Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cueva Luchuga

This weekend was the Cavers' Olympics where all the caving groups on the island (4 I think) gather to compete in rope ascending, relays, obstacles courses etc. On our way there we stopped with Tom and Diana Miller and Brett to have a "couple hours" in Cueva Lechuga. This cave is on some land that used to be farmed for lettuce - hence the name. We had heard of people going into the cave for 2 and a half days and not finding an end. Once you are in there, however, it seems implausible that there is no end or that there is even 2 days worth to explore. Until you keep going. Tom suggested we not take packs and that we could go for a couple hours. Jeff, Brett and I took packs anyway - I have migraine medication and an extra shirt (I get cold) and an extra light. There are also things like food and water to consider. I've been in enough caves now to know better than to leave the pack. Tom said there were 2 "pools" of deep water before we got into the cave and that after that it would just be muddy. That turned out to be an understatement! The pools were chin high and cold and the mud was really sucky like quicksand. I thought my boots were going to get pulled off as I got sucked to the center of the earth! We got past the pools and a mud trough and the reward was a spectacular formation over 30 feet tall that was clean and amazing and too tall to light with the point-and-shoot camera. Here is a small section of it.

Once we saw this we crawled around it and the view from the other side was really amazing! You will have to imagine it since I couldn't photograph it. Here is a small part of one stalactite where it joins some flowstone that looks like rippling water. The coolest thing was that there was water coming down and cascading over these stone ripples.

Here's another small section of it. Caves are like a living organism the way the breathe, drip, churn, rumble and all the formations are the internal organs that all connect to function as a system. We saw white centipedes which we haven't seen in caves before.

We got to a place that was a small crack that Jeff and Tom couldn't (or wouldn't) fit through. It was a rough cave full of water and sucky mud. I could see how they would turn back. After all, we still had a day of competing to look forward to. I on the other hand viewed the slit as a challenge. I had to go and see what was on the other side! It went and went and went and I called for Brett to follow. I think Brett found a way through the water to continue and joined up with me. We went through a lot of water and got to a part that was low and full of water that was deep. I mistakenly left my pack outside the crack while I took a "peek" (that lasted 2 1/2 hours) a little further. The water was over our heads and the ceiling was low. In some places we could wear the helmets and in others we had to take them off. Brett had his pack with him to use as flotation. We did this for a while and then had a huge breakdown pile to crawl up and over. We were going over and in between boulders the size of kitchen tables that seemed to just hang in the air. We crawled over some collapse the height of a house. Then it seemed to end at this water filled not-quite-sump tunnel. The problem wasn't the low clearance (you can always hold your helmet) - the problem for me was the depth of the water and lack of line of sight. We could peek in but couldn't tell (because it curved) if there was "land" through the spot or just more deep water...maybe it ended with water up to the ceiling (sump)..just couldn't tell without just going.

We did that for a while and then had some more collapse. Oh - I forgot to say how I found one easy passage...I dropped my hand held light into a pool of water and had to go down there to get it...found that the water passed through easier than going the "overland" collapse route.

Well the ceiling got lower and the water higher and deeper. Brett is going for it and I follow. Here I am in a "big head" self portrait readying to enter the four finger hole.

Yup - water surface to ceiling was four fingers tall. I took off the helmet and in I went. It was swimming all the way. My arms got pretty tired since I didn't have anywhere to hold on, and didn't have a pack for flotation. There were some spaced places to pull up onto a boulder but they were far apart and I got tired.
Knowing that Jeff, Diana and Tom were on their way out of the cave and off to the Olympics we decided we had to turn back. As a last push Brett swam further and did a short crawl in a muddy tunnel that led to yet another way that went on. I figured we'd been gone an hour or so and better return. Here's Brett on the way back out (which seemed much longer).

