30 July 2008

A New Cave Discovered -- Cueva de Roberto

Originally drafted 29 July 2008

The approach to Cueva de Roberto. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Pete and I worked with Roberto again today. Roberto is a very solid person, and he’s quickly becoming a good friend. We have a lot of fun in the field together. Also, he has been quite helpful in helping me improve my Spanish. Whenever I say something incorrectly, he’ll repeat the correct phrasing in Spanish. This is definitely helping me improve.

When I first arrived in Chile, I quickly realized I had forgotten quite a bit of my Spanish. I’ve studied Spanish off and on for the past several years. At first, this was bothering me quite a bit. When I was here in 2006, my Spanish was much better than it is now. However, as I’m being forced to work with colleagues who only speak Spanish, this is forcing me to use my Spanish and even rely on my Spanish in the field. So, I feel my Spanish is slowly improving. I’m hoping that over the next three years, I will obtain fluency. I’ll be returning to Chile in October-November, and then I’ll be here again in June-July 2009 and then twice in 2010. With all this time in South America, I’m hoping my Spanish language skills will dramatically improve.

Roberto, a CONAF Official that we've been working with the past several days. He also discovered Cueva de Roberto. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Back to today’s progress…our first stop was the Traga Luz Grande region. However, before we left for the caves, I met Edwardo, Frank and Lorreto. They are Valle de la Luna officials, and were planning to explore the Traga Luz Grande area today. I noticed Edwardo had a “casco” (in English, “helmet”) attached to his backpack. When I commented to Roberto regarding this, he told me that Edwardo has all of his own equipment, and that he had quite a bit of experience caving. We chatted for a while before we started our day.

We first climbed up on a high bench to investigate a small cave looking feature that had intrigued me back in 2006, but due to time, I never investigated this feature. We climbed up to this high bench and determined it was a shallow mine. The feature was very alcove-like, so I decided to use this as one of our non-cave anomalies.

Deploying sensors in the small cave-like feature above Traga Luz Grande. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Once done, we went to Cueva de Roberto. We had planned to deploy sensors in this cave. However, we were met by a big surprise. Yesterday, when I went into this cave, I did not push this cave. I went back about 20 meters and then returned to the surface. Today, we planned to push the entire cave. I was leading the push and after about 50 meters, I noticed the cave opened up considerably. I went a few meters more and saw it dropped off vertically. I approached the edge of this drop off, and observed it was a large dry fall dropping approximately 20 meters down. Beyond, this cave opens up into vast passage. This cave could contain HUGE volume. We were all totally stoked!

This cave is truly impressive. However, because of the large dry fall impeding our exploration, we stopped at this point and discussed how we would rig this section for rappel. Pete and I devised a plan, and then we all returned to the surface. We plan to rappel this section on Saturday, and then we hope to push the entire cave – provided, of course, we don’t encounter another massive dry fall.

Saturday is when Roberto is available. So, we want to be sure he is with us when we explore “his” cave.

We then left the Traga Luz Grande area and headed to Cueva Paisaje de Sal (Salt Landscape Cave). This is a very crawly cave, and we wanted to determine the location of the other entrances, and then deploy sensors within this feature. Unfortunately, this didn’t go as planned either. We were unable to locate all the entrances. We spent about two hours hiking across the salt landscape, and up and down through this very hilly rugged country. Knutt and his team walked through this area last week, and they collected GPS coordinates for three entrances they believed to be associated with Cueva Paisaje de Sal. They did not explore these entrances – rather they simply collected the coordinates for Pete and I to fully explore at a later date.

We encountered once entrance, which actually contained bat guano!!! This was huge for me. I’ve been working in this area for the past two weeks, and I haven’t seen any evidence of bat use until today. The bats were using the entrance of a cave. However, we still don’t know if this is part of Cueva Paisaje de Sal. Tomorrow, we plan to fully push this cave starting at the one known entrance. We’ll make this determination tomorrow.

In addition, Knutt and his tame GPS-ed an entrance. This was a large sink feature enclosed to about 350 degrees. We walked down the open portion of this sinkhole and found a plunge hole. Upon peering into this hole we found this would involve a 10 meter rappel. However, we don’t know if it’s part of Cueva Paisaje de Sal. This could be another cave.

We have more rope work to do now. Unfortunately, we did not get to deploy sensors in this cave either, but plan to do so tomorrow when Pete and I push this feature.

Once we were done with Cueva Paisaje de Sal, we returned to Cueva Sin Nombre (we do plan to name this within the next few days). Pete and I wanted to go back to this cave and determine exactly what additional equipment we needed to purchase to rig Cueva de Roberto, Cueva Paisaje de Sal, and Cueva Sin Nombre.

This was essentially the end of our field day. Once we sussed out rigging equipment for Cueva Sin Nombre, we went to the hardware store to look for and see if we could purchase concreting bolts (which we will can also use for setting bolts in rock). We will use these bolts as additional protection when riggin some of the sections of the rappels we will likely do on Saturday. We plan to have three plus points of protection for each rappel. These bolts will give us a little more assurance that the ropes will hold when we rappel. Obviously, this is rather important.

The cartography team did incredibly well today. Cueva Lechuza de Campanario has been mapped! Our expedition team has our first cave completely mapped using the techniques we developed last week. Knutt’s team finished this cave with a high level of detail. They feel that they captured at least 85% of the volume.

Also, we are holding daily debriefings. This has proved incredibly well with our expedition. We are able to discuss the progress of each day, place individual and group concerns on the table, and find solutions to any problems encountered in the field and with the expedition in general. When working together in a remote area for long hours, and for an extended period of time, it is critically important that everyone communicates well with each other, that everyone is satisfied with the expedition thus far, and that no one becomes irritated or irate with the way the project is being conducted and/ or another team member. I have been incredibly lucky here. My team is great. I could not have asked for a better group of researchers. In addition to our debriefings and laundry airing (which there has been very little in the past two weeks), we also take this opportunity for each team member to provide summary reports of their work. Also, Christina uses this forum to discuss safety concerns, and discuss how we can continue to retain the highest degree of safety in the field.

So, the expedition continues to go well! We have two and a half weeks before we leave the Atacama and head for Rapa Nui!

Another beautiful view of Licancabur. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.


Christopher D said...

I am envious of your adventures!

Kelley said...

This is such an exciting find. I am a 44 year old mother of six in Texas and have been an avid caver since I was a teen. Please keep sharing your finds with us all. I as well am envious of your adventures! Well said christopher d!

Kelley Spencer

Crash said...

Jut, great stuff, and a fun read. I definitely want to discuss your thermal work with you again when you get back. And we still need to work on the Myotis velifer proposal. Take care down there. --- Crash