BACK DOOR TO SURPRISE CAVE
SGS CAVING FIELD TRIP #2
© 2005 by John and Susy Pint
BJURSTROM'S "DEAD GOAT" REPORT
November 9, 2000
breakfast we went to
Dahl Sultan and were going to start the work of widening the entrance,
were interrupted by a camel herder who came running and waving to us.
out his riding camel had run off without him and the whole camel herd
literally running away in different directions. What to do? Well, first
after his riding camel and caught it and brought it to him. Then we
his other camels and managed to gather the by-now-widespread herd and
towards the herder. We felt happy to help him and he was grateful.
continued with what we
had come for. It was a hard job to chisel away the limestone and we
rather tired and bruised after we had widened it enough, to make it
climb out of the cave. It is now possible also for a bigger person than
Pint to climb out rather comfortably through the entrance.
we proceeded with the cleaning up. I had brought some
hospital masks and garbage bags. However the smell wasn't that bad and
were no flies, but instead hundreds of spiders that rained down on us
crawling in our hair. Not much fun. But Arlene is fantastic and took it
laugh. The corpses had all disintegrated and there were only bones and
left. There was a lot of sand down there so we decided to cover the
with sand. More hard and dirty work. Arlene was really working very
hard and I
think we deserve a cave medal! After a some time it looked quite good.
now completely pooped and had to rest and take a shower before we went
cave. This was the first time I have explored more of the cave than the
with the nice stalactite formation (John's Lair?). It does not have so
beautiful formations, except in John's Lair (Also known as the "Beach
Room" -- John) but the size is really impressive. I mean you can walk
comfortably along a very long tunnel. That was very exciting.
The next morning
we went back
into Sultan. To our disappointment there were six new, dead goats
What an anticlimax! It was just unbelievable. I
don't think they are
doing this all the time because since I was down there two years ago,
not look like they have thrown down any more goats. But why now when we
there? They also had thrown down a bag of garbage that we brought up
before. Very strange! Anyway, more hard work to bring the corpses up
of them very heavy. We put them at the side of the hole, for further
and went down for the photography. We shot two rolls in John's Lair and
one at a
nice room just beyond it.
When we came up
hole, two men were standing there quite upset that we had removed the
sheep. We tried to politely explain to them that there was a beautiful
there and that it was not a good idea to use it as a garbage dump. We
got the idea and they calmed down. As a gesture of peace they offered
strawberry Mirinda and left. We went on to take the dead goats up to
behind Friendly Cave and dumped them there. We decided it was not a
good idea to
dump them in another hole since that could be another nice cave. Then
we went to
the goat camp and tried to explain the best we could about Dahl Sultan
need to keep it clean for the herder there. We think he understood.
left for Riyadh we were offered a newly cooked sheep head on a bed of
rice by a
Thanks, Lars and Arlene for a heroic job! Now it is
two days later and
the SGS Caving crew is heading for Riyadh.
Participants on this trip were
Mahmoud Al-Shanti, Ahmed S. Banakhar, Abdul Rhman J. Al-Jauid, John
Pint and the
same drivers as last time, Hamadi and Sa'ad.
Once again we suffered delays at the airport, with
long and thorough
security checks of our baggage. It would probably help to have a letter
Ministry explaining what the camping/caving/surveying/photography
LIES 85 M. FROM SURPRISE CAVE?
We arrived in Riyadh and made it through Rumah and
Shawiah at record
speed, reaching Surprise cave at about 4:30 PM, with enough light for
us to get
the compass direction and distance to a low-lying horizontal cave which
thought might connect with Surprise. We then chose a nearby spot next
to a low
jebel as our campsite. We set up our new Coleman tents as darkness
while Ahmed began cooking a kapsa supper, I walked over to the hole I
would turn out to be Entrance Two.
is located 85 meters from Surprise cave at 221 degrees. A low crawl
meters into a small room with two man-size holes in the floor, with
level visible 3.7 meters below. I rigged a rappel rope in one hole and
ladder in the other. Then I returned to camp for a tasty meal. Hamadi
remarked that I was majnoon (crazy) to go walking
out in the dark to
visit a dahl and in the same spirit, I countered that dahls are dark
even in the
day time, so who cares?
With no wind, the desert was incredibly beautiful in
the bright moonlight
and the air was perfumed by the subtle scent of m'asle,
tobacco smoke wafting from the hubbly-bubbly, known here as a sheesha.
was chilly that night, probably due to the relatively high humidity
from last weekend's heavy rains.
UNDER THE LIZARD’S GAZE
Next morning we were up at 6:00. The first rays of
sunlight cast dramatic
shadows on the karst-covered jebel behind us. After breakfast, we went
hole we hoped would lead into Surprise Cave and videotaped our arrival
site and the crawl back to the twin drops. We were observed by a lizard
ceiling as we padded the rope. Then we all rappeled in and took photos
sandy-floored room below. Our two brand-new Coleman lamps lit up each
room as we
moved along, casting cheery shadows and a warm glow. We surveyed twelve
stations, following a white string we supposed had been placed by
Lars, hoping we would soon connect to a known part of the cave.
