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JCO notes for Windsor Great Cave, Trelawny, Jamaica

R. S. Stewart

Cavers: Susan Koenig, Geo Graening, Shelley McGinnis, Guy Graening, Stefan Stewart, Martel "Malibu" Taylor, Ivor Conolley, Sun Downer, Guy van Rentergem, Rona Stirling, Mark Bellinger, Delroy Williams, Dietrich Roggy, Mike Loftin.

Windsor Great Cave - Upper Entrance The following notes describe caving activity carried out by the JCO in the Windsor Caves for the years 2002-2005.

We present first an excerpt from a report delivered to The Nature Conservancy - Jamaica in the Autumn of 2005. It describes the cave and presents an account of a visit made on April 4 that was carried out by the JCO (under contract to TNC-J) as part of The Parks in Peril Project. Windsor was one of over 75 caves that were explored, assessed, and georeferenced in the course of the work.

Notes and data for all of the Cockpit Country caves visited during the PiP Project are gradually being put online as time permits. The full 300 page report, which includes not only the notes, but also overviews of the geology and hydrology of the various districts, detailed maps, photographs, and an interactive database, will soon be available in a print version with accompanying CD-R. Information will be posted on this page (and others) regarding purchase when we have things ready to go.

Following the PiP report excerpt are notes for other visits that were carried out through 2002-2004. (Visits to Windsor Cave by members of the JCO began in the late 1980's, but it was not until 2001-2002 that any of us began to consistently record proper trip reports for our cave explorations.)

All who read these accounts are reminded that caves are very special places. Please do not use any information gathered from these notes to in any way harm or threaten the caves. Also, please do not take Windsor Cave lightly; if you go too far, at the wrong time of year, it will kill you.

Windsor Great Cave

April 4, 2005 - 10:30-14:00 EST


District: Windsor

Parish: Trelawny

WGS84 L/L: 18 21 04.7; 77 38 51.1 (Main)


JAD69: 181449 E, 188714 N (Main)

JAD2001: 681560 E, 689003 N (Main)

Altitude: 135m WGS84

Accuracy: +/- 10m horizontal; +/- 20m vertical

Type: Complex cave

Accessibility: Walk-in / vertical gear

Depth: ~80m

Length: 2980m

Explorers: GSD; JCC; KHE

Survey: BRG McGrath; KHE - 1966

JU Ref: Text - pgs 378-382; Map - pg 379; 380


Entrance size: Main - 1m W x 2m H

Entrance aspect: 0 deg true

Vegetation in general locale: Farm, bush

Vegetation at entrance: Bush

Rock type: White limestone

Bedding: Poor

Jointing: Moderate

Speleothems: Stals, flow, echino, helic, microgours

Palaeo resources: None

Archaeo resources: None

Hydrology: Seasonal river

Siltation: Low

Sink: Dry

Rising: Dry

Stream passage with surface activity: Pooled

Stream passage without surface activity: N/A

Dark zone: 99%.

Climate: Cool, humid.

Bats: >50000

Bat guano: Much

Guano mining: Historical

Guano condition: Fresh/fluff and Dry/compact

Eleutherodactylus cundalli: Yes

Neoditomyia farri: Yes

Amblypygids: Yes

Periplaneta americana: Yes

Cave crickets: Yes

Sesarma: Yes

Other species: Collembola - Troglopedetes jamaicanus.

Visitation: Frequent

Speleothem damage: None

Graffiti: Much

Garbage: Some

Ownership: Private - WWF

Protection: None


Vulnerability: High. This cave has a large bat-roost, a diverse collection of invertebrates, and delicate formations. It has seen much visitation over the years, has been mined for guano, and continues to experience tourism. Further comments will be found in the notes below.


Windsor Great Cave (and Flood Rising)

April 4, 2005

Team: Stewart, Roggy, Loftin.
Notes: RS Stewart

Main Entrance: WGS84 - 18 21 04.7; 77 38 51.1; Alt: 135; Accuracy: +/- 10m
Upper Entrance: WGS84 - 18 21 00.1; 77 38 45.2; Alt: 205; Accuracy:  +/- 25m
Bamboo Bottom Entrance: WGS84 - 18 20 26.3, 77 38 44.4; Alt: 145; Accuracy: +/- 15m
Flood Rising: WGS84 - 18 21 03.9; 77 38 47.7; Alt: 125; Accuracy: +/- 15m

Windsor Cave is one of the better-known caves on the island. This is, no doubt, because it is not only easy to access, but is large, and impressive. The JCO crew know it well, and have visited it a number of times over the years. However, in April 2005, none of us had gone through to Bamboo Bottom in about five years, having concentrated our efforts on trying to find new ground in the Lower Stream Passage. We decided that for the PiP visit to this target, we would attempt to travel through the cave to Bamboo Bottom, and then visit Flood Exit Cave afterwards. It had been very dry for some time, especially in the suspected upstream catchment for the cave at Rock Spring, so we were hopeful that our route would not be flooded in the lower sections of the Bamboo Bottom passage as is common during rainy times. This would turn out to be the case, and during our passage we found the water level the lowest that I have personally seen it in the 7-8 times I've been through.

Before I discuss Windsor Cave proper, I will give a description of the seasonal resurgence found near the Main Entrance, the Flood Rising. We didn't visit it this day, but I have been into it three times in the past.

