Day to day on this adventure in Mexico there wasn’t tons of pre-planning on what caves would be mapped. We’d meet at the taco stand for breakfast. Groups that had good sketchers and a survey crew would head off to their planned caves, and Peter would have a hit list of places to divide everyone else among.
Jaguar was a different sort of animal *tsk tsk*. Before the expedition started the dates were already set for 3 days of camping in the cave with a group of about 10 people. Usually, it’s easy to pack light for a cave camp. Tents, sleeping bags and pads are typically stashed in the cave. In this case, though we needed tents to keep out the bugs and avoid getting pissed and crapped on by the bats and birds. We loaded up our big bags in the cars and drove to the end of the jungle road to begin the hike. Even gearing up at the cars we were already getting eaten by mosquitoes, soon remedied when we started moving.
The hike to the first cave entrance was about a mile, Along the way, collapsed remnants of the massive cave systems that used to go all the way to the ocean. After a long walk, we reached the first entrance. Initially, the cave has a low ceiling, walkable with the occasional stoop walk. A nice thing about this cave was the skylights, here it is so shallow that there are collapses on both sides. For over an hour I didn’t have to turn on my lights, with sunlight streaming in everywhere even though we were underground.
Then the cave was blocked completely by a collapse and we had to pop out into the jungle a bit. Ant and wasp nests, mosquitoes, and Chechem trees make staying underground preferable. Once we traveled through the jungle and went back into the cave it began to change. The skylights became less frequent. The ceiling began to get taller and the passages wider. Entire trees were growing in these collapses, plus there were occasional jaguar tracks. Here the cave became an incredible labyrinth of passages heading in all directions with no clear main trunk to follow. Not a problem for us though since there was a well-worn path to follow. It was flagged with tape and the resident expert Peter led the way.
Another jaunt or two into the jungle and back Then the cave got even bigger with no more skylights. At this point, we were finally in the dark zone of the cave. Every way you turned all you could see was passages heading off into darkness for hundreds of feet. Looking at the map the cave was essential one giant chamber hundreds of meters wide, but with abundant formation columns and bedrock pillars blocking the way. Just like in Chango Mistico there was a black guide line running through this section. An essential guide for someone who does not have the route memorized, no easy feat in this complicated a cave. After a while of this, the cave finally began to converge on a single large passage again, over 100 feet wide & 30 to 50 feet high. Here the cave drops down to the water table and you begin walking in ankle to knee deep water spanning the whole passage. Flowstone, stalagmites, and stalactites are everywhere, making the passage very beautiful but also blocking a clear view of what’s ahead. Hundreds of meters later we began to see daylight and hear the calls of the Mot Mot birds. We stepped out into a massive collapse in the cave called the Vencejos entrance. Here a circular collapse 300 ft in diameter spanned the middle of the cave with an entire forest growing in it. It was easy to get turned around in the rough jungle terrain, plus the bugs weren’t inviting, so we worked our way around the edge of the collapse back into the next section of the cave. Here the cave met the water again, but this time the entire floor was a rough reef of calcite and aragonite crystals. We took care to stay on top of the shallower parts. Falling off into deeper water with a camp bag would mean a wet sleeping bag for the next 2 days, and scraping on the crystals would be very painful.
Soon we began to see another collapse ahead, not as large as Vencejos but still impressive. There were a few tents, hammocks, and clotheslines set up from a previous camp, but they were covered in bat guano. Three from our group stopped here and unpacked their things while the rest of us continued on to the camp at the Lara Ha entrance. We passed through another water section with crystal reefs. The mounds of calcite making perfect stepping stone path across. Once we reached Lara Ha we set up camp. Normally setting up a cave camp is as simple as rolling out a sleeping pad on a flat section of floor with no ceiling drips. Here was different. I had to find a spot large enough to put up a tent that would not be under any bat roosts. Same goes for hanging up clothes. I had to find a spot that wouldn’t get pooped on.
After I was all set up I realized I’d forgotten my sleeping bag. Luckily the cave wasn’t very cold and I was able to improvise an adequate solution using the huge army duffel bag I carried the camp gear in and a towel. I slipped my legs into the bag and used a towel as a blanket. It had been a few miles of walking to get here, so we stopped for a little food before heading off to start surveying. I’d brought almond milk with me but it froze solid the night before along with my water. By the time we made it to camp it was partially thawed and ice cold to drink, perfect for a hot, humid, tropical cave. We designated a central mud-free zone of the camp for cooking and rolling out the map. Here we took a look at the survey leads and divvied up people before heading off to the most incredible part of the cave yet.