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Jan 26, 2004


Position: WGS84 - 18 23' 49.1" N, 77 54' 34.9" W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

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

Time in: 12:30 EST, Time out: 14:00 EST


This third day of the first JCO expedition of 2004 was devoted to the St James assessment project. The project, as submitted to NEPA, consists of doing a standardardized assessment of all of the caves and sinkholes in the parish. The targets are located by putting all of the cave positions, as listed in a .dbf database adopted from A. G Fincham's work, onto the digitized 1:50,000 topo maps using ArcView, and then with printed copies, trying to actually find the things. They are rarely found at the listed positions. This lack of accuracy is because of two factors: The coordinates are stated to the nearest 100 m in Jamaica Metre Grid, (JAD69). The positions as listed by the various caving clubs and geological departments were determined by visual comparison of the surrounding topological features of the site with the topo maps. This is difficult to do successfully in the hills and valleys of Jamaica. As a result, the listed positions are at times out by over 500 metres.

The inaccuracy of the listed positions exists only until we, the JCO, have found the cave for the first time. At that point, a WAAS-enabled GPS position is taken, and the location of that particular cave entrance is determined to +/- 5 m, or less. This new set of WGS84 coordinates becomes part of the GPS Register, which is our improved version of the list.

I have opened this account of our visit to Whelton Cave with the foregoing description of the location and referencing process to explain the "how and why" of our various discoveries of new caves during the course of this expedition. Whelton Cave, like the three Rice Bottom Caves, was found while searching for Lawson Bottom, a previously mapped and listed cave that is in Fincham's "Jamaica Underground". Lawson Bottom, along with Windsor Castle, Micey Gully, and Mocho, are the four caves listed in JU for the Roehampton district of St James. Mocho had already been visited, and the other three would be visited this session, assessed, and referenced. We would then move south to Mafoota and do the same. This systematic search method, district by district, should eventually result us in finding all of the listed caves and sinkholes for the entire parish. As it turned out, we never found the phantom Lawson Bottom Cave, but discovered four new caves in our pursuit of it. If this pattern continues, by the time the St James assessment project is complete, we will probably have ended up visiting over 100 new caves in addition to the apx 95 listed in the JU Register. With the new caves discovered this session, on top of the ones we already have from Chatsworth, we are already up to about 20 additions to the Register for this parish.

Sarah, Martel, and myself began the day by searching for Lawson Bottom. It is listed with grid coordinates, in JU, as being several hundred metres to the SSW of Roehampton School Cave, a previous discovery of ours. There is a very good map of Lawson Bottom Cave and a description, "in a depression about 300 m SE of Roehampton School, a path 200 m west of a cottage at Homestead leads to the entrance". We began our search for it to the SSW of Roehampton School, at the listed grid coords. We asked everyone we encountered if they knew of it, but had no luck. We then drove back up to the main and to the Roehampton Crossroads, which is close to the text-described position. We once again linked with a group of local people who hang out there, and who had been of help on the Saturday, two days before, when we were looking for Windsor Castle Cave. Out of this group, we were to receive great assistance over the next two days.

Our assistants didn't know of Lawson Bottom Cave by name, but did know of several caves in the district. Amongst these was Micey Gully Cave, one of out targets, but I decided that we would first visit the ones that they knew of in the area of Lawson Bottom. The first that we went to turned out to be a fine stream-passage cave, unlisted, unmapped, and our second new cave of the expedition. They knew of it as Whelton Cave, (spelling uncertain).

The entrance is 8 m, 110 deg from Wpt 19, and is found under a low cliff a very short distance east of a small road. It is about 10 m wide and 3 m high and leads into a SW trending passage that is 3 to 5 m high for 20 m, and then turns to the NW and becomes very low, less than 1 m for another 30 m. At this point, a drop of 2.5 m takes one down into an active stream-passage. This stream-passage is about 1 m wide, and 2 high, and runs back under the upper level, descending through a series of small rimstone pools. The height of the passage slowly lowers, and it becomes more narrow, until after about 25 m the water was high enough, and the ceiling low enough, that we turned around to head back. It should be noted that the passage could be followed further, especially during the dry-season.

The cave, like the nearby Roehampton School Cave, is in strongly-bedded Montpelier limestone and has developed accordingly. Like the other caves we found in the district, it consists of stream-carved passages leading between strata of very hard rock. Formation of stals is limited because of this, but echinolith is regular. Breakdown processes are limited in the stream-passages because of these hard bedding-planes and the passages can run for great distances, although not necessarily of a size that allows exploration. The hardness of the rock also appears to limit the development in the width and height of the passages.

Sesarma Verleyii, (crabs), were present in good numbers in the streamway. A small number of bats, probably Artibeus, are roosting in the outer chambers. In these same chambers there are many millipedes that are associated with the guano.

The cave takes water from the bottomland beside which it sits during the rainy-season, although the lower active passage is evidently being fed from underground sources even during drier times. The entrance is high enough above the floor of the bottomland, about 2 m, that it only receives surface water during times of very heavy rain and is not experiencing any notable siltation problems. For this reason, and also because of the crawl that discourages access to the lower streamway, we are listing the Threat Vulnerability as low. All of the assessment indicators have been entered into the database along with referencing info.

Whelton Cave, St James, Jamaica

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