Huautla - Mexico 2013
Around November of last year (2012) I received an email from Chris Jewel asking if I was interested in going to Huautla to recci and help rig the cave (San Augustin - Fools Day extension to the 620 depot). The trip was in preparation for a 2013 trip, in which Jason Malison and Chris Jewell would dive sump 9 "the mother of all sumps". Nursing an injured back and in the preparation process for my push on Raspberry Rising, I declined the recci trip but committed to the 2013 trip, and would also recruit willing sherpas from Western Canada to help with the endeavour.
Each of the Canadians would have their own separate reasons for going but this was a pilgrimage of sorts for me. San Augustin and the Huautla area has played in my mind from the beginnings of my caving career. Having heard tall tales from Mike Boon and others during Pub nights in Calgary, reading Beyond Deep, and other publications Huautla and area, it was a place I had to visit. Canadian caving has old ties to the area and caves, after all it was the early McMaster trips made Rio Iglesia the deepest cave in North America at the time. I advertised the expedition to the Alberta Speleological Society, British Columbia Speleological Federation members. My goal was to introduce other western cavers to the international caving scene. After the emails came back Jared Habiak, Katie Graham, Adam Walker, Christian Stenner, and Tammera Kostya, had signed up for the adventure.
With J2 and Huautla happening at the same time I chose to dedicate the majority of my time to the J2 project as there was going to be a sizeable Canadian presence at Huautla. I would commit 2 weeks at the end of March..
I left Chapulapa in the early morning of the 20th and began the hopping of "people" trucks passing through Jalapa del Diaz, Carlota and finally arriving in Huautla. I wasted no time catching a truck to San Augustin as I was already a few days late. I did not check my email etc. so when I arrived I had no idea which house the expedition was renting. With no gringos in sight, I stopped and talked to some locals that pointed me to the doline San Augustin, "all in the cave". Well I wandered down, had a look at the impressive entrance, then walked back up to the town and found the rented house with a combination lock on it. Crap. It also meant I missed meeting Adam, Christian, Tammera, and Jared as they would be heading to catch their flights home. Katie should be underground somewhere though.
I spent the night outside. No one surfaced by morning so I bought some eggs and wandered down to the doline where I promptly started a small fire and had breakfast. The plan would be simple go down find the cavers and see what is going on. I organised my kit, changed, then began my rappel of the jungle drop. I left my large haul bag hanging off of a rebelay safe from anyone poking around (not a bloody chance anyone was going to be able to lift it) then continued down with my cave bag full of overnight gear. The San Augustin entrance is massive, one of the largest I have seen! The stories I have read and heard went through my head as I moved down rope further and further into its grand entrance. The stories became my map on how to find the way on. I began looking for the climb to the Fools day extension once off of the ropes, I then scrambled up the mud slope worked my way through the howling crawls (great draft) into the stomping passage of the April fool's day extension. I quickly moved through this laughing on the occasion. I arrived at the Bowl hole series much quicker than I thought I would and soon I met up with the first of the Divers Merik Koportowski at the 60. I chatted with him for a bit as he relayed the story about Jason Malison's -81m deep 410m long dive (including the live scorpions at -6m depth in sump 9). Soon up came others, joining in to the hen fest, as I began sharing what was happening at J2. After a while they began climbing and having recognised Rich Hudson we began catching up for as the others climbed the pitch above us (I have not seen him since 2009 at Castleguard Cave). I told them to leave my bag on the jungle drop and that I would bounce to camp 3 grab a bag then head out and join them on the surface. I stored my cave bag on the ledge then bombed down the to the 620 and followed Chris Jewel's directions to camp 3 (the upper gorge was fun!). I arrived to find Connor Roe (Ian Rolland's son) and Katie Graham cooking a late lunch. I chatted ate some food then grabbed a bag and started out. I collected my bag from the ledge it was stored on and the continued to the surface retrieving my haul bag from the rebelay. Working my way up the doline with my 3 bag burden sucked but when I arrived supper was on, and beer.
The next day the group of us went into Huautla, I finally checked my email, withdrew money to pay for my food etc. Then I tried to call home and arrange to have my flights changed. A stop by the candy shop then Waldo's for beer we were feeling good for the journey back to San Augustin.
The next day everyone came out of the cave having left 12 bags at the 620 depot and a few bags at the sump. I again was trying to confirm that my flight was changed as I was scheduled to fly out in 5 days time. Chris Jewell and Jon Lillestolen began the number crunching of the survey data. They had surveyed 1774m of dry passage beyond the initial sump, combined with the dive survey the Systems total length is now over 64km long and -1545m deep. Making it the deepest cave currently in the Western Hemisphere.
March 23rd Rich Hudson, Jason Mallison and I headed in to haul all 12 bags of dive gear up the Bowl hole series. We worked hard hauling 2 -3 bags at a time up the pitches and having everything at the top or bottom of the 110 we headed to the surface with a bag. Finished before dinner.
I took the next day off to rest and check that my flights were changed.
They were, I would be staying until the end of April (thanks Diana for doing that for me!). Being very happy I decided to bounce to the sump the next day.
No one was interested in coming down with me, so I went alone. I checked my watch at the top of the Jungle drop and began the trip. I moved quickly and efficiently down, down and down. 2 1/2 hours later I was talking to Connor, at camp 3, getting directions to the sump as I have never been there before. He mentioned that he had left some gear for me to bring up and to derig the dive platform. Off again I arrived at the sump 40 minutes later, good directions. I derigged the platform, packed the bags, took photos of the sump, and other places on my way out of the cave. At the 620 I grabbed another bag and began racing up the ropes, which involved passing a few people on their way out when possible. 7 1/2 hours later I was standing on top of the jungle drop after the -840m bounce trip, what a fun easy cave.
March 27th saw my last trip into the cave. My personal goal was to see and photograph Anthradite hall, seeing as there was nothing needed for me to carry in I packed a tackle sack full of beer for Camp 3. I went in late with the others and started laughing with enthusiasm when we arrived at the upper gorge. It had been raining hard for a few days causing the water levels to come up, it was wall to wall white water. So much fun! Rich Hudson, Elliot Stahl and I arrived at camp 3 then waited for the others to arrive. After an hour or so and some 1994 tang we climbed up into Anthradite hall for some photos and amazement. What a beautiful and BIG place. After a few hours we went back to camp and drank all of the beer I carried in. Then slipped into a 1994 sleeping bag and went to sleep. I exited the cave in the morning enjoying the high water. While the others prepared to derig the lower gorge.
Packed up I said good bye to the others and began my return trip to J2 to go and help my friends.
The planning and organization by Chris Jewell made this a very fun and leisurely expedition. You had tasks and free time. Great Job Chris!