Cuba 1999

 

Map of the Pan de Azucar Area from the previous trips (1991 - 98)

 

 

Map by Bob Wilkins


Background

 

Building on the success of the 1997 expedition to Pan De Azucar, the club once again returned to Cuba for two weeks at Easter. In 1998 Bob Wilkins had been out to the area and discovered Cueva Jaiba with Lynn Harrington and Evelio Balado. This seem to indicate that the area still had good potential for further discoveries.

 

            Our initial objectives were to try some dye testing of the Dark Horse Streamway in Cueva Chiquita, and investigating the sumps in Hale Bopp and Campamento to see if there was a way past them. We also decided to extend the surface survey of the area going North to the edge of the Mogote where Bob had reported some caves. The China canyon also was thought to hold some key to the area.

 

            When we arrived in Cuba we found that a Spanish expedition had visited the area. They had revisited and resurveyed Cueva Grande, and partially resurveyed Cueva Chiquita. This proved very interesting as the Cuban contact Pedro Luis Hernandez already knew that WSG had been in these caves. Nevertheless the Spanish did survey several small caves to the North of Cueva Grande including the one with Native Indian pictograms which Bob had been told about by Coco on his last visit. Despite this the group decided to continue with the objectives of pushing the surface survey further North. It was also decided to push Westward along the edge of the mogote looking for any obvious streambeds or cave entrances.

 

Cueva Chiquita

 

            A team was sent in to investigate the water level for the possibility of carrying out dye testing. Unfortunately the weather conditions had been so dry in the previous months that barely a trickle was flowing in the streamway. It was decided that it would be impractical to carry out any dye testing. A group investigated the Hale Bopp sump and found that although it extended another ten metres in low crawl with shallow water it gradually became deeper until one could stand waist deep in the water. It looked as though this was indeed a sump and not a mere duck as we had hoped.

 

            Meanwhile Toby Clark, Jan Evett and Andy Sewell  had investigated the unprincipled crawl and found it to be dry. They continued in a flat out crawl with the occasional hands and knees bit until they reached a duck. Once through the duck they broke into a chamber with a large steep  muddy slope.  Near the top of this greasy slab it became very exposed so Andy and Jan, having no proper equipment, decided to survey out and return the next day to tackle the slope.

 

“I knew there was going to be a fair amount of water AND it was warm! But flat out ducks which (a) filled your boots with gravel and were succeeded by (b) thick gloopy mud and (c) grit and gravel leaving  you encased in a muddy conglomerate were very interesting experiences” Jan

 

            The following morning Martin Mc Gowan joined the team to aid the assault. Martin climbed the slope to the crux and was followed up  by Jan. After several attempts a large stal boss was lassoed. This enabled Martin to slither and slide his way  to the top. Looking around at the rift, Martin saw a profusion of calcited crabs, helicitites, and crystal growth, but the way on was blocked by stal. After whacking in a piton Jan came up as well to have a look. So they abseiled back down and left Chiquita.

 

 The China Canyon

 

            Martin, Chris ‘Beaker’ Woods, Gary ‘Fumpa’ Cockburn, Girant,  Enrique, and Coco headed off to the China Canyon on the first day. They clambered up the steep vegetated cliff by the local hunting path and descended into the lost world of the gorge. Enclosed by the cliffs and the encroaching plants they pushed their way to the cascade. This canyon reminded Martin of the cheap sci-fi which talked of lost worlds and dinosaurs.   At least the group was shielded from the sun, a blissful escape from its searing heat.

 

            The assault on the cascade began with Martin climbing up about 15m. He attempted to traverse out onto the slab, but worries over the lack of protection, heat and the greasy nature of the rock led to withdrawal.

 

“All you need is a full rack and a pair of rock boots. I was going to pack it but the weight limit stopped me.” Beaker

 

 Enrique then took the lead and in a pair of old wellingtons stormed up the climb. They all stood in awe  as they wondered is he ever going to place some protection in or deck out. Hitting the overhang  with vigour and style he conquered it and was at the top.

