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).


Anonymous said...

Is a 'breakdown pile' the same as a "collapse"? Is it just heaps of boulders, or something else? I am curious and want to understand.


Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert but believe they both are essentially when parts of walls or ceilings erode and form large piles inside a cave. I think collapse might also mean that the pile of debris reveals a connection that wasn't evident before (makes it possible to continue on in a cave). They are difficult areas for cavers to climb over or through since we have to navigate between fallen material in between the gaps formed by not-always-stable chunks of material.

Anonymous said...

Jeff and Katrina,

Awesome pictures as always! You guys are in reality doing a documentary about the intricate cave systems in Puerto Rico like probably nobody has done before. Glad to see you are having so much fun!

H Jr.

John A Colon said...

Hi my name is John and like you I like to explore
Puerto Rico and its beauty. Am having a hard time
Trying to find out where in PR is cueva lechuga.
Since you being there, can you tell me please please
The exact location, the town or how to get there?
Please, please, please, thanks
My e-mail is ; or call me
at (787)-955-0894, I will appreciate the info thanks