April 21, 2017

Rich Zarria, Jason Lavender, Lee White, and Adam Haydock in The 495ft. TAG Shaft in Nita N'JOU. Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico.  Photo by: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

All Photos are by Chris Higgins.  Please go to
to learn more about Chris Higgins.  Also follow Chris at  @chrishigginsphoto 

Nita N'JOU and Nita Nindo are two caves that connect into a massive room called the TAG shaft just above the La Grieta section of Sistema Huautla. It has been 35 years since a team has been in this system and among this team, they were the original explorers of this cave. It is always interesting to be the first to go in but being the second team to go into a massive system like this one was a great experience especially when we found a fault within the wall that takes water from two sides of the bottom and that also sucks air into its unknown depths.  We plotted the original data and found that this system is only 600ft. above the L room survey in Camp 2 of the La Grieta section in Sistema Huautla. Chris Higgins wanted to photo the TAG shaft and a ridge walk was set up for the hillside where the entrance to Nita N'JOU  might be located because the entrances to Nita N'JOU and Nita Nido were lost.

A map of Nita N'JOU and Nita Nido, Huautla, Mexico

After being in La Grieta for 4 days we wanted to pursue another direction into the system and decided to go for the Nita N'JOU entrance leading to the TAG shaft with the hope that we would find going leads. We packed our equipment and set out into the forest to find cave entrances and to find the Nita N'JOU  entrance.   The Nita N'JOU  entrance would have less horizontal passage and be a shorter route to the TAG shaft. We got landowner access to walk through the forest which can be quite difficult to do even with permits from the city of Huautla.  Access to private lands can change fast.  Access to Nita He and the Rio Iglesia were previous granted earlier this year but soon retracted when the expedition started. Thankfully, access to these caves was allowed and with our team of people we hiked through the thorn bushes and steep muddy sinkholes where we located 6 cave entrances. I was able to find one entrance that looked the most promising with a stream going into a slopping passage that went to a series of 20 to 30ft drops.

Aerial view of Plan Carlota. Huautla De Jimenez, Mexico Photo By: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

We rigged 4 of these drops until we ran out of rope.  The cave appeared to open up a bit and to the point where we could feel a slight sucking breeze.  The multi drop also looked like it would be able to take in a lot of water so either this is a new system or this is one of the entrances to the TAG shaft. The other entrance was encountered and also had a series of multi drops.  It was the favorable opinion that these are the two in feeders that will go into the TAG shaft.   

Aerial view of Plan Carlota. Huautla De Jimenez, Mexico Photo By: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

We decided to pursue the entrance closer to a farmers house which also had more drops in quick succession. This appeared to be a great option and might very well lead to the TAG shaft.  After rigging 7 drops, rope was depleted and all of the bolts in the pack were hammered into the rock so a plan to visit the cave the following day was formulated to include a drag bag full of bolts, hangers, and 700ft of rope for the assumed introduction into the TAG shaft. When morning broke, we eagerly set out to the top but along the way, one of the rental cars got stuck in the mud where the Mazatec were working on the road. After about an hour of hauling the car out of the rut, we were on our way to the top and finally entered the cave.  In between the drops we encountered a lot of loose rock and mud stones which would break off with the right amount of pressure. There were a couple more drops that we rigged before the we came to a canyon that opened up into a massive room.  Big enough to echo voices for up to 5 seconds. 
Rich and Elliot look with at the pothole as vico assists with the haul. PHOTO BY; Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto
Dragging the packs through the popcorn slot passages made the travel slow going and awkward. Some of the drops were through small holes that opened up into pits as well as tight passages leading to the pits which made for more of a awkward traverse.  Before reaching the TAG shaft we had to go through a mouse trap of a rock formation that looked like it was ready to go with a little influence so we carefully crept through the middle without knocking rocks around us.  
Lee White Scrapping through the popcorn slots of Nita N'JOU , Huautla, Mexico.  PHOTO BY: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

Traveling down a short horizontal breakdown passage took us to down climbable pour off and the entrance of a small canyon that took us to the massive tag shaft. Even with the limited view point that we had at the top of the drop, this room was as impressive as we had anticipated it to be.  More bolts were placed in the questionable rock and in most places, two bolt, stations were rigged to ensure that we had solid anchor placement so we would not blow the rock out and subsequently skipping a few beats of the heart while being in a pendulum and going across a barrage of loose rock and sharp fins.
Knowing how this trip was going, we ended up running out of bolts again!   As of now, we went through over 40 bolts and over a 1000ft of rope. We thought that this shaft was only 430ft. but we figured it was deeper than that so we included a distox and a book to take notes on the following days return.