Not far before the Main Entrance is reached, below a large v-shaped indentation in the cliff, the track crosses over a large boulder collapse. This is the resurgence. In the dry season, by squeezing through the boulders towards the cliff, and worming your way down, you can find a passage that eventually ends at a terminal sump about 50 metres in. This is wide (>12m), and deep (>3). I have been in this several times before, including a session when I swam around the edges of the sump to see if it could be pushed, but have not been able to penetrate beyond this point. It is possible that in extended periods of drought the water level could drop low enough to pass this sump (but this thought may be wishful thinking on my part). I wonder if this may be so because in rainy times, when the resurgence is active, the flow can be very great and seems more than what fractured rock could supply. In the upstream direction, several hundred metres away, is the downstream end of the Lower Stream Passage. We know that this passage is the part of the cave that carries the bulk of the flow in flood-times - in Jun 2002 we observed the passage from Bamboo Bottom, at the base of the First Drop, flooded and flowing down into the LSP. At the end of the LSP, there is a small hole, high in the last little chamber, that leads on, but it is too small to pass through. Down low, there is a sump, and in the past, by kicking my legs in here, it felt like it carried on under the wall above. We surmise that there is a passage that connects the Lower Stream Passage to the Flood Rising. Both ends are sumped even during dry-season, but this does not mean that the entire passage is permanently flooded. We are of the thought that diving with scuba gear at the Flood Rising sump, in mid to late March, might result in interesting discoveries.

Now, we will move on to Windsor Great Cave.

Mike Loftin and Dietrich Roggy, in addition to being members of the JCO, are with the American Peace Corps. As one of their activities with our crew, they had been taking video footage of some of our outings over the last months using a very good camera on loan from the Montego Bay Marine Park, and then assembling this into educational videos. Nothing had been done on this front yet during the PiP Project, and they had asked if they could bring the camera along to Windsor to see what they could get. I saw no problem with this, and when also told that they would have good lighting, the idea seemed even better. In the larger chambers of Windsor, a headlamp shows only part of what is around you - I'd never really seen something like "Wharf" in its entirety, all at once. We would have to keep the lights and camera off while going through the bat-roosts at Jaram Top and Royal Flat, but on the large slimy boulders found at Jaram Top, a person needs both hands available, so footage would not have been possible anyway, bats or no bats. [Two excerpts from the video can be found on the photos page.]

Before I begin the account of the trip, lest anyone think that we lost focus of the priorities of the project on this day, let me assure the readers that specimens were collected, and observations made during our visit; biological notes will be found lower on the page.

Windsor Cave April 4, 2005 We arrived at the Main Entrance at a decent hour in the morning, and after a short spiel/intro on camera by me (D and Mike being the videographers, and staying generally off-camera), we headed in. Dietrich had two large handheld lights, blindingly bright if you looked at them, and as I led the way, Mike and D followed, all the while trying to arrange their positions so that they could film me with adequate lighting. It was certainly a different way to move through the cave than what I'm used to. When I looked forward, the view was astounding, but if I glanced back, I was blinded by the lights and completely lost my dark-adaptation (in fact, seeing nothing but glowing after-images of the bulbs for a minute afterwards). I alternated between states of seeing the cave like I'd never seen it before, and stumbling over rocks half-blind, not even being able to tell if my headlamp was on, all the while knowing I was on camera and trying not to blink and squint like a madman. When we arrived at the beginning of the climb up the giant breakdown boulders of Jaram Top, and stopped filming, I was able to get back into my normal mode of travel in a cave, that is, moving however is best, and not thinking about on-film posture.

Once past Jaram Top, and far enough into Royal Flat so that we were well beyond the roost, we resumed filming. Things were better now, because we were in the giant old phreatic tube that heads south to the First Drop, and Mike and D were well back behind me where I wasn't as prone to look at them. Our travel through the cave now became fantastic for me. When the entire extent of the Royal Flat and Wharf chambers is illuminated, the nature of the cave's formation is perfectly displayed. You can see along the entire length the great scallops and swirls created by the old flow through this fossil phreatic passage. What in lesser lighting seems almost like separate chambers, when seen in full is observed to be just minor constrictions in the diameter of the pipe. A perfectly semi-circular cross-section is seen, and it is obvious that you are in the top half of a cylinder that has been filled with sediment in the lower half. As it turned out afterwards, much of this did not show on video, but it hardly matters to me, because it is all still cached in my mind like a film.

The large chambers were soon left behind and upon reaching the low sections before the First Drop the camera was turned off. Now, it was moving on through to the drop, and then rigging of the vertical and a descent into the next section of the cave.

At the bottom of the First Drop, there is a muddy pit to the right (west). To the left (east) through boulders, is a second pitch into the Lower Stream Passage. Straight ahead to the south is a large passage that eventually becomes small and finally exits at Bamboo Bottom. We have spent much time in the Lower Stream Passage, and know it to have Sesarma verleyi in good numbers. I have been into the pit to the right (several years ago), and found it mud-choked and difficult to get back out of. It is still of interest, though, because it has potential for exploration if it ever gets flushed of mud. The appearance of the mud is much like a rising, rather than a sink, but it could easily act as both when this part of the passage floods. I have seen (June, 2002) the water level standing roughly 20 metres higher than the Lower Stream Passage in this part of the cave (most of the way up the First Drop), so there is certainly a lot of water rising and falling as the phreatic zone moves. I note this because I had a close look at the western pit when we were there this time, and it appeared much less muddy than it has in the past. I had not been there since Hurricane Ivan, the autumn before, and it seemed to me as though there might have been a flushing event during Ivan. We had started out with one rope, and it had been left at the First Drop in case we could not get through the Canal near Bamboo Bottom, so there was no way to have a look. This means that I have nothing definite to report on the current status of the western pit, but I present the observation here anyway as a heads-up to cavers in the future - the nature of the mud-choke changes, and it might be pushed in certain years to an area at the same level as the Lower Stream Passage.

