The Black Hole
Location: Caves Branch - Belize
by Wayne & Karen Brown
Remember The Blue Hole we dived into last week? The Blue Hole is an ancient cave that collapsed to form a sinkhole that is now underwater. Today we are going to explore a sinkhole that is on land, not underwater. We are going to rappel down 300 feet into The Black Hole!
The Black Hole is near Ian Andersen's Jungle Lodge. Ian 's climbing guide, Carlos, will take us into The Black Hole. (Carlos is a Meztizo - a person of Mayan and Spanish ancestors.) Carlos takes us by 4-wheel drive to the foot of a hill in the rainforest. Carlos leads us up a trail that winds up into the jungle. The thick rainforest canopy makes the blocks the light so it is dim. The trail is slippery red mud. We have to be careful that we don't slip and fall. We climb up rocks using snake-like vines and roots as hand-holds. (We avoid grabing the "give and take tree.) After 2 hours of hiking and climbing through the hot, damp and sticky jungle we come to the edge of The Black Hole!
The Black Hole doesn't look like a black hole. It is hard to tell it is a deep, huge hole. The rainforest covers the edges and even grows up from the bottom of The Black Hole. Carlos tells us to be careful, because if we get too close to the edge we could fall to the rocky bottom over 300 feet below. Carlos brought all the special climbing equipment we will need to rappel safely to the bottom. Carlos has long, sturdy ropes, climbing harnesses, helmets, gloves and special rappeling bars that the rope slides through and allow us to control how fast we go down.
It takes about an hour to secure and check all the ropes, put on our harnesses, helmets and gloves. Carlos goes down the rope first. We he is down and off the rope it is our turn. Wayne is first. Karen is second. We walk slowly backwards with the rope sliding through the rappeling bar. We we get to the drop-off and then we lean backwards and slide down the rope in a sitting position. On the way down we are next to a vertical wall of solid limestone. This was like our dive into The Blue Hole as we descended along the wall.
About 100 feet down the wall curves in and as we get lower we can see that it is the mouth of a huge cave, like the mouth of the underwater cave in The Blue Hole. We descend past the roof of this cave and stop. We can see huge stalactites hanging from the ceiling, just like on our dive in The Blue Hole! Some of these stalactites are about 3-5 feet wide and 5-15 feet long! This is what The Blue Hole would look like if it wasn't filled with water! The Blue Hole was once a sinkhole just like The Black Hole! This shows that a long time ago the level of the ocean was a lot lower than it is today.What do you think made the level of the ocean change?
After photographing the huge stalactites we continue our descent to the bottom of The Black Hole. Below us we see the tops of the tallest trees in the rainforest at the bottom of this huge sinkhole.
We slowly descend into the thick green canopy of the rainforest. Now it is like we are climbing in reverse! We slide past branches and vines until we finally touch our feet on bottom of The Black Hole!
The rainforest at the bottom is as thick as the rainforest on the rim of The Black Hole! We can't see to the other side of the sinkhole!.The light is dim down here because the trees and plants are blocking the light. That is why some plants can't survive in the rainforest, because they can't get enough sunlight.
As we walk around we look at what we are walking on. We are walking on huge pieces of the ceiling of this old cave that collapsed thousands of years ago. This must be what we would find at the bottom of The Blue Hole. We see the entrances to some huge caves down here we would like to explore, but Carlos says we must leave now. We still have to climb out of The Black Hole and get out of the rainforest before it gets dark.
As we slowly climbed out of The Black Hole to the rainforest trail we thought about how The Black Hole and The Blue Hole are similar and different. They are both sinkholes, but one is on land and the other is underwater. Inside The Black Hole are thousands of trees and plants which are homes for many animals and insects. Inside The Blue Hole we found nothing growing or living there.
Join us tomorrow as we visit the mysterious Mayan underworld, where they believed the spirits of the dead could be found.
Wayne & Karen Brown
Caves Branch, Belize
Position: 17º 10' N / 88º 41' W
Air Temp: 88ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds.
Carlos carefully ties our rappeling rope to a big tree and checks to make sure everything is securely fastened.
After we put on and check all our equipment we are ready to descend into The Black Hole! We don't need air tanks for this trip, only a long sturdy rope!
Hanging from his rope Wayne shot this picture of the huge stalactites hanging from the ceiling of this cave.
Down below us is the canopy of the rainnforest on the bottom of The Black Hole!
Enlarge this picture and try to find Karen coming down through the rainforest canopy. (Clue - She is near the center of the picture, wearing a green shirt and off-white pants.)