Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
Rebreather Diver at Chac Mool Cavern, Mexico

Category — Dos Ojos

The Pit Revisited

A CCR DPV cave dive to the back of Jill’s Chamber by Patrick and Hans.

Since the last dive, there was nothing on my mind then that bloody restriction at the end of BMB. If you don’t believe me, then talk to anybody who spent time with me. One thing was clear, I had to go back there again, with more time to really look at it and make sure that it is too small to fit with my Meg and two stages. Hans came up with the idea to sidemount our two Megalodons, which I really like, but it will take a lot of time and effort to make that rig work and giving my work schedule at the moment, well that will have to wait a little.

With me working every day and Hans going on several trips to the states we had exactly one day to do the dive. The night before the dive, I managed to be back at the shop at about 6PM which gave us 2-3 hours to blend and rig stuff.  We got to work and finished around 8:30PM, mainly due to Hans’ effort.  He put all the stages together and bubble checked them at the pool while I assembled my Meg; going through all of the points in my checklist.

Back home it was time to run the different scenarios that we had discussed earlier through V-Planner and see what was possible. The major difference for this dive was that we added a DPV to the equation.  This enabled me to take a third stage with bottom mix.  The main idea was to have as much time as possible to check out the two chimneys in the BMB that ascend into Jill’s Chamber. I wanted to get a good picture of the two restrictions so I could make a decision on which one and how I was going to pass.

Since our last dive, I had learned that there is still a 1000ft of line waiting on the other side before I would reach virgin cave. So the keyword is contingency. I created these plans:

  • X1 fails
  • Bailout
  • DPV fail with CCR ok
  • DPV fail CCR fail
  • Entanglement
  • Etc etc etc…

After what-if-ing many scenarios and running them through V-Planner, I hit the bed at like 1:00AM.

The alarm rang at 6:00 AM, but I was already awake. After loading the truck and getting stuff to eat and drink, we were headed to Tulum. At Dos Ojos Hans helped me maneuver my truck on the primitive road towards The Pit.  We got there without once scraping the bottom of the truck, how cool is that! The day started awesome.

After we lowered the 7 80cf tanks, the 3 40cf tanks, the DPV and the two Megalodon CCRs we climbed down at the platform to get ready. Hans prepared for his first of two deep dives that day. On the first dive he placed the bailout tanks and connected the descent line to the permanent cave line.  On the second dive he will picked up my deep tanks and fetch the reel. 30 minutes after he left, I was submerged.

I put the dpv in third gear and made my way down towards the start of the line.  I was carrying 3 80cf tanks with deep bail out and a 19cf with air for suit inflation. Arriving at the start of the cave line I dropped the 19cf tank and plugged one of the bail out tanks in my suit. I used this short brake to put the scooter in 5th gear and switch set point on the Meg. After that I made my way down the Cardea passage, visibility was even worse than last time so I Ok’ed the line while driving.  The whole time I was in the milky fog, I was worrying a bit about crashing into some rock. It felt like driving very fast in dense fog with the headlights on.

As I arrive at 65M (213FT) I turned down towards the bypass at 85M (278FT). Who would have thought that the Po2 could spike that fast when you scooter at depth . I quickly stopped and did a dil flush to get the Po2 back under control and checked my gauges.

I realized that I was really kind of late, so I decided to drive through the Bypass. Maybe it sounds a bit irresponsible but in 5th gear (of 9) you are really not moving so fast.  My head was ducked behind the propeller and I was cannonballing through the bedding plane at 85M (278FT).  I was loving it!  I got the feeling it was getting too tight, so I let go of the trigger.  Five seconds later the handle of my Meg hit the ceiling!  Luckily, I had slowed down enough to minimize the impact.  I smiled and took a mental note to not do that again.

Out of the bypass, now I was driving to the end of the Wakulla Room. I arrived there at minute 8 which was really super slow. Call me a coward, but it was the first time I scootered at this depth and didn’t want to go full speed.

I hooked the scooter to the line and let go. Hey, who would have thought, going with a perfectly neutral scooter to 90M (295FT) and it is positive like hell. I didn’t consider the density of the saltwater down there. It was kind of funny, I clipped the scooter off and started to remove one of my stages to leave it there with the scooter.  When I looked towards the line, the line and scooter were gone. I look up and there they are, the DPV pulling the line towards the ceiling. I attached the tank to the line and this pulled everything back in place.

