Maroon Town

Jamaican Caving Notes

South Trelawny
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JUNE 20, 2002


Position: East Ent: WGS84 - 18 21 11.1 N, 77 48 00.2 W, West Ent: 18 21 07.7 N, 77 48 08.8 W

Field Notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, I. C. Conolley

We took the road from Deeside to Maroon town to search for caves in the area.

Our hunt started at the PETERKIN-ROTA cave system. An initial search to the west of the road found several choked and trashed openings at the base of a low cliff on the north side of a pasture. A fellow who lived nearby warned us that they are subject to rapid flooding in June. That and the trash suggested that we should enter Peterkin from the east side. Just as we’d gotten up and out of the pasture onto the road, a large storm that had been growling out in the distance came moving in. We continued our search on the east side of the road but had a number of houses and fields, with no one home, to deal with and we weren’t that keen to start wandering through people’s yards. The rain became very heavy so we temporarily gave it up and took refuge in a nearby shop. After over an hour, the rain let up and we went back at it.

We returned to the part of the road that passes over Peterkin Cave and found the formerly dry pasture on the west side to now have a large river flowing through it that drained into the openings we’d looked into before. A foray uphill to the east produced results with the discovery of, “Lieber Maggy”, the farmer working the land that we had to pass over to find the east entrance of Peterkin. A short negotiation resulted in the trading of 200 Ja$ for the accompaniment of Mr Maggy to a large entrance he knew about. It became apparent by the length of the hike that we were going further than Peterkin Cave extended; I wasn’t sure which cave we were headed towards but we hadn’t gotten into anything yet so, “any port in a storm”, and we carried on. En route we passed a large opening that dropped vertically about 8 m into a chamber. It didn’t seem to match anything in JU. I got a DGPS position marked Wpt 040, (18 21’ 09.4” N, 77 48’ 12.8” W).

A short while more brought us to the entrance he knew of. At first view, it certainly appeared to resemble the Peterkin East Entrance as shown in a photo in JU although I didn’t have the book with me on the hike. I wondered if something was wonky in the JU maps and positions but some investigation showed that it was probably the East Entrance of ROTA CAVE. I got a DGPS position, marked as Wpt 041, (18 21’ 12.0” N, 77 47’ 59.7” W). The entrance is located about 20 m Az 230 from the waypoint. As one looks at the entrance, one sees a large shelter cave on the right and a lower opening to the left. The shelter cave extends only a short distance into the cliff but has a colony of bats high at the back behind a large pile of breakdown boulders. To the left the cave enters a large hall that heads off into the hill. The area immediately inside the entrance was acting as a sink for a substantial river that was flowing out from further in the cave. Multiple spots were acting as drains on both sides of the hall. It was very unusual to be seeing a river almost exiting a cave. It had quite a flow and was about 10 m wide and every drop of it disappeared just before it left the cave. We were told that this is dry outside of the rainy season. The river prevented any further exploration. To the SE of the entrance to the cave we could hear the sound of a large resurgence. I believe that this is surface breakout from the Peterkin-Rota system due to heavy rains and that this water would be going back underground at Rota Sink.

We hiked back out to where we’d left the car on the road above the pasture. The pasture, incredibly, had gone from sudden river to being completely flooded and under a metre of water! The openings we’d looked into were submerged! I was glad we’d decided to hit the east side of the system instead.

MAR 06, 2003


Position: East Ent: WGS84 - 18 21 11.1 N, 77 48 00.2 W, West Ent: 18 21 07.7 N, 77 48 08.8 W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, I. C. Conolley, M. Taylor

The plan for this day was to find the west entrance to Rota Cave, travel through it and exit at the east entrance, and then to find and enter the nearby Rota Sink.

I was fairly certain that with the positions I had for Peterkin East entrance, and Rota East, that we'd be able to find our targets without the need of a local person. Accordingly, we hiked past Liebert's, saying hello to "Daddy", the elder Mr. Maggy, as we passed, and then through the farm onto the trail that leads to Bottom Ground. The route to follow is to take the first right, after Liebert's Great Hole, down into the bottom land. The GPS got us to the vicinity of Peterkin East where we found a flag from last November marking the route up though the bush. The night before, I'd worked out the bearing and distance from this point to where the topo showed the Bottom Ground River to sink into Rota. At the flag, I set the azimuth on the Brunton, then paced off the distance. I was pleased to have the west entrance to Rota Cave come into sight within several minutes, right where I thought it would be. The entrance can also be easily found by locating the Bottom Ground River, (in fact a small seasonal stream), and then following it until it enters the cave, although this is not the easiest way to do the hike.

Prior to going in, a GPS position was taken and saved as wpt's 75/76. The entrance is 10 metres, Az 90, from the wpt's. Due to the terrain, the position is non-differential, although 3D. The track file later showed the position to be stable for most of the averaging time.

Going in, we went fairly quickly until we reached the main river passage. The sound of the water flowing could be heard well before we reached the large east - west hall that carries the river. The cave at this point is quite impressive. A large chamber stretches off to the east, while upstream to the west it narrows but is still sizeable. From the left the river flows in carrying the waters from Peterkin Cave and the Tangle River, (at this time not to be seen above ground in the pasture land that lies to the west of Peterkin). To the right, the waters flow through pools and little rapids, disappearing off into the darkness beyond the light of our headlamps.