We carried on south, towards Bamboo Bottom, using the camera only occasionally, but we did take time to get video of the sand found between the First Drop and the turn down to the east at the start of the low, final Bamboo Bottom passage. This sand, apparently from a cretaceous central inlier, is found in only one place in the cave, and it is a permanent feature despite occasional floods over top of it. Immediately above it is an unexplored gallery. Exploration has never occurred because it is about five metres above the part of the passage closest to it, and will require either bolts or a scaling-pole. This part of the cave is over a kilometre from the main entrance, so a scaling-pole would have to be sectional for transport. Bolts are dicey in the rock in Windsor. As a result, no one has ever explored the gallery to see where the sand is coming from. The gallery will be found easily by watching for the sand, and then looking up to the west.

When we were stopped at the sand, I noticed that there was a good breeze. This was encouraging, as it meant that the Canal was open, and we could indeed pass through to Bamboo Bottom. I should note that one does not usually feel the breeze this deep into the cave. It was apparent why this was so when we reached the Canal, for it was unusually low, and the corresponding air space above relatively large. It should be remembered that we were at the tail-end of a very long, severe drought in the central and western parishes of the island.

After a quick bit of wading through the Canal, and a brief stop to refresh my memory of the final, small side-passage that heads off to the east, we popped out into Bamboo Bottom. We did a last couple of minutes of video, I refined my old GPS position for the entrance (it was pretty close already), and headed for Flood Exit Cave.

Now, I should address the bat-roosts found at Windsor Cave, for they are one of the cave's most important biological features. The part of the cave best known for its bats, Jaram Top/northern Royal Flat, is actually an extension of a much greater roost that is found in a very large chamber to the east of Royal Flat. This chamber has no name, but we usually refer to it as the Main Roost. It leads to the Upper Entrance and is reached from inside the cave via a medium-sized semi-circular opening on the east side of Royal Flat. To find it, journey south over Jaram Top, follow the usual track, and when you've reached the start of the flats, turn left (east) and cross over the large boulders that run along the centre of the passage (note that the main track here is on the west wall). At a point when you're still high on the boulders, carefully scan along the bottom of the east wall with a tight beam on the headlamp and you will see it. If you decide to go through (and we do not recommend this), the route to the upper entrance is along the south side of the Main Roost until the great talus slope of the Upper Entrance is reached. Ascend the talus slope on the north side, not the centre or south, and move carefully - the pitch is close to 45 deg, the material is at its angle of repose, and it is liable to fall downslope. The talus is a mix of dirt, small stones, medium boulders, and large boulders. You do not want to cause this to move when you are on it. The depth of apx 80m given for the cave in the table found above these notes is from this upper entrance to the Flood Rising. This is determined by GPS and could be as low as 65m.

The Main Roost itself is a large elliptical breakdown chamber that in no way resembles the map of the cave in JU. In the centre, the boulders are enormous and covered with thick, moist, slippery guano. If you climb up these, you will see voids between that drop over 10 metres. It is very dangerous. I've been up there twice, while exploring for extensions on the other side (none found), and have no plans to do it again. The poor rendering of this part of the cave on the KHE map of 1966 is no doubt because the entire section is so difficult to move around in. The fungal gnats are also very numerous, and it is hard to use a headlamp because of them (they swarm the lights by the hundreds). In fact, as far as I know, no one has passed through here or come down from the Upper Entrance in over 10 years, other than my own explorations and a trip when I brought Susan Koenig down from the Upper Entrance.

This lack of activity in the Main Roost is fortunate, because there is a corresponding lack of human disturbance. We once saw two men who had come in from the Main Entrance (not local residents of Windsor) taking some bags of guano from just inside the chamber, but there are no signs of extraction further in. This is probably because of the difficulty involved in walking here, and the many gnats.

The guano in most of the main phreatic passage of Windsor, through Royal Flat to Wharf, has been mined and this started many years ago. In the Main Roost, there are still thick, fluffy deposits. In fact, in one place there is a volcano-shaped mound of fluffy guano over two metres high that is directly under a particularly good roosting-spot located above in a large pocket on the ceiling. The significance of these guano deposits is in the biota they support, and the palaeoclimatic records they preserve. Collembola, of the species Troglopedetes jamaicanus, are most abundant here, grazing on the fungi and bacteria growing on the guano. Fungal gnats, dependent ultimately on the guano, exist in great numbers and in turn support a varied collection of invertebrate predators, including troglobitic spiders (Nesticidae fam), and larval Neodytomyia farri. The deeper strata of the deposits will record conditions in the climate of the land outside the cave that could extend back for thousands of years (that is, for as long as bats have been using this chamber as a roost).

We ask that any who read these notes to feel no urge to explore the Main Roost. We have looked carefully several times and there are no extensions. In our opinion, this part of the cave should be considered off-limits, and this includes the JCO.

Invertebrates are also common throughout the rest of the upper, dry parts of the cave, and amongst these is the invasive roach, Periplaneta americana, possibly carried in during guano extraction, hitch-hiking in with fertilizer bags that were used repeatedly. The numbers are not staggeringly great, as at some other bat-roosts (e.g. Geneva Mountain, St Clair Cave), but this could be just a matter of time. The damage that these pests cause is primarily a result of them out-competing other scavengers for food resources. In St Clair Cave, it is difficult to find any invertebrates other than roaches (and some S. verleyi). It might be instructive to conduct a long-term monitoring project of the P. americana density at Windsor by counting numbers in selected marked quadrats. This might only need to be done several times a year (March, June, August, November), and would not involve much time or investment.

