Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This Weekend's Caves - Cuevas Abono and Collazo

This dry season has been exciting because we are surprised almost every weekend by caves that aren't known, well-known or documented. Not only that but some of them are really pretty nice and go further than anticipated! Cueva Abono in Moca/Isabela was no exception. Tom and Michael came by the house and we headed up 112, hung a left shortly and headed to a house we scoped out on a previous outing. The gate to the house was open and Tom just drove right up the long driveway and chatted with the owner who pointed to the sink and said the owner probably wouldn't mind if we went into it. It was RIGHT THERE. A low spot in her driveway. We walked for all of 3 minutes to climb down into it. There was an opening on the left and one on the right and we went right. It did not look extensive until I used a good light and a little crawling to get around a squeeze and holy shit it was huge!!! I told the others they better come in and I just kept going! I got to a pit and found a way precariously down it (unnerving to be face-to-the-rock with feet dangling over an outcropping over a pit). I lowered myself down and then took off again. The cave just swallowed us whole as it opened up into huge passage sticky with mud and full of an untouched carpet of guano! It was quite decorated and had a lot of wonderful rock "sculptures" of rocks sitting like bridges or on pedestals. To the right of one such rock "table" I entered a small "bacon" tunnel with really nice bacon and a small bat hanging on it. We continued on and on maneuvering around creepy high up muddy slippery ledges (FUN stuff) and sinking in guano mud on the floor. We explored most leads except a high up need-a-rope-but-can't-see-how-to-anchor-it level. The cave ended at a collapse where we could see roots and some debris but not a way out. We need to map it to find an alternate entrance (the collapse from the surface or who knows, maybe a drop into the upper level?). We headed out and then took a quick peak into the other entrance and holy crap, it immediately dropped into a pit and was huge as well! No photos of this second part since the humidity crapped up the camera, but there were HUGE columns and a stream. We followed the stream and then I did some crawling into some dead-end mud rooms. Followed the water to some nice flowstone and even more tunnels. We followed everything as far as we could and turned back. We went a route that we thought would meet up with the main branch we came in on and indeed it did. This cave was much more involved than anticipated and really really nice! We were in the cave around 2 1/2 hours.


After that we stood in the entrance for a bit waiting for the tractor beam to pull us up and deposit us at our next stop. We shortly arrived at a cave, Cueva Collazo, that feeds into the waterfall off 111. We parked at a house after asking the neighbors if they knew where it was. We went down some stairs and into the river bed following it upstream. We came to a low muddy entrance and headed in! We were amazingly muddy from the first cave and I was a little chilled to start but into the disgustingly dirty water we went. Immediately the ceiling got low and the water got chest high. After that it got lower and lower and lower and opened up into some stand up spots. We investigated all the watery areas until they ended. This meant slurpping a little water here and there and being totally submerged! Our kind of stuff! (personally I prefer the one-way no-turn-around mud tunnels to the helmet-off-nose above water ones). Michael was a sport since he hadn't been in a cave before. He REALLY lucked out with these - they were amazing (especially the first although the second was the crazy stuff that is most memorable). All in all it was a fabulous day that was unbelievably close to home. OMG

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Special Permission" Cave

We got the call Saturday from Tom. He was working with another professor (Ingrid) and a journalism student to produce an article about karst and was doing something at the Camuy Caverns with Carlos Morales. We don't know any details really. I had a terrible backache from the day's dive, a headache and sour stomach but thought I might be ok the next day. We committed to going. When we got the call on Sunday I still was feeling like crap but this cave we were to visit required special permission to enter and was a short walk from the road. I didn't like the thought of the 100 foot rappel (lower back problems) but figured I could whine at home and miss it or just give it a whirl. We arrived before Tom and Diana and Ingrid finished up so we sat around outside. I had to go to the bathroom and discovered that the Camuy Caverns, one of Puerto Rico's largest tourist attractions, didn't have water that day and the bathrooms weren't working. Of course the sign was in Spanish. The bathrooms were also open so people just pretended they were working and kept piling it on - GROSS. I refused (I'll  pee in the woods thank you). They finished up and now needed lunch so we met them at Panaderia Lourdis. There there were functioning toilets, soap and paper towels but no running water in the sink. I did what I could and then we waited a while longer since only one of the three people needing lunch actually had it yet. After everyone had eaten we met Carlos Morales and Johnsey at the cave and with everyone we headed down the very steep embankment. We arrived at one entrance, the rappel, and were told there was a walk in entrance. The journalism student didn't want to do any more of the slope walking and left with Ingrid to do a car tour of karst areas. Johnsey found the hand line entrance, dropped the hole and found the walk in one. We all went to the walk in entrance and were quite surprised at how HUGE the cave was! Looking in people at the bottom looked truly miniaturized. We made our way down and were just in awe over the size of it. You could see through to the surface in two "eye" like holes and then there was a crest and skylight (rappel hole) then another large area. In this first "room" Tom discovered an area high up that had an odd blue surface - some kind of mineral maybe? We went over the crest to the other "room" and down that slope. There was an area of muddy and a little water and low formations. Johnsey said it didn't go anywhere but I didn't believe him and no one else wanted to get muddy. Good thing I was there - I went through and it opened into the best part...a decorated and huge room with a couple little pits in it! I got everyone else to come in. I went down into a pit that had a squeeze that doubled back and made a room under the room. None of the pits continued on but this area was impressive with sorbetos and an almost furry looking ceiling - very covered. A lot of ceiling pieces were broken off and regrowing. Lots of cracks maybe from long-time-ago earthquakes. Very nice! We examined everything in a couple hours before heading out. Tom worked up a thirst and went to a stalagmite watering hole (see him bending over?). You could see the water line on the wall. This was a nice cave which far met any expectations we had. I still felt like crap but at least I didn't miss it and it wasn't so taxing that I threw up or anything. The crawling may actually have popped something back into place and helped my back and nausea! One of our shorter days but with a big payoff for a small amount of effort! Thanks to Tom for all the arranging - the most difficult part of the trip!

