2015 PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 14 September 2015 20:51

2015 dawned with the realisation that the usual suspects were reduced to a team of 1 for the exploration, but the support team as usual were able and willing to give it their all to make sure the expedition would have the best chance of success.

The support team consisted of:  Xesus Manteca (Teca), Alberto Medina, Hilari Moreno, Rafa Bernardo, Olay Bernardo, Enol Bernardo, Laura Zango, Adrian Gonzalez, Enrique Ballesteros, Pep Pujal, Leopoldo Trabanco (Poli), Roberto Cano, Carlos Garcia (Krilin), Pedro Gonzalez, Borja Rebaque, David Martinez, Javier Monedero, Jorge Lopera, Brian Schofield (Scoff), Dave Ryall + others.

Going to the end of the Pozo Azul alone (some 11 km from the entrance) and even just to Tipperary required some serious thought about how to do it in a safe manner with enough back-up options to minimise the chance of an enforced wait in Tipperary or beyond. The first and main consideration was that a 2nd drysuit was needed, this was a must and so a 2nd dry-tube to transport this would be needed. Luckily Otter had supplied me with a Brittanic Telescopic drysuit for the Mexico Huautla Expedition ........ https://www.facebook.com/CaveDive www.cdg-exped.org

This drysuit had socks rather than boots and so fitted into a second smaller dry-tube that I have previously used.                                                   The other considerations were extra spares for the KISS rebreather, such as inhale and exhale hoses, O2 delivery spares etc , but as these also fitted in the same drytube as the spare drysuit, they posed no extra hassle. A final consideration was communication from Tipperary to the surface. We had tried over the last 3 years to get communication using various methods but to no avail. This time we managed to get support from Cave Link who have developed a text based communication system. I had used this previously in Sima GESM, Andalucia, Spain and at home in the UK, with various results. This communication would be the main focus for the expedition before any exploration beyond Tipperary was considered. Therefore the plan would be as in the last 2 years. That was, to go to Tipperary for 1 night and install the Cave-Link device, and hopefully communicate with the surface.

Several days of set-up to transport the equipment to Sump 2 was necessary and also to prepare a habitat for use. Once this was done, a stage dive to 2km was carried out to place some OC bail-out cylinders and a back-up scooter. These items proved invaluable later in the trip. I was then in a position to make a trip to Tipperary.

The traverse to Tipperary was done in just over 4 hours. When leaving the water I had a near miss when I tripped and landed heavily on both knees with the full weight of the rebreather, this could easily have cut through the dry-suit (remember spare drysuit !!). The Cave-Link device was set-up quickly and a message placed in the outbox ready for a surface receiver to pick it up.  After some hot food, I headed up the climbs to the high level dry passages explored last year, to look at a lead that myself and Rene had spotted. Some serious rock climbing is required to get there. The lead continued as a crawl for a few hundred metres until it ended at a boulder blockage. This was the final easy lead to pursue up here, and the only lead now is a pitch which require ropes, spits and SRT kit. Back at the bivouac the messages had not been sent and thus the surface team had not yet been in range to connect. Early the following morning the Cave-Link device was set to power save mode, so that it would last for several days, and I headed out through Sump 2 travelling fast and light, surfacing in 3.5hours. My support team arrived shortly after and we transported the large Aquazepp down the cascade so that it could be taken outside for re-charging.

The surface team had spent many hours attempting to connect with the underground transmitter in various locations without success. Therefore several days of further work were planned to acheive this goal. A systematic approach was planned, using the mapper data and survey and 2 teams with a Cave-Link device each. A pincer approach was employed, where both teams would eventually meet up by following different valleys up to the top of the hill, where we believed Tipperary was located. Each team had done 4 or 5 locations and moral was declining when Teca's mobile phone rang and the other team said they had managed to send their text messages,which meant a connection with the underground device. We were very pleased and quickly headed to their location. This was almost exactly where the mapper survey showed the cave passages to be, beneath the surface. Although the messages had been sent, it took some time before we received the messages that I had sent from Tipperary some 2 days before, but eventually they came through. And so we were now in a position where the surface support team could communicate directly with Tipperary, GOOD RESULT..................