 

            They all were soon prussikking up a fixed line. At the top there were remnants of caves which the cascade had cut through. A large bedding plane at about 70 degrees was chock full of mud and stones.  Any cave in this area would soon be filled in with debris  and detritus carried by the river during the wet season. In fact later that day they discovered that Cueva China was blocked.

           

Walking out of the cascade canyon they met a large confluence of three streams. It was decided to follow the more active and scoured streambed. Beaker and Martin were surveying while the others searched the area for possible caves. The wind blew gently through the trees in the dappled sunlight and provided gentle relief from the heat. Unfortunately for the survey team the midges were feasting on their blood.

 

            Girant came back with the news that he had found a shaft. A closer inspection of it revealed a 15m drop just off the main stream. This had potential and was in the right place.  They had found the Gee’s pot. Unfortunately it was late in the afternoon so the group went back to celebrate the first day. The next day most of the team plus Evelio returned. Using only natural belay points and ladders, plus the odd bit of SRT they bottomed Gee’s pot. It was 60m deep. A good start.

 

For a few days the top of the mogote got neglected mainly because of the time it took to slog up to the top in the heat. Eventually Fumpa and Martin decided to pay a return visit to find another gorge that Fumpa had seen on the first day. Tramping  around from the last survey point they reached a bluff  separating  the dry riverbed running into the known canyon from the unknown. Crossing this boundary they gained the top, soon hit another canyon, but this time the rock was not limestone. They had found the lost canyon. The birds fluttered in the trees while wild pigs snuffled through the undergrowth looking for roots. Memories of the meal from the other day came back.

 

Following the stream down there were clear signs of faulting and thrusting. At one point half the stream was limestone and the other half was a black marly rock. Then they crossed the boundary and immediately stumbled into a  shakehole. It is quite unusual for Cuba to see this feature as normally the caves are formed by rivers running through the mogote and as the mogote is pushed up another level is dissolved away.

 

 

 

The first cave they found was Cueva Contacto (Boundary Cave). This was a fossil cave with the only interesting feature being the large arachnids with claws. In the shakehole  several holes connected with each other. Then they saw a large cave 10m across in the next shakehole. Going down at about 70 degrees after 40m they encountered a pitch.

 

Throwing stones down the pitch caused a loud booming echo of empty space, followed by the rumbling of  bats wings. The darkness beckoned. So it was called Cueva Titanic, partly because it was large and going down fast; also because they were being subjected by the Cubans to  that bloody song from the film. Going on down the gorge they soon hit the China cascade. Fumpa and Martin had just gone in one massive loop. Ah well, at least they knew where they were. Heading back down their hearts sang and heads buzzed with excitement.

 

Roberto and Evelio did confirm the idea that there was a contact area. Unfortunately the expedition had already planned a day off for the next day (Saturday), so we all trundled off in the knackered school bus. Eventually we did return at four in the morning swinging from the rafters and settled into a drunken stupor. On Sunday no one could face the idea of hauling gear up the hill for two hours in the heat. Dehydration from the night before had set in.

 

 On Monday  Martin got told about another cave on top by Alfredo,  so Martin headed off to see this armed with a GPS. While Fumpa, Andy, Evelio and Toby headed off to do Cueva Titanic. Martin’s trip involved following the path up to Titanic and then reaching the top of the mogote before heading down yet another sedimentary streambed.

 

Down and down he went into one hoyo, which had an impressive cascade, and then into another. To pass this they climbed up and then down  the sheer sides of the hoyo. How the trees clung onto the side of the rock wall was amazing, but more importantly they provide  a series of essential handholds.

 

“I knew it was getting serious when Alfredo left the shotgun at the top of the descent” Martin

 

 After climbing down  and out of two hoyo, the three of them reached the cave. After a short drop it was a clean washed hands and knee crawl in a straight line and after a few kinks the river went down a pitch. The worst point was finding out that in a straight line from the entrance to Alfredo house was a mere 400m, but it had taken nearly three hours to reach the cave. But in honour of Alfredo’s hospitality it was decided to name the cave after him and his wife, who always gave us coffee when we passed their house.