Finally, we came
to The Dancing Wall, where one can see ducktail stalactites up close
ceiling is so low you can't stand up. Now we knew we were really in
By this time our crew was so hungry that even the
looking tasty. Time to go eat!
We ascended via the cable ladder and decided to
leave all the rigging in
the cave so we could continue our survey tomorrow. I felt good that my
trainees had been able to put their rappeling and cable-ladder skills
SMILING GOAT MAN
After tuna and a Greek salad, Mahmoud and I went off
to visit the goat
herder's camp near Dahl Sultan. We found only the friendly Bengali
confirmed Lars' report. Unfortunately, the owner of the lonely
around, but Mahmoud put it very clearly that no more animals should be
into the dahl. The guard was amazed to see pictures of wonderful sights
presumably just below his feet. It's clear that some of these dahls
need to be
gated or fenced off.
On our way back to camp, we spotted a dahl we hadn't
seen before. The
entrance was about five meters across and was so close to perfectly
looked so deep, that we both said, "Wow!" when we saw it. We took the
coordinates and look forward to checking it out.
Next morning everyone was up and about at 6 AM
again, in an effort to
accomplish a lot today before heading back to Riyadh in the evening.
BEYOND THE DANCING WALL
The sky began to fill with rain-threatening clouds
as we breakfasted, so
we lost no time returning to Surprise Entrance Two, determined to push
survey to some previously mapped point beyond the Dancing Wall (whose
is only estimated on our Surprise Map).
This time we found two lizards awaiting us in the
room with the twin
drops. Perhaps it ought to be named the Lizards' Lair. My companions
took a dim
view of their presence, apparently considering these creatures a bad
Nevertheless, we all passed under them and did a belayed climb into the
Room below. We reached the ducktail stalactites in about fifteen
continued our video, focusing on surveying. Then we filmed the Dance of
stalactites' shadows on the smooth wall behind them. Our attempts to
white string running through this room resulted in a lot of dust
While the others took snapshots of these spectacular
speleothems, I wandered further on, hoping I would
soon come upon Lars'
Lair. Well, there were passages going every which way, but none of them
familiar territory. Then I spotted a piece of red flagging tape tied
stalactite. Believe it or not, I remembered tying it there with my own
by pure chance it happened to be a survey station important enough to
little scrap of paper lying underneath it with the station number
written on it:
just what we were looking for!
With a smile on my face, I made my way back to the
other guys and
announced that we only had to survey a few stations more to connect to
point. This we did in short order and – after leaving a little note for
and Arlene (to prove we were there) -
were soon back in the Lizards' Lair, unrigging the cave.
We headed back to camp, which had acquired the name
Camp 13 only because
we had arrived on the 13th (obviously, we aren't superstitious!). I
mention that a few paces from our camp, Mahmoud discovered a rather
dahl. From the bottom of a wide depression, you can see a large room
meters below the surface. This one and Wow! both need to be checked
THE MURUBBEH DISASTER
After breaking camp we headed for Dahl Murubbeh to
check it out, having
heard from Mohammed Halawani that it was "in bad shape." The badness
was already visible from a distance. Over the years, we've seen
examples of graffiti on the wide wall of white rock above Murubbeh's
but in the last few months the entrance has been smothered with writing
we approached the rocky downslope, the pungent odor of rotting cadavers
wafted to our nostrils. Holding our noses, we bravely continued our
but what an awful first impression my companions got of what was, only
time ago, an inspiring and even awesome sight. We found garbage strewn
every inch of Murubbeh's sandy floor, where Susy and I once enjoyed
tent to take advantage of the cave's perennial coolness.
So bad were conditions that two of our party turned
back rather than
continue from the Clubroom down into the Camel Aisle to see the Frosted
Feathers. Fortunately, the filth ended just where darkness began and
Ahmed were soon excited about the delicate boxwork and sparkling little
on the ceiling and walls. Of course, we stopped at the Dome for
being a spot Mahmoud had dreamed of visiting after seeing Lars’
photos of the place.
Beneath the Frosted Feathers, we found the cave
register which indicated
that only cavers had come this far. No wonder that the Frosted Feathers
still intact. But, alas, somehow the register pencil had vanished.
"No problem," said Mahmoud. "We'll do it the
way." He picked up
a twig (OK,
I can't explain how there could be a twig that deep inside the cave!)
the tip of it to make a charcoal pen. This served for the two of them
their names and even leave their email addresses. "And it lasts longer
than pencil!" Mahmoud added.
Now it was getting late and we had to head back to
Shawiah to fill our
leaking gear box after which we headed to the airport where the Saudia
took our tickets turned out to be one of my former English students (at
IPA). Thanks to his help, all four of us got seats on the next flight
On arriving home, we discovered that heavy rain had
been falling on
Jeddah all the while we were enjoying perfect weather in the desert.
I might have had about that were put aside later that night when a
came up and started battering the front of my house with buckets of
it was coming in under the door and all the towels I had in the house
going to stop my living room from flooding, so I put on my poncho and
garbage bags over my door by the light of lightning bolts flashing all
me. A few minutes
electricity went off and then the water. Maybe we should have stayed in