Worthy Park Cave-1
June 4, 2006
Team: RS Stewart, J Pauel, A Haiduk.
Notes: RS Stewart
Our visit to Worthy Park Cave-1 was made as part of a general investigation into the rainy-season conditions of the caves that are associated with the headwaters of the Rio Cobre. On June 3, our team had visited St Clair Cave, and earlier in the day on June 4, we had visited Riverhead Cave. Now, soon past noon on the Sunday, we had moved on to Lluidas Vale, and the Worthy Park caves.
There are three Worthy Park caves, two of which are lower and hydrologically active, and one, Worthy Park Cave-1, that is an old, fossil stream passage that runs on a higher level than the others. We had no prior familiarity with the caves, other than what Dr Fincham had supplied us by way of "Jamaica Underground", so the first order of business would be to find them, enter what we could, and sort out "what was what", using the historical information. As it turned out, the details supplied in JU were thorough enough that this was easily done, and although we would only actually enter one of the caves, we would find entrances for two of them and know how to find the third when time permits.
A drive from Ewarton, en route from Riverhead Cave, brought us to the start of the Vale, and the approximate location of the caves, by early afternoon. By using the Area Plan found in JU, it was obvious where we should park and begin our search. This was where the road, soon after entering Lluidas Vale, turns west to run across the bottomland, with this corner being within 30m of the very obvious river sink (obvious, at least, in rainy times). Conveniently, there is a sizeable area on the right side of the road where several vehicles can be safely parked.
After parking the vehicles (Andreas' VW Beetle, Jan's Mitsubushi bushmobile, and my rented Grand Vitara almost-bushmobile), we loaded up with gear, and generally made ready to tackle whatever we might find before us. We included three sets of vertigear, Guy's 50m x 10mm rope, and an emergency can of Bully Beef (in case of emergency, pull tab, and eat beef). I also gave the machete a final touch-up with the new file that I'd bought some days before (unfortunately, my own 26" cutlass was locked away at the Last Resort, where I couldn't get to it, and I was having to use a very old, rather worn-out machete that was only useable if razor-sharp, which is the state I kept it in the entire time). Having prepared ourselves, we looked to a way to cross the river before us, so that we could ascend the hill on the other side and reach the expected location of the caves.
From the convenient parking spot noted above, there are two routes to the hill above (to the east). One can wade through the river to the left (north), or skirt around to the right (south), past the sink where the river disappears (note that this in times of rains). On June 4, as we examined it, it seemed to be easier to cross the river, to then hit relatively open bamboo/trees on the hill at the far side, rather than try to push through the thick weedy scrub that lay to the right (south). Accordingly, we climbed down, once again, into the Worthy Park sugar-bath, to find a good spot to ford across. This turned out to be quite easy, but while we were crossing, we heard a splash of water from the riverbank about ten metres upstream. Andreas said jokingly (or so I thought at the time), "Crocodile?", but joke or not, we all crossed the river the rest of the way very quickly. It should be noted that a JCC expedition in the 1970's found the remains of a crocodile at the Worthy Park River Sink, which is where we were at the time of the splash.
Upon surviving the river crossing, we forged a way uphill, with only a moderate amount of chopping necessary (less done than usual, because much of the shrubbery that was in our way was wild coffee and I couldn't bring myself to chop it). It was our plan to hit the cliff, and then range across to find the various entrances, so all we had to do was get to the bottom of it, and then work our way along. Very soon, we reached it, and because I was of the thought that we might be at the north end of things, I decided to turn right, that is, south.
After about 20 metres of following the base of the cliff to the south, we hit the top of an entrance pit that dropped for about 10m, and was about 4m by 2m, with the long axis along the base of the cliff. I believe this was the entrance to Worthy Park Cave-3. We passed this, still in recon mode, and after working our way past some boulders and shrubs a short distance beyond, found an embayment in the cliff that held a cave entrance, fine and obvious and about 7m wide by 5m high. The ease of entry made this the first choice for what we would visit this day.
A medium-sized chamber is first seen when one enters the cave. It is apparently being used by an Owl with a great appetite for rats, judging by the abundance of bones and skulls (many hundreds seen). Into this chamber, from the cliff above, snakes a large root (species unknown - perhaps Cotton?). Inwards from this chamber runs what appears to be an old fossil stream passage, with break-down development contributing afterwards, now high and very dry. At first, low, arched openings are reached, but it soon opens into larger chambers. Several pits are seen, dropping into a lower section of the cave that no longer seems to be continuous, with clay and rocks clogging things up. But through this entire extent, the root snakes onwards, to not be lost until it drops into deep sandy sediments in the further reaches.
At the farpoint of the upper level, we reached a point where progress could no longer be made without stepping down to the lower section. Accordingly, we found an anchor and tied and tossed the rope in. At the bottom, about 5m down, we couldn't make any great amount of progress forward, with things blocked-up ahead of us, so we called it the turn-around point and began to look closely at what critters could be seen around us.
Worthy Park Cave-1 has a great diversity of cave-adapted invertebrates, along with it's Chiropteran residents. Species of Araneae, Isopoda, Coleoptera, Diptera, and many cave crickets (U. cavicola), were present. I am uncertain of the presence of American roaches - a few nymphs might have been seen, but I was a little droopy at that point, after St Clair the day before, and I cannot state this as definite. What can be said with certainty is that this is a biologically valuable cave. There is a mixed-species batroost with total numbers in the 500-5000 range that is supplying a steady nutrient input. Because of the dryness, and deep, loose soil, it seems to be a perfect cave habitat for both macro and microinvertebrates. Because of a relatively difficult access (up a steep hill), and the absence of local farmers (because the adjacent land has been a well-controlled sugar plantation for the last few centuries), there has been little, or no, guano mining, which has meant that the invasive American roach, P. americana, has perhaps not been introduced (our investigations in the PiP Project suggested that introduction of P. americana did not begin in earnest until the last few decades). Perhaps the crocodiles in the river are also helping to prevent frequent visitation to the cave, but this at present is pure wishful thinking ;-)
On our exit from the cave, we chose to chop around through the scrub at the top of the river sink, rather than go through the river itself. The splash that we had heard on the approach, when crossing the river, was still in the back of my mind and the extra chopping required was a fair trade. Once this was done, and we were back at the cars, Andreas headed off to do some upstream reconnaissance, the results of which will be found in his notes (linked via his name at the top of this report).
More will be appended to these notes in the next few days (as of Jun 22/06), specifically addressing the waste sugar input from the Worthy Park estate, in Lluidas Vale, but for now this will serve to get the ball rolling, at least in internet search terms. We will approach this matter discretely, and in a non-aggressive manner, but we will in the end make it quite clear what the noxious gases in Riverhead and St Clair caves are caused by, and the reasons for the concurrently seasonally-reduced available bat roosting space.