 

Eventually Martin got back to Titanic and found that the cave had gone deep and needed more gear. Toby (ex Chairman of the club and Chairman of the trustee) belayed Martin (current Chairman of the club) down. Martin had a quick look round after descending the Chairmen’s pitch into the first chamber.

 

 There were three ways on two of them were shafts, but the most promising was a rift. The shafts were named Carpathian in honour of the ship that saw the Titanic in distress but did nothing. The next day there was a mass assault as the expedition was running out of time. Consequently two survey teams and a photographic team slogged their way up the hill. Martin, Fumpa, and Andy were the bottoming team. Beaker lugging the black pelicase up the hill.

 

“The one way to get Irene up here would be to paint little red and white marks as in the Alps” mused Toby on the way up

 

Although the expedition was not very well equipped for a vertical cave, several ingenious solutions were thought up to overcome the series of small pitches which were in the cave. As we piled down the pitch, using hand over hand on the rope. It was thrilling as exploration fever reached boiling point. Luckily natural belay points and handholds were six a dozen. After the series of pitches the cave hit a horizontal bedding plane. Here the water was undercutting a formation and we had to crawl into a chamber. A calcited mud bank took up most of the room. Fumpa squeezed by. Then he beckoned the others to follow.

 

Once through the squeeze the cave regained its majestic proportions, as the bottoming team clambered down  flowstone and gour pools at an angle of about sixty degrees. Using a flake in the roof to secure a handline Fumpa and Martin descended the steep section and like a helter-skelter the shaft swirled round on itself. It was a great rope slide to a sump pool. Although Fumpa thought it could be a low duck. But at this point it was decided to survey out.

 

Going out back up the whirled shaft was an unbelievably enthralling climb, water cascading down your arms whilst slapping your hands into jugs, standing waist deep gour pools, plus a flowstone squeeze thrown in for good measure. Jan and Matthew joined bottoming team and were told to send the photography team down  to do some snaps. But the squeeze had other plans  and despite his best attempts Beaker could not get his large peli-case to fit through the squeeze. Well that is what he told the others and we all believe him. So the squeeze was named Fat Pelican. The next day Martin drew up the survey and found out that the cave was 140m deep, making it the deepest in Western Cuba.

 

Cueva Alfredo y Teresa

 

 

 

            On the day of the mass assault on Titanic, James Hooper, Steve Weston and Coco went to investigate Cueva Alfredo y Teresa. Armed with just a ladder and some slings they set off.  On reaching the cave it soon became clear that Martin had lied just a little bit about the size of the pitch. Even so they descended to a ledge where James placed another bolt to get further down.  The ladder was passed down and they went on. They then entered another hands and knees crawl which hit another pitch. Repeating the process once again they got down, until they decided they had pushed their luck enough and it was getting late. So with the possibility of afternoon rain they quit.

 

On the last day no one could be encouraged to go push or survey the cave especially as it involved a three hour walk, so Cueva Alfredo y Teresa was never surveyed. Equally Cueva Contacto somehow manage to avoid the attentions of the surveyors. Instead people spent the day pushing the leads in the recent finds along the base of the mogote. We believe that Cueva Alfredo y Teresa is above Rumble in the Jungle in Cueva Chiquita.

 

Caves to the West of the Camp

           

On the first day Matthew Setchfield, John ‘Jumbo’ Heale, and James went off to investigate the caves between the climb over to the China Canyon and camp. These young dudes in their sunglasses and bandannas sauntered round the headland, while the others struggled up the climb. They were poking into every nook and cranny, hoping to find that elusive new system.

 

Starting at the obvious gapping hole in the cliff, which had been previously marked on the surface survey, the tres amigos commenced their search and record mission. Jumbo adopted the role of director of operations pointing out the leads from the fields for his troops.  Shortly after the entrance of the cave, James and Matthew found a chamber with two ways on.

