Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cave Survey Guidelines, and Other Things

A few years ago, Bev and I wrote a set of notes for new cavers on how to be a (both effective and efficient) part of a survey team. Basically, how to read instruments, set stations, communicate with the sketcher, etc. Which, really, is a good (the best?) way to get involved with and invited to caving projects, until you progress from there to learning how to sketch and draft maps, amongst other things.

David surveying in Punkin Cave, a couple of years ago... ;-)
While surveying in Quintana Roo over the holidays, I had time to reflect on this and also to collect some extremely useful comments from the fellow cavers who were around. I've finally managed to consolidate all this and publish an update on our Grotto web page:

Cave Survey - Using Tape / Disto and Instruments (PDF version)

In other news that will be less interesting to the general public, I'm currently spending a few weeks in Texas before heading to China for an expedition over Spring Festival. Besides participating in a cave digging project in Austin, (which is surprisingly fun, I have to admit as somebody who doesn't dig much in caves,) we made some progress in my project cave O-9 Well last weekend.

Line plot of survey data from Walls (a cave survey database application). 100 meter-grid. The orange stuff was added to the survey last Saturday.
Nine Texas cavers headed out west to continue the re-survey of the cave in three teams. All in all, we surveyed over 500 meters of fairly small, muddy, and wet passage. It took us longer than I had expected, too. But, all the main passage has now been re-surveyed, and what's left to do is to follow a side lead to where it's likely to end under a plugged sinkhole (the leg taking off to the north on the line plot above). And, of course, for me to draft the final map of the cave based on the survey data and sketches -- the primary reason for starting the project.

Apart from that, I'm dragging behind with accomplishing the various things on my to-do list. Something that hasn't changed since I left my job. Ah well.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Quintana Roo Cave Mapping Project

Over the holidays, Andrea and I went to Quintana Roo (in México, it's the state sharing a peninsula with the Yucatán) for ten days. Our aim was to help with the survey of dry caves in the region, conducted by the Quintana Roo Cave Mapping Project. (Dry caves in this context mean they aren't underwater caves that require cave diving -- there may still be streams and lakes.) The particular objective of this trip was to create a high-quality re-survey of a cave system that is also being used by a natural reserve tour operator, just south of Playa del Carmen. The resulting data will then be used to create a new map for the cave.

It was both plush and productive caving. All in all, our group surveyed over 27 km of cave on this trip. I personally contributed about 2 km of sketching over 9 caving days -- some in chest-high water, but most of it looping through a huge breakdown room with multiple chambers created by the breakdown. Frequently running out of pages made my brain hurt sometimes, though. (See photos of pages of my survey book. They will be replaced with better copies soon.)

A page from my survey book, showing the south-east corner of a large breakdown room we surveyed.
Survey notes. Distance between survey stations, as well as azimuth and inclination readings.
Since the caves are all located in the jungle and close to the surface, they have a rich fauna. Amongst other creatures, we frequently saw amblypygids, tarantulas, small catfish, cave-adapted fish, cave crickets, etc.

Amblypygid sensing around for prey. No scale, sadly, but there were some pretty big ones in the caves.
Our group of 20+ cavers mostly camped on the same property in the jungle that our main cave entrances were located on. We had flush toilets, showers, a pool, and daily breakfast and dinner were cooked for us -- couldn't be better! In between, we took a day off to visit the Maya ruins in Cobá and go snorkeling in the Gran Cenote outside of Tulum. Traveling from Texas to our camp was fairly straightforward, too -- direct flights between Austin and Cancún. Fun times all around.

Cutting (not quite ripe) coconuts to mix their juice with rum on Christmas Eve. :-)
I didn't take many pictures, and the few I took are of pretty low quality, but for completeness, the public photos of this trip can be found here on SmugMug.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Photos: Nepal, Bhutan, Bangkok

Happy 2013!

Views in the Khumbu Region of Nepal

Views in the Khumbu Region of Nepal

Over the holidays I finally managed to edit photos from my recent travels. If you are interested in taking a peak, here are the links to my public SmugMug albums: