flows into the cave and then underground to the northwest along fissures that parallel the hill above. The flow from Lawson Bottom possibly feeds into the cave at its upstream section. Biological activity is stream-passage type.

Jan 24, 2004


Position: WGS84 - 18 24' 17.2" N, 77 54' 36.7" W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, I. C. Conolley, M. Bellinger, S. McCall, R. Ranger

Time in: 13:05 EST, Time out: 15:30 EST

Rohan Ranger and Ivor Conolley at Roehampton School Cave, Jan 24, 2004. Photo by R.S.Stewart Roehampton School Cave, first surveyed and explored on Aug 25, 2003, by Stewart, Taylor, and Ranger, seemed a suitable target for this first day of caving of the January session. This cave had been unlisted, and unsurveyed, prior to our first visit on Aug 25, 2003, and the stream-passage nature of the cave suggested that it had the potential to be pushed much further than what we had done the first time. This visit, our second, would attempt to accomplish that.

The choice of the cave was also based upon another factor: the determination of the pyschological reaction of two new volunteers, Sarah McCall and Mark Bellinger, to dark, confined spaces. Although both Mark and Sarah were very welcome, being much-needed help, they had very little previous experience with caving and were thus an unknown. I had no doubt of their ability to be deal with the large caves that we would be in over the next two weeks, but their reaction to squeezes and crawls in the dark, such as would be encountered at Roehampton, would assist in determining what caves we should perhaps avoid over the course of the expedition.

These two considerations, and also the fact that we knew exactly where the cave was located, (which would result in a minimum of time wasted on the first day), made Roehampton School Cave, the first cave of this session.

Mark, Ivor, and myself, had spent the previous night, Friday, in Windsor, Trelawny. Mark and Ivor had made the journey from Kingston on Friday evening, and I had made the journey from the blizzards of Canada to the airport in Montego Bay on Friday as well. Amazingly, we'd arrived at Miss Lilly's, in Coxheath, within 10 seconds of each other, Ivor and Mark preceding me by only enough time required to park the car. This seemed to me to be very auspicious. It was a portent that would prove itself true during the course of the next two weeks.

As expected, Saturday morning began later than hoped, the three of us having not crashed until about 2:00 AM. I had incompetently told Sarah, the newest member of the team, that would we meet her at 10:00 - 10:30, at the turn to Bogue west of MoBay, en route to Roehampton, assuming that this late of a schedule would ensure our timely arrival. Of course, we didn't reach Bogue until 11:30. Nevertheless, Sarah hadn't given up on us, (although she had decided to shift to another corner in case there had been some confusion), and soon before Bogue, we spotted her on the side of the road. A quick pulling over, shaking of hands, and piling back into the car, had us continuing on our way to Roehampton.

We made a stop on the way, at Wales Pond, to link with Ian Blake, and also to see if Rohan Ranger was around. Rohan had joined us Aug 25 at Roehampton School, and because I have hopes of incorporating him into the crew eventually, I wanted him along once again. At Wales Pond, we found a lot of the regulars, that I knew from before, hanging out at Ian's. Hello's were said, hands shaken, and fists touched. Everyone seemed well, and although Rohan was not there at the moment, he was just up the road and would soon come. Sure enough, 5 or 10 minutes later, Rohan arrived. He was interested in coming along, just needing to change his clothes, so we rolled up to his yard, and 10 minutes later he was climbing back into the car and we were on our way.

The school, when we arrived, had the gates open and a watchman keeping an eye on things, this being a Saturday with no classes taking place. The last time, Aug 25, summer holidays were in effect at the school, and the gates had been locked. I'd parked on the road, leaving the car prey to every madman taxi driver who might careen around the near-by corner to smash it to pieces; this time I took advantage of things and parked in the school lot. This, of course, required an investment of some 15 minutes total, in and out, explaining to the watchman why I would give him no money for my use of the school grounds. This time was also used for loading up with, and then stowing of, gear, so in essence, it cost us nothing. My sympathies and compassion for the economic plight of the watchman, and his pursuit of some alleviation of this financial situation, did not extend as far as pulling what few dollars I possess out of my pocket to hand over to him. That said, he seemed like a decent sort and I strongly recommend that any readers of these notes, who have more money than I, and intend to visit Roehampton, assist the gentleman in whatever way they can, (I promised him that I'd put something like that on the internet...)