Look at how miniaturized Johnsey looks! See the mud line where Diana is emerging! On the other side is the awesome room.

Tom's watering hole is below on top of the stalagmite - a fountain I guess - slurp! On the way out I just HAD to go up the handling. Tom followed and then we all headed back up the steep slope. I am still trying to visualize all this from the surface. We could see sky. We know we were basically under the road and that this should connect to the chicken-carcass-candle- cave. We didn't see where but no one wants to go down the stinky carcass pit. Hmmmm. Needs to be mapped (NO I didn't just say that!) Hopefully Tom will find a map of it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One Last Time to Cueva Cucaracha

Well this was the last time I will be visiting Cueva Cucaracha. This cave has not been friendly to me to me. Tim and Sherly were still here and they had a caving friend with them so we went caving of course. We visited Cueva Nunez near our house in the early afternoon with Katrina and Diana. Katrina and Diana when back to our house and Tim, Sherly, their friend, and I met Tom at the parking for Cucaracha.

We got in the cave before the bats started coming out. It was not pleasant but manageable. Certainly not as bad as when we went with Ron and we all almost suffocated (in a bout of mass hysteria). It only takes a few minutes to walk through the hot room. I was last. I brought a butane lighter with me this time. I was reading on Cave Chat that the Naked Flame Test can detect low Oxygen levels and it can be used as a Canary in the Coal Mine.

Tom's CO2 meter only goes to 1% and it overloaded immediately upon entering the cave. I was lagging in the back because I was trying to get my lighter to light. I even took off my glove to work the lighter better. I couldn’t get it to light at all. I was very surprised. Surprise soon gave way to concern. I spoke up and we all decided to rest near the river where is was much cooler. I, being the nervous Nelly of the group, discussed what we knew about the situation. To be honest, the conditions didn’t seem that bad once we cooled down (we were also now wet after swimming though the dead bat stagnant stew pool). However, Tom also took out two lighters and matches. We could not get anything to light. We were in a low oxygen environment that had less than 14% oxygen. We also knew we had over 1% CO2. Commonly, but not always there is a correlation between O2 and CO2 levels. Worst case was the CO2 could have been 21%-14%= 7%!!! We know it wasn’t 7% because we weren’t dead. The problem I worried about is that I didn’t know what the O2 and CO2 levels were. 14% O2 and 1% CO2 is no big deal. Less than 12% O2 is a big deal. Greater than 3% CO2 is a big deal. Couple all that with a long period of exposure, 95 degrees and 100% humidity, and high ammonia and you might have a problem.

Many people have visited this cave with no known deaths but that doesn’t mean the environment isn’t changing. There could be more bats or more organic matter decomposing. I will not go back without some sophisticated gas monitoring equipment. I want to see >13% O2 and < 3% CO2 before I will go back. Cucaracha is a significant cave system that doesn’t get visited much. It’s very unique but not very pretty. A lot of studies should be done there.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cueva Perdida