 

Although the  passages headed off into hill the two intrepid explorers soon found themselves at the edge of the mogote although higher up the cliff. El Capitán Jumbo pointed out more nearby holes for the two to inspect. Ducking and diving  James and Matthew weaved and waved their way to one side of a stal blockage. They forced their way through and squeezed into a crawl which in several metres ended.

 

Back at the entrance chamber, daylight filtered in from skylight/aven some 9m above. Out on the surface, James fought his way through the jungle to get on top of the plateau and soon found the pitch. Unfortunately, he was then unable to find his way back down. We could hear him quite plainly and tried to direct his voice to safety. James called out “This is quite embarrassing”.

 

            Ostensibly off to survey Cueva Tres Amigo’s, Bob, Beaker, Matthew and Jumbo walked past the known entrance of Cueva Campamento to an entrance a little further round the mogote. Here, Bob knew of a small pool in which he was going to dive into to cool off. Of course, Bob then called out that it was “going” and that draft could be felt. They waded in and entered a muddy chamber. Over the other side of a mud bank, the water continued and a sump was reached. An ascending passage on the right lead up and over and back to the same muddy chamber, at which point Bob revealed that he already knew that this was a round trip and that he wanted to see if the sump was open! They were all now soaked for no apparent reason.

 

On the way out, another rising, and drafting passage was spotted and Beaker went for a “Quick look”. He was gone ages. Bob followed and also vanished. Jumbo waited for them whilst Matthew went out and climbed the cliff to where a complex of orifices and entrances could be seen, on the off-chance that a vocal connection could be established. It wasn’t to be, so Matthew took quite a “hairy” climbing route back down, rejoined “the Fat Man”.  They too then went up the drafting tube. Crawling brought them to a small chamber beyond which they could hear voices. Another narrow rift lead them to Beaker and Bob and shortly after they all popped out into daylight….in the entrance of the original Cueva Campamento. Thus a new through trip was established and a significant extension was made to the known cave.

 

Bob, Beaker and Jumbo then undertook the survey whilst Matthew took a few photos. After, they had lunch in the field with a cold beer (left  in the entrance pool) only to realise that the compass glass had cracked and the oil was seeping out. So now no  chance of surveying Cueva Tres Amigos.

 

Instead, they wandered to Cueva Chiquita, to cool off in the entrance passage then went up the cliff to Cueva Nogal. The round trip to see the lecterns was nearly compete. They had seen the lecterns and the only obstacle to pass in the crawl was the squeeze back into the main passage. And yes, you’ve guessed it, neither Bob, nor Beaker and definitely not Jumbo could fit. So, the long way out for them, while skinny Matthew zipped through and waited in the entrance chamber for the new “boy”-band, Fat Fat Fat to appear!

 

During the evenings and early in the mornings many of the small ‘caves’ beside the camp were investigated. James, Jan, Martin, and Toby poked their heads into a variety of holes even maypoling one entrance to gain a shelf which turned into a small tube and ended quickly.  The only find of any length was about 20m. It  was on the corner of the mogote near the camp and soon came out about 10 m up the cliff. Cueva de las Abejas (Cave of the Bees) was investigated  by Jan, Toby and Martin  in the evening. Planning a dusk raid when all the residents would be in their hives for the night and inactive they found that the site was just  an overhang with assorted boulders making up a pseudo cave.

           

At the end of the first week we start to extend our search of the mogote westward from the base of the China climb.  The first trip by Toby et al showed that there were several obvious caves along the edge of the limestone. Some of these had been charted by the Cubans and were marked with the prefix C for Cueva. The trip rediscovered C19 and C10 but where were all the other caves?

 

 

 

Celebrating a new find

photo by Jan Evett

 

            So the next day  Andy, Martin  Jan and Toby went back to visit and survey a cave that had been found. The entrance was along a dry river bed and in the wet season the cave clearly acted as a resurgence.  The entrance itself was lower than the streambed and after about 100 m the cave ended in a sump. But it had been noticed that a rift went over the top so Martin started to climb this muddy greasy slab.  It clearly went on, then Martin noticed that he had cut his leg open on the way in. Although nothing serious  he decided to leave and sent Jan up to do the dirty work.

