Jamaican Caving Notes
March 28, 2005
Position: WGS84 - 18 19' 36.9" N, 77 48' 15.0" W, Alt 440 m
Field notes: R. S. STEWART
Cavers: R. S. Stewart, I. C. Conolley, M. Bellinger
Time in: 18:00 EST, Time out: 20:00 EST
THREAT VULNERABILITY: Medium
This was the second cave visit of the day, after the Hope River Glade Caves. We arrived at the entrance at about 6 PM, having wasted some time en route from Flagstaff thanks to me directing us up the wrong side-road, at the Vaughansfield Housing Project, one road before the one we actually needed to turn down. After sorting this out, we were soon where we needed to be, (using my previous GPS position for the cave, from May 12, 2003, to guide us, and indicate where we should park the car), and then making the short, 150m, walk to the entrance.
This cave was a priority for me, and not just because of the Parks in Peril Project in which we were currently engaged. In 2003, I had spent several hours in the search for the cave, and finally found one somewhat near the listed coordinates, (100m+), which sort of matched JU, but had enough water in it to prevent us entering more than about 30 metres. I'd been left unsure as to whether I'd actually been at Vaughansfield Cave. It had been rainy then. Now, it was very dry. I was hopeful that with this visit I could rid myself of the nagging doubt as to whether I had found the right hole in the ground during the previous try.
To better explain my doubt, I should describe the entrance to the cave, and the area immediately inside. A small seasonal streambed is found crossing the backroad we were on, that leads uphill through farmland, into a thicket of tall grasses. This patch of large and varied weeds hides a pit carved from dirt/clay, that is about 4m deep, and 5m wide, cutting into the slight slope of the hill. It had varied during the two visits, from primarily one pit first time, to perhaps several this time. It is difficult to know, because we couldn't see the entire thing in the tall weeds, just feel it out by chopping and crawling. In 2003, we'd been lucky enough to link with a farmer who knew what was buried in the weeds, and we had Clive to clear the whole thing out with a machete. Once in, I had found a stream-passage, 2m+ high and wide, that extended into the hill no great distance, until it lowered into water leaving only about 25cm of airspace. It had not looked promising, so I'd not tried it. I was left with the thought that perhaps it was a very small cave that one wouldn't have expected to be named, or explored, by Bristol in 1967.
This time, even though I had a position that got us to within 5m of the entrance, (that being the edge of the great stand of grasses and weeds in which it was hidden), from there we had to find a way down into the pit, then crawl around in the thick weeds pushing our heads into dark spots at the sides that were made even darker by the fast-approaching evening twilight. It was very bizzare. After some minutes of shoving, chopping, and worming my way around, I got lucky, and pushed my head into a dark spot that did not end in a dirt-wall. Accordingly, I burrowed forward through the weeds. After a metre, I found myself again entering the passage that I remembered from 2003. I crawled in, stood up, and shouted the good news back to Ivor and Mark.
My enthusiasm to see if the passage was now drier, and passable, caused me to scoot ahead to have a look at things, knowing that the others would catch up soon enough. Within in a minute, I had reached my previous far-point, and found a metre of airspace above the water. An inviting passage stretched out ahead of me. I believe at this point I checked to see if Ivor and Mark were finding their way in, but can't be sure of this. At any rate, I headed up the passage, through the water, to see what was ahead. Soon, the passage became larger again, and the water less deep. I knew that it was against our general guidelines to have one member of the team separated from the others in this fashion, so I figured I'd mitigate things by doing it as quickly as possible and thereby not be out of communication for too long. This was dodgy logic, of course, but I was also taking advantage of being the boss and knowing that I could get away with it. Accordingly, I forged on at an increased pace. I looked carefully for side-passages as I went, and saw nothing of significance, so didn't slow down to flag. As I kept finding the passage leading ever onwards, I knew that this was indeed the right cave, and a good one at that. Bristol University had reached 45m, presumably being there when the water was higher. I had reached less than that during my first visit. I was soon a hundred metres into the cave and the passage carried on, without becoming smaller. Much of it was through water, knee to waist deep, and as I splashed through, noxious bubbles rose from the deep silt that had accumulated in areas of slower flow. This was not enough to cause concern, just enough to make the air a little rank.
In describing this first exploration of the further reaches of the cave, I should not leave the impression that I was trodding willy-nilly on various decapods as I went, as I in fact kept looking down in the clear water ahead of me, and stepped on rocks out of the water whenever possible. I did make good time, though. About 150m into the cave, and this number is very crude, with the passage still leading ahead, my sense of responsibility kicked in, and I returned to find Ivor and Mark.
Back close to the entrance, I found the other two in full survey mode, moving forward with compass and tape, and sketches of cross-sections, through the watery passage. I felt a little guilty, having switched into a pure exploration mindset for my own satisfaction, while they were toiling through the waters doing a survey. (I can say, though, that both on the way in and out, I looked carefully for all the resident inverts, and managed to conduct a decent bioinventory, and have interesting data to list).
Ivor and Mark carried on steadily into the cave, as I assisted at times with measuring left/right, and looked for critters. Survey is time-consuming, and at close to 8 PM, about 100m had been done. We established a semi-permanent station, (big piece of orange flagging wrapped around a large rock that won't move in the flow next rainy-season), and then called it a day. We had spent much time hiking through the bush earlier, we were hungry, and we had a 90 min drive ahead of us.
At the last station of the survey, some 100m in, I know that I had explored over 30m ahead with no sign of an end to the passage.
This cave remains very enticing for me. It can only be successfully explored during the dry-season. It is on the to-do list for when conditions are next right for pushing it further. One must wonder if there is an upstream entrance somewhere beyond my current far-point.
[Notes for the previous visit, on May 12, 2003, can be found here.]
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