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

Category — I Hop

Cave Diving at the Blue Abyss… The Joy is in the Journey!

Blue Abyss, Sistema Sac Aktun – Nohoch Na Chich Section

The Blue Abyss had become a little bit of an obsession for me.  I know that the joy is in the journey, however when I went by Protech and met Ron and found out he found it on the first try, I started to get a little frustrated.  Why could he find it and not me?  Well, the first reason was he had directions and I didn’t.  The second reason was, I was looking in the wrong part of the system for it.  It ends up that the Nohoch map has NOTHING to do with the way the cave is actually laid out.  Well, maybe “nothing” is a little over the top. The cave does trend in the direction that the map illustrates, however the passages don’t junction like the map illustrates.  I knew this was true, but I couldn’t believe it was as inaccurate as we found it to be.  I shouldn’t be all that surprised.

When I inquired about the map and the survey, the following was explained to me:

  • The survey data of Nohoch was collected by a multitude of teams over a number of expeditions, trips and years.
  • Some of the survey teams were inexperienced and used poor technique.
  • The objectives of some parts of the survey projects were driven more by the profitability of the venture then the accuracy of the venture.

The consequence of these factors is a wildly inaccurate map that adorns the walls of many shops and incorrectly informs the decisions of divers.  Now to be completely clear, none of the information about the actual survey is first hand to me, it is all second hand and I can not vouch for it.  I am just passing on what I heard.

What is first hand to me is the inaccuracy of the map.  The clearest example I can thing of is the fact that the map has the X Line terminating south of the jump to the Blue Abyss.  Which would mean, I should have made a right and headed north to the jump.  My experience is that it terminates to the north of it and you have to Jump onto the Diaz Line and make a left going south.

In any event, I am happy to report that Ross and I found the Blue Abyss with a little direction from Robbie Schmittner from Xibalba Dive Center.  We ran into Robbie on our way out to Pet Cemetery for another attempt.  In trade for a little information about how to find the Blue Abyss, I loaned him a regulator for the day.  I thought it was a worthwhile trade.  Ross and I took the Diaz Line through the King Pong restriction down to Blue Abyss.  It involved a total of three jumps and was a relatively easy dive to execute in side mount.  The passage from the Diaz Line to the Blue Abyss is tight, however it is negotiable in back mount.  When we arrived at Blue Abyss we had plenty of gas, so we took a little swim into the hole.  Let me tell you, “It is BLUE!”  I couldn’t believe it.  The color is breath taking.  Since that trip with Ross, I have been back 2 times.  One more dive with Ross, who has moved to Africa to run a dive resort and one dive there with Patrick and Katie.

In total it took me 4 dives to find Blue Abyss.  The first dive was with Allie and we were just scoping out the lines in and around Pet Cemetery, we traversed to I-Hop.  On the second dive, I was solo and I was less then 10 minutes from it.  I had swum to the end of the X Line and turned my dive believing I was somewhere other then I was.  The third dive was checking out a line off the X Line that went west, where I thought the Blue Abyss might be.  This was the dive that the guide line was cut on.  The fourth dive Ross and I found it based on Robbie’s directions.  The fifth dive, we confirmed the route via the X Line.  The sixth dive, I took Patrick and Katie to the Blue Abyss.

Here are some of my observations about cave diving to the Blue Abyss.

  • The Diaz Line route is easier to negotiate in back mount, the passage is larger, the passage is more beautiful and it takes about 10 minutes longer then the X Line.
  • The X Line route is a challenge to negotiate in back mount if not impossible.  I think this depends on your girth.  If you are a fat bastard, you might want to leave yourself and extra dive to confirm you can pass the restrictions.  There is more then one.  The first one is the gnarliest.  To pass it going in is easier then exiting.  Katie was the diver in back mount and she is really skinny, like 105lbs and 5’3”.  I haven’t tried passing it, however, I am going to drag the Meg out there and try it.  The route is about 10 minutes shorter in side-mount then Diaz Line.  In back mount that saving might be wiped out by a delay at the Tanks on Tanks Off restriction.
  • Pet Cemetery is EXPENSIVE to dive at.  200 Pesos per diver.
  • Pet Cemetary is a 15-20 minute drive into the jungle and Blue Abyss is 40 minutes from the Cenote.  If something goes wrong, you are a long way away from help.
  • You must check-in and pay at Ruben’s dive shop.  It is on the right hand side at the entrance.  They need to know you are out there.

Finding the Blue Abyss in the Nohoch Na Chich section of Sac Aktun has been a lot of fun.  And I am looking forward to exploring the hole a little more.  I wonder where that line arrow jumps to?  In July, I will take my Hypoxic CCR class.  I am looking forward to some Trimix dives out there.  Thanks to all of you for tolerating my obsession and driving out into the jungle with me.

June 29, 2008   2 Comments

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