Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
Coming ashore at Lizard Island Australia

Category — Cristalino

Checking Unchecked Leads. Cenote Azul.

Well… the last nine months have been pretty exciting!  My wife and I moved back to the US from Mexico during the height of Swine Flu scare.  We jump started our web design business, and had our son Hans Griffin.  As one might imagine all of the associated chaos put a pretty big crimp on my diving, however I was still able to get a bit of diving done. I made a couple of trips up to Thousand Islands and I did my first deep dive in the Mud Hole off of New Jersey.  But that is not why I am writing, I am writing because I am back in Mexico for a short trip to do some cave diving.

On Thursday I arrived full of anticipation and some anxiety.  Sol picked me up from the airport.  I had in tow a Silent Submersion DPV conversion kit, my side-mount gear and some other assorted dive goodies.  I was very glad to not have to ride the bus.   Sol dropped me off at Patrick´s apartment and I kicked back and started my wait.    As luck would have it, I came down with a cold two days before my flight.  The first two days here were spent waiting for my cold to pass and my sinuses to clear.  On Saturday, it finally cleared enough for me to dive.  I prepped my gear for a check out dive. 

Sunday dawned and Patrick of Protec blog fame and I decided to go diving.  We debated where to go for a while and decided to head to Cenote Azul.  I was told when I moved here that divers were not allowed to enter at Cenote Azul, so I never tried to get in there.  I said that to Patrick and he challenged me.  We decided to check it out and see if that was true. 

We pulled into the parking lot and spoke to the manager.  She was apprehensive but decided to allow us in, to my surprise.  She charged us each 100 Pesos.  She explained we could drive to the water, which was behind the shack.  Cenote Azul´s grounds are very nice and well maintained.  The walkways are manageable and the Cenote is gorgeous.  The water is about a 3 minute walk from the car.  The water is about 10-15 feet below the parking lot. 

You want to enter the water in the main cenote which is right in front of the wooden deck.  There are two lines at Cenote Azul.  One line runs to Kantun Ki and the other runs over to Cristolino.  You can swim to Ponderosa (Garden of Eden) by swimming towards Kantun Ki and taking a left. 

The main line to Kantun Chi is about 150ft from open water.  There are at least three viable options once you are in the cavern zone, however only the left one will lead you to the main line.  If you are looking for the line to Cristolino, you have to continue past the line to Kantun Chi.   The end of both lines are in the same general vicinity.

It took us about 4 minutes to get tied in.  We started up the line and stopped a number of times to make repairs.  One repair took the two of us to lift a 4 foot slab of collapsed lime stone  off the line to free it.  Another repair required us to cut a ball of line off the main line.  Lastly, we re-secured the line a number of times.  Every time I dive this area of the system I find numerous problems with the line.  In the past I have found the line slack numerous times and I find small collapses regularly here.   If you decide to dive here, make sure you pay attention to the line.  It is in the halocline and it isn´t in great condition, this is a relatively out of the way part of the system and the lack of traffic shows.

After about 45 minutes we reached Kantun Chi.   We turned the dive and headed back.  The swim home was uneventful and relaxing.  We surfaced at 100 minutes.  Overall it was an awesome dive.  I am really glad to be back here.   Diving in Mexico is much more relaxing then diving in New Jersey, there is no drive to the boat, no boat, and warm water.

The lesson this trip is to check out those old possibilities.  There are management changes, line changes and changes in perspective.

January 31, 2010   8 Comments

Looking for Remains at Cristolino and Finding 400ft of Cave

In the last two weeks I have dove at Cristalino twice; once with Etienne and once with Patrick. The dive with Etienne was a sublime traverse over to Cenote Azul. We didn’t surface there but we could see the light.  The cave from Cristolino to Azul is twisty and never tracks straight for a long distance.  You are always changing direction and orientation, plus it is pretty silty.   I know it was a challenge for Etienne and we both had fun.

Part of the dive plan was to go and check out one of the lines that is rumored to have human remains.  We found the line and started looking.  The line was in very bad shape; it was slack in the water and placed in some horrible places.  The cave is very tight for a backmounter and FULL of black soft silt.  We made it to the first T when I called the dive.  I didn’t really think it was the place for us.  However, it sowed a seed and I knew I had to return.

On Tuesday, Patrick and I wanted to do a relatively close dive and we both wanted to find the remains.  We headed to Cristalino.  The bad news is that we never found the remains.  However, we did find the end of the line on both branches of the T.  We also got out the exploration spool and reel and started to check leads.    Most of the leads were less then 200ft in length.   Patrick and I traded position as reel man, so we could both experience the join of being the first person in with clear visibility.

Finally, we found a good lead.  We ran off my whole exploration spool, about 250ft.  As luck would have it, the spool ran out in a Cenote.  Then I attached my medium exploration reel which has about 400ft of line on it and ran that down by 2/3rds.    The cave is small and full of black billowy silt.  When we got to the end of the run, I asked Patrick if I should tie it off and cut the line?  I didn’t get a reply, so I removed the line.   What a mistake!

