Jamaican Caving Notes
May 20, 2005
Team: Stewart, Conolley.
Notes: RS Stewart
This was the last cave that we would visit in the Quick Step district during the Parks in Peril Project, and it was the muddiest. In fact, it was muddy to the point where the author of these notes had a very difficult time getting back out of the lowest section of the cave that was reached.
On Friday, May 20, 2005, the second last day of the expedition, we had again trekked into the bush north of Quick Step, via the Marta Tick trail, in search of Gremlin and Undernose caves. Time had already been invested in our search, on May 7, when we had improved our knowledge of the district, and determined that the best way to Undernose would be via Drowned Hole Gully, and then south. We had hired a local man, Robert Andrew Green, to assist us with a machete, because both Ivor and I were truly exhausted by this point. I have never moved as slowly though the Cockpit Country bush as I did this day, and was stumbling, rather than hiking. Nevertheless, we accomplished quite a lot, and lived to tell the tale.
The sequence of events for the day follows (more information can be found in the Gremlin Cave notes): After reaching Drowned Hole Gully, and swinging south, we first hit what could be Linda's Minipit, but did not descend into it to confirm this. Next, we found a cave (I will call it Cave 1, for now) in a cockpit that was part of Long Glade Valley, but the position did not match the listed coordinates for Undernose (off by 270 metres), so we georeferenced it, and kept going, intending to check it on the way back when we had things sorted out better. Once we had reached the glade that supposedly held Undernose Cave (positions had been transformed to WGS84 and entered into the GPS prior to our visit), we quickly found an apparently deep, simple shaft, that was very close to the listed position for Rolling Rock Pit, and we believe that this is indeed what it was (coordinates entered in entry for Rolling Rock, found above). We did not descend into this, as it was not one of our targets, but spread out to search for a possible match to Undernose in the surrounding glade. There were five of us, and we combed the terrain looking for another opening, but had no luck. We might have missed something, but I think it is unlikely. We now decided to forge on to the south to see if we could find Gremlin where it was supposed to be, and had good luck, soon finding it only tens of metres from the listed position. After investigating Gremlin, we returned to the north, looked again for Undernose where it should have been (near Rolling Rock Pit), and then gave up and moved on to the first cave we had found on the way in, 270m from the listed coords for Undernose.
*Before I describe our exploration of what we believe to be Undernose (Cave 1), I must note several things: There is no JU cave listed in the position where we found Cave 1. The entrance aspect of Cave 1, that we measured, is a good match for the NSS Undernose map. Where Undernose is listed to be, we could find no cave, just a shaft that is likely Rolling Rock. We were using a GPS receiver with an external antenna, and were getting solid positions most of the time. These positions when plotted on the topos afterwards matched perfectly our recollections of the topography where we had taken them (cockpit bottoms where they should be, etc). We have found some of the NSS positions from 1985/86 to be in error by hundreds of metres (Penthouse Cave is the most extreme case). Again, there were five of us searching the bush, and we spread out when necessary.
Upon reaching Cave 1, we tied a light 60m line to a solid tree above the opening, and rappelled in. Although the entry isn't vertical, it is steep enough, and it was muddy enough, that we felt it best to use vertical gear. We descended down over a series of boulders at about 45 deg for about 15m to arrive in a breakdown chamber about 12m wide. At the furthest, low, end, there were fissures and voids that were heavily mudded. The NSS map indicates that if we were truly in Undernose Cave, we should have found a way down through these to reach a sizeable area of cave below us. After looking closely at things, I decided to try the most likely looking route. This route required me to slide on my stomach over a large, muddy boulder, on the side of the chamber, while trying to not slip off and fall four metres to the lowest part of the chamber to my right. This was done, and I carefully slid further, head-first, into a small downward sloping chamber, about 3m long, 1.5m high, and 2m wide. Ahead of me, a fissure extended lower, and I became concerned that I might slide into this in an uncontrolled fashion, and have real problems. I asked Ivor to toss in the end of the rope, and managed to hook it with one of my feet and draw it towards me it so that I could get on-rope (I still had my harness on). Having done this, I turned around so that I could descend feet first, and worked my way to the fissure. I could see down several metres into this, and observed that the pitch led circuitously through the rock, mostly vertical. All of the surfaces were caked with thick, wet clay/mud, and it looked dicey. Because of the confusion with the coordinates for Undernose, and this cave, the only real way to confirm things was to try to find the lower sections that should exist below me, so I decided to try it. I rappelled into the fissure. I was only able to manage another four metres down, and then reached a solid mud-choke, and could not continue without a shovel (which I did not have, and it would have been dangerous in the extreme, anyway). After spending several minutes looking for any way onwards, with no luck, I gave up and rigged for ascent. This ascent, albeit short, was one of the trickier times I have had in a cave, and it was only with great work (and several bruises and scrapes courtesy of the few sections of relatively clean rock), that I managed to get out. It was tight, it was not a straight route, the mud filled my ascenders as I tried to move up, and there was a long length of light line that stretched whenever I moved. However, I eventually again reached the small chamber where I had started. I slid out to the main room, and began to haul the rope out. It moved several metres, and then despite great tugging by Ivor and me, it would move no more. I was tempted to cut the rope, but instead did the responsible thing and slid back into the small chamber to try to free it from there. I dreaded having to go down into the fissure again. Fortunately, I was able to haul the rope from that point, and then get back out. [A note on the rope - it is a 60 metre long, thin 9mm line that we bring when we don't want too much of a load, but it is almost like a dynamic rope once enough length is run out.]
Biologically, this cave is much like Gremlin, except that we saw no crickets, and I will quote from those notes:
"This cave serves as an occasional bat-roost, probably of light-tolerant species such as Artibeus. Guano was limited to spots and splashes on the muddy boulders. No bats were present during our visit, but it appeared that there had been bats present at times since Hurricane Ivan. Crickets are in abundance, and a number of E. cundalli, but no trog species were seen. The cave appears to have been flooded in at least the lower section during Ivan, and this flooding might also occur during normal rainy-seasons (we have no proof either way). The siltation that accompanied the flooding has covered older guano deposits, rendering them unavailable is a food input for invertebrates, and this mud coating will also no doubt inhibit the success of microinvertebrate colonies. The mud that we are talking about is very fine-grained, and very dense - it is not an accumulation of "top-soil". Opportunistic terrestrial species, such as the eleuth frogs, and the Artibeus bats, have no problem re-colonising, but true troglobites might have difficulties becoming established in this cave due to seasonal flooding. At any rate, we saw none during our visit."
*With regard to which cave this actually is: For the reasons noted above, we assume that this is Undernose Cave, and that access to the lower part was prevented because of hurricane-induced flooding and siltation, but we must assign the position as tentative for now.
After having a good look for critters in the main chamber, we hauled ourselves out, and started the long hike back to the car. This was not easy for me, and I was very shaky on my feet. I managed to tear off part of a fingernail on a jagged rock at one point, while arresting a fall. I had now been caving, and hiking, almost solidly for 18 days, and had totally run out of steam. There would be one more day after this, but our targets were simpler, easier caves, intentionally left in anticipation of this state of affairs.
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