Swimming down towards BMB felt different, I was way more relaxed than last time, maybe because I had more Helium in my diluent or just because I had been there before. I came to the T again where the line is touching the ceiling, this time I stopped and pulled the line down to the floor to pin it under a tiny rock which turned out to be a bad idea.  The line cut through the rock like a hot knife through butter and a nice cloud of zero visibility covered my hands. Second try with a bigger rock was more successful.

I can’t say why but again I ignored the chimney to the left thinking that I will check it out on the way back, after I had looked at the other one. Swimming back towards the other restriction I felt really confident, the dive went very well and I still had a lot of the 20 minutes I had planned at 105M (344FT). Also, I started to look around more to get a feeling for the cave and its flow rather then just following a line.

As I arrive at the restriction, where I had turned my last dive, I looked up through the chimney and thought well it looks tight but if I would be in 15M (49FT) I wouldn’t hesitate a second. I can do it. So I did. It actually went way smoother and I had less contact than anticipated but still quite a lot. The chimney ascents from 105M (344FT) to 96M (301FT) where the tight hole spits you out in yet another gigantic borehole style tunnel, Jill’s Chamber.

Huge boulders split the room in half and oh my god it felt so good to be there and see it. I forced myself not to look down where I was sure the restriction was silted out completely and that was a pretty scary thought. So I just started to swim forward into the room, first slowly looking around then a bit more confident. Coming out of the restriction, I saw another line paralleling the one I was on coming from behind me. The lines stay side by side until the moment I turned some 5 minutes after the restriction. I found the end of a line with a new line tied on to, so somebody furthered exploration from that point. I figure that it is the end of Jill’s Chamber and the beginning of the Next Generation Tunnel also due to the fact that the room starts to pinch back down into a smaller tunnel.

On the way back I was super stocked and happy enjoying every second of looking around in this marvelous place. Coming back to the restriction I noticed two things: one the tunnel actually continues and is the source of the line that is parallel and two a zero visibility cloud comes out of the restriction making it look like a volcano that blows out tons of smoke.

Just on top of the restriction I invert one hand on the line, one hand in front of my head for protection. Basically I look like a Padi Instructor demonstrating a proper 5 point ascent just instead of swimming up I swim down. Squeezing through the restriction I arrive at its bottom, now I just need to arch my back to get under the ceiling. As I read the tie off at the start of the restriction I am relieved, I made it, I am on the other side.

Swimming back I passed the T that I had put back where it belongs down on the floor and I am heading out of the BMB. Because of the tension I had created placing the line some parts of it now had disappeared in the rock. It is unbelievable how soft the rock is there.

Ascending along the line back to the scooter and my stage, I have to admit it felt good when I pulled the trigger and the thing worked. On the way back to the bypass my X1 lets me know that time to surface now is 2h20min, not so bad, thank god Jill’s chamber is shallower then the BMB.

At the bypass I thought that maybe it is smarter to push it through rather then driving which worked just fine. From the bypass coming back was easy and the very first time I ever decompressed while driving a DPV. My first stop was at 71M (232FT) driving through that white cloud back towards the ascent line.

After a couple of short stops I arrived at the start of the permanent line and the reel Hans had installed. I dropped two of the deep bailout and took the Triox that was staged prior to the dive.  I also took the 19cf air tank and hooked it to my suit. After a couple of flushes my suit was filled with nice warm air rather then cold damn Trimix which felt fantastic. (I will get a smaller suit inflation bottle when Hans comes back from his next trip to the states).

Being bored during deco I took the scooter and was driving around a bit in the huge dome admiring the intense and spiritual beauty of this place.  Finally up at the 12M (40FT) stop, I got rid of all tanks except a 40cf bailout with Nitrox. Hans came back to bring me something to drink and a second hood because my head started to get cold. When he looked at me he could read it in my eyes and immediately mimicked the: did you go through the restriction? When I nodded it was big smiles and hand shaking. What a great day.

Only some 50min of deco left which I spent swimming around to warm up, thinking about future dives, drinking and waiting for Hans who dropped back down to retrieve the tanks and the reel.

Let me say something loud and clear, there is NO WAY I would have been able to do these dives without the constant support of my friend and dive partner Hans. Thank you!  We are a true team and I am looking forward to the day where I will support his first dive to the Wakulla Room and beyond.

I also would like to thank Pro Tec Advanced Training Facility for providing us with tanks and the scooter as well as Margaret at Liquivision for some of the best customer support and a great product.

If you are waiting for the next story you need to be patient, Hans is gone and I am loaded with work but starting from mid September we should be back in business.  Next plan being two more tanks and a scooter through the restriction starting to depo gas in Jill’s chamber and maybe finding the end of the line!?!