We began to now to work our way downstream, staying to the side of the larger pools where possible to avoid having to swim. Careful searching in the water as we went revealed Sesarma verleyi. The shining of two small, bright golden eyes in the stream betrayed the presence of a crayfish. This crayfish was apx 10 cm long, light coloured and when compared to a crayfish seen the next day in the Martha Brae River, in Windsor, appeared to be a different species. (The observation of the crayfish at Windsor seemed almost arranged. As I washed clothes in the river, it darted up and held perfectly still right in front of me, in shallow water, for nearly a minute).

Bats in low numbers were in residence in the area of the junction to the west entrance. American Roaches were numerous in this section, but were absent as we went further downstream. Cave crickets were plentiful throughout.

After about 100 metres of following the river, being able to keep from getting wet over the knees by keeping close to the walls, we came to a large T junction. The river here flows to the left, and to the right, large breakdown chambers rise onto dry ground. Taking the left branch, we continued to follow the river and soon came to the east entrance that we knew from June.

In June, we had looked down into this river, flowing towards us from the depths of the cave, and had observed it to all drain into small passages before it could exit into the valley below. Now, we were able to see the passages dry and accessible. We had a good look, then headed back into the cave to look at the breakdown chambers at the last T junction, and then to try to circle back, and out, the small passsage on the south wall near the east entrance that had taken the bulk of the river in June.

We soon reached the junction and headed up into the breakdown chambers. Here, we found a very large colony of bats, many more than what the first junction, near the west entrance, had held. The first breakdown chamber had many bats. This then gave way to a second chamber that had very many bats. We walked over large deposits of fresh fluffy guano. Carrying on through this second chamber we came into even greater numbers, the disturbance of our lights filling the air with flying bats and causing a drizzle of feces and urine to fall upon us. The breakdown chambers continued on ahead of us, but the combination of my dislike of being showered with bat excretions, and the disturbance we were causing to them suggested that we turn around.

It should be noted that for reasons unknown, this section of Rota Cave is not accurately mapped in Jamaica Underground. However, a route down to the north that is shown as circling back to the east entrance can be found in the first breakdown chamber. I headed down into this to see if it was indeed the passage that I thought it to be, while Malibu and Ivor stayed up top. It was a bit of a scramble, but soon give way to a complex of little sponge-like pasages, somewhat like Marta Tick, but partially flooded. The amount of garbage that was seen through here was astounding. Bottles, bags, jugs, boots, you name it, dozens of items of washed-in garbage sat, or hung, in various spots. The passages kept heading in the right direction, so I flagged and kept going. By this time, Malibu and Ivor had begun to follow me, but Ivor was some distance back and we were soon out of sight and contact. As I reached one particular squeeze into the next void of this underground sponge, I felt a definite breeze flowing past me, blowing in the direction I was travelling. Good stuff. I went through, with Malibu catching up about this time, and saw off to the left through formations and little chambers the light of Ivor's headlamp. I called out to him, "Where'd you just come from?" I wondered if he'd gone back around to the east entrance and was coming in along the little passage we'd seen, the one I was hoping to go out. Nope, he'd come to the same spot by taking a different route west of us after we'd gone out of sight ahead of him. This whole area is very cool and very complex.

Now that we'd joined up, we carried on and within a couple of minutes I could hear the sound of the river ahead of me. We soon found ourselves coming out the little passage that is just inside the east entrance chamber on the south wall. This is the passage that had taken the water in June and thus explained all the garbage that we had passed.

We took a break at the east entrance, then headed out to find Rota Sink.

This cave should have a high priority for bioinventory. It has a wonderful collection of inhabitants and has seen little human disturbance due to the pools and river that discourage people of the district from entering for purposes of guano mining. If it were somehow possible to prevent garbage from being washed into this system, this is something that should be seriously considered. The human detritus found here is not biodegradeable and will continue to accumulate.

MAY 09, 2003


Position: East Ent: WGS84 - 18 21 11.1 N, 77 48 00.2 W, West Ent: 18 21 07.7 N, 77 48 08.8 W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor

Once again, Malibu and I set a course for Maroon Town to visit Rota Cave and Rota Sink. En route, I had to make a swing through Falmouth, and by the time we arrived at about 11 AM, showers had already begun.

It is interesting to note that almost every time we've been to Maroon Town there is rain, even when there is nary a drop in Springvale and points to the NE. The springs that gush forth from the eponymous Vale are entirely dependent on this frequent rain in Maroon Town. The river cave called Rota Cave, that we were about to revisit, is part of this underground system, and one of the main feeders for the Springvale risings, so it can be inferred that this frequent rain has been taking place for many thousands of years. The many people in north Trelawny who rely upon the risings, from the pumping station at Springvale South, and from the Martha Brae River which is fed from these risings, know little of the sources and routes of these waters. If they could visit the large cow pasture in Maldon that regularly adds cow feces to the Tangle River, just before it sinks at Peterkin Cave, they would understand why there is a sign at Deeside advising people to not drink the water.