Here's a photo of my attempt to show the huge formation group. Well we finally got out and found out we had gone for 2 1/2 hours more and Tom and Diana had left which left Jeff waiting for us. He was about to come in after us with another caver when we emerged from the jungle. We really didn't think we'd been gone THAT long. Time is deceptive in a cave. We kept thinking it was an end and then it would go....we would follow it thinking it was an end...and it would go. This cave is not really pretty with the exception of the two initial formations. There could be others like it...have to go there. This cave is full of water and really sticky, sucky, deep mud. It is very narrow vertical slot and there are huge collapse piles that would be easier to navigate with hand lines at least. One spot on the way out took 10 minutes to figure out how to get around. I was standing on a rock looking up wondering how the %**&(* I was going to get up. The answer was to swim under. We could have gotten into some trouble here easily. Next time the pack comes with me...I will always carry a little webbing. This cave needs to be done again, but done in the dry season so hopefully the water level in the tunnels is more acceptable. If the water rose while we were in there we could easily drown as lots of spots had nowhere to get up and out. Very muddy and very fun. Water isn't my favorite but it is good to push out of your comfort zone sometimes. A nice challenge. Give me a small crawl that is dry any time over a water filled low ceiling! So we made it to the Olympics but I was pretty tired (especially my arms from swimming and climbing) and only competed in one event. Oh well. After we competed we hoped in the kayaks for a 3 hour paddle to the river mouth under a full moon. We kayaked in a steep rock canyon and it was really neat but again, my arms were tired. Once I switched paddles with Jeff it was easier but I was still tuckered out for the next day and didn't do the obstacle course. Next year! A very fun weekend. The next post will be about the yard so stay tuned (even if you aren't into caves).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Weekend's Cave - Cueva YuYu

This Sunday we visited a different section of a cave we had been to before. We had done some surveying in the other part which was dark, cold, full of chin-high water, a sump, a close rappel...This was the "dry" section - ha! (Actually most of it was dry.) We needed to go to the point in the cave where we could meet-up with the part that was surveyed (we would need to rappel down) and then survey our way back in the main passage. If time allowed we could then explore and survey the other passages. Here's a shot looking at the entrance from inside. Today's group was Tom and Diana Miller, Frank, Jose, Jeff and myself (Katrina).

One of the first things of interest to me was this section of the floor that looked like bubbles. It is flowstone and flowstone makes up some of the neatest formation in caves (so far anyway). For a "dry" cave there is some knee high water at this point. I think these little shelf-like structures are like rock fungus poking out of the stone.

We wander for a while and then we get to a pool that is probably 5 feet or more deep. While everyone is trying to figure out footing to move around on the edges without falling in I look around for another route and find a small tunnel. I zig zag through it in about 3 minutes and pop out in a more desirable spot. The guys think it is a little small and carry on with their climbing activity. Diana gives it a go and then decides to try my route which works out better for her. The guys make it across and no one falls in. The water is kind of deep in spots and if it isn't deep the ceiling is getting lower and we have to submerge. YuYu is a cold cave and I hate to get wet right off when I know we will be there for hours. I didn't wear a wetsuit since this was the dry section. We continue on following the river and crawling/climbing up and over and around formations and crevices and cracks. Sometimes I held the wall with my fingers to avoid walking chin high in water.

The water was a nice blue/green in the deep pools and you could tell quite a bit of water has been moving through the cave recently. At times the cave truly is mostly dry. This is the waterfall/pool around I tunneled around. I came out on the left part of the photo at the base of the pool. YuYu has creepy, dark, eerie looking formations. I don't know what it is about this cave that makes it kind of creepy but it is kind of creepy. The other section is really surreal. So into the water we went following the river some more.

In a lot of places it opened up and was stand-up-able. The passages look really neat full of water until you start looking at sticks and things embedded way high in areas you can't climb to. There were a lot of neat formations like this white "table" that just met the water's edge. The whole place is just drippy, dark, and candle-wax looking.

Following a river underground is just a strange thing to do anyway, but when you are doing it you end up going through small cracks and areas that at first don't appear to have openings. Then there are the times you follow the water and it ends at a wall (sump) that you don't know if it goes or not. The mystery of what is beyond the area you can't see leads to a hunt for passages around or above the just have to know where it goes! The water doesn't just end - it goes somewhere. This cave is very drippy with water running, dripping, spraying from who knows where.

Caving is wonderful because it is an imaginative place to be. Your mind can see shapes and figures that aren't can't make-up what you are seeing! You keep pushing yourself to see more...I really enjoy following tiny crawl spaces that appear to end or go nowhere. Most of the time they do end, but they have little rooms or neat formations along the way. In a rare instance they keep going and I end up somewhere totally unexpected. Back at the main tunnel, which is big enough to drive a small car through maybe, there were a lot of very large slabs in a collapse/breakdown area. Breakdown provides many opportunities to crawl around and explore. It is kind of a rush to be underneath huge stones that are resting on one another and making spaces human-size or smaller!