Monitoring of the bats at Windsor Cave has been carried out by the Windsor Research Centre, and they have found there to be at least 11 species, with a possible 12th, Ariteus flavecens, using it as a temporary roost. The WRC work has shown the most common Chiropteran species to be: Mormoops blainvilli, Pteronotus parnellii, Glossophaga soricina, and Artibeus jamaicensis.

Far beyond the roosting chambers, and past the First Drop, is the section of the cave that is hydrologically active. The entire southern section floods in particularly rainy times, and the lowest passages regularly go underwater in May-Jun and Oct-Nov. This is where the cave's stygobites are found, cave-adapted crabs of the species Sesarma Verleyi. Curiously, the mis-named S. windsor, is not in Windsor Cave, but is found in the SE Cockpit Country at Rock Spring (noted and identified by the JCO at Printed Circuit Cave during the PiP Project). The numbers of S. verleyi are high throughout the southern part of the cave (dozens seen), but even more so in the Lower Stream Passage during dry-times. Despite looking, we have not found the trog shrimp, Troglocubanus jamaicensis that is found in the nearby Flood Exit Cave. This does not mean that they aren't in Windsor, but if they are, they're not common.

The hydrology of Windsor Cave has already been addressed in the introductory notes for the caves of the Windsor district, and we will not go into it further here than to again note that the upstream activity of the Windsor system is not entirely understood, and could use further investigation.

We are listing Windsor Great Cave with a high vulnerability for two reasons: the possibility of the resumption of guano extraction (and especially the damage that would be caused by this occurring in the Main Roost), and the tourist activity that is not as controlled as it might be.

Although there is a Cave Warden, of sorts (un-paid at this time other than his tourist activities), he has no current official status, and no way to report to the owners (the World Wildlife Fund). If a truckload of guano miners suddenly arrived, courtesy of some fly-by-night exporter such as the well-known "Bat-shit Bob", there is no mechanism in place to stop them. No doubt, NEPA would be informed, and they would be concerned, but if the owners, the WWF, cannot be contacted easily, and if there is no liaison in place on their end, much destruction could result before the situation is resolved. The foregoing is hypothetical, but not unrealistic.

With regard to tourism, we can make several recommendations on how damage can be at least mitigated, because it seems unlikely that tourism will be halted here at any time in the immediate future:

First, traffic must be restricted to the most commonly used track in the cave. At present, people wander wherever, especially from Royal Flat south, and the material on the floor is churned or compacted over a great area. A solution would be to mark one definite track with reflective flagging on PVC pipes stuck into the mud on the floor, and put a sign at the entrance that states visitors must stay on this route. Granted, there will be a continuous linear feature of compacted sediment as a result that will act as a barrier for microinvertebrates in the material on the floor. But, the effect on the current microinvert biota would not be so great for two reasons: The sections of the cave now used for tourism already have a track, well-used, that grows ever wider, and the material on the floor where the current track runs is not loose, fluffy guano - it is well-trodden dirt and mud. Restricting the traffic to one narrow track, where occasional bat-roosts are found (i.e. Wharf to Brer Rabbit) will allow areas on either side to recover. The marked track would end at the First Drop. This is, of course, not as good a solution as banning tourism from the cave entirely, but it is doubtful that this could be done.

Second, disruption of the bat-roost along the track is also a concern, with bats in a panic and using valuable energy reserves every time tourists go through and try to have a good, well-lit look at the bats. A possible improvement on this is a sign that asks people to move through here quietly, and to not shine lights on the ceiling. There will still be disruption, but perhaps it will be lessened somewhat.

Lastly, the Cave Warden should have some sort of official status and be able to communicate directly with the WWF. Commensurate with this, the Warden should receive further education on the vulnerabilities of the cave. Occasional monitoring of his activities should take place to ensure that he is indeed attempting to assist in the preservation of the system. At present, his income is primarily derived by taking tourists into the cave (he receives no pay from the WWF), thereby creating a real conflict of interest. He will not be inclined to say "No" to a tourist, if this is where he gets his daily bread. However this situation is resolved, it is clear to us that the current state of affairs is not adequate and there must be an improvement if preservation is to be effective.

Windsor Great Cave

April 4, 2005

Notes: DK Roggy

Stefan, Mike and myself went through this cave from the entrance all the way to the end, at Bamboo Bottom.  I carried a dual lamp 10W HID Scuba light that we'd borrowed from Mike's office.  Mike video-ed and Stefan put on a show for the camera.  This rig was seriously awesome, and allowed us illuminate some of the larger spaces. 

We dealt with the difficulties of carrying the equipment and filming the video while all the little insects at the main bat roost flew into our eyes, noses, ears, etc.  We took the equipment down the first drop and continued on, through the 1m water in the streamway, until we emerged at Bamboo Bottom. 

In retrospect, I'd have liked to have had 3 times the light in order to cover the entirety of some of the larger passages.  I also think it might have been nice if we'd had a wide angle lens to capture the size of some of the larger passages and to get a better sense for the perspective of the first drop.  Mike and Stef were placed at the bottom of the first drop and filmed myself descending.  Because they were so close to the muddy slope that I was descending, the perspective is a little weird, and I think a wide angle lens might have helped that a bit. 

