14 June 2009

Return to Shreader Cave and mi amigos con CONAF

13 June 2009

Image: The Cordillera in the foreground and the Altiplano in the background. The mountain peaks of the Altiplano range from 15000 to 19000 feet in elevation.

Today, we worked at Shreader Cave and Cascada Pequeña. Shreader is a two entrance cave with a skylight at center; Cascada Pequeña is a small piping feature which is one of our non-cave anomalies.

Both teams worked in the same area today. This has many benefits, but perhaps most importantly, we have all medical personnel at the same site in case there is an accident. We have structured our schedule so both teams working at the same cave as much as possible.

Image: Jose Luis and my leg. This image provides an idea of the tight passage of Shreader Cave. Most of this cave is characterized as a belly crawl.

We also had the fortune of working with CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal). CONAF is the Chilean national park service equivalent. Also, I got to work with a good friend of mine, Jose Luis Jara. He and I worked together in 2006, as part of NASA Spaceward Bound!, Atacama Expedition. It has been three years since we saw each other, so it was great to hang out with him again. We worked with two other CONAF officials -- Fernando and Magda.

Today, we have a really large team, and there is one one section of our approach that requires a nuisance belay. I free-climbed up a 25 foot rock face and then belayed the rest of the team up this traverse. Christina stayed below and made sure the diaper sling that we were using for each team member was properly secured. This did take us a while. It took us around 1.5 hrs to get everyone past this one tricky spot on our approach.

Image: Jose Luis, Magda and Lynn after we completed our work at Shreader Cave. Lynn was braiding the webbing so I could pack it out.

Once we finally arrived at our two study sites, Fernando and Magda went with the mapping team, and Jose Luis went with the sensor team. The mapping team first mapped Cascada Pequeña; we planned it this way because Shreader cave is "muy angusto" or very tight, so it was quite difficult to move nine people through the cave. Actually, it is quite difficult and rather slow with just two people. The cave is characterized by tiht low passage, and snakes back and forth considerably. Once going through this cave, one knows what it must be like to move like a snake.

Image: Dan and Denise hiking back to the truck after a long day in the field. Credit: Christina Colpitts.

While the mapping team tackled Cascada Pequeña, the sensor team went and pulled data and relaunched instruments from Shreader. Once finished, we returned to the surface, pulled data from the instruments in Cascada Pequeña, and the mapping team moved into Shreader.

We're really operating like clockwork on this expedition. To date, at least, the work proceeds smoothly. However, expedition work, and fieldwork in general is riddled with hurdles and curve balls, so we have to be ready to adjust fire as need be.

Image: Jose Luis, Madga and I. Credit: Lynn Hicks.

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