Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
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Category — Cenote Pabilany

The Happy Accident – Seeking Cenote Pabilany from Grand Cenote

Patrick and I decided that we needed to go for a nice easy dive, one that wouldn’t include a huge pile of tanks or the mixing of exotic gases.  The answer seemed clear, go looking for Cenote Pabilany in Sistema Sac Actun (Grand Cenote).

The journey to this decision started last year or the year before. Patrick was diving his Megalodon in the western end of the Sistema Sac Actun.  He was near the Pabilany section but he was on the Paso de Los Pozos side.  He wanted to continue but found the restrictions a bit tight in the rebreather.  He finally retreated and decided to return in sidemount.  As time passed, the idea of diving this section of cave stayed with him, I moved into town and then we both got scooters.

With all the requisite gear and skills, we decided to scooter up there in sidemount with a single stage to check things out.  We sat down on Tuesday night and spent a couple of hours debating the best gas management rules for a scooter dive of this nature, finally settling on what we believe to be an innovative approach.  Secure in our planning we decided to dive on Thursday.

The dive plan was as follows: scooter up the main line jumping to the Paso de Lagarto. Continue scootering eventually jumping to the line to Lithium Sunset. When we reached our stage pressure or the T at Lithium Sunset we would stage the scooters and the tanks.  We would swim north on the Lithium Sunset line looking for the jump into Pabilany.  Once we found it, we would make the jump and a short foray into that section of cave.

The dive went almost according to plan.  The first obstacle was planning the dive.  Looking at the cave map and estimating the depths it looked like we might get into some deco with air.  Therefore, we decided to take O2, luckily the average depth was much shallower then we anticipated and the O2 was unneeded, which brings us to the irony of this dive.  Patrick and I wanted to make a simple relaxed dive.  Instead we ended up needing 4 tanks and a scooter each.  I guess when you compare that to needing 6 people and 35 tanks, this was a relatively simple and easy dive, but it was still not a no-brainer.

The second small obstacle was an exiting team.  When we got to the jump off the main line, there was a team of three exiting in backmount swimming with double stages.  We gave them the courtesy of waiting for them to completely exit the area before installing our jump.  This ended up taking 4-5 minutes as they lumbered through.  Not a huge deal, but hanging out and waiting, cuts into your stage and scooter time.

When Patrick and I scootered up to the T, our run time was about 23 minutes and we were both nearing our stage drop pressure.  It was serendipity.  We dropped our scooters and then our stage tanks.  In those 23 minutes, we coved about 2300ft, installed two jumps and a primary reel.  It was awesome.  The last time I swam to this spot it took us about 55-60 minutes to reach it.  I felt like we made pretty good time!

We started heading north looking for the jump.  We came to an arrow and decided to make the jump left.  We swam past a T, taking it to the left.  At this point the cave got tight with an aggressive saw tooth shape.  Then the line doubled back on itself and disappeared into a no-mount restriction.  Well, the truth is Patrick made it through with both tanks on and I had to remove one tank to pass.  The line through the restriction was on the ceiling in an awkward position.  Patrick squeezed through first with a lot of silting.  I followed him using the brail method.  The restriction required angling the body and ascending.  It was challenging and doing it in zero visibility made me nervous.

On the other side the cave opens up a bit and then pinches down.  I started to follow Patrick up, but the silting was just too much and my nerves were starting to fray.  Add to that the line was slack when we first entered the room and Patrick was actively fixing it as I followed.  Finally, I ran into his fins and decided I had enough.  I backed out and into the bigger room.  I decided to wait for him and meditate a bit.  When he returned a couple of minutes later I gave him the “Turn the Dive” sign.  By this time I had calmed down however he could tell I was a bit scared by the look on my face.  I hovered for a minute more and meditated.  I wanted to relax and prepare myself for passing the restriction a second time in zero visibility.

I descended back into the restriction and got a little stuck.  After a couple of seconds of fidgeting I popped out the other side and a wave of relief washed over me.

There is something exponentially more terrifying about following someone in extremely restricted silty cave then leading into that same environment.  All I could see was waves of silt coming down the slope, I had no idea where we were heading.  It ends up that Patrick surfaced just ahead of me in Cenote Azteca.  The last jump we made wasn’t to Pabilany at all.  We had missed the jump to Pabilany.

Once Patrick came through the restriction we gave each other the fist and started our return swim.  Our short stint up to Cenote Azteca didn’t use much gas, maybe a couple hundred PSI out of each tank.  So when we arrived at the T, we decided to check it out.  We swam north at a leisurely pass.  The cave was bigger and relaxing.  We passed over at least one jump and finally turned the dive at a single tank no-mount restriction.  We were nearing our turn pressures so we didn’t attempt the restriction.  When we reviewed the map we discovered we were in First Hope.

The trip home was flawless and we used less gas then on the trip in.  When we reached the O2 we had 90min of NDL, which was a comforting discovery.  Patrick and I both found the dive very satisfying.  It included sidemount cave, scootering, no-mount restrictions, and some very beautiful cave.  Our gas planning worked like a charm and gave us additional flexibility in the execution of the dive.  The only shortcoming was that we didn’t find Pabilany, though it did result in the happy accident of finding Azteca.

April 2, 2009   1 Comment