Cave Exploration in the Pyrenees

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Yesterday the archaeological dig began. We entered the most accessible
cave first, then worked our way back through to the additional ones
behind them. The light from the sun was useful to see the interior for
about 10 metres. After that we needed flash lights with rechargeable
batteries to last at least six hours non stop, and the crew to carry and
recharge them later.

The floor was sand, with water seeping down the cave walls, creating
puddles and soggy areas near the sides of the cave entrance
pathway. There was no way to pitch tents for the night, with the
cave bottom this wet. Platforms of lightweight plastic needed to be
brought in with the exploration team, to ensure a dry place for the tents.

Estimated about twenty people needed to carry equipment and supplies,
and to provide food/housing/sleeping arrangements. This number did
not include the scientific members of the exploration team. This
team consisted of an Archaeology Lead and two archaeology students, a
mineral expert, a seismologist, a water expert, and a cave mammalian
team of two, researching bats and other various cave dwelling species.
We should have had a fish expert along, also but that team was called
away to another emergency site, that had higher priority.

As nature would have it, we really needed that fish expert within the
first two days.

First mishap: Loss of food supply cart down a bottomless (near
bottomless) hole/cliff side. There were no retrievable
goods left after they were spotted on the cliff side where they finally
came to rest. All containers were shattered and spilled. There was no
food left, so there was a choice: eat the fish that were abundant in the
underground river which we were occasionally intersecting, or scrap the
project and return to the surface. The vote was to continue the
project, take our chances with cooking the fish well, and sending three
porters back up to bring in new supplies. Calculated time for porters to
return with new food supplies 3 to 6 days depending on the speed of our
underground travel.

So far, progress had been at about 5 to 6 kilometres a day. The tunnel
system went deep into the mountains, and seemed to continue through the
entire mountain range. Debate began about the possibility that the
tunnels had been man made, at least partially in some places, where
there were clear signs of dynamite drill holes, and new entrances
exploded between adjoining avenues of tunnel. This made progress
difficult. The various team specialists seemed to be interested in
either staying behind to do further examination and testing, or to
cordon off this areas as tampered with ecosystem damaged areas.

Some team members elected to stay behind at one such site, where there
appeared to be buried caches of old utensils from some long extinct ice
age humanoid race. The archaeology team, set up here, and promised to
send the food supply porters further along after us, when they arrived.

The rest of us carried on, following the "main" tunnel and marking our
course as we went. There were so many warrens it was easy to loose
one's way here. We tied each person up to a main rope with carabiner
like clasps, so no one would get lost. The mapping team, was assigned
more members from the porter/support team, since mapping the terrain was
essential for our return to the surface. We couldn't move any faster
than we could map.

Mishap 2: Ten days into the mountain, energy recycling equipment lost
most of it's functionality. Batteries were not recharging completely
and lasted for shorter periods of time each day. This meant our travel
time became more limited each day. Some members actively promoted
return to the surface immediately, arguing that the return time would
lengthen because of shortened energy/light/battery output. Teams vote,
and decision made to split the project in half. Half of the members
start the return to surface, the other half elects to stay here for one
more week.

Porters arrive with fresh supplies, and are unloaded and sent back with
returning team to assist them.

Project tally: 5 skeleton crew members (researchers in the various
speciality areas) and 5 support persons.
Food and equipment: minimal to last 10 days. Porter crews expected back
in 8 days, to assist return to surface.

3rd Mishap: Food spoilage in containers renders it inedible. Water
supply short, new source undertaken immediately.
Unusual raiding /stealing scenarios happening between remaining members.
Hunger and exhaustion driving bad temper flare-ups. Energy consumption
for light and further documentation rationed until porter return.
Threats of some members leaving and striking back up on their own.
Questionable if team can be kept together. Red alert crisis situation
declared.

Vote held to decide whether to conserve energy, and stay till help
arrives or to start back immediately. Vote inconclusive.
Half wish to return, half wish to stay.

Project hiatus: Location : estimate 50 kilometres into mountain range.
Depth: undecipherable due to levels of mountains above us.
Communications: inadequate energy recycling for instruments to work.
Possible survival time: maximum 5 days, assuming adequate water source
found. Group is remaining together for now. Estimated arrival time for
porters: 6 days.
Most critical survival need: fresh food.

Plan of action: Teams of two, sent our with minimal weapons, light to
"hunt" for fresh food: Possible foods targeted: Fish, turtles, dew worms, bats, cave vegetation.

Possibility of Success: minimal

Immediate Goal: stay alive for 6 more days till porters arrive.
End of Transmission

Writing by Regina Stemberger

Photo "portal zone, another dimension" by Paulo Brandão

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