One little tunnel had this neat waterfall with lots of rushing water in it. I am on my stomach in the water to photograph this - it is just a boulder with water rushing over it, but the water came from 2 different directions. This formation looks like eyes and a nose to me - could it be Halloween already?

This was a nice cave to explore. I think I traveled a majority of the tunnels. We couldn't fit down a spot to connect with the other survey area but did survey a nice amount of cave. I probably could have gotten down but it was questionable whether I could get back up - it was a flat space and you have to bend your knees to ascend on the rope. I think we could drop a rope there and try from the other end to go up first. Now it is kind of a challenge that may require trying to break off some rock to enlarge the opening. That'd be a first for us!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cueva Murcielago (Bat Cave)

One of the SEPRI (our group here) members heard about this cave from Ricardo who lives near it. It is in the Vega Alto area which, like a lot of Puerto Rico is mountainous. We headed out to the cave figuring it would be a slow paced day since there were at least 9 people coming. We met at a shopping mall, drove up to Ricardo's house, got all the gear ready and went down the road, down a hill, across the river and ended up at the cave entrance. This is the entrance looking from the inside.
It is a short cave that is full of bats! The surprise for us was that it is full of a different kind of bat than what we have seen before. These bats have pressed down little ears and are kind of big. We probably have seen this type before but this is the first time they have attached to us so we could see them close up maybe (besides in Cucaracha - different long-nose kind). Anyway, as we approached to bat area it was like a movie the way the all swarmed out. Our lights and noise really disturbed them.

This photos shows a bat stuck on a helmet.

Here one is attached to my arm. Unfortunately the sump is pretty close to the cave entrance and it was the end of the line for this cave. There were not any upper levels or tunnels or holes that needed to be explored. Ricardo brought a thin line in case the water was clear and he could go through the sump. Anthony Castro and Tom Miller have gone through this sump and into the one after it without success. It was the end of the line for the day.

I had Jeff shine his light behind me so I could make this alien self-portrait. Here's part of the group heading out of the cave. I waited in the bat area with my lights off until everyone was gone and got to see all the bats swooping back in.

Jose is in the water near the sump.

There was one little side tunnel at the entrance that we went through. Here Jose and Bro sit and contemplate. We wandered around the steep hillside for a while looking for a supposed alternative entrance that may be past the sumps. No luck. Afterwards we went back to Ricardo's house and his wife had made rice and beans and had a salad and other snacks out for us. That was really nice of him since he doesn't know any of us and isn't part of the caving association. It was kind of nice socializing with people before we headed home.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Best Day Ever - a New Cave in Florida...a Cave With No Name

Going to a new cave is always great and going to a cave we've been too often lets us see entirely different things so we like that too. This cave is one Tom and I had gone exploring in but it was kind of frustrating because it just didn't go very far. We went back with ropes after exhausting every tiny hole in the collapse that we could on the last trip. This time Brett and Jeff joined us. The first thing was to drop into the pit. Not a big drop but deep and dark enough. Here Tom is showing off! He is Mr. Mission Impossible. (also known as survivor man)
We explored and came across a small tunnel that led to this stalactite jail. I fit through with no problem, Brett followed. Jeff realizes he is trapped and can't fit in...he and Tom were out! After we found another drop that required a hand line and ascender Tom managed to fit in so he could go down and explore. Unfortunately it was all silted closed and didn't go anywhere. This cave is full of a lot of spots that SHOULD go somewhere but need digging maybe.

We exited the prison and romped around some more looking for anywhere that might go somewhere. A lot of this cave was difficult overs and unders in collapse. Lots of dead ends. Tom is following a possibility here.
I guess this is the preferred position because here's Brett kind of taking the same route through! Funny!