 

            While struggling on the way out to keep the cut clean  Martin saw yet another rift. Plenty of potential in this cave. After evacuating Martin, Toby returned  to find that Jan and Andy where now up the 70 degree rift at about 15 metres. They kept going Jan leading up the greasy rift and then placing a bolt to hold a ladder so the others could follow. At 45 metres Jan decided that he had had enough of playing silly climbing games and decided to head out. Meanwhile Martin had returned to the entrance planning to surface survey back with Toby when he noticed some pencil markings on the wall. The markings clearly said C16, ah well so much for discovery.

 

Cueva De La Resurección

 

The Easter Sunday began with a treat as following breakfast, Steve produced a load of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs; well it was Pascua de Resurreción after all! Again, we were off to view another “Cueva Agua” that Coco had been told about. A party consisting of Matthew, Bob, Fumpa, Jan, Martin, Coco, and Enrique set off . They wandered down the road carbide slung over their shoulders and boiler suits tied up around their waist.

 

Crossing the field and going around  Mogote outcrop and turning into a hidden valley they saw the entrance. Through the wonders of GPS it was found the cave was 1.7km from Alfredo’s farm. The entrance was clearly going to be hard to reach as it was some 10m up a cliff face! Coco, Fumpa and Enrique entertained us with displays of their climbing abilities, while Bob, Martin and Jan investigated various other entrances the mogote. Coco was eventually rewarded with a new cave as he climbed to another entrance containing a small passage leading to the main entrance that we were looking at. Fumpa, Enrique and Matthew followed Coco’s route and soon found themselves in a large drafting passage boring off into the hillside.

 

Through a decorated chamber the cave descended amidst silt banks and terminated at a pool, from which a howling gale blew through. Enrique forced his way through a squeeze and dropped into the pool and announced a 5cm airspace duck confronted him. Fumpa joined Enrique, and pondered the situation in his own inimitable style. Enrique was not going to get any wetter! Therefore, tearing himself away from “Mmmmmmm” and “Aarrrrgggghhhhhh”, Matthew made a quick sketch survey back to the entrance. From the vantage point over the mogote, Matthew chatted to Bob, Martin and Jan. Jan decided to come up for a look. Coco went out.

 

Jan joined Matthew and began a proper survey into the cave. They passed Enrique, sleeping in the main passage, and continued to the duck. When Fumpa told tales of massive echoing chambers they simply had to go for a look. Matthew went through first and found he was sharing the water with a small cave-crayfish. On the other side there was a large crab clinging to the wall. They surveyed through the duck and then on through a muddy passage in to the large chamber that Fumpa had found, where they stopped the survey. They poked around at various heights and locations all on slippery mud banks, then tried to follow Jan who found a possible way on, to an even larger chamber he suspected. However, the Fumpa factor then played a major part. Fumpa was clinging to the top of a mud slope and didn’t know where to turn or what to do. “Mmmmmm”, they heard, reverberating around the walls! Matthew made the decision to return to camp, as clearly a slip here would be awkward and felt that a rope or ladder would be far more sensible equipment to have in which to explore this site.

 

The other two agreed so they returned to the duck, washed off and made their way back to the entrance climb. The climb looked a hell of a lot more daunting from above and a careful descent had to be made.

 

Back at camp they noticed the “Jutia”- a local indigenous mammal, was no longer around.

           

East Entrance

Photo by Jan Evett

 

            Inside, adjacent to an entrance sump is a rift leading South into a chamber and the other end of the sump. Crossed the chamber, and followed a phreatic tube which dips steeply to an interesting duck!

 

            After the duck the nature of the cave changed to very muddy and the rock was very fragile. Entering a large chamber directly after the duck, following  the streamway under a rock bridge and then climbed the mud slope to a window on the left. Slid down the muddy hole turning right, went straight past a mud slope on the right, till where the passage closed down to a flat out crawl.

