Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cueva Cucaracha - Not the "Best Time Ever," Just the "Last Time Ever"

On Sunday we were off the Cueva Cucaracha to help some student scientists collect spiders. They have been collecting spiders in various caves all over the island and had heard stories of Cueva Cucaracha. It is a well-known fact that people go into this cave once only...never again! Jeff and I have been inside two other times - May 2012 and again February 2011...the trip with "the episode." We had just taken a couple friends here earlier in the week at night to watch the bats leave the cave and we were quite excited to go into the cave. This is a shot of the entrance to the cave on the first trip. Ron was taking some measurements and Jeff was ready-to-go! We crawled through the low entrance and went to the bat room so Ron could take some temperature measurements and at that point Jeff decided he had had enough of the heat, the waiting and the humidity. He left. That was the end of the trip for him. On this first trip there were baby bats hanging all over the walls and our clothes. Ron finished his reading and we headed to the "bat stew" area so as not to disturb the babies and to get out of the heat! You have to stand in the stew and duck under some rocks to get to the cool spot before continuing on in comfort toward and into the river. The river ended in a sump. Keep in mind this is only one month earlier than our trip last year.

Jeff never saw the river so we went with Tom last year in February. The hot room was hot but manageable and we went through the stew no problem.  Shortly after the stew the trip ended.

Now we are going in on our 3rd trip so Jeff can actually see part of the cave. It is a late start and only 15 minutes from our house so it is going to be an easy day for us. The first bit of a pain is that 3 people haven't rappelled before. Ron brought a cable ladder but it would be hard to use because of the steep outside of the pit and the tree root in an odd location. After fiddling for too long it is decided to  re do the anchor and lower them on a rack into the pit.  This is the pit looking from the upper area after the "trip."
The tunnel at the entrance has steam streaming out of it. You can feel the heat before you even enter. With 8 people it is best to spread out a little because  people can jam up in the tunnel and everyone can really suffer! I go in with a couple of people with the plan of blasting through the hot area, going through the stew, and waiting on the other side where it is cooler. On entering the cave there is clearly more water in it than the other 2 times. It also feels a heck of a lot hotter and right away I start having problems breathing. The three of us get to the stew, rest, go through the stew and sit on the "cooler" side ...only it really isn't cooler. We sit for what seems like a very long time before Jeff and some others show up. They don't even go into the stew but decide to turn back. Bro at this point is missing so someone needs to go find him and make sure he isn't passed out somewhere which is a real possibility since everyone is wheezing and breathing wrong. Even pouring water on myself didn't really help and combined with the unusually high temperature where it should be cooler we turn back and head toward the exit. The stew area was disgusting as usual. There were not any babies that we could see but going in there were tons of bats hitting me. Jeff didn't see any bats but he had his head down the whole time!

I have got to get out while I can so I leave the group so I can do my speedy gonazales out the cave! It was a short distance that seemed like miles and even after sitting outside the cave down in the pit for 20 minutes I still wasn't breathing right. I was going to put my harness on and go up right away but was having trouble putting it on. Not a good thing. Bro was at the entrance coming in as I came out. He had straightened up, hit his back on something, then as he was stretched out flat resting noticed he couldn't breathe. Being sensible, he turned back after only going in 20 feet. Now we had to wait for everyone else, but with the condition we were all in no one could go in after any one. Not good. I couldn't stand it anymore and figured I'd get up and out where it was cooler and free up some sitting space for the others. I went up the rope and into the fresher air just as it started to rain. Now we needed to get everyone up which meant rigging the cable ladder or teaching them how to ascend. I lowered my croll and ascender and foot strap. Jeff gave the quicky lesson and I assisted from the top about what to do when you get to the ledge (ascender can't move). Everyone made it no problem and I was never happier to be done! Then we got to the cars.
After going into over 60 caves, parking in very remote areas, diving every weekend and parking, etc we have never been broken into. This time it was a crappy end to a not-so-fun caving day and now we have to wait 2 weeks for a glass window to come.  So, Cueva Cucaracha....you have seen the last of us. No more Kruse cavers. 3 times is enough! Is it the ammonia concentrations? CO2? Overall low oxygen levels? I don't know, but everyone had a headache and trouble breathing. It would be interesting to take some kind of air quality monitor in there but someone else can do that!


Cassie said...

Yikes! That sucks about the window too. Well, you can definitely say you guys are tough. I wouldn't want to do it even once. And the "stew" wow...

Mr. Sprucestrife said...

I was curious about recent cave trips. Man, I really miss caving and PR adventures. I think we all had been lucky to never be broken into. I guess your luck ran out. Hope you had the good stuff hidden. Miss you guys. Hope to see you in November for some adventure! --Tim