Mar 27, 2004


Position: Main Entrance: WGS84 - 18 21' 04.9" N, 77 38' 50.9" W

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, I. C. Conolley, M. Bellinger, G. van Rentergem, R. Stirling, D. Williams

Time in: 11:00 EST, Time out: 20:30 EST


Bellinger, Stirling, Williams, Conolley, van Rentergem, Stewart Saturday, March 27, was the first day of the new expedition. The day before, Guy van Rentergem had flown in from Belgium, I had flown in from Canada, and Mark and Ivor had arrived from Kingston. None of us had actually arrived at Miss Lilly's, in Coxheath, en route to Windsor, until about 10:00 PM, and none of us were asleep until well after midnight. This was a normal start to one of our expeditions; our first day of caving is spent somewhat hung-over and in need of more sleep.

We had decided to do Windsor Caves the first day for two reasons: it required no driving, and we very much desired to finish our exploration of the Lower Streamway, this expedition, while the water table was low. We had not had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in the basement of Windsor Cave for a full year, locked out due to flood risk.

At 11:00 AM, the team was assembled at the Main Entrance, and we entered the cave to begin our journey to the first drop. The route through Jaram Top, Royal Flat, Wharf, and then the Brer Rabbit shortcut to the top of the first drop, took us a full hour. This was perhaps due to the size of the team, and because we had a new caver with us. When we make this trip with a team of only three, experienced, cavers, it usually takes 30 minutes.

Upon reaching the top of the first pitch, a rope was tied and tossed down, and then a brief demonstration of how to rappel was given to our new caver. The drop is more of a mud-slope than vertical, so it was presumed that this would be a good first practice pitch, it having been used several times in the past by us for that purpose.

I rapped down first, and hindsight tells me that I shouldn't have, for apparently some difficulties were encountered by our new caver, and despite advice and encouragement by the more experienced members of the team who still remained above, at the end of it we had only Stewart, Conolley, Bellinger, and van Rentergem at the bottom of the first drop. The time spent for this descent was over 45 minutes compared to our usual 10.

We were, at last, close to beginning to accomplish the work intended for the day; a final, definitive map of the Lower Streamway.

Things now kicked into high-gear and began to go very smoothly. The descent down the second drop was soon done and the survey began.

We divided into two teams. Ivor and Mark took exploration, and Guy and myself took survey. Over the next several hours, we completed the exploration of the Lower Streamway, (or perhaps didn't, because a possible way on was found), and also the mapping of those parts of the system that we had not done before, (i.e. most of it).

Ivor and Mark had the fun part, ranging ahead in search of more cave, while Guy and I did the very necessary station by station collection of bearings, distances, and slopes. My turn would eventually come for the fun part at Roehampton School Cave the following weekend, where Mark and Guy slowly worked their way surveying through the passages, while Ivor and I were out front.

After more than two hours, Guy and I eventually caught up with Mark and Ivor at the north end of the main stream passage. They had reached the end of the currently do-able route and awaited us for consultation. At the south end of a pooled section of the passage, we at last re-united and were able to learn what they had found.

Mark and Ivor, after wading/swimming through the waters, had found a scramble up to a very small opening into what might be a continuing passage, but they reported that it was too tight to get through. Time was getting late, and we had two cavers still waiting at the top of the first drop, so it was agreed that Mark and Ivor would head back to join with the others while Guy and I would cross the pool, further along the passage, to have a look. Ivor and Mark headed back to recover our waiting cavers, and Guy and I pushed into the waters to see what could be seen.

At the northernmost part of the Lower Streamway, there are two ways on. One is underwater; the other is high and dry, and very small. The sumped route might never be possible, or only after a very, very long drought. The small upper way, a hole of some 40 cm width, offers potential but will require some work. It apparently carries on, for Guy's shouts into the tiny passage echoed back with a resonance more than what a dead-end would supply. A return visit, to pursue this, is accordingly being put on our to-do list, and we will have a go at it next dry-season with appropriate equipment.

Having had a good look, and having had found potential that must wait for another day, Guy and I began our return to the upper level of Windsor Cave.

We made good time, back to the scramble out of the Streamway that takes one up into the second drop chamber. At this point, we began to survey once again to complete the initial section of the route that had not been done on our way in, thereby tying it into the survey for the upper level. While doing this, we could hear the others at the first drop, still making their way out of the cave. I found this curious, expecting that they would have been much further ahead of us by this time, but when our turn came on this same pitch, I would understand the reason for the delay.

When Guy and I had ascended the second drop, pulled rope, and then moved to the base of the first drop, it was after 6:00 PM. I had had no opportunity since my arrival on the island the night before to pick up batteries, and the second set of those that I had brought down, changed some hours before, were now getting rapidly dimmer. I will chalk this up to first-day disorganization, but nevertheless I had no other batteries, or lights, that were likely to last until we were out of the cave. I was now running on the assumption that out of the six cavers in the cave, there would be enough light left to enable the guide, that being me, to lead us back home. I was also hopeful that we could cruise out from the first drop in our usual 30 minutes. This was not to be.

I must at this point give great thanks to Ivor for his knowledge and experience of Windsor Cave. When he and Mark had ascended the first drop, Ivor had concerns as to whether the rope had been pulled up by their very muddy ascent and was now unreachable for Guy and I. In fact, it was, and Ivor's remaining at the top of the first drop until Guy and I reached the bottom was instrumental in ensuring that we indeed had a rope that we could ascend. What ensued after our arrival at the bottom of this pitch was echoing communications determining whether the line was still reaching bottom. It was not, and a number of attempts were made by Ivor to pitch the rope back down before a successful effort resulted in Guy and I having a life-line that would allow us to get back up the first drop of Windsor Cave.