Surveying dry passage off Tipperary

Equipment was then readied for a solo exploration trip to the end of the cave, beyond Sump 5 where a deep canal had been reached by Rene Houben in 2014. With all the camping kit already in Tipperary, a relatively straightforward dive with minimal drag, was made back to Tipperary in 4 hours. Once in Tipperary lots of kit had to be transported to Sump 3, which is not far (30m) but the ground is treacherous for carrying heavy loads. With a change of sofnolime to the KISS and other preparations a late night saw the final preparations for the following day, completed. Even with a very early start the next day, it still took quite a time to make final preparations and get dressed for the 3.2 km long dive, through Sump 3. The large Aquazepp is too heavy to solo transport across Tipperary and so the slower tow behind, SS Magnus and medium Zepp, were utilised. A 2 hour dive time was expected. In the event, it took 2.5 hours to pass the sump with 30mins deco. required. I was relieved to get through Sump 3 and get out of the bulky diving kit and into a wetsuit with OC cylinders, nice and simple multi-sump diving. I had taken 2 x 3 litre OC cylinders pumped to about 250 bar, and that would hopefully get me through Sumps 4 and 5, I hadn't really got enough gas for diving beyond this. I was hopeful that the river passage would continue as before, for several hundred metres. Using a 5mm wetsuit and overjacket the dive through Sump 4 was fresh but not too cold, and the caving beyond comfortable, even though there was a lot of swimming. The hardwork required to progress against the river kept me warm. At Sump 5, I knew that I had only 1 chance to get through to the section that Rene had reached. I was hopeful that his line would be intact and that I could follow it. Despite this I laid a new tagged line from base, and this turned out to be fortuitous as Rene's line was shredded and missing in places. The dive seemed longer than the reported 100m, but I managed to locate the correct route and surfaced beyond Sump 5 in the active river passage. Upon checking the line, the sump was found to be 130 m long.

Surfacing point beyond Sump 3

A large passage lay ahead and after 100m I removed the dive kit and continued without it. After another 100m a cascade was reached and climbed at a corner of the river, and a dry passage could be seen on the left, slightly higher. This was followed for a while, along the footmarks of Rene from 2014, until they ran out. From this point forward this was all new passage. The rift like passage continued for another 100m until it became a little narrower and the enticing upstream unexplored river passage beckoned. Back in the river the canal which Rene had reached lay immediately ahead and a chilly swim commenced. After 100m I was back in shallower waters and just ahead a large sump pool appeared, Sump 6. I couldn't believe it had sumped again so soon and was quite disappointed. There was a small inlet on the right hand side disgorging a small stream and so I followed this to wam up a little. This was a very narrow muddy rift which continued with climbs for some 100m until it became smaller, but was not pushed to a definite conclusion. Back at Sump 6, without the dive kit I was forced to retreat back to the dry passages and continue exploring there. The narrow rift continued and then became a crawl until a large junction was reached. Both passages were explored for several hundred metres, with no end reached in one, and a sump reached in the other, I had hoped that one of these tunnels would bypass Sump 5, but it was not to be.

Sump 4

During this dry exploration phase I had been contemplating diving Sump 6 and considering my gas reserves and the dive out. I had enough gas to get out, but could afford no problems. I also thought it important to dive Sump 6, to see if it was short and could be passed quickly. So I set myself a strict limit for gas reserves and transported the dive kit up to Sump 6. By this time I had been on the move for many hours and I was beginning to feel the cold. The line was tied to a large rock in the middle of the sump pool and I dived into a large, wide and clear sump, which headed down to 12m depth. Beyond this elbow, the sump ascended to 8 m and I was quickly approaching my limit. I tied off the line at 60m into the sump, and with little time to do much else, ensured the way on was open, then rapidly headed back. Back at base I quickly took some notes and immediately headed downstream, shivering a little and began the long journey back to Tipperary. The journey back to Razor Passage, Sump 3, the rebreather and scooters took around 2 hours and another 2 hours was needed to prepare everything for the long dive back through to Tipperary. This time the dive was 2 hours, with around 20mins deco required. By this time I had been on the go for around 18hours, but there was still many things to transport and prepare for the next day, and it was around 2am before I got to bed.

The next day at around 5am, I rose and began the long preparations for the dive out of Sump 2. This involves re-packing all the dry tubes with the bivouac kit, preparing the KISS, and changing the sofnolime, and tidying Tipperary so that no debris or rubbish is left behind. I switched on the Cave Link device and sent a message not expecting a reply, especially at such an early hour. But Scoff had got up very early and we were able to communicate for some time. An ETA back at S2 dive base, and a quick summary of my discovery, were sent as text messages to the surface.

More to follow...........................................


Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 December 2015 20:50