Day 29 – Cave Exploration in the Pyrenees
Cave Exploration

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

Writing by Regina Stemberger
Photo “portal zone, another dimension” by Paulo Brandão

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