This is my story of The Pit and it is to be continued…

Here is an awesome video that karin pointner put together of our project:

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

August 26, 2008   6 Comments

The Pit: 5 Minutes into Jill’s Chamber!

Just a quick update. Patrick and I just got home and unpacked. Today, he reached the end of Jill’s Chamber, we think. The passage started to pinch down again. He scootered to the end of Wakulla and then swam the rest. Which I believe was 5 minutes past the restriction.

Our plans are to find the end of the line, which we believe is 1000ft past Jill’s Chamber. This will most likely require pushing a scooter through the nasty restriction at the end of BMB. What happens from there is up to the cave gods.

Today’s dive went with out a hitch and I would like to thank my teammate for another awesome experience!

I think the next dive will happen near the end of September. I have to go back to the states to do some diving in the St. Lawrence! I expect Patrick to write up his experience as soon as his has a free moment. Looks like he will be teaching a lot in the coming weeks.

Great work Patrick!


August 22, 2008   1 Comment

The Pit: A Personal Quest.

The story of my odyssey to making my first 350ffw cave dive.

In September 2005, I arrived on the peninsula to do my Cave Course with Matt at Protec. I will never forget the first time I entered the classroom and saw the map of The Pit. Part of Sistema Dos Ojos, The Pit is almost 400ft deep and has 1300ft of horizontal distance ending in the Next Generation Tunnel. How cool does that sound?

From that day on, I spent about 15 minutes everyday just staring at the map and planning; getting upset about how far I was from even attempting a dive like that. I did have experience doing deep, mixed gas, ocean dives in the Egyptian Red Sea, including Wreck Penetration. However, travelling this kind of distance, at such a depth, inside a cave, was an entirely different ball game.

In September 2006, I returned to the Yucatan to do a crossover course from the Inspiration CCR to the Megalodon CCR, which I just had bought, and to get certified in CCR Normoxic Trimix and CCR Cave diving. Yet again, I was fixated on the same map, planning and dreaming about how to do such a dive.

In March 2007, I finally decided that my love and passion for cave diving left me no other choice than to move to Playa del Carmen. Another five months past and it wasn’t until July that I finally saw the beauty that is The Pit. I was part of the support team for two divers who planed to dive to the end of the Wakulla Room. Being only certified as a Normoxic CCR Trimix Diver, and not having enough money to do the dive OC, I limited my dive to 50M (165ft) and immediately fell in love with the place. When you see the sun beams hitting the water surface at the small opening and firing down to the hydrogen sulfide layer at 40m (120ft) your jaw drops.

A couple of days later, I went there to join Steve Bogaerts on an exploration dive in the shallow cave passage. There is an upstream and downstream cave at about 12m (40ft). I was there to see his surveying technique and learn from one of the best. This was the last time we parked the cars about 300m (1000ft) away and carried the equipment. Now, with a lot of patience and carelessness towards our vehicles, we can actually park so close to the opening, that we could back roll from the side of the truck.

To get our rebreathers and tanks into the water, we use a rope and pulley to lower the equipment down a 4m (15ft) deep rock face to the water’s surface. Once everything is staged, we JUMP!

July 2008, the day finally arrived when I headed off to do my first deep dive in The Pit. Having passed a CCR Hypoxic Trimix class, executed some deeper CCR dives, and completed long CCR cave dives requiring multiple bailout tanks, I considered myself ready and prepared. I had also just received a Liquivision X1 computer and after test dives, I was ready to use it for its purpose! Last but not least, Hans, a driven guy who is up for everything no matter what, didn’t mind coming along and helping with the equipment load. Without him, what would I do?

Since I had very little, to no, knowledge about the lines, depths or times between levels, the first dive was to get a general idea about the place. I had one AL80 tank on either side with deep bailout and trailed a third AL80 with Triox that was staged along the way. Another AL80 was staged prior to the dive at 12m (40ft). I traversed the cavern zone, which is a huge dome, then descended the yellow polypropylene line to 34M (112ft) and deployed my primary reel to look for the main cave line. Passing by 40m (120ft), I staged the Triox and proceeded to connect the reel with the main line. After switching my set point on the Megalodon and the X1, it was cruising time. Visibility was quite limited due to what I think is bacteria. The line slowly descents from 46M (152ft) to 65M (215ft) leading through a huge tunnel called the Cardea Passage. At the end, it turns left and descends to a T at about 80M (264ft), where you can decide to either dive the shallower Bypass Tunnel (85M / 280ft) or the deeper section, which I still haven’t seen.

