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BACK DOOR TO SURPRISE CAVE    

A new entrance leads us to The Dancing Wall
Updated September, 2013


BACK DOOR TO SURPRISE CAVE

SGS CAVING FIELD TRIP #2

2005 by John and Susy Pint

 Monday, November 13, 2000

             Our second field trip took place - by pure chance - only two days after a visit to Dahl Sultan by Lars Bjurstrom and Arlene Foss,. Here is Lars' summary of their adventures:

 LARS BJURSTROM'S "DEAD GOAT" REPORT

 November 9, 2000

 ... After breakfast we went to Dahl Sultan and were going to start the work of widening the entrance, but we were interrupted by a camel herder who came running and waving to us. It turned out his riding camel had run off without him and the whole camel herd was literally running away in different directions. What to do? Well, first we went after his riding camel and caught it and brought it to him. Then we went after his other camels and managed to gather the by-now-widespread herd and direct it towards the herder. We felt happy to help him and he was grateful.

 Anyway we continued with what we had come for. It was a hard job to chisel away the limestone and we were both rather tired and bruised after we had widened it enough, to make it easier to climb out of the cave. It is now possible also for a bigger person than John Pint to climb out rather comfortably through the entrance.

 Then we proceeded with the cleaning up. I had brought some hospital masks and garbage bags. However the smell wasn't that bad and there were no flies, but instead hundreds of spiders that rained down on us and were crawling in our hair. Not much fun. But Arlene is fantastic and took it with a laugh. The corpses had all disintegrated and there were only bones and hair left. There was a lot of sand down there so we decided to cover the whole mess 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. We were now completely pooped and had to rest and take a shower before we went into the cave. This was the first time I have explored more of the cave than the big room with the nice stalactite formation (John's Lair?). It does not have so many 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 there!!  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, it does not look like they have thrown down any more goats. But why now when we were there? They also had thrown down a bag of garbage that we brought up the day before. Very strange! Anyway, more hard work to bring the corpses up again, some of them very heavy. We put them at the side of the hole, for further transport 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 through the hole, two men were standing there quite upset that we had removed the dead sheep. We tried to politely explain to them that there was a beautiful cave down there and that it was not a good idea to use it as a garbage dump. We think they got the idea and they calmed down. As a gesture of peace they offered us a strawberry Mirinda and left. We went on to take the dead goats up to the hills 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 and the need to keep it clean for the herder there. We think he understood. Before we left for Riyadh we were offered a newly cooked sheep head on a bed of rice by a proud herder.

 LARS BJURSTROM

             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 from the Ministry explaining what the camping/caving/surveying/photography equipment is for.

 WHAT 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 I 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 fell. Then, while Ahmed began cooking a kapsa supper, I walked over to the hole I hoped would turn out to be Entrance Two.  This is located 85 meters from Surprise cave at 221 degrees. A low crawl leads 12 meters into a small room with two man-size holes in the floor, with another level visible 3.7 meters below. I rigged a rappel rope in one hole and a cable ladder in the other. Then I returned to camp for a tasty meal. Hamadi jokingly 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, apple-flavored tobacco smoke wafting from the hubbly-bubbly, known here as a sheesha. It was chilly that night, probably due to the relatively high humidity left over 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 to the hole we hoped would lead into Surprise Cave and videotaped our arrival at the site and the crawl back to the twin drops. We were observed by a lizard on the ceiling as we padded the rope. Then we all rappeled in and took photos in the 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 Lennart or 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 because the ceiling is so low you can't stand up. Now we knew we were really in Surprise Cave!

            By this time our crew was so hungry that even the stalactites started 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 new caver trainees had been able to put their rappeling and cable-ladder skills to good, practical use. 

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 guard, who confirmed Lars' report. Unfortunately, the owner of the lonely enterprise wasn't around, but Mahmoud put it very clearly that no more animals should be thrown 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 round and 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 our survey to some previously mapped point beyond the Dancing Wall (whose location 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 omen. Nevertheless, we all passed under them and did a belayed climb into the Round Room below. We reached the ducktail stalactites in about fifteen minutes and continued our video, focusing on surveying. Then we filmed the Dance of the stalactites' shadows on the smooth wall behind them. Our attempts to hide the white string running through this room resulted in a lot of dust filling the still air.

            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 led to familiar territory. Then I spotted a piece of red flagging tape tied around a stalactite. Believe it or not, I remembered tying it there with my own hands and by pure chance it happened to be a survey station important enough to have a 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 a known point. This we did in short order and – after leaving a little note for Lars and Arlene (to prove we were there) -  we 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 should mention that a few paces from our camp, Mahmoud discovered a rather impressive dahl. From the bottom of a wide depression, you can see a large room about ten meters below the surface. This one and Wow! both need to be checked out. 

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 occasional examples of graffiti on the wide wall of white rock above Murubbeh's entrance, but in the last few months the entrance has been smothered with writing and as we approached the rocky downslope, the pungent odor of rotting cadavers was wafted to our nostrils. Holding our noses, we bravely continued our descent... but what an awful first impression my companions got of what was, only a short time ago, an inspiring and even awesome sight. We found garbage strewn over every inch of Murubbeh's sandy floor, where Susy and I once enjoyed pitching a 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 Mahmoud and Ahmed were soon excited about the delicate boxwork and sparkling little plates on the ceiling and walls. Of course, we stopped at the Dome for pictures, this being a spot Mahmoud had dreamed of visiting after seeing Lars’ spectacular 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 were still intact. But, alas, somehow the register pencil had vanished.

            "No problem," said Mahmoud. "We'll do it the old-fashioned way."  He picked up a twig (OK, I can't explain how there could be a twig that deep inside the cave!) and burned the tip of it to make a charcoal pen. This served for the two of them to sign 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 agent who took our tickets turned out to be one of my former English students (at the IPA). Thanks to his help, all four of us got seats on the next flight out.

 FLOOD WATERS

            On arriving home, we discovered that heavy rain had been falling on Jeddah all the while we were enjoying perfect weather in the desert. Any doubts I might have had about that were put aside later that night when a strong wind came up and started battering the front of my house with buckets of rain. Soon it was coming in under the door and all the towels I had in the house were not going to stop my living room from flooding, so I put on my poncho and tacked garbage bags over my door by the light of lightning bolts flashing all around me.  A few minutes later the electricity went off and then the water. Maybe we should have stayed in the cave!

 John Pint