You are now asking yourself, “Why did he remove the line?”  I will answer your query, “I am an idiot!”  That isn’t the only reason.  I knew that I had placed the line in a haphazard fashion and that it couldn’t be surveyed.  I had exploration fever.  I knew I would have to install the line again.  Patrick and I hadn’t planned on doing any exploration and didn’t agree on a protocol before the dive.

We discussed the our mistakes in the debrief and came to the following conclusions:

  • Removing the line in zero visibility was a violation of line protocol. (I didn’t know this.)  What if the lead guy came off the line? The reel man could pass him by and not know it.
  • Removing the line means we have to install it all over, creating more work and more risk.
  • Removing the line means we have to find all the leads again.
  • I suffered from perceptual narrowing as the reel man.  When we arrived at the end of my spool in the Cenote, I didn’t even realize I was in the day light zone.  I was so focused on finding a tie off that I never looked up.  Patrick pointed it out to me.  We agreed that knowing the Cenote was there could save my life one day.

Patrick and I agreed we would leave the line in place going forward, unless it is a very short lead.  If the line needs to be fixed we will do so during the survey phase.  It is safer in those conditions to cut the line off and exit.  I talked to Steve about the dive and he reminded me that when I get to a tie off or the end of a line I should stop, check my gauges, and look around.

It was a fabulous dive!  Patrick and I were super stoked to do some exploration and we plan to go back and finish that project, maybe sometime in November.

October 2, 2008   3 Comments

Dive 378 – Cenote Cristalino over to Cenote Azul, SISTEMA PONDEROSA

Patrick, Allie and myself made a lunch time trip down to Cristalino.  This was my third trip to the cenote and Allie’s first dive as a full cave diver.  Congratulations sweety!  We elected Allie as the team lead with Patrick in tow taking notes.  Our plan for the dive was to tie in to the loop at the southern end of the cenote.  Take the first jump to the left and head towards Cenote Azul.  Our turn conditions were 45 minutes or 1/3’rds.  The cave between Cristalino and Azul is very very beautiful.  There is rarely a straight run and there is plenty of entertainment.  If you do not have your buoyancy absolutely dialed or you are a bigger guy in backmount, you need not apply.  Luckily, Patrick and I were in sidemount and Allie is tiny even in backmount.  Plus she has the skills of a humming bird.  She lead us to the end of the line.  We elected to jump to the line to Ponderosa when we were in sight of the Cenote Azul.  We headed west towards Ponderosa.  Along this section we had to repeatedly stop and fix the line.  It is pretty thrashed in this area.  We came across slack line 3 times.  Once the line was back in good working order, we continued.  We stopped in a very cool air dome that was full of bats.  We chatted for  couple of minutes and turned the dive on time and gas.  The swim back was as beautiful as the swim out.  There was plenty of percolation.

Allie and Patrick are really a joy to dive with.  Both are very capable and super laid back, which makes for excellent buddies.   We did our safety stop, ended the dive and drove Patrick back to work.  Arriving on time and under budget!

Today’s dive was excellent.  The only problem I had was that my BC just doesn’t want to provide enough buoyancy on the surface.  The way it is, I can not really take stages with me.  I am going to have to make some changes.  I have a jacket style BC over a super cool minimalist harness.  In an effort to  minimize my profile, I have been nipping and tucking the jacket and I think I went too far last night.  During our S drill, I really struggled staying on the surface and I was completely squeezed by the jacket.  I think I am going to need to find a way to get some additional life out of the jacket without it being too loose on me when I am in diving trim.  I see some liberal use of bungee in the near future.  I will keep you informed.

April 4, 2008   Comments Off on Dive 378 – Cenote Cristalino over to Cenote Azul, SISTEMA PONDEROSA

Dive 377 – Cenote Cristalino, SISTEMA PONDEROSA

Patrick Power SnorklingTo start with, I need to make a correction. I have made an egregious mistake on the name of the cave system to which Cristalino and Ponderosa belong. It is Sistema Ponderosa not X’Tabay. When I looked at the map I saw X’Tabay in the upper left corner and never looked further. Actually, X’Tabay is the system on the other side of Chickin Ha. Patrick pointed it out to me today when we were in the car. The water flows from X’Tabay to Ponderosa, but there is no way to swim between the two. So now I have cleared the air. With any luck, I will refer to the systems with thier correct names from here on out.

Today, Patrick and I snuck out at lunch time to do a side mount dive at Cristanlino. Patrick hadn’t been to Cristalino yet and I had only been there once, so we were both excited about exploring another part of the Ponderosa system. I LOVE going to new places. I love to look for the end of the line. For me is all exploring. I know it won’t get me into the Explorer’s Club in NY, but it sure makes me happy. Showing up to a cenote with no direction except that there is line somewhere, makes my heart run. I just can’t wait to get in search. The moment I find the line, I am overcome with a sense of discovery and accomplishment. I think there is something very noble about going to new sites and learning them from scratch.

