Over the last month or so, Patrick Widmann and myself have been working on exploring a relatively (for Mexico) deep section of cave. It has been challenging, rewarding and a lot of fun. I have made mistakes, learnt a ton, and ran into some less than ideal situations.
A year and a half ago, Patrick asked me to check a lead he had noticed while diving. I took my Sidekick out and went to check it and found nothing more than a small passage that looped back on itself. Then a few months ago, asked me to check another. This time I found another passage that ended in a major restriction that I wasn’t willing to pass in my Sidekick as it meant leaving one of my bailout behind. It was also 30m deep, and about a kilometer from the exit. Swimming that distance at that depth meant deco was going to be at least an hour aswell. Later, we went back with the Sidewinders and quickly emptied the half empty reel I had brought. First lesson, just because you don’t expect to find much doesn’t mean a half empty reel is acceptable. It opened into a huge passage with leads everywhere. As soon as we could, we headed back and tied into the end of line which ended in a small room just past a tank off restriction at 37m. Unfortunately, our work schedules didn’t allow a return visit for awhile…
Over the next month we have added 1300m of line to the system, with an avg depth of 33m and max depth of 37m. During this, I have learnt quite a few valuable lessons. First, having a more experienced explorer with you who can help point you in the right direction is a great way to learn to read the cave (ie. what will likely be a dead end vs the way on). The biggest passage isn’t always the correct one!
Secondly, just how quickly things could turn really bad. I thought I had spent my fair share of time in small, zero visibility spaces and have since had a complete shift in my attitude towards these situations. While checking a low bedding plane, I went in too quickly and didn’t put enough tie offs in. When i finally found a small space that i could turn myself around in, I was face to face with a thick, white cloud of zero vis coming towards me. In the second I had i tried to take in as much as i could and prepare myself. Zero vis was not new to me, should be no problem! I started exiting and very quickly realized that was not the case. My line went through a space the size of a fist, with a wall on one side and a no apparent increase in size on the other side. I had created a line trap due to a lack of sufficient tie offs. I was well over a kilometer from the exit, 23m deep, and in this situation… I was very happy to be on a rebreather. After 5-10 minutes of really searching and thinking about what I was going to do, I had two options. First, sit as still as possible and wait for my teammate to come get me. I knew that if i chose this path, I would never forgive myself. However, I am glad that it WAS an option in case I really needed it. Second, there was a small space way to the right of my line. It was big enough that I could fit through it, but would require committing to it. Hopefully it didn’t pinch off! I racked my brain to remember what I had passed on the way in, and it seemed to fit the bill. I went for it and popped out into a slightly better than zero vis space with a tie off right in front of me. I exited without problem at that point and ran into Patrick who had just started to make his way in to get me as I had been in there for about 15 minutes. We took a minute to let me shake it off, and then continued on our way surveying out and checking leads as we went. Since then, I have been much more careful, and added a lot more tie offs in small spaces. It has made my life WAY easier during exits in subsequent dives in smaller, and deeper lines in that cave.
On one dive I headed back to push the end of one of the lines that I felt could go further. It is 36m deep, at the back of the new section, fairly small and silty. I ended up adding a couple hundred feet to it and popped out into a familiar tunnel with line it already. I instantly realized where I was, this was the same tunnel that Patrick had asked me to check a year and a half ago! I remember checking this area and finding nothing but small nasty passages, and here I was coming from the other side without too much trouble. I guess even just a year and a half of cave diving all the time can make quite a difference in what looks diveable and what doesn’t!
As of now, we have exhausted most of the leads and are left with 2 promising ones. All dives have been between 5 and 8.5 hours. I have ripped holes in my drysuit so big I can put a finger through it and had to do 2 hours of deco completely flooded… twice. Beyond that, I am much more comfortable with the basic process/flow of exploring a cave, and have both pushed my limits and gained more respect for them. I have also really grown to love my Sidewinder. This could not have been done without it as there are multiple sidemount only restrictions and at least 1 totally vertical restriction that would be very uncomfortable on any other sidemount rebreather.
I look forward to the day that I can take others diving into this amazing cave.
Article written by Jake Bulman