Some friends who have moved to the states were here for the holidays and wanted to go caving. We of course did too so we had to come up with something that would be new to them, exciting, and safe. This "dry season" has been anything but dry this year which really limits our cave choices. The wanted to do some vertical work but a lot of the caves requiring vertical work are wet. Really wet. We came up with Perdida since we wanted to see it again, Diana wanted to see it again, and Tim and Sherly hadn't been there. There were some other caves nearby Tom wanted to explore but with the late start we just didn't get to them this time. As a surprise Bro decided to show up! The walk is under a mile and since it is cooler now wasn't bad at all! We got to the small entrance and could tell they had no idea what was inside! From outside it doesn't look like much at all. Even the initial entryway gives no clues as to what is inside. Once inside though it is a Disneyland-like terrain of flowstone, chest-high moving water and beautiful formations. This cave is free of trash and graffiti which is another huge plus! We crawled through the entryway and popped out on a ledge above the river. We climbed down into the water and followed it up through formations and between rocks etc. There is some climbing, some crawling, and there are a few surprises in this cave. We came here for the first in 2010 and remembered it a little differently. At that point we had only gone into a dozen caves. Now that we have some experience the cave seemed easy and a lot shorter. It is still one of the most decorated caves we have been too. We went upstream and got to the area where the "white room" was. I had remembered an exciting squeeze under a ledge with low clearance, water up to the nostrils and a small hole leading to a collapse and then the room. This was not where we were. We went up a short climb and entered the room that was white, covered in stalagmites and 'tites and helictites and columns and everything! We marveled at the beauty and took care where we stepped giving Bro a heart attack whenever we were near a white column. This area had been surveyed and we stepped on already mudded areas and tried to avoid clean stuff.

Once we were in the room we remembered all the connecting rooms at the upper level and the tunnels. Instead of going through some nice white connections we went back down to the river level and THEN found what I remembered as the fun part! Under the ledge I went slithering into a little hole so I could find the bigger hole for the others. I shined my light and everyone came up. We climbed the collapse and got up into the pretty spot and had a look around. Then it was back down, into the water and downstream. Bro had gone out a hole downstream from where we came in before so he led the way. It got tighter and tighter and was very wet and Jeff got nervous. He didn't think it went out or at least he didn't want to do it. I went a slightly different way, could see him, could squeeze in a small spot to get to him and traveled down further pretty sure it connected. Bro thought it was the right place too. Since weather was iffy and Jeff wanted to turn we decided to look from the outside, I'd crawl up in there and see if I recognized the spot.

From the outside we went to rinse things off and I climbed up into a little waterfall crack and started following it. I went for about 5 minutes, went back to collect other interested parties (Tim and Sherly) and follow it all the way. We ended up at the spot Jeff had been at! It was a little tight for Jeff but he could probably do it. I really like that kind of maneuvering so it was the highlight of the day for me. I think Sherly and Tim enjoyed that part and the others enjoyed NOT going in there. Turns out there are 3 cracks that lead to that way out - we'll call it the "waterfall way." This is a really nice cave with a little of everything - water, formations, climbing, squeezing. It has everything we go caving to see and the walk isn't taxing. Another visitor is coming in a week and might not want to miss this one...Adam? There are so many caves to see it is hard to choose but I can recommend this one and would return again. Since our time on island is limited I am being kind of choosey with what I do now. I don't want graffiti and trash and starving animals to be what I remember. If Perdida is the final cave I do here I am happy with that (we already have done another one though that would be a good one to end on also!). It does look like we will be here possibly for a majority of the dry season - good to get in as many caves as possible!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Caves in the Don Felipe (Larga) Area

Tom and I went out to find some caves that were listed in a 40+ year old map from Monroe. Katrina doesn't like hiking around the jungle without making a bee- line right to the cave so she went diving with David.Our first stop was to an old show cave. This cave still has the old Romex bare wire strung through the center of it with a few corroded light bulbs hanging from it. This cave was remarkable and we were very pleased. The white line in the center of the picture is the old wire.

After leaving Cueva La Luz we drove as far as we could on a paved road and parked in someone's yard.  That's one of the great things about Puerto Rico. You can just drive up to anyone's house and ask to park in their yard and walk all over their property and they will usually say yes. Not only that but they will try to be helpful and sometimes offer refreshments or water to wash off with. The owner of the farm that we parked at knew about a few caves in the area and gave us directions to one. There are probably many more.That crack/hole in the picture below probably hasn't been explored.
We think we found Cueva Muerto. We are not a 100% sure since the descriptions we have are just single  sentences. As usual there was garbage near the cave. This cave was just a single medium size room with some bats. The entrance was at the bottom of the cliff shown above.

After leaving this cave I explored the base of the cliff as much as I could but it was really hard going and very steep. Not finding any more caves at the base of the cliff I met up with Tom on the trail below and we headed off to find Cueva Agua. I found a bunch of pits that looked really interesting and Tom found the cave.

This cave was just above a pond and very small stream. We entered as far as we could without getting wet.  Since the cave continued we needed to push it so we took our boots and socks off to pass some water. On the other side of the water we were able to continue on for 5 minutes until a sump blocked our way. I took my boots off again and got fully wet to check out the sump but it did not "go" without scuba gear. We left this cave and started the search for Cueva Humo. After some searching we found it!  It is HUGE.  The area leading up to the cave is full of growth so I couldn't get a picture of the entrance from the outside. In the picture below I am over 130' vertical feet down and neither Tom nor I wanted to climb back up just for a picture. A person would be very small at the top.
This was an exciting find for the day. It's possible it could be part of the Larga system as the character of the cave is similar.

The cave finally ended in a pool of water. With a shovel and scuba gear maybe someone could pass onto miles of virgin cave.