 

            Emerging into another sizeable chamber there was a difficult climb to a higher level passage of about 3m on the right which needed laddering. A long narrow gour pool which completely flooded the passage floor needed to be traversed before quickly reaching a drop of about 10ft (which required 2/3 slings to reascend) below a chamber.

 

            This stooping passage dipped down to a pool and continued as a crawl, then a rift until a small chamber was reached on the right. The chamber slopes up to where a mudslope came in from a window about 5m up. Climbing the slope straight up through the window brought you into the bottom of a big chamber. On the opposite side of the chamber the passage seemed to continue, but dropped quickly to a tight sump.

 

            The chamber was interesting, like a large rift, 20-30m high 50m long and 5-10m wide, on the right a steep calcite slope appeared to come from a higher level passage. On the left a larger but more shallow calcite slope ascended in a series of steps to a passage at the far end of the chamber.

 

            Clambering up the slope about 15-20m brings you to a high chamber. In front of you is a large mud formation in the roof which appears to have collapsed and a big rubble pile slopes down about 10m to the left partially filling a chamber. A teasing passage seems to enter from the roof above the collapsed mud formation, unfortunately it was about 15m up. Also on the left a passage leads to two wide and well decorated bedding-plane chambers sloping down for 10-20m. There are no other obvious ways on.

 

                        Cueva De La Resurección (Easter Cave) is bizarre mainly due to the massive amount of mud that build up straight after the duck. Before the duck it is completely dry and clean. It also appears to be generally rising upwards, into the mogote. On occasion, probably in the rainy season, it must back up massively with water washed down through the mogote. The duck is the tightest section of the cave and from there inwards the water probably deposits its load before draining. The large number of mud stal though indicate that it can't back up too frequently.

 

            Also note for future expeditions that somewhere in the chamber with the ladder climb (M-SM) is a shovel belonging to Evelio.

 

Cueva Grande

 

Once again WSG gave some attention to Cueva Grande in the hope of gaining the much dreamed about Master System. Armed with car inner tubes and tins of Cristal beer Mathew, Bob and Jumbo trotted over to the cave and promptly buried the tins of beer in the “cool” (24º!) river. They then inflated their buoyancy aids and slipped into the first lake. Given that this was a trip to investigate a lead at the end of the cave, they quickly made their way through the lakes then took the high level route through the cave to the pitch; rigged by Bob.

 

Below, a brief rest was had until Matthew and Jumbo assumed they could hear the sound of a flowing streamlet…but no.. “Sorry lads” came the piteous call as they turned towards Bob to realise that he was chucking up “hurl and lung butter”. Now Bob blamed this “incident” on a rogue Gherkin consumed at breakfast! Jumbo and Matthew were of the opinion that the bottle of rum consumed by the protagonist the previous night…may have had something to do with it!

 

They then continued through the whirlwind of bats (which to all intents and purposes sounded like the roar of a huge river) to the unexplored passage. Having produced the survey gear, Bob indicated that he was happy to start only to be rudely interrupted shortly afterwards by another dose of “Gherkin stew”.

 

Shit” called Jumbo, “I’ve just been hit by a bat”. Extract from Matthew’s personal logbook

 

Anyway, the survey led them up a rising passage to a low crawl, which Jumbo filled. Matthew, at one point, was on the other side and moved aside as a bat belted past and headed straight for Jumbo. Matthew knew what the only outcome of this kamikaze flight was to be. Beyond the squeeze a large white stal column was proudly standing in the centre of the passage, named “The little blond in the park of attractions” by Matthew. Beyond the stal were a couple of decorated chambers filled with a few bats darting about. Sadly there was no noticeable draft despite the fact that the bats kept disappearing through various small holes in the floor.

 

On the way out, they attempted to complete the round trip. After Jumbo and Matthew nipped up to see the huge upstream sump the three of then dipped gently into the azure blue water and basically paddled for home. The duck/sump was open though it took a while to find the correct route through, the way on being a devious series of air-pockets between blades of rock. Soon back to base and to the welcome tins of beer.