My usual visits to the Windsor caves have been in parties of 2 or 3. The first drop, muddy to the extreme, has been possible to ascend without the use of Jumars by wrapping one's hands around the rope and manually hauling oneself up. Today, because of much more activity on the rope, it was impossible because of mud build-up. With much exertion, heading up first, I attempted to spare my Jumars the wear and tear of the mud by keeping them in my backpack. After several unsuccessful attempts, I resorted to using one. This still proved frustrating. Finally, I broke down and used both Jumars. During the ascent, I thought of the mud eroding them the entire way. I assisted this process with a number of well-constructed curses, and by this method made my way up. Guy soon followed, in relative silence, using both of his ascenders. Once we were both up, I roundly berated the first drop in no uncertain terms, to Guy's bemusement.

Guy and I had again caught up with the rest of the team at the top of the first drop, there having been some confusion as to the route. With an ever-dimming headlamp, I began guiding the group out.

I am quite proud of the hour that followed as I led us out of Windsor Cave. My headlamp was so feeble that I could only see the ground below my feet and vague outlines of formations on either side. Our new caver, having done what I requested of him, had kept his light off during most of his wait at the top of the first drop, and still had enough lumens available, if I needed his headlamp, to allow me to find my way, but I didn't want to break down and scoop his light until absolutely necessary. I managed to get us halfway out before I did this.

The entire team, other than Guy with a 150-hour back-up LED headlamp, was low on light and literally stumbling through the dark. I had no fear; if there were any light at all, I could find my way through Windsor Great Cave. I had the formations at critical points committed to memory. I knew each and every chamber. This was my home-turf.

At 8:30 PM, more than nine hours after we had entered Windsor Cave, we finally emerged into a dark Cockpit Country night. The trek out to Windsor was soon done, and after a quick wash at the Last Resort, we rolled up to Miss Lilly's for some well-earned Red Stripe.

I must note that this was my first time caving with Guy van Rentergem and I was very impressed. A very daunting slither of a side-passage in the Lower Streamway, which I would have attempted after only much deliberation, was done by Guy in a truly fine fashion. It is now named the Belgium Squeeze. His calm, quiet ascent of the horribly muddy first drop was very professional. His hours of work spent mapping the Streamway were inspiring. I have no hopes of changing my approach to something like the first drop at Windsor, that being to let it know that I am aware of its intention, and that I will not take it quietly, but Guy's professional, and fearless, approach to exploration, and mapping, is something I intend to emulate in the future.

Mar 01, 2003


Field notes: R. S. STEWART

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

Malibu on descent at the first drop of Windsor Cave The weather had recently been quite dry and it was decided that advantage should be taken of this by trying to extend our knowledge of the lower stream passage in Windsor Cave. It had been a full year since we'd had the opportunity to spend any length of time far into this often dangerous area. In June, the streamway was under 15 metres of water. During our Aug 30, 2002, excursion, although the phreatic zone was much lower, we'd seen fountains of water rising from the floor of the entrance to the passage, and we weren't comfortable with being any great distance from the escape to the second drop. In November of 2002, high water levels made any thought of it out of the question. The basement of Windsor Caves seemed to be a good way to get ourselves up to speed on the first day of this expedition.

A necessary trip to Falmouth delayed our entry to the system until 14:30 EST. We made good time to the first drop, noticing that conditions through the large breakdown chambers that lead to the first pitch continued to be quite wet. At the top of the first drop, we tied and tossed a 30m rope, then went down using mixed descent techniques amongst the three of us. When we were all down, a quick move brought us to the top of the second drop. We tied and tossed another 30m line, and then we all rapped in using figure-8 descenders on harness.

Ivor Conolley on descent at the second drop of Windsor Cave After we had gone down into the low passage that leads to the main streamway, I began taking compass bearings and distances that Ivor recorded en route. Our intention was to thoroughly map one leg of the stream complex and thereby begin a systematic determination of the exact layout of the whole thing. The direction chosen was the southern branch of the main river passage. This begins at the second T junction, to the north of where the entrance passage appears to first intersect the main streamway, (i.e. the first T junction). We have named this second T junction "Photo Junction" having taken a photo of very particular phreatically eroded formations on the walls of the passage. The passage begins by trending to the east, and then curving in a southerly direction, (this section is not shown in JU).

The passage was followed, with control points being set at every turn, through an ever narrowing series of crawls, until just after a chamber to the left that is partially blocked by a mud bank, it becomes too tight and mud-choked to continue. The partially blocked chamber encountered just before this is of great interest. Although without shovels it would be difficult to enter, by squeezing my head through I was able to see that it resembles the drop chamber at Duppy Cave, the west pit at the bottom of Windsor First Drop, and generally other shafts that I've seen that are both risings and sinks depending on the conditions. Marks on the clay/mud slopes of the funnel shaped chamber showed the typical flow patterns seen elswhere. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the entire chamber, or even the bottom of the funnel itself. There is, though, reason to suspect that this chamber, in additon to the choked passage where we'd stopped, and also the flow from the Bamboo Bottom Passage, carries the water that bursts out at the resurgence near the Main Entrance. The branch that we had taken is shown in the JU map as ending in a sump some distance before we were forced to stop, indicating that water levels were higher when that particular passage was previously explored.

