Originally drafted 19 July 2008
A majestic shot of Licancabur.
Today, we plan to scout out caves. We are not going to scoop passage – rather we will just determine the locations of each cave, obtain GPS coordinates and assemble these locations so that we may begin the mapping and deployment of sensors in earnest.
En route to another cave lead. Credit: Dan Ruby.
Prior to our departure, we had our first field training – cave cartography. While conducting the training, we learned something both interesting and disconcerting. Most of our compasses don’t work down here. Compasses must be balanced for both hemispheres. If not, the needle will canter toward the top of the viewing plate, and will stick on the top of the plate as you are trying to take a bearing. So, I will likely go to Calama tomorrow to purchase new compasses. I just hope they have the right equipment there.
Rolando, one of our Quechuan guides. Credit: Knutt Peterson.
Once we completed our training, both groups went searching for caves. Knutt, Dan and Christina used the article written by Shane Fryer in 2005, as well as some rough descriptions provided by Joel DeSpain on work they had conducted here. This information was partially helpful in relocating the caves. However, when they arrived at the main gate to Valle de la Luna National Park, they met Rolando. Rolando is of Quechuan descent, he works for the park, and he has been trained in speleology in Santiago. So, Knutt and his team were very fortunate to meet him.
Hernan and I exploring Casa de la Arana. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.
We also hired a local guide, Hernan to assist us in locating caves. Christian Tambley provided us with this contact. Hernan is a guide in the Atacama and knows the caves perhaps better than most in this area. Pete and I worked with him. We went to several areas outside Valle de la Luna but within the Cordillera de la Sal.
One of our pits we evaluated with Hernan.
Hernan took us to a few sinkholes and some dry falls. Hernan showed us two large sinkholes, and I discovered another one. Generally, these were located on the south side of the road on the way to Calama. Upon inspecting these features, Pete and I discussed rappelling strategies for getting into these features. Rappelling in is not the problem, we both feel we can do this safely. However, the material here is not very consolidated and collapse is certainly a possibility. We both determined that climbing out of these sinks will be a bigger problem. We would likely dislodge a lot of the material upon our ascent.
If this happens, we may bury our sensors under a significant portion of the cave wall. So, we don’t know if we will be able to use these pits as some of our study sites. However, we will likely overfly these features when we return in 2010.
In addition to these three pits, we also found three dry falls with sheltered features that are excellent candidates for our non-cave feature category. One dry fall that we named, Casa de la Araña contained owl pellets, one spider, several spider webs and some parts of this dry falls were partially sheltered and contained a twilight zone. Of the three, this is our best candidate non-cave feature.
Unknown spider observed in a dry falls near a large drainage. It was observed within a large concentration of owl pellets.
When I saw the spider, I decided to pick it up. This evoked quite a response from Hernan. I think I may have freaked him out by handling the spider. It was rather funny to watch his response though. I’ve handled many venomous insects. The key is to pick them up gingerly and let them do their thing. If you try to constrain their movement using your hands you’ll likely get stung or bitten.
After Casa de la Araña, we walked back down trail and noticed one large cave-like entrance high up on an escarpment. This may be our most promising feature for this reconnaissance trip. It actually has a horizontal entrance. Pete and I plan to check this one out in a few days.
Hernan indicated the cave has “bad air.” However, the team has collectively come to conclusion that the locals equate “bad air” to dusty. It is also possible that this is simply used as a deterrent to keep people out of caves. We’ve been in several of these caves now, and we have not encountered “bad air.”
Hiking out of one of our possible study sites. Credit: Dan Ruby.