April 30, 2014

Thunder Hole 4th rappel
  The night before I closed my eyes at midnight and a minute later it was 7 am, at least that was what it felt like when the lack of sleep started to recharge it's empty bucket. Day Two, and we had a long day ahead of us as we had to hike up a large hill to a waterfall entrance known as Thunder Hole. This cave is considered a classic as it is a beautiful waterfall entrance rappel into a series of 5 waterfall multi drop rappels down to the bottom sump.  We get breakfast, pack wetsuits, and go through the rope lengths for this multi drop waterfall cave.  The drops were approx as follows: Two 100 ft drops One 70 ft drop, One 60 ft drop and another 100 footer, don't quote me on these drop lengths because some of the ropes needed longer lengths than the drop itself to set up a proper rig. We get to the location and hike up to the entrance. The entrance has a 90 ft drop with water cascading down and eventually cascading all around you before you get to the bottom. We rig and drop down to the bottom of the first drop. When I looked up, the water and the light from the sun created a green tint from the green leaves on the trees.
Main Entrance to Thunder Hole
As we continued down to the second drop, we followed a slot with water traveling down like a waterslide carving its way through the slot to the next drop, and I thought only Puerto Rico had water park like caves! This cave was so amazing!  We get on rope and continue to drop over the lip with the water pressure pressing against us until we passed the lip, than it turned into a rain storm cascading all around us
2nd drop in Thunderhole
 The water itself was not too insane but it wasn't a light trickle either.  All the drops were a wonderful combination of water pressure and depth so roll on the wetsuit for this cave and its a must do experience!!!!  So much Fun!!!  We got to the crawl squeeze and start contorting our bodies around to fit through the tight stream passages that eventually opened up to the Third Drop.  This one we rigged to the bolts in the ceiling and dropped 50-60 ft to the bottom.  I went over to the natural bridge ledge and attempted to get a shot of people coming down in the waterfall.
Third rappel in Thunderhole cave
We all make it down to the 4th drop and notice this one is a bit deeper at around 90-100ft.  The water pressure is pushing us out into the pit as each of us drop down through the waterfall and into the thunderstorm of water blasting down on us from above as we rappel to the bottom.  SOOOO much fun!!

The group split up as we went back to the surface and the rest of us went to the fifth drop and onto the bottom of the sump. The climb out wasn't bad, actually it went pretty quick and before we know it, we were at the surface again.

3rd Climb out of Thunderhole cave
I went back down to take more pictures of the drops and practice change overs in the waterfall while waiting for the rest of the group to come back out of the cave.  As I continued to start back down the first and second drop to help out the others with rope and de rigging my lights start to flicker.  I was draining my lights taking pictures inside the cave and did not bring my backpack with me with spare lights to replace the batteries. As my lights dimmed to a point were they went out the faint glow from one of my zebra lights was left which faded away.  Motherfucker!!!...Caving what I thought to myself and shortly after could feel the perceptual narrowing of the dark within the darkness, the cold water conducting heat away from my legs and the loneliness that was creeping around and up my back.   I can see where people can panic at this point but with the training and experiences I have gone through, I took that a different direction with learned behaviors when the feeling starts to come which subsides panic and a plan starts to come in place.  Follow the river and go up.  On my belly,  I start to crawl back the way I came feeling my way as my memory confirmed the dimensional features that my eyes remembered coming in.  I made it up around another crawl and listened for the waterfall.  I felt my way around and found the rope to the second waterfall.
Bottom of the 2nd drop in thunderhole cave
I got on rope and climbing the 2nd drop until I got to the top, got off rope and followed the river until I could see the faint green light from the entrance drop becoming stronger as the dark within the darkness faded and sunlight burned though to cast its comforting guidance out of the cave.  In my defence, I know this wasn't too complicated of a system to find my way around and the rest of the team would have been coming through where I was BUT it is no excuse for leaving your pack behind as I have seen cavers do this in the past.  I can see where some would have lost their shit and panicked in my situation so I decided to talk about this in the trip report as a reminder to be mindful when deciding to leave your pack somewhere because you might run into a situation like mine and it might not go as easy.

Main entrance from the bottom of Thunderhole cave
Eventually the rest of the group came creeping up the rope as night fell. I was told that one of the team members got off rope at the bottom of the fifth drop and fell into the darkness between 8 and 10 ft.  The other members were really concerned about the caver so as the next one came down, they could see the caver climbing around and in good condition.  LUCKY!!! This will speak to focusing on your surroundings and making sure you are observant of your surroundings.  Sounds like we were not all thinking straight BUT this speaks to knowing how tired you are and staying that much more focused on the tasks you are accomplishing.   Team work, a good attitude, strong mentality, and good physical conditioning are great components but keeping your mind focused until you are out of the cave will be one of your best assets.  We get down the mountain and back to Troy's house for another nights sleep and ready for the next group of caves.
Main entrance room Thunderhole cave

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