In June I had seen the river crashing from the Bamboo Bottom passage down into the second drop chamber. This was not a regular rainy season occurence. I know this from having had left a piece of paper on a stal in the mid-90's that survived for two full years. Yet every year the resurgence gushes forth. It is apparent that there is a lower level flow through the southern ends of the lower streamway that transfers the water during most years. I suspect it to have two sources: the southern most branch, i.e. south of the first T junction, and the chamber that I had poked my head into. The mud-choked end of the explored passage suggests an origin in the small drain passage that heads north close to the second drop chamber. This has been seen to be taking water during several excursions when flood risk stopped as from going much further. This would explain the perfectly defined mud bank that prevented entry to the funnel chamber. I've never crawled down this passage as it looks totally nasty. A map has not been made from the control points and vectors yet. This should be done soon with WinKarst.

Time was getting late, closing in on 18:00, and we had a long trip ahead of us to get back out, so we decided to stop our survey after the completion of the targeted branch. We made our way back to the base of the second drop, and Ivor clipped in and ascended the rope first. It was still early days for Malibu and the Jumars, so the idea was that by him going second he could observe Ivor's technique and then be coached by myself at the bottom. The plan worked well enough and we soon had Malibu at the top. I followed, and after a short pause to haul rope, we moved back to the base to the first drop.

The ascent up the first drop was a pain, as usual. The thing is so muddy that it's murder on Jumars, and although it's often climbable by hauling oneself up the slope hand over hand on the line, the mud on the rope makes this a real effort. What to do? In this case, as usual, strain the muscles and save the Jumars. At any rate, we all got up, hauled rope, then headed out.

It was interesting to note the absence of bats through the roosting chambers due to the time of day; it was about 19:30, over an hour after sunset, and they were all out and about, feeding and doing whatever else bats do during their working hours.

Aug 30, 2002


Field notes: R. S. Stewart

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

I wanted to have a look at the lower stream passage; I hadn’t gone down the 2nd drop since I arrived Aug 17. I also wanted to get into the pit that is to the west of the base of the 1st drop. Ivor wanted to have a look at the lower stream passage; he’d only been through the Bamboo Bottom passage to the south side of the system.

We made fast time to the 1st drop, tied and tossed the rope and went down. At the bottom, we tied another rope to a formation and I rapped down into the western pit. The thickness of clay on the walls and floor was similar to the drop at Duppy Cave on Aug 21. The pit is about 6 m deep and is choked with mud at the bottom. It was work getting back out because of the clay.

We could hear the sound of the river flowing before we reached the 2nd drop chamber, while on the 19th there had been no noise whatsoever right at the top. After crossing to the 2nd drop, we tied and tossed the 2nd rope again, and I headed down. At the bottom, I tied my harness and descender to the rope, they hauled it up, and Ivor used it to follow me down. Malibu came last using his own gear.

While waiting for them to come down, I scrambled down into the stream passage, passing a sesarma verleyii just inside the lower section, and saw the river rising out of rocks in the floor, flowing past, and then into a choked opening before one reaches the main stream passage channel. Where the water rose, it actually formed several fountains that came up about 20 cm high. It was quite nice. The others joined me and we stayed and watched for about 10 minutes.

A bizarre illusion happens at that part of the cave. If one goes down without a compass, and relies on sense of direction, one would swear that the water is flowing from north to south. There’s an extra bit of turning en route that totally fooled me the first time I was down there when the water was flowing, and had me reporting that the water was going the wrong way. I still feel like an idiot over that. This time, I made sure that I had a compass and confirmed that, yes, the water flows to the north in the lower stream passage, as it of course must.

We headed back to the 2nd drop, prusiked up, Ivor doing really well on his first ever ascent, and then hauled ourselves up the 1st drop and made our way out.

Aug 19 2002


Field notes: R. S. Stewart

Cavers: S. Koenig, R. S. Stewart, 2 TNC, 2 Birders

I’m not sure of the names of the other four who accompanied Susan and I into Windsor. Two were South African birders visiting Windsor who wanted to have a look and the other two were TNC associates of Susan’s. I’d arrived on the island the day before, (late PM 17th), and was asked if I might like to take them in.

We entered the main entrance at 9:10 AM. Things went along fine until we started the climb up Jaram Top. Unfortunately at that point the birders decided that it would be best if they turned back. Susan took them back and out while I carried on with the others.

I’d brought a 30m line and my intention was to get to the top of the 2nd drop to check for flow in the lower streamway. The couple from The Nature Conservancy were good on their feet so we were able to make decent time to the 1st drop. The cave en route was only a little less muddy than during the June rains.

We got to the 1st drop fine; I tied and tossed the rope, then went down just using body friction for the rap and showed the others what to do, (I only had one set of gear and the slope isn’t that bad). At the bottom, after I was off the rope, I scrambled up the slope as far as possible to the side of the route and gave them a bit of help as they came down. They handled it no problem.

Next we headed off to the top of the 2nd drop, they had a look and I had a good listen. I could hear no sound of flowing water in the lower streamway.

From there, it was back out to the Bamboo Bottom passage and off to the south. We went until the passage starts to descend to the approach to the Bamboo Bottom sump then we turned back. I offered the use of my Jumars to them at the base of the 1st drop; they each took one. I hauled myself up the line and then they followed. The line gets so muddy on that pitch that you have to plough the stuff off with the ascenders as you come up. I could see fresh wear after that session.

We made good time out and exited at 11:30. N.B. Surprisingly, there were still old footprints visible in the sticky mud in the area of the 1st drop where I had watched the river blasting through in June. Neither the flow nor the standing water 6 days afterwards had erased them. (See the June notes).

