Sunday 11 April 2010

Belize 2010 - Bitten By The Bug

A regular event on the SWCC caving calendar has been an expedition to the Toledo area in the south of Belize in Central America. This biennial event produced a good deal of new cave in the previous trip in 2008 and a number of very good leads had been found to set the 2010 trip up with some great prospects.

Conditions on the previous expeditions were very basic to say the least, with poor food sapping both the enthusiasm and energy of the group as the stay progressed. Fortunately we had struck up a great relationship with a local tour guide and lodge owner - Bruno Kuppinger. This provided us with a fantastic base for the expedition and ensured that we had ample quality food to keep the team going through the three weeks.

Pueblo Creek cave was one of the key leads to be followed up, this had been discovered in 2006 and explored to a large log jam, that halted progress that year. In 2008 the obstacle had largely been washed away and progress was made through the large river system, only stopping when we ran out of time. This year we were able to follow the cave to a final conclusion, a massive sump 60m wide and a 30m swim to where the roof finally met the water. Above this sump a large oxbow passage rose steeply to meet the main river passage close to our final exploration point of 2008. This massive oxbow passage contained a fantastic pagoda formation over 10m tall. A stream inlet passage that had marked the end of the cave in 2008 was explored over a couple of days, being surveyed for over 700m to a point where it ended in a small sump. A second entrance with some Mayan pottery near the entrance was surveyed on our final day there leaving the cave at a total length of 4.8km.

Our exploration moved to the other side of the mountain range into which Pueblo Creek headed looking for the resurgence of this large river system. A cave called Ochapec previously explored by an American team was entered and immediately it had the same feel as the lower section of Pueblo Creek. This was followed for about 1.5km to find it ending at a sump pool, 60m wide and a 30m swim to where the roof reached the water, stunningly similar to the sump at the end of Pueblo Creek. To tie in the cave a line survey was taken on the way out, which when plotted in survex alongside Pueblo Creek place the two sumps 390m apart. No dry level leads could be found at either sump, so no through trip was possible.

Tiger cave near San Miguel had been visited over a number of expeditions, each time new passage being found, surveyed and added to the original American survey. Most of this passage has been lower level streamways, now more accessible now that a nearby Hydro electric plant has diverted some of the water flow. At the end of the expedition a new entrance and another 700m of passage had been surveyed, leaving this cave over 5km long.

Another area potentially containing a large river cave is in an area called Esperanza, over a days hike into the Jungle. This is a difficult area for exploration due to the large amount of equipment, food and water that needs to be carried into the jungle. In the last expedition, a hike to towards this area had found a cave called Lagonita that was surveyed for 200m to a short pitch into a long deep canal. Lack of equipment had meant that exploration ended at this point. A group headed into the Jungle this year with the aim of fully exploring this cave en-route to Esperanza. The cave yielded another 70m of surveyed passage, before it ended in a chamber with the water rising through a grit covered floor. As the guides had no prospective leads at Esperanza the group decided to follow them to a cave known by Ramone, one of the guides. This fossil cave was followed a short distance until it closed down, a rough survey was made on the way out. It was during this process that two small passages were noticed and followed, One led into a massive upper gallery, while the other dropped down a pitch into a massive streamway, which could be followed upstream and down. This very exciting lead will provide the main target for a return expedition to this area.

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