Our general plan was to tend north and east starting from the line in the easterly most cenote. Patrick started the day with a little power snorkling (See the photo above.) to locate the lines and make sure there was actually a line for us to tie into. He found two lines. On the map both lines look very short. We chose to take the line to the west and south and then jump onto a longer line. This took less then 10 minutes total. We were not really sure where we were headed. I was team leader and Pratick was the passenger. His job was to accurately document all the jumps and lines weHans at Cristalino found. We followed the main line to its end. On our way we passed one T, an air dome and some marked jumps. It is very beautiful cave with a lot of up and down. No big depth changes, just a lot of them. There is A LOT of water moving through parts of this cave. Near the air dome we could see a lot of water moving off into a big room with no marked jumps. At about 35 minutes we got to the end of the line. About 15 feet away was another line running perpendicular. We jumped over and made a left following the double arrows. About 50 feet later we were in Cenote Kantun Chi. I know I was surprised to have ended up at the cenote. I thought we were headed more north then we actually did. I was even paying attention to my compass. I had expected us to stay in cave for the entire dive. We explored the cenote for a while and found the other lines that lead into it. Patrick had been here twice previsously using two alternate route from Cenote Ponderosa. At 50 minutes we called the dive; Patrick needed to get back to work.

The swim back to Cristalina was uneventful. When we got back to the cenote, I was doing some drills and stumbled on the second line Patrick had found. I didn’t even realize it was there. I was compelled to remount my tank and take a short swim up the line. Patrick is SkinnyThis line looks way fun. The passage is much smaller then the others here and there is a lot of black sediment. I only went 20-30 feet before I turned. I knew I was supposed to be doing a safety stop and my little adventure was going to put us behind schedule and make us late.

Well, we cleaned up and I drove like a MAD MAN back to Playa. We pulled up in front of Protech at 4PM. Wow… that was close.

I think we have another 5-10 dives at Cristalino before we are satisfied we have that section of the system pretty well in hand.

April 3, 2008   2 Comments

Dive 376 – Cenote Cristalino, SISTEMA X’TABAY

Cenote Cristalino is an alternative entrance to the same system that Ponderosa belongs. Cristalino is just before the entrance to Ponderosa on highway 309. The parking for the cenote is just off the road. The entrance fee was $40 pesos. I chose Cristalino because I am still not signed up to get into Ponderosa and I wanted to check out the eastern end of the system. The gate keeper at Ponderosa can be an extreme PITA and it is expensive at $100 pesos.

The walk to the Cenote takes about 5 minutes down a nice path. The Cenote is beautiful and was mobbed with locals. The Cenote is broken into a couple of sections by groves of mangroves. I had decided I wanted to tend to the north and west when I entered the system so I made a left at the waters edge and setup. I was the entertainment; there were lots of people intently staring at my gear as I mounted up. I can only imagine the spectacle as I put on my sidemount tanks and purple helmet. Little kids kept asking me where the cave was in Spanish. I gestured under the ledge.

My hopes ran high because I had assumed that the Cristalino area would have been less traveled then the Ponderosa area, and I was expecting it to be in better shape. I had made this assumption because access is a little more challenging and it is a decent distance from Ponderosa. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

I started my search for one of the lines. As I headed southwest along the edge of the collapse, I came upon a sit cloud. I thought, “hmm… weird… where is this silt coming from? There aren’t any other divers here.” I never got my assumption confirmed, but I did find the end of a line. I tied in and made my way. The very first thing I noticed was the damage to the ground. It looked like someone dragged themselves out through the mud. It is really sad the damage we are doing. People are clearly careless or completely unaware that the passage they are in is way too small for them. The line looped around and terminated at Cristalino. On my return, I jumped to the right on the second arrow. Swam to the end of the line, jumped and went right. I made it about 50 minutes out when I turned the dive. It was a rather uneventful dive. When I got back to the loop, I had some gas so I made a short trip out the first jump at the double arrows. The dive is beautiful, once you get past the majority of the damage near the Cenote. There was a decent amount of percolation. The highlight of the dive was the extensive break down. There are lots of big cracks and slivers of rock balancing. There was some bedding plane. I enjoyed the dive and I am planning on going back so I can work my way over to Azul and then up to Ponderosa.

I am happy to report that my Dive Rite MR11 burned for the full 98 minutes of this dive. I am going to burn it down for another 120 minutes or so to check its total burn time now. Maybe it was really just a faulty charger.

A benefit of Cristalino is it is open till 6pm and no one was chasing me out. I do a lot of my diving in the late afternoon and evening. I appreciate the flexibility of being able to surface when I want. And the locals are really cool. When I was walking down to the Cenote with my gear someone offered to carry one of my tanks. He insisted and I obliged. After the dive, I left one of my tanks near the water’s edge, so I could make two trips. When I got to the car and turned around, one of the locals had carried it up to the car with out my asking. It was really surreal and it made me feel really welcome. In almost all cases, Mexicans have proven to be extreme friendly and hospitable.

March 31, 2008   Comments Off on Dive 376 – Cenote Cristalino, SISTEMA X’TABAY