Jamaican Caving Notes
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July 25 – July 31, 2008
July 25, 2008
Meeting with Jan and Stefan in Cross Keys was unfortunately delayed due to vehicular problems. Jan and Stef met me at Spring Plain pumping station where we tried to fix the Nissan which experienced problems with a cooling hose. We were not able to fix the problem on Friday and left that car with the security personnel at the pumping station.
July 26, 2008
Traveled via Mandeville to obtain a cooling hose, and then went to Morgan’s Pond Hole where we retrieved a rope. We met with Hugh Thomas who claims to be the owner of the property where Morgan’s Pond is located and related the story about the fires inside the entrance of the cave. He felt outraged and encouraged us to go to the police and report the incident. Time constraints did not allow us to do that. Instead, Jan used his assertiveness and indicated to some of the youngsters that the police were coming and looking for Odain Bailey aka Omar Davies the allegged mastermind behind the fires,
We went then on to Spring Plain where we fixed the Nissan and then went on our way to Cave Valley when the radiator of the Nissan gave up and we organized a wrecker to get the Nissan back to Kingston.
This interruption in the trip did not come unwelcome as Jan was invited to a party which he otherwise would have missed.
July 27, 2008
Well I guess the guys had a good time at the party as they were somewhat late today to pick me up. Nonetheless we went on our way to Cave Valley where we did some initial recon of the True Sink to Top Hole section. Cave River flow was low which meant we could enter the caving system, which is prone to flooding. However, we realized that this ought to be done early as afternoon rains in the upper ranges of the hinterland could increase stream flow. Surprisingly, trash levels were low which could indicate that a recent rain event might have transported garbage further downstream. That the river system is used by garages as a disposal site was evidenced by the find of a closed 500 ml brake fluid bottle filled with an oily substance. What however was stunning is the amount of sand, gravel, silt in the stream passage. This material comes from the slopes of the hinterland and settles where the flow velocity is reduced or where still water sections are encountered. We also noted at one specific sink hole that previous water levels were high and water rose within the sinkhole up to an estimated 10 m above the normal stream bed. This was evidenced by fresh mud on plants located in the upper section of the sinkhole. Jan took a photo at one of the cave entrances where sand was deposited. This might give an indication of the dynamism of sand deposition and erosion when compared with future shots from the same area.
July 28, 2008
Today we went up early to visit Noisy Water 2 and 1 in Norwood. Noisy Water 2 is known for its flooding risk and we limited ourselves to not more than 1 ½ hours so as to avoid being caught in the cave. This cave is stunning with its geology. We were forced to either swim or float or use the canyoning technique over rapid sections of the river. The trip terminated at a huge boulder choke and as time run out we did not explore further. Trash levels were low and we noted a number of tyres stuck within crevices. It is expected that trash is washed further downstream.
Noisy Water 1 is an easier to manage cave. It has a wide entrance with shallow water levels which soon deepened forcing us to swim. In the shallower section we noted numerous Australian Redclaw Crayfish, a species not endemic to Jamaica. Where the invasive species was present we did not notice endemic cave dwellers like the cave crab, Sesarma verleyi. Jan caught a huge crayfish and we vowed to return to engage in some research. This research will entail catching and measuring as many crayfish as possible. Measuring protocols should be discussed with UWI. That evening we returned to Kingston as the decision was made to do day trips to the St.Clair Cave rather than staying overnight.
July 29, 2008
Our first trip to St. Clair led us to the Worthy Park section where we observed water levels at the river sink. The water levels were much lower compared to the last trip I did with Jan and Stef on June 3, 2006. The next stop was Riverhead cave entrance where we observed that sections of the Black River were dry - the water apparently sinks in sections of the river bed and re emerges. A small amount of water overflowed the weir constructed at the entrance of Riverhead cave. The thought was entertained to have the dam structure removed to allow for a lowering of the water level within the cave and possibly more favourable conditions to enter the cave. It is to be remembered that sections of the cave have anoxic conditions making it dangerous to remain in the cave. The removal of the weir would allow theoretically for a faster stream velocity and a flushing out of the anoxic cave contents and an increase in oxygen levels.