The hike to the entrance was soon done, but not without me losing on the way, (without realizing it), my Mini-Mag flashlight out of the unzipped pocket of my backpack as I climbed a fence. This resulted in the second auspicious portent of the session; Mark spotted it on the ground as he came along after me and returned it before I even knew it was missing. I began to have great hopes for this two-week caving session we were launching ourselves into.

On our arrival at the entrance, I was pleased to see that the saved GPS position, from Aug 25, 2003, that had guided us this day, was as accurate as I had believed it to be. It put us back at the same spot, within less than 5 metres of the referenced location, without averaging. I have now listed this position as confirmed.

Preparations for our entry into the cave were made, helmets donned, lights checked, clipboard and pen extracted from backback, and we then started things with an examination of the area just inside the dripline in search of interesting troglophilic residents; we saw only the usual suspects, Eleuths, millipedes, and American Roaches. This done, with tape and compass in hand, we began to survey our way into the cave.

We were more thorough this time about noting and measuring intersecting passages. As a result, progress was slow into the cave, but this had the advantage of giving Mark and Sarah plenty of time to acclimatize. Ivor forged on in front, pulling tape and crawling into every accessible chamber and fissure, as I followed getting bearings and writing down numbers. I could see that on this first day, Ivor was very focussed and intent on doing as thorough a job as possible. We thus had the team moving into the cave in this order: Ivor first, then Stefan, followed by Rohan, and Mark and Sarah bringing up the rear.

The entire extent of the previous trip in, on Aug 25, was done within 30 minutes, and we then extended the survey further. Our farpoint was determined by time constraints, not lack of cave, so when we called it to a halt, there was still more passage that carried on ahead. In fact, the vertical space had increased and a second parallel passage had opened several metres to the side connected by a transverse passage. I left two flags at the final survey station, tied well to stals so they will not wash away, and we began to make our way out.

The return trip went much more quickly and we were soon once again at the entrance to the cave. The entire time in the cave, Sarah and Mark had shown no fear or even apprehension. I had just taken them into one of the more "uncomfortable" caves that we would visit this session, and they had been completely unphased. Good stuff.

It should be noted again that the Montpelier limestone that this stream-passage cave travels through is remarkabley hard and strongly-bedded. The individual strata of the rock are pronounced, with some very resistant to erosion, and others in between these layers composed of a somewhat softer rock, causing a cross-section to the passages of a very particular nature. It resembles a stack of culverts, cut in half, stacked one atop another, concave sides in, on each side. I have tried to find a better verbal description of the cross-section but haven't had much luck. A sketch is in the actual notebook and should perhaps be scanned and included with these notes at some point in the future.

The general geomorphology of the cave is absolutely dependant on the physical nature of this Montpelier limestone. Unlike systems carved through softer, more amorphous limestone, all of the caves in this district are defined by two factors: bedding planes and fault lines. Roehampton is on the northern part of a series of closely spaced parallel fault lines that trend from SSE to NNW and extend from St Elizabeth up to St James. This faulting resulted in fracturing of the limestone of Roehampton and enabled the creation of the caves in this district. One would suspect that without this faulting, the rock is so hard that there would be very little cave formation. The caves in the district, as well exemplified by Roehampton School, consist of stream-passage caves that have carved through the original fissures caused by the faulting, widening them, but little more. The layout of Roehampton Scool Cave illustrates this well; passages are primarily parallel through bedding planes with occasional drops where cutting through to lower strata has taken place. They then resume their horizontal course restricted again by the bedding planes. Although there is little vertical development in these caves, they can run for respectable distances in an x-y direction.

Biologically, this cave is valuable. Sesarma Verleyii, cave crabs, were once again seen in good numbers. The cave takes surface water during the rainy season and this apparently rafts in enough organic material that food resources are good, but because the catchment for these waters is fairly level, there isn't the siltation problem that results with catchments in steep-sided valleys or cockpits. Bats are restricted to the outermost sections of the cave, but some roosting space is available for fruit-bats. Interestingly, American Roaches were not present in most of the cave, but one was spotted close to the farpoint of the survey, a section that is in a high fissure that apparently in places reaches the surface. Because the system roughly parallels the road above, which has small residential/farming lots along it, the roaches are coming in via cracks from these yards that line the road.

As noted above, more work remains to be done in this cave. We will return to it.

Upon our return to the car, in the school grounds, we loaded gear back into the car, once again explained to the watchman that we had no money, and then headed off to the near-by Comfort Hall Cave, an unlisted cave that we'd been told of by Joan Blake. Those notes will follow these.


Roehampton Cave, St James, Jamaica

Roehampton Cave, St James, Jamaica

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