The Bypass Tunnel is a pretty cool place because the cave goes from a gigantic power passage to a 1M (3ft) tall & 8M (24ft) wide bedding plane. On the other side, the cave opens up again into a huge room known as the Wakulla room. There you find a second T that reconnects the two lines that had split before the Bypass, and an additional line that runs to Alpha and Skid Row at almost 400ft, the deep sections of the Wakulla Room. Swimming along the line at 85M (264ft), through the intensely huge room, my 10W HID barely managed to light up the far walls. I had already passed 2 Haloclines and due to the salinity the water had this beautiful blue reflection.

Sixteen minutes into the dive I arrived at another T at the end of the Wakulla Room. Thinking that the T to the right would lead me to the BMB passage, I didn’t hesitate to turn right. I found out that the line ends in a dead end at 92M (303ft). Feeling happy about my accomplishment and wondering what waits at the other side of that T, I decided to turn the dive after 18 minutes. I met Hans at the ascent line in 33M (100ft). We celebrated the dive during our uneventful deco. I couldn’t wait to tell him about it.

Four days later, we returned with a better plan, more tanks, and another diver, Victor. This time Hans took the role of support diver, staging the tanks and connecting the lines so I could go full throttle from the start.

Hans and Victor kicked off the dive and I impatiently waited 30 minutes for my planned departure time. When my start time arrived, I swam with a constant kick pretty much till the end of the Wakulla Room, where I stopped for a minute to calm my breathing and chill out a bit before heading further down into the BMB passage (100M/330ft). I met Victor in the Bypass as he made his way out, returning from his dive to 100M/330ft at the back of the Wakulla Room.

The BMB Passage is way smaller than the rooms before it and has quite a low ceiling and slopes slightly deeper. The stone in the BMB is really soft and the slightest contact immediately results in silting. After about 50m (150ft) there is yet another T. The line there is on the ceiling and is pretty hard to follow. The T to the left immediately ascends through a crack in the ceiling that looked really narrow, so I decided to take the T to the right. The tunnel got smaller and smaller and I was feeling confident I would soon reach the end of the line. As minute 21 arrived, I had to hurry. I thought I could see the end of the line, and I started smiling and a felt super happy about another accomplishment.

Just before I turned, I realized that the line didn’t end. Instead, it ascends through a restriction, a super narrow chimney that gave me the shivers just looking at it. I examined the restriction for a moment and turned the dive at minute 22. I was at 105M (346ft) wondering how in the world somebody managed to lay a line through there. It is really a credit to the original explorers.

The whole BMB passage was quite silty, even though I had almost no direct contact to the cave. On the way back I tried to focus, but could only think about this restriction and how horrible it will be to try and negotiate it. The swim back was uneventful. The 2.5 hour deco obligation is a small price to pay for a beautiful dive like that. I met Hans in 12M (40ft) of water where he took all my unneeded tanks and provided me with Gatorade and a Milky Way to re-hydrate and eat a little.

After the dive the three of us hung out on the platform eating lunch and talking about our experiences on the dive and the diving industry. Two hours later it was time to hoist all the equipment back up and load the trucks. The last adventure of the day was getting the Ford Rangers back to the Highway without getting stuck or scratching the bottom.

That’s my story of The Pit and it is to be continued…

August 16, 2008   8 Comments

Scootering and Side-mounting…..

I came across some videos of Steve scootering and side-mounting while I was working on my daily cyber diving fix.  If you ever wondered why you might want a DPV, watch the first video below.  It is seriously like flying an X-Wing fighter through the Death Star!   The videos including scootering, surveying and side-mounting.

Mom & Dad, if you are reading this or watching these, they will give you a good idea of what is going on underground.

A Day in the Life of a Cave Diver: Part 1

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

A Day in the Life of a Cave Diver: Part 2

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

A Day in the Life of a Cave Diver: Part 3

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

July 10, 2008   Comments Off on Scootering and Side-mounting…..

The Quest for the Blue Abyss. Part 1.

Allie gearing up at Nohoch Na ChichToday, Allie and I set out to find the Blue Abyss in Sistema Nohoch Na Chich. This was a recon dive to setup future deep CCR dives in the Blue Abyss. The Blue Abyss is a 235ft (77 meter) deep room. The entrance to the room is supposed to be at 20ft and the room drops off on a slope to its max depth. It is supposed to be very beautiful and a challenge to dive. For us it turned out to be a challenge to find.