 

Back at camp they found Raul and Nicholas had prepared a huge bowl of delicious chips and that the Cubans had been hunting and had captured a “Jutia”….but that’s a different tale.

 

Toby was also interested in Cueva Grande and could not believe that no one had investigated the sump pool. So off he set to plumb the depth of the sump. For once the pool was crystal clear and  floating around the edge Toby found the pool was 10m deep and the pheratic going off the pool was of a similar dimension. An obvious lead for a diving trip to return to.

 

On another trip Toby investigated the entrance of Cueva Grande and stumbled on what was an unbelievable find. Just in sight of the main entrance was a small chamber which normally lead down to a small pool. For years it had been ignored as it did not lead on to new passage. Nevertheless Toby decided to investigate it and he was amazed to see some etchings on the wall. Could these be aboriginal art? He toddled back to the camp and announced his find. Most of the group were bit sceptical although we did know that the Spanish had found some pictograph in caves further north. Roberto from the Institution Geologia Y Paleontologia confirmed Toby’s find as an example of Indian aboriginal art. This site would require further investigation by an archæologist.

 

 

 

Pictogram, Photograph  by J . Evett

 

Cueva Jaiba

 

            Only one trip was undertaken in this cave. Jan Evielo and Martin spent a few hours looking at a lead. Martin found one of the thin leads left by Bob, Evielo and Lynn in 1998.At the end of the passage Martin could just squeeze his head through to see the cave getting bigger. Manually pulling out mud made it possible for Martin to get up to his chest through. But it needed some proper diggiong so Jan went out while at least Martin had a nap in the cave.

 

            Jan returned and attacked the dig site and broke into a small chamber. Evielio got through as well but unfortunely the cave closed down again. There are still four other leads in the cave which did not get pushed. The two rifts which need bolting  and two beeding planes which need thin cavers to push. So while large passageways were been discovered elsewhere it thought best to leave this cave for a rainy day.  Unfortunately it did not rain while we were in Cuba

 

Caves to the North of the Camp

 

Early on in the expedition our aim to expand our area and our range of knowledge led us to investigate the limestone to the North of Cueva Grande and its outlet Cueva del Agua. We were interested in both the extent of the karst and, of course, unexplored caves. We knew that a Spanish expedition had found several small caves and so there was clearly potential in this region.

 

Steve and Evelio spent a long day surface surveying in the heat and locating entrances. During the following week, James and Steve were then often seen heading North, working on the above ground survey and resurveying the Spanish caves. Here the megote rises up from the valley at a much shallower angle than around camp. They were amused to find that the Spanish had rotated, seemingly randomly, the orientation of several passages, often by as much as ninety degrees. Unfortunately no new caves were found, nor any extensions to existing ones, but an intriguing hole that dropped down to a static pool was noted. It was interesting because Steve thought he’d felt a strong draught coming out of it when he first saw it and also considerable amounts of water must flow out of it at times. 

 

One hot day, Steve and James had just completed the survey as far as the boundary between limestone and metamorphic rock when Steve got the call. Not from a Deity but from the bowels. He knew there was something he had to do so he squatted down amongst some undergrowth and felt the urge. James immediately, and almost as frantically, searched for cave entrances. An obscure hole between boulders had a strong draught blowing out of it. Squeezing through, perhaps foolishly, as no one knew where he was but, like Steve, James was unable to resist the call. He quickly found himself walking in large cave passage. Cueva Desperados had been found.

 

            The cave has passages of big, comfortable dimensions with several junctions, a pretty chamber illuminated by a hole to daylight, and it contained several frogs (like all the caves to the North of Camp) as well as a snake. There was evidence that this was once part of a major cave, oxbows, tall ceiling, scallops, etc. was seen together with evidence that the Spanish had been here before. A confusing, labyrinthine boulder choke at the end of the cave was then thoroughly explored and an unexplored way on was found.