We then entered St.Clair cave from the Pollyground site and proceeded to the Lemon Ridge exit. The objective of this trip was for Andreas to familiarize him with that passage of the cave and also for Stefan to get the coordinates of the Lemon Ridge exit. This cave has stunning features and is geologically very interesting as it displays several geological formations as evidenced in the shape of the cave ceilings. Flat ceilings indicate strong bedding planes, common in yellow limestone, and rounded ceilings indicate formation in massively-bedded white limestone. The cave holds some potential for geological students to engage in mapping. The amount of sand, silt and gravel found in this cave was astonishing, particularly as we did not think that the cave represents a stream passage. One of the theories could be that water levels rise in the Acheron and overflow through the Inferno in the Lemon Ridge passage. Another theory could be that Black River during high flow conditions finds its way into the cave system through lateral flows and depositing sand. Stefan collected a number of stones and Andreas will pass it on to the Geology department.
No bat roosts were detected in the Lemon Ridge passage and only small roaches were found in the eastern end. The cave also housed numerous cave crabs. Water filled pools were found in the cave indicating rain water filtering through rock material and dripping into the cave. At the end of the cave we had to go through a 75 m swim. The ceiling was in a particular section very low and one could clearly feel a strong breeze moving from the Pollyground site towards Lemon Ridge. The exit consisted of a 45 degree steep muddy slope. Jan took a first shot at it and reached halfway. I then suggested that I would follow and use him to push me further up. That failed and I slid down for about 5 m. Stef grabbed me in time before I ended up on rocks. Shortly after that Jan lost his footing too and slid down. A new attempt was made to exit the cave via the right side of the Lemon Ridge exit which promised to be more successful as there were some overhanging stalactites which could be used as a brake. After some time, Jan managed to exit the cave and the decision was taken for Stef and Andreas not to climb up the slope as the danger for getting injured by sliding down was too great. Jan did some recon and found the Black River. The suggestion was made that he follow the river course upstream until reaching the Pollyground trail and Stef and Andreas going back through the cave and then meet Jan at Marie’s house. It is to be noted that nobody knew the condition and accessibility of the river section between Lemon Ridge and Pollyground.
While Stef and Andreas made their way through the cave they were greeted by thousands of bats leaving the cave. No bat roosts were detected when going through the cave. We concluded that the bats came from the bat roosts on the Inferno passage and moved through the Lemon Ridge passage. Of interest is where the bats exit the Lemon Ridge passage. When Stef and Andreas went back through the long swim they did not notice bats which would suggest that they exit the cave system at another location. This should be explored at a later date. [Added – emergence might not have been underway during the swim. RS.]
Stef and Andreas were able to quickly move through the Lemon Ridge passage towards the main entrance. Here again thousands of bats were exiting the cave system for foraging. One can conclude that the bats are leaving the cave system via more than one exit.
Stef and Andreas reached Marie’s house first by about 2000 hours and the decision was to wait at least one hour as it was recognized that Jan might have the harder way. By about 2030 hours Jan came into Pollyground, wet tired and having lost both soles of his shoes. This trip called for some cold beers at one of the waterholes. Here we met with residents, particularly ‘Kingman’ a dread. He indicated that when coming out from Lemon Ridge it would be easier to go downstream use the local trail and end up at Orangefield. We took that as a clue and decided to try to find this path.
July 30, 2008
We undertook to enter the Acheron at this day. The conditions were considered favourable as Black River was low and Worthy Park was not producing. After some distance we noted that the temperature got higher and breathing became harder. At some locations we detected H2S odour. After some ¾ of the way we decided to turn back as it became harder to breathe. If there was no production at Worthy Park why then was the air so bad. This was so more astonishing as we had passed that passage on previous trips without problems but encountered bad air at the entrance of the Inferno+. We concluded that the organic material left by the bats accumulated over some months and produced unfavourable breathing conditions. To prove this theory one would need to look at rainfall conditions, stream flow in Black River, and whether Worthy Park was operating or not.
July 31, 2008
This day was reserved for finding the exit of the Lemon Ridge passage via Orangefield as recommended by Kingman. After some questioning we were able to locate the path and a local resident accompanied us. It was quite easy to find the Lemon Ridge exit. We walked through some carved-out limestone arches where we noted a number of bat roosts. We took a GPS reading and left the cave system. The caving expedition ended with a dinner at Jan’s residence.
[More notes for St Clair Cave, July 29-31, RS Stewart.]