Adam Haydock writing down survey notes in Nita N'JOU . Huautla De Jimenez, Mexico Photo by: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

Day 4 was similar in the factor of eagerness and urgency but we headed out earlier in the morning to make sure that we got to the bottom of the drop.  Same passage suit grabbing popcorn and crawling restrictions got us to the shaft and down to the station that we left off at yesterday. Continuing down, Lee took up arms at rigging the rest of the passage.  Lee rigged a Y hang and a J belay that took us out of the waterfall but consequently, we ran out of rope!!! again!!! Geez. this cave is relentless!!!  Chris and I headed up to grab some access rope and along the way, a handhold broke that sent me 6 feet down a drop onto my arm.  With my arm throbbing and being sick from throwing up, otherwise called the Aztec two step, I continued on and we got some access rope for the final tier to the bottom. The rope that we cut was not enough to get us to the bottom. 

Adam Haydock getting through a slot canyon in Nita N'JOU. Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico. Photo by: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

 So we had to come back a fifth day to get to the bottom of the cave. Day 5 and we took over 200ft of rope even through we were certain that the drop was only 30-50 ft. to the bottom.  We grabbed more bolts and headed back into this cave once gain.  Finally, Lee was able to get on the walkie and say that he was off rope!  Chris was on a standing ledge so he continued down to the bottom while the rest of us headed down.  We used a hardware store of over 1000ft. of rope and 50 bolts in this cave.  Included in this set up was a couple of standing rebelays that went down to a free hanging rebelay of 165ft. to a ledge.  This was followed by 3 more rebelays on some marbled limestone rock and another free hanging rebelay that went directly into a raining waterfall of a 135ft. Lee set up a J belay that was hung under rock but it took us out of the waterfall. The J was a bit awkward but it worked well to get out of the water. This was an 80ft drop down to the pristine mud bottom. 

Rich Zarria, Jason Lavender, Lee White, and Adam Haydock in The 495ft. TAG Shaft in Nita N'JOU. Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico. Photo by: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

 Once we had all of our boots on the ground, it was a relief and a success that was short lived by the time restriction that we had.  Chris Set up some photos of people going up the rope from the bottom looking up.  We had Jason going up the rope and Lee at the ledge.  I stood on the ground and Rich held a flash bulb.  When Chris was ready, he yelled " fire" and both of the flash bulbs went off creating a beautiful shot of the bottom looking up at over half of the massive room. Chris set up a few more photos and I scrambled over some breakdown and noticed a mud like room with two holes in the ground where the water appeared to go down.  This room looked more like a overflow room as there was a waterline on the wall.  On the other side of the pit there was reported to be a crack in the ground where the water went through.  well this crack was actually a fault! 

Photo from the top looking down of Adam Haydock Climbing out of the waterfall section in the TAG shaft. Nita N'JOU . Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico. Photo by: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto
 We took strike and dip measurements of the trend and continued to peer deeper into this fault.  The passage was around 6-8 inches in width that was covered in a lot of popcorn. most of the water that was falling from the top of the cave entered through here along with the air.  The air was being sucked into this passage as a rate where we could see dangling garbage moving with the breeze!!  This passage has to go!  I could see the passage open up a bit and bend to the left.  This is it!  I am almost positive that this is going to be the way to the L room or a similar place in La Grieta.  A fault is better than a crack, water flows through, and air is being sucked in.  This pit also sits 600ft. above La Grieta.  
Lee White coming up to the ledge section of the TAG shaft Nita N'JOU. Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico. Photo by: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

Rich and Jason made it up to the ledge and they continued to head out of the cave.   Now, usually we could all set our ascent up the rope since we have all of these re-belays in place but with the threat of rock fall and the condition that the rock was in, we had to go one at a time and make our way up to the top which was a lot slower than we expected.   passing through the waterfall and climbing to the ledge took some time in itself as the cool water slowed our body from heating up but once we got to the top. I started to chill a bit.  We snapped a few more photos from the top looking down and than headed out of the cave.  Thankfully we did not have to stage de-rig anything but we still had a bit more to go including the 165ft. free hanging climb on 9 mm rope in an abyss of darkness and massive stalactites hanging from the top, creepy..yes...exhilarating?...absolutely. I felt like I was climbing fantastic pit for the first time again.  Once I got to the top, I was relieved that it was done and almost felt like I was out of the cave even though I had another nine climbs to get out.  We all got out of the pit and took some photos on our way out of the cave. 
Adam Haydock Climbing out of one of the 9 multi drops in Nita N'JOU cave, Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico. @chrishigginsphoto

It is not everyday you can find a cave with 9 drops and a rewarding end of a 495ft multi drop room that rivals surprise and incredible pit with going leads at the bottom!  The cave took 5 days to find, rig, and descend down to the bottom safely and successfully. We found that the pit itself was 495ft. instead of 430ft.and was one hell of a room!  As of this article, We are in hopes that the last two weeks of the expedition will have another team of cavers push through the fault and continue down the passage. If not, we got a primary objective for next year.
Adam Haydock climbing to the top of the Y hang in Nita N'JOU. Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico. Photo by: Chris Higgins @chrishigginsphoto

You Might Also Like



European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used and data collected on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent.