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Mar 27, 2004

WINDSOR GREAT CAVE


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

Field notes: I. C. CONOLLEY

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

THREAT VULNERABILITY: High

I have anticipated going into the lower streamway. The last time we were down here we surveyed a section that ended in a choke. We had gone upstream. This time we will be going downstream. I am looking forward to flushing out into the Martha Brae River in the lower entrance to the cave. Six of us are on this trip but not all six go into the lower streamway. Delroy, Rona, Mark, Ivor, Guy and Stef are the six. The cave is muddy in its usual sections but not excessively so. We get to the 35 foot drop. Tie off. Over-confidence is a terrible thing. This cave is backyard. We have tramped through it so many times we have lost count. Guess what. We donít realise it at the time but the rope - 100 ft rope has been tied with a knot taking up too much rope and we later discover that the rope is short of the bottom by a couple feet...in itself nothing dramatic. It will get you down safe enough. But more on this anon.

Stef is down first. The rest of us follow. Delroy and Rona remain, however. Mark and myself explore and Stef and Guy survey.

Then its down the second 30 foot drop which takes us into the lower streamway.

Guy starts the survey from the beginning of the lower streamway. We go to the fork and take the left to go downstream. There is no water her. Not even a trickle. When we did it last there was ... although, just a trickle. Mark and myself are moving through. The cave is heigh at this point and as it turns out the rest of the journey is very high. There is no consideration of bending in most parts. Only in very few sections was there some difficulty, but no tight squeezes. We move on at knots.

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Before we got to our downstream section, and as we entered the passageway we approached a junction. We had mapped the right turn but not the left. Guy decided to pursue this passageway. It did not go very far but there was a tight squeeze. Stef hesitated and considered entering it feet first. Guy said he would go in. In he moved head first. Well it really did not go very far but I can well imagine the level of contortions which he had to exercise to turn and come back out of this narrow channel. He, Guy, told us that there were many squeezes like that in Belgium. Instantly, that spot became the Belgium squeeze. And the Belgium squeezer, Guy, was indeed impressive.

But back to Markís and my reconnoitering. The cave is interesting. It is not as beautiful and varied as the upper sections with the stalagmites and stalactites, but there are more breakdown sections and huge broken boulders. We eventually come to a huge pool of water. I am in my element. This is it, I think. We have reached the river. The water extends from one side of the cave - the extremity - to the other. I tell Mark I am going in. There is a ledge on which one can find a hand hold. It is not suitable for walking on, however. I hold on to it and gradually lower myself into the water. The water is not absolutely clear though not murky. One cannot see the bottom so one is unable to judge the depth. I am in and my feet are touching to river bed. I think it is the river bed. I move along holding to the ledge in case I lose my footing. I round the bend and, out of sight of Mark, begin to give him a running commentary on my movement and the depth of the water. I am becoming increasingly excited as there is no end in view. This body of water continues. I keep moving. The water goes pretty deep. It is chest high I tell Mark. He later chastised me for this when he later came through. He reminded me that my chest was his neck. Yes I am taller. Ah well. I continue. The water is getting shallower. Whatís this? I round another bend to see the embankment and no more water. I am disappointed but then am immediately hopeful. The water has sunk only to emerge beyond this section. I scramble out of the water and hurriedly move on. But no. There is nowhere left to go. This is the end of the line. I shout to Mark to that effect. He hears me but with great difficulty as the echo is great. I find a solution - pause briefly after each word in the sentence. Now he hears me and responds in a similar way. I hear him. He is coming.

I look around more carefully for small openings. I climb a four foot rock and find and opening. It is very small and there is a very sharp rock jutting into the small hole. That rock will prevent me from going in. I look above. It is vast. Maybe it goes somewhere up there but it is impossible to get up there. I climb further up however to get a better look. I am now about 15 feet above the floor. The rocks here are excessively sharp. In getting back down I have to slide. The rock catches my pants bottom and bores through - enough said. I get down and join Mark telling him what I have seen.

We soon hear Guy and Stef. They are at the pool. They come through surveying. The job is done. Guy declares that the hole with the protruding stone is too small for entry. We trudge back. Returning always seems faster than going. Mark and myself are still travelling together. We are at the 30-foot drop and are up from the lower streamway. Then on to the 35-foot drop to take us to the upper level where Delroy and Rona have been patiently waiting. It is now that I notice that the rope is not touching the ground. Mark goes on rope first and I hold the end to prevent it from following him up as he operates the ascending gear. He has difficulty with the mud clogging the gear and slipping. He makes it up safely. My time. Tying a stone at the end of the rope did not seem to be a reasonable option as the rope was already short and this would only make it harder to reach it. But no problem for guess what I was not going to use the gear. It was going to get muddy and slip anyway. I was going hand over hand on this one. Am I forgetting the heavy knapsack I am carrying??? So I start, easy enough. I get over the hardest part - the first about ten/twelve feet - and figure that the rest is easy but guess what - the mud on the rope is real bad. I have got a footing now but what would normally be an easy walk using the rope simply to pull up on does not work out. I am absolutely exhausted and decide to use my verti-gear to go the rest of the distance. The others can see me now and wonder why I have stopped. But I simply say I am reorganising and focus on rigging. It takes a few minutes. I roll on my side in the mud and hitch the rope so I wonít slide back downhill. I am rigged. I stand and it is easy going now. That was something. I join the others. As I am taking off my gear it occurs to me that I might have pulled up the rope in the process of using the vertigear in the latter climb. The light shows the rope in place but.... I shout to Stef who by now I can hear talking below. He is to check if he sees the rope. He checks. It is not reachable. We pull it up, throw over.. no luck. It does not reach. It simply plunks into the mud and stops. Bottom line? Carry it to the 10/12 feet sheer drop edge and throw it over. So I am on rope and the deed is done.

Yea. This would not have happened anywhere else. But really it was less a problem with the rope than the mud. Yes Guy I see the equipment that does not get fouled by the mud! Thanks.

We have been in the cave a good nine hours. It is night outside. But the exercise is successfully completed and all is well.
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