Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cueva Escalera - How Far Does it Go?

This was one of those "not sure how it will be" cave days. All that was known was that there was a 80 or 90 foot rappel, water, sumps and collapse. I am not a huge fan of sumps. When the water ends at a wall that is a sign to me that maybe it is time to look at other passages or go back. (you may recall the "Hog Hell" episode). Since the group included a few other people (some who were willing to dive under the sump) and since I wasn't going to do it and Jeff wasn't either Diana decided to come along.. I don't mind going under water, under rock and to the other side if I can see another person's light...hear them...or feel a tug on the rope. This sump turned out to be shorter than expected and quite doable. We opted out this time and stuck with our original plan (go back and explore the other direction). Here is the hole we went down. It took a 100 foot rope with another 30 foot to reach the bottom. There was an old metal ladder there also on the near vertical drop.

Inside the cave was pretty nice. It was the kind of cave I like because you had to squeeze through rock and do some crawling. There was a bit of up and down, some wading and some swimming. The water flow was kind of strong in a few areas.
Parts of the rock looked similar to rock in Zumbo and some sections reminded me of Cueva Chorros. I took a diversion and went up closer to look at the flowstone. I think of these as ice cream fountains.

I had a couple problems on this trip. The first one was getting down the rope. I often have trouble going down a rope. I used to use a micro rack with only two fixed bars. This worked on thin ropes but on thicker or dirty ropes there was too much friction and since I couldn't drop a bar or space them I'd get stuck and spend a long time bouncing my way down (bad for the rope and for the mind). I thought I had the solution - a petzl stop- but it turns out that this too is a problem for me. I dropped down the first 15 feet just fine and then either the rope got slightly jammed, or there was grit, or whatever and I was absolutely stuck. I bounced and bounced and didn't go far at all. Then it loosened a little before getting stuck again. I hand fed the rope into the device and my hands got very very tired but I finally made it down. The "stop" works great when it works because it is lightweight, short and when your hands let go it stops you. I need to use a figure 8. I don't think I weigh enough to use anything else. I have resisted since my arms are my weakest part and you HAVE to be in conrol with the figure 8 - drop it and it is an air rappel! The other problem I had was that I lost my soul - I mean sole! I didn't want to wear my new, shiny boots into the water so I went with my old ones and forgot that they were starting to come apart. Hard to grip surfaces and easy to trip with a lost sole.
After travelling upstream it sumped. We turned back and after getting to the entrance Jeff and I went downstream for an hour. We went up and down and up and down and in the water and out. We had to plop down into some water to continue. Down is easy but when you ARE down and look back up it can be trouble.
After half an hour downstream we headed back up to gather Diana and climb our way out. This was a little tricky at the top for the first person. I climbed the ladder (with 2 points of contact on the rope) but when it ended there wasn't a rope in place near the ladder top. I had to either swing on the rope and then go up the hole (difficult without help at the tippy top) or free climb the last creepy bit off rope). I got up. Then Diana came up and I could rig the rope so she could be attached the entire way. Then Jeff came up. Here's Diana up and on he way out after a 20 minute walk.
Here's Jeff in the field.
Now comes the most dangerous part of the trip...cows. There was a large herd of cows that ran up to us and had us surrounded. They were big! We needed to get on their trail to get out. We tried to scare them but they wouldn't go and split into 2 groups to surround us.
We headed into deeper brush to let them pass but they didn't respond to Jeff's branch waving or rocks. We climbed over barbed wire (we had owner permission to pass through the property) but the brush was too thick.

Then they started to come INTO the brush. We made it out looking behind us the whole way.

The cave was very nice. The day was a great one despite the initial descent problem. If only we could have had a speedy, decent (or one or the other) meal afterwards. We need to start bringing food, a camp stove and chairs so we can have fast, decent food right after the caving. Then it would be a perfect ending. The other guys stayed another couple hours in the cave. After going through the first sump the cave continued but ended again in a seems-like-impassable sump. To be continued?

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