 

            The next day, Fumpa, Steve and James headed off to investigate further to the sound of a screaming pig’s final minute of life. Laughing and joking they were excited to be exploring at last. A high, draughting rift led on to even more extensions and a dark, blue sump guarded diligently by a sizeable crab. Several hundred metres were found and surveyed but, alas, no further way on was discovered, passages being blocked by calcite. The cave has a total length of about 450 metres.

 

Near the end of the expedition, Steve and James returned to the previously noted water hole resurgence. This time it was draughting and the water level was about twenty centimetres lower. They looked at it, knowing they had no caving kit with them, but also knowing what they had to do. It had to be done. So, James stripped off his clothes, climbed down the hole and waded in, wearing only boxer shorts and clenching a torch in his mouth. The water was not too cold but a chilly draught blew along the small air gap.

 

            An enticing echo encouraged him on. After twenty or so metres he gained a small chamber with a sump. A slippery climb could lead to a bypass, however.  Unable to climb up the walls in bare feet and landing unceremoniously in the water on one attempt, he returned towards Steve and shouted to him to follow. Well, James, who had to overcome a psychological barrier before exploring in boxer shorts alone, was alarmed to find Steve come in with nothing on at all. The thoughts of using combined tactics to get up the climb were, frankly, horrifying, especially when Steve offered the use of an extra foothold. The cave was thus left for another expedition.

 

Medical Problems

 

            Most of the expedition did not suffer from any condition apart from withdrawal because they ran out of beer. Although  a few members did suffer from dehydration due to hiking up to the top of the mogote in the heat.  The main worry was minor cuts which in the heat take several days to heal up  and needed daily attention to prevent infection.  Although one member had a bit of shock when using the latrine at night, and certainly cured him of any bowel problems. Only one member of the expedition suffered when they came back and went down with severe bowel problems.

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

            The success of any expedition does depend on the planning and before we went out the group had several pub meets when we drew up some objectives and goals. Once in the field it can become difficult to review progress particularity when the expedition starts to get so many interesting leads. There are still clearly several caves along the valley floor to investigate and some offer very good potential as dive sites.

            Going North of Cueva Grande would seem to offer little possibility of a large system as the Mogote starts to run out . Heading West along the Valley floor the are a number of caves .e.g. C10 - C19 which the Cubans do know about but need reinvestigating. Many of them may only be short caves like Cueva Tres Amigos but others must be part of a system fed from the seasonal rivers on the top of the Mogote.

 

            Cueva De La Resurección must be connected to a sink on top of the Mogote.While if you go up on top of the Mogote one the keys to finding caves is to follow the dry river beds. While random hoyo bashing is likely to be fruitless and is definitely hard work. Both Cueva Titanic and  Cueva Alfredo Y Teresa are sinks during the wetter parts of the year and were found by following the streams. The water in both caves follows the bedding plane which in Cueva Titanic is about an angle of 60 degrees.

 

But considering most things on the top were discovered in the second week and there were also demands placed on resources by other caves along the base of the mogote getting a 140m deep cave is not a bad achievement. At least we have leads for the next expedition.

 

Edited By : Martin Mc Gowan

 

Contributions from  : Jan Evett, James Hooper, Martin Mc Gowan, Matthew Setchfield

 

Surveys by Bob Wilkins

 

References

 

Barter, T., Hooper, J., Mc Gowan, M.; The 1997 Expedition to Cuba, WSG Bulletin  Vol. 9 No. 8, P. 49 - 64. 1997

Hooper, J.; Cuba 97, Caves and Caving Issue 78, Winter 97 , BCRA P. 16 -20

Minty, D.; Some Notes About Dehydration, WSG Bulletin Vol. 9 No. 7 P.32-34 1994

Wilkins, B.; Cuba Contact Update, WSG Bulletin, Vol. 9 No. 7 P. 1-31 1994

Wilkins, B.(Editor); WSG Cuba Contact, WSG Bulletin Vol. 9 No. 5 1989

 

Acknowledgements

 

WSG would like to thank Dragon Caving Equipment, St. Dominic’s Sixth Form College,