Exploring an Untouched Cave
On the morning of the third day we received a telephone call from Ken Dart of Ek Tun Resort, telling us that he had found a sinkhole on his property close to Actun Halal. Ken offered to take us there, so we loaded our packs with our climbing gear and headed out to the jungle to meet him.
We reached the sinkhole after hiking for about 2 hours. The entrance was quite impressive, measuring approximately 8 meters in diameter with a vertical drop of 30 meters. We strapped on our harnesses and rapelled into the site.
|Into the darkness we go... Bruce (see his red helmet in the cave opening) has just climbed into the sinkhole and is starting to rapell down.|
The interior of the sinkhole was much larger than the entrance. Using a laser measuring device, we determined that the cave was 70 meters north-south and 40 meters east-west. As far as we could tell, the cave had not been disturbed by modern visitors. We could see beautiful formations, evidence of Maya architecture, pottery sherds, and some rock art.
We explored the massive chamber and found a small passage leading into a smaller one. At the entrance of the passage, we spotted a small chert handaxe (pictured below) placed in between two cave formations.
Entering the chamber, we knew we had encountered a special place. There were 10 nearly intact ollas in the chamber exactly as the ancient Maya had left them. Most of these were inverted and placed on the chamber floor on top of broken cave formations. All of the pots exhibited a thin layer of white calcium carbonate from the dripwater activity in the chamber.
We left the olla chamber and began to further explore the main chamber. Ken and Bruce went to investigate an area that had beautiful crystalline formations, and William and Cameron went to the other side of the cave.
We discovered a small stalagmite into which the Maya had carved or chipped two small holes. This type of speleothem modification by the Maya is prevalent in the other caves in the area, including Actun Chapat and Actun Halal. We think the simple carving on this stalagmite may have been an attempt by the Maya to represent Chak, the god of lightning and rain.
While rappelling into a sinkhole is exhilarating and fun, making the ascent to the surface is an arduous and exhausting process. We had spent over 4 hours in the cave and were already fairly tired as we prepared to exit the sinkhole. Fortunately, Bruce had provided all of us with ropewalker ascending systems, which makes climbing a rope 100 feet much easier than using simple hand and foot ascenders. We all made it out safely and headed back home for a good night's sleep!