Nohoch Na Chich Cenote Pet CemeteryWe had some general directions to enter at Pet Cemetery. With those we went by Protec to speak to Nando and look at the map. We decided to change our entry point to Cenote I-Hop, it looked closer to the Blue Abyss. I took the stick map down that covered I-Hop to Blue Abyss. I neglected to take any compass headings or draw the other potential entrances. I have now learned a very good lesson; I need to be prepared for the unexpected by mapping more extensively. Since none of us knew how to find Cenote I-Hop, we decided to drive down to Dos Ojos and do a little discovery on arrival.

The trip to Dos Ojos was uneventful, except that just after Taj Mahal Allie asked me, “Do we need tanks?” Opps! I had driven past the fill station. The truck was full of rebreather tanks and 40cuft bailout tanks. Not a set of doubles in sight. Two quick u-turns later and we were at the fill station exchanging the rebreather tanks for AL80’s and doubles. I would have driven all the way to Dos Ojos without tanks. I was on planet Mars thinking about the pending dive and enjoying conversation with Allie.

When we arrived at Dos Ojos, with tanks, we talked to someone at Ruben’s dive shop at the entrance. He was a little surprised when I asked about entering at I-Hop. He hadn’t heard of it and they didn’t have a Nahoch map. He did know about Cenote Dirty Dog and was very sure that is where we should enter. So he drew us a stick map that included directions to walk a 1000 meters through the jungle on a small path and turn left. I thought that was a little extreme, but I was willing to at least give them a try. We went to pay our entrance fee and tell them where we were going, and they too were very concerned. We had to show our cave cards, they asked us if we had doubles, and some other questions. After a little discussion and confused looks all around, I showed our cards and assured them everything was going to be okay. They granted us passage.

We followed the directions and ended up at a beautiful little Pallapa in the jungle. It is the middle of no where. There were a bunch of ATVs from a tour. We asked the people working, in Spanish, where Cenote Dirty Dog was and we got confused looks. When I looked around I recognized a face, it was Dennis from Aquanauts. We asked him for some directions and he seemed a little confused also. He finally told us to enter the Cenote down the path. He said it was the easiest way to get to the Blue Abyss from this area. I think he told us it was Pet Cemetery, but at this point I was thoroughly confused.

I wasn’t sure of the name of the Cenote we were going to enter. All I knew was there was water, it was Sistema Nohoch Na Chich, and there was a continuous guideline going somewhere. We didn’t know where we were compared to my stick map or what direction we should head. And I don’t have a map of Nohoch so I couldn’t reference us again. Allie and I decided to take a crack at it. We kitted up and walked down some vertical steps into a nice little Cenote they are dredging out. We got on the guideline and entered the cave. The dive was very beautiful. The passages were very large and there was substantial percolation. After a T and then 10 or 15 minutes the guideline terminated. I tied in my cavern reel in and went looking for another line. After about 15 minutes of searching I found it. It looked like the mainline; it was a thick white line. Staying with the rule of right, we turned right. After 10 minutes, we surfaced in a Cenote. The Cenote was dry/wet cave for another 100 feet after the guideline came out of the water. Allie and I inspected the cave and then decided to turn the dive. By this time 50 minutes has elapsed. The swim back to starting Cenote took us 10 minutes. It is amazing how much longer exploring takes then returning. We surfaced and decided to recalculate thirds and go the other direction on the guideline. This mini dive was about 10 minutes before we ended up in another Cenote.

Dos Ojos Cenote The PitOn the way home, I had to stop and check the paths by foot. In my searching I found the Pit. Wow, that is a gnarly entrance and exit. The recon of The Pit will have to wait for a small team. I am still not sure how to get out of the water.

Luckily, I took very detailed notes of the dive including headings and all the jumps and T’s we encountered. When we got back to the Protec, we looked at the map and determined we entered at Pet Cemetery and traversed to I-Hop during the first dive. The second dive was just a traverse between the two entrances to Pet Cemetery. Overall, we had a great time! For all intensive purposes, we were exploring. There may have been guideline in the cave, but it was all new to use. We had to work with the land managers and other parties to piece together a story. Then we had to use that story to try and find our objective. Fortunately, we didn’t find it today. Instead we found two cenotes, bones and beautiful damage free cave.

I think I might go back tomorrow to try and get down to Blue Abyss. I have better idea of where I am going. Wish me luck.

April 23, 2008   2 Comments