We parked at Maldon and quickly arrived at Rota Cave west entrance. Even before reaching it, we could see that the cave would be more hydrologically active; the seasonal streambed, Bottom Ground River, that runs into Rota W, had a flow of about 25 cm depth and this was disappearing, with a noise of siphoning and low rumbling, into a small sink just before the cave entrance.

With a brief delay for a picture of Malibu coming down the first scramble, into the water, we began our journey to the main river passage. In March we had traveled this section with dry feet, but this time, from the bottom of the entrance scramble on, we were walking through water 30 - 80 cm deep with the now much louder roar of the river in the distance ahead of us. Remembering the flood into this system the previous June, I began to look carefully for signs of past high-water marks. Disconcertingly, I found rafted bamboo debris up the wall some 2 - 3 metres, and although this was below the roof of the passage, it was hard to imagine swimming back upstream against the current that must have been occurring when the waters were that high. It would be expected that the last event was the previous Oct - Nov, but we were into the spring rainy season and things can change quickly. We carried on but I began to rethink the plan for Rota Sink. Rota Cave is large and high, and will not flood so quickly, but the Sink is quite different.

At the main river passage, we could see that the waters were about 50 cm higher than in March, but still manageable. I intended to try to get upriver somewhat before turning back and then following the river to the east entrance. Upstream from the T-junction where one arrives at the main river passage, the water was quite deep and stretched off into the distance with no sign of dry land ahead. On the south side of the main passage, upstream, a small passage conducts the stream that sinks near the west entrance into the main passage. This is in fact where the tributary Bottom Ground River joins the Tangle River. We decided to explore this small passage; we had not been in it before and it is shown in JU as leading to the west entrance although it has only been completed by the "diminutive Drew" of the GSD, (this gleaned from JU if a proper reading has been made of the notes given). A swim through the river brought us to a small waterfall where the Bottom Ground River entered via the small passage. We had only one life-preserver, so I went first with the end of the 30 m rope tied to me, then attached the jacket so that Malibu could haul it back to him and use it to cross.

Now joined up again, we moved upstream, in a passage some 2 m wide and 2 high, through a series of small waterfalls and rapids that splashed between beautiful clean formations. As we progressed, it became steadily smaller until we came to a point where to continue further would have required crawls through a small passage that was now half-flooded. I had known that we had no hope of completing the route, the stream that had disappeared in a small pool in front of the west entrance was the very one we were travelling up, but had lead us up it, as much as for the purposes of future exploration, as just because it had looked so beautifully inviting. (When we are next in the cave during the dry season, we'll try to complete this route.) Turning back, we returned to the main river passage and swam across again to get to the T-junction at the start of the lower river passage.

Downstream from the T-junction, we were able to avoid swimming by keeping on boulders along the south wall. Oddly, two flags that had been left in place the previous March, to be collected on this return, were very deterioriated, appearing to have been partially eaten by a small insect or similar thing. The flags were standard 2.5 cm plastic survey ribbon and were full of tiny holes to the point where some 30 - 40% of the material was gone. This is a first for me, seeing this. We seldom leave flags behind, and none that I can recall in systems partly invaded by American roaches, so maybe it was these vermin that were responsible. I left one of my orange flags in place to monitor in the future and retrieved the others. The flag appears to be above the high-water level.

Because of the increased flow of the river compared to March, and the resultant turbidity, it was difficult to look for crayfish and crabs etc, and none were seen, but a quick glance at the bat chambers near the eastern end of the cave showed the numbers to still be plentiful. We did not enter their chambers, and looked only briefly from the river passage end, to avoid causing disturbance. Roaches continue to plague this cave but in numbers much less than found in others. Our successful journey through this cave at this time, the first week of the rainy season, helps to define the period of safe visitation; the first week of March had been fine, and the third week of June 2002, the phreatic zone had been some 2 metres higher than on this day, flooding the passage to "rimstone pools", and making the entire cave too dangerous to enter.

We made our way out the east entrance and having decided to pass on Rota Sink because of flood risk, we returned to the car.

We still had some time left, so we decided to hunt down Jarmon Bottom Cave. A drive back towards Maroon Town found us an older gentleman near the road who claimed to know the best route to this cave and because we had had everyone and their uncle's dog trying take us to this cave, we assumed that he knew what he was doing. We headed off on a track from the church parking lot and after some 15 minutes of my watching our track on the GPS as we hiked along, I noticed that we were heading straight towards Rota E entrance again. I began to have serious doubts about our guide's knowledge and let Malibu know. After a short time, we did indeed arrive on the hillside above the east entrance to Rota Cave. I attempted to explain to our "guide" that this was in fact Rota Cave but he was insistent that this was Jarmon Bottom. In disgust, after our scrambling down to the entrance so that I could show Malibu that, yes, this is where we just were a while ago, we hiked back out to the car.

A word of advice to cavers visiting Maroon Town: assume that everyone will call every cave Jarmon Bottom and conduct yourselves accordingly.
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