I think Tom and Jeff were maybe getting a little bored. Brett and I were having fun trying to squeeze into little possibilities. Then Tom finds what he calls a "Katrina hole" and Brett decides to take a look. The climb is slippery and steep and at the top is a little hole that looks like there is a little shelf and a tunnel. When you are up there you can really hear what sounds like a waterfall. The call of the unknown speaks to you and you have just got to get in there. Brett struggles for a while. I need a hand rope to do the climb and then I have a go at it. Once I get up there I really believe this needs to be explored. Brett can't bend the way I can so the elastowoman goes in! Here I am sitting at the entrance before twisting, contorting and dropping feet first to a little shelf. This shelf is the only place to stand and get into position to belly crawl into the slot and my legs are really not quite long enough (there is a little slide off to nowhere drop). I work hard to figure it out since I cannot see down there, can't look with a light since there isn't enough room to turn...I have to remember what I think it was like when I looked in from outside - too much of a pain to try to get back out to have another look.

Well here it is...a very exciting tunnel I know no else has ever gone in before. No prints and definitely too small for everyone. I can hear water or a huge number of bats - not sure which - but in my mind I just want to get to the end of the tunnel, look out over a huge drop and see either a great big bat chamber or a roaring waterfall. These thoughts are what made me overcome the mental challenge of going into the little sideways slot. I had to take the helmet off because it wouldn't fit and had to push with my toes and use the one hand I had in front to move along. The other hand I kept in the back since I could not move my arms once I was in there. Somehow it seemed sensible to have an arm in each direction. I got in about a body length and then decided to back out just to make sure I could. Sometimes going one way doesn't mean you can reverse things and get out. In this case I could do it so I went another body length in. Here I am hopeful I will see a big drop and be in an upper tunnel looking down at something glorious. I take a "big head" self portrait. In this spot I could actually move my hand from behind and put it a little up the wall. I had the camera in the leading hand so if I couldn't physically look out I could shoot with the camera.

Now I am a few body lengths in and it is getting really tight. I know no one can get anywhere near my feet to pull me out if I get stuck and I am looking at a curve to the right that I can't tell if it ends or continues. Jeff tells me over and over not to "Nutty Putty" so I think about it and just can't risk getting stuck. There obviously is no way to turn around at all. This is a back out using the toes and one hand thing that is kind of tiring and creepy. Going in is exciting since it is pure discovery, but getting out is just a difficult disappointment. It takes some mental energy and physical energy. You can't see how far you have to go and can't really tell when you are there until the feet stop at the wall I came in at. Then I can do the contortion to get back out the small hole I came in on.

I just couldn't in my mind try to stuff myself into that right-hand curve. Couldn't do it. I could hear a lot of sound but don't remember if I felt air or not (I think not or I would have done it). I opted to toe my way out. So after contorting my way out and using the rope to get down the slope we were off to other parts. Here I convinced Brett to follow me through the tight guano spot to get a better look down into a drop. You couldn't see much from on top of the collapse so we crawled in for a better vantage point. The little white sticks are Maria Tree seeds sprouting. Bats love these seeds and carry them deep into caves. We have one in front of our house and can watch bats every night! There was one nice room that had a white ceiling and a bunch of neat formations that were kind of offset. A lot of the white formations looked cumulus clouds.

I think this section of wall looks like it has a stone caver slumped over - you've got the legs, butt, and left arm kind of slumped over a stone. Even if it isn't a stone caver the crookedness of the legs is interesting.

Another section of this cave has water and that is where we went next. We needed to clean all the heavy mud off everything anyway. Tom and I had gone this route already but it had some nice formations and we wanted Jeff and Brett to see it. When things came to an end for the day there was a tiny hole Tom or Jeff saw on the way out. Don't tell me there is a small hole and expect me to leave! In I went and there was a little room in there. At the end there was pooled water which may be a sump - couldn't tell. There was water entering the room from a couple different spots. Brett and I followed one of them. This was belly-crawl territory but there was a spot a couple body lengths in to hunch over and turn around. In this photo Brett is entering the hole. My camera ran out of battery or I'd have some more shots of this water-filled, claustrophobic spot but this gives you the idea! This was exciting because it was another toe-crawl small space but had the added element of water! I guarantee no one other than the two of us would go in there....

So that was what we did on Labor Day. The most exciting exploration ever even though everything was a dead end. I just look at it as practice and exploration that one of these times will lead to a secret spot...a giant room...a roaring waterfall...a virgin cave! Ah, some day soon.