Almost 20 days of continuous rain, occasionally clearing for a few hours, then more rain, and always a lot of wind…the dark side of Madre de Dios? Still a lot of objectives, but the weather is winning: We rigged “La Détente” weeks ago to continue the exploration that we stopped in 2006 at -300m when we ran out of time and weather. Two days of reconnaissance at the sandstone band, left a few entrances to push deeper, “La Grotte du Pacifique” needs more detailed study. Richard, our scientific leader, says he is behind in his work, and Luc Henri, the film project director, dreams of the many scenes he has yet to shoot.
a meeting at the “Bodega”. Sea conditions of more than 4m swell, won’t permit a marine access to Whale Cave, it will be walkers revenge. Franck, Stéphane, Laurent, Richard, Luc Henri and Marc start in heavy rain and 120-150 km wind gusts. Reaching the lake north of Mount Roberto, surprise, the camp left in January is still standing, the “fifties” group, Richard, Luc Henri and Marc, will camp there while the younger guys will go around the lake. Water level is higher, so they do some water wading and delicate climbing just to cross the few rivers that feed the lake. They sleep in “La grotte de l’Albatros” overlooking Whale Bay. At Guarello base, report writing has begun, Buldo and Jean-Philippe went to pinpoint Cueva Ayayema in Seno Eleuterio while Alan, Marta, Enrique, Gustavo, Fernanda, Sebastian, Gerd, Eric, Marcelo and Maria-José circle Guarello island, exploring not so old Kawésqar(?) campsites and an impassable spring.
the lake is even higher, it takes three hours for Richard, Marc and Luc Henri to go around the lake. They need to climb higher in the forest. Richard is worried about the rain, he has convinced Marc and Luc Henri not to go down with heavy backpacks to Whale Cave and to sleep in Albatross cave. While the “thirties” find their way to the beach down a steep slope covered in low vegetation. They found a marine cave with a 20 meters x 30 meters entrance and 500 meters long. With Stéphane walking like a duck due to a skin irritation in between his legs, they named the cave “10h10”. Bivouacking inside the cave, they found remnants of human occupation, bones and even a calcite covered skull. A new burial cave?
Buldo, Denis, Judi and Marcello do more coastal marine reconnaissance in Seno Eleuterio. At Whale Cove, a strange movement of the water surface attracts their attention. It looks like an underwater spring about 100 meter offshore. Buldo climbs to reach a entrance in a cliff, he gets in, it is tight but there is an airflow. We should comeback to climb higher and bypass, if possible, the first squeeze.
Back at Guarello base. For those of us not in the field, the base director and workers organised a big party. A good meal make of a “parillada” (barbequed meat) and wine, social games, workers and cavers singing, karaoke and lots of dancing. It was a good opportunity to renew old friendships with workers we have not seen since 2006.
for the Whale Cave group, the day will be spent mapping and photographing both caves, and precisely locating whale bones in Whale Cave and humans remnants in 10h10 Cave. That night, everybody returns back up at Albatross Cave to sleep.
It was a day of prospecting at the sandstone band for cavers, Alan, Marta, Enrique, Jean-Philippe and Pierre, and geologists, Fernanda and Sebastian, and micro-biologist, Eric and anthropologist, Maria-José. Alan, Enrique and Sebastian explore a 35 meter pit at a height of 550 meters, sadly, it was blocked by rocks. On their way down, a ~20 meters pit with water flowing into it is marked with coordinates for the future. The rest of the team explore a large depression west of the area of Cueva El Picante, many small blinds pits are found, two or three entrances are marked with a GPS for the next expedition. Due to a late start, they get back at nightfall.
the barometer has been rising since yesterday. There is no rain and we even get some sun. For the Whale Cave group it is time to leave. The walking is difficult, but with that clearing sky, a fantastic landscape fills their heads for future memories. When they reach the lake, they encounter the water level 1.5 meter higher than in the way in!!! They reach Guarello base after a nine hours trek, having to wade through waist deep water and to pack up lake camp. Ramon our pleasant waiter and cook, insists on serving everybody supper, even if though we arrive two hours late.
A large group organized a sea and land reconnaissance of a small outcrop of limestone on Caracciolo island, between Madre de Dios and Duke of York islands. The ‘yacht’ with Alan, Marta, Sebastian, Fernanda and Enrique and a smaller C5 Bombard boat with Maria-José, Marcelo, Georges and Pierre, cruise Seno Contreras, Canal Oeste, Canal Grove through a narrow passage where they had to haul the boats through knee depth water. They land on a rocky beach, then climb granite slopes to the ridge and contact zone just before limestone at around 530 meters. From “Monte Manassero” (584 m) we saw only a few too-tight pits and got great views of the “Campo de Hielo Sur” (Southern Patagonian Icecap) far away to the east. To complete the round trip we pursue sailing on Canal Grove, Canal Monteith, Canal Pasaje and then back on Canal Oeste. In all we covered more than 40 kilometers.
Opinion was divided as to whether we should push on getting to the bottom of “La Détente” or play it safe and leave the derig until the next expedition. Finally, chief prerogative, a team was send to undo the camp and unrig the cave, leaving the ropes coiled at top of each pit, but taking out all the hardware. Gustavo and Denis were probably the last members of the expedition to go underground, while Jean-François, Jean-Marc and Gerd recovered tents and tarps from the muddy campsite.
Buldo, Jean Philippe and Judicael went back to the sandstone band hoping to find new objectives for the next expedition. They tend to push more West along the limestone sandstone contact zone but don’t find much.
the wet weather is back. It is time to write-up our explorations, scientific and technical reports, web site texts and translations between French, Spanish and English. The cleaning, drying and packing of gear is another task we need begin soon. We have to remove all our inflatable boats, rinse them with fresh water, disassemble and dry them, clean and package all the outboard motors.