Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bad Gas, Stinky Snake...That's Right, It's Back to Hell (Cueva Infiernillo)

Okay, you're asking why we would return again and again to Hell? It doesn't end, that's why. Going underground with a map in hand is adventure enough but going into one that hasn't been surveyed is another adventure entirely. This was a mission - a mission to complete what the previous 12 hours hadn't finished - a mission to push to the end (at least the big passage anyway). For this journey Brett, Frank, Diana, Tom, Jeff and I all gathered at 8am. We got to the cave, got packed up (vertical gear just in case) and entered the cave at 9. First we encountered all the garbage and then the familiar smell of the inflated Boa. In two weeks the smell has decreased and the Boa has gone from gas-bloated to this skin revealing the vertebra.
The mind tends to block out uncomfortable things. This cave is a really wet cave. There is lots of swimming in not-so-pleasant-water. Lots of pulling-yourself-along in the water and a fair amount of climbing. We made pretty good progress to the place Tom and Jeff had placed the last survey station. We had enough people to make surveying bump along relatively quickly with the scout in front (me), Diana at the furthest station, Jeff and Frank taking measurements and Tom recording them. This passage was nice after going through the low crawl of the dry passage - it was wide and tall and a lot like a giant lava tube (with a river in it). The water was ankle deep to small pools but as we kept surveying there was more and more and more water. I got to one spot and started scouting and found myself in mud over my boots under water that was waist high. I start smelling this horribly foul and unhealthy gas smell every time I stepped (the dead pig floats into my mind). At first I am not concerned and think it is just decomposing stuff but it gets so strong that I wonder if I will pass out and drown. I go back and report this and then trudge through it further to take a peak at what lies ahead. Well, the deepening sediment, methane gas boiling up in it, and rising water were pretty good clues that the passage was sumping out but I felt I needed to go further just to make sure. This involved swimming a pretty large lake that was over my head. I swam to the left hand wall and looked across using my most excellent light and saw floating trash (another clue) and water all the way up to the ceiling on the right and the left passage had a few inches of airspace if you tilted your head. Since it was over my head, really gassy and gross I did not investigate further. With my great light I couldn't quite tell if I could see an air pocket beyond the tight ceiling or not but I was pretty confident it sumped out and did not go further. Jeff and Brett double checked and we called for Tom but he declined to look and we went back. On the way back I moved pretty quickly so I could check out another side passage that had a little river in it. I did a 5 minute tour and didn't get to the end. When everyone joined up we had lunch and I reported the new info. It was tight, low, in the water and curvy and not something anyone wanted to survey (not likely to go anywhere). Tom decides he wants to go back to check out our last station - we'll call it the methane gas pot-o-stinky mud sump spot. I was very confident it didn't go, and did not want to swim the multiple lakes and things to get back to it and then repeat to return. Diana and Jeff didn't want to do it either so Frank, Brett and Tom went back to push it. We took a detour from the return dry passage to look at the big waterfall and 75' lake. Then we returned from that and went up into the dry passage to go back. There were still a couple passages off the dry passage that needed exploring. I tried one of these passages and after a fairly straight, slightly downward tunnel it provided a nice view and 80 foot drop to the waterfall/lake area. I suspected this would be the case. I went ahead and entered the next side tunnel and it was similar...I could hear the river and feel it but then the tunnel took an unexpected 90 degree turn to the left and I was going away from the river. I kept going and encountered some bats. It was warm and small in there and it kept going. I got to a fork that went around a column and joined back up. It kept going. Then it branched 3 different ways. It was probably 10 minutes at least at warp speed. Diana knew where I went in but I had left my pack outside the hole so Jeff would know (if he saw it). I didn't have flagging or a backup light. When things start branching you don't really want to be alone. Without flagging I couldn't mark things. The entire time I peeked back to make sure there weren't hidden passages that would confuse me on the way out. I really wanted to continue but who knows how far it goes? I'd have to leave it for another day. I did scout the left branch (it kept going) and then the right (it branched again and angled back). I travelled back and finally encountered Jeff who had come in after me. He caught up with Diana, went to the big waterfall and tied a rope for the other guys, came back for me and the whole time I was exploring. Now we had the long journey out. On the way out it was water, water, and more water. I didn't remember all the lakes and pools and floating and swimming we did in the previous 4 hours.

Here's Jeff entering a water-filled slot.

We had waterfalls to climb up and slots to swim through....lakes and pools galore. Here Jeff is standing on top of the waterfall and Diana is below getting ready for the climb after getting out of the water.

Finding the right hand holds...

Even though this cave has a LOT of garbage in it and a lot of ugly dark formations there are some incredible ones as well. Here is a nice one.

We went back to the shower faucet/Shuttle nozzle room for a while. The way into the cave was business and not photography time but now we could relax.

Oh, this photo was on the way in. Note the large tire embedded in the ceiling. The amount of water here during the wet season must be phenomenal!

 Here Frank fits in to the Hell scenario (note the red eyes). A surprising thing about this cave (given its size and length) is the amount of life in it. We saw bats, crab, tadpoles, shrimp, fish, frogs, and cockroaches.

Here's Jeff in the water and Diana contemplating the next climb-of-many. Lots of water. Water was dripping, squirting, dropping and racing out of everywhere.

So are we done with Hell? Almost. It ended up that the main passage did sump out. The guys investigated some other passages on their way out (so did we). There are a couple with some promise so a return trip is required (but hopefully not next - lots of physical work doing this one). We do want to survey the rest. Time in the cave was 8 hours for Jeff, Diana and I and another hour for the guys. This is a huge cave!

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