June 15, 2002


Field notes: R. S. Stewart

Cavers: Guy Graening, R. S. Stewart

Guy and myself took the Troy Trail, then through the top entrance saddle to the main entrance, to avoid the flooded main trail.

The cave seemed particularly muddy. We headed directly towards the 1st drop and by the time we were at Brer Rabbit I could tell things had changed since June 9; there was no river noise. I was amazed to discover standing water in the eastern approach to the drop. I had never realized the water came up that high. The western approach to the drop was still open but by the looks of it only about a metre higher than the water table. I knew the drop was close to being cut off from the northern section of the cave so I suggested to Guy that we, “get there, have a quick look, and then get out”.

We went through the low western passage to the 1st drop and were greeted with the sight of water sumped up most of the way to the top of the drop! Where the drop had been there was now a little slope running down to a placid lake. The water must have been at least 7 m higher than it was on the 9th… over 7 m in 6 days. The eastern approach to the drop was submerged and I knew we were about 1 metres worth of water away from being trapped; it didn’t seem advisable to dawdle so we stayed about 2 minutes and with a, “let’s get the f**k out of here”, from me, we scooted back out to Brer Rabbit. I now understand why that crab had been so high up on the 9th. I would never have believed the water table could come up so far in there. I have to think it was a bit of an anomaly due to the unusually heavy rains during the previous few weeks. I feel quite privileged to have seen the entire southern part of the cave reduced to a quiet-looking lake exposed only at the 1st drop. Everything past that point was underwater, hiding an incredible underground river.
Give thanks and praise.

After a short break, we made fast time back to the main entrance. We were in the cave for 1 hour 10 minutes.

June 9, 2002


Field notes: R. S. Stewart

Cavers: S. Koenig, G. Graening, S. McGinnis, R. S. Stewart

Stefan at the Main Entrance of Windsor Cave The route to the main entrance was underwater at the flood entrance; we had to belay across, doing a traverse on the rocks just above the trail. Faunal surveying began at the main entrance. We spent quite a while in the twilight zone, as Geo tallied up a lot of little inverts, and then we headed across Jaram Top working our way towards the 1st drop.

We could hear the noise of the river in the Bamboo Bottom passage by the time we were at Brer Rabbit. After working our way through the low western approach to the first drop, we reached the top of it and looked down upon a river blasting through from the southern part of the system and roaring down into the second drop chamber. An area at the bottom of the first drop was still high and dry so Geo and I rapped down to have a closer look. At the bottom, our lights showed the Bamboo Bottom passage to be wall-to-wall river with no formations visible. A small waterfall lay some distance upstream; to our left the river crashed through the breakdown boulders into the drop to the lower stream passage. We spent 10 minutes or so admiring the view then hauled ourselves up the rope to rejoin the others. During our time at the bottom the others had seen a Sesarma Verleyi at the top of the pitch; that's the first time I've heard of that.

It is interesting to note that the lower stream passage couldn’t be heard underneath us in “Wharf” due to the passage being well into the phreatic zone. I expect that it would be best heard/felt during the first part of the rainy season before it goes completely underwater.

We hiked back out to the main entrance after a short delay at Jaram Top. At the top of the breakdown boulders, I looked down at the opening to the exit chamber, and wondered if I’d lost my bearings and was taking us into the main roosting chamber. I wasn’t, but it took me a couple of minutes to be sure. I’d just arrived in Jamaica the night before and wasn’t quite up to speed. We went via the top entrance saddle on the return to Windsor to avoid the flooded part of the main trail.

Feb 22, 2002


Field notes: R. S. Stewart

Cavers: M. Taylor, R. S. Stewart

Main Entrance 11:35
Alt (uncal) 141m
Wind 3.5 m/s
Lower Streamway 13:15
Alt (uncal) 145m
Sample collected in pool, 1.5 x 1 m x .5 deep, located ~10 m to right at 1st T Jnct, (Given to Susan at Windsor), possibly larval crab. (Location sketch in notebook).
Top of 2nd drop 14:00
Alt (uncal) 165

Feb 21, 2002


Field notes: R. S. Stewart

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, S. Downer

Main entrance 9:30
Wind outwards 2.1m/s
Alt (uncal) 111 m
Lower Streamway, 1st T-Jnct 11:20
Alt (uncal) 104

Three crabs in pool to right of 1st T, also several small swimming org’s, white, ~5mm long, narrow, rounded ends.
Main entrance 12:35
Alt (uncal) 129
Wind outwards 3.8 m/s

I brought Sun as a second person with me to the lower streamway, (his first time down, Malibu wasn’t around), and took route to the right rather than left as I’d concentrated on during previous visits. We came across a piece of my flagging tape tied to stal well to the right, perhaps from last year? I’m not sure if we’d gone that far in the past or had done a circle somehow. Nothing shows on map in new edition Fincham. We went to right until we hit flowing water.

Bar pressure either rose 18 m or humidity affected reading.
The wind outward from the cave was varying between calm and 3.8 m/s on time scale of under 5 min’s from 12:35 - 12:55.

Feb 20, 2002


Field Notes: R. S. Stewart

Cavers: S. Koenig, R. S. Stewart

10:00 EST: Went down slope from entrance into main roosting chamber hoping to spot a particular bat species. The bat activity from the lights prevented any chance of it.

Pitch from start of main chamber to top measured with altimeter as 32 m.
We found a buffo in twilight zone at start of main chamber and eliminated it with a pointy rock.
There were a good number of crickets.
The bat numbers still seem low…I was able to use my headlamp most of the time in the main roosting chamber.

We went almost as far as the exit to Royal Flat, and then went back out the top entrance.

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