Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
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Category — Nohoch Na Chich

Back on the loop

The advantages of a closed circuit rebreather in a shallow cave.

I have to admit that I recently neglected rebreather diving and instead spend most of my time off sidemounting. I pretty much used my rebreather for deep diving only. But recently that changed, I finished crossover training on the Poseidon Cis Luna Mk6 and right after that was with Howard, aka Scubadadmiami for a week of CCR Cave diving. And I am hooked on CCRs again.

Patrick Widdman on DPV and CCR

The Mk6 exceeded my expectations but this is not what this article is about. What I want to share here is my recent experience diving Ponderosa, Taj Maha, Nohoch Nah Chich, Grand Cenote, Carwash and Naharon. Generally all the dive sites have an average depth of about 30ft and Nohoch even being shallower with Naharon being the exception at 60ft.

In many posts on CCR forums, the Mexican caves are described as CCR “unfriendly” and honestly I do not understand why? Our recent experience illustrated that CCRs can be used effectively in these caves and enabled us to get to know whole sections of systems in only one dive.

Normally when I guide people open circuit I choose a cenote and then guide two dives to the most famous or pretty parts of the system. The dives are usually turned either on time or gas which results in returning to open water. The option to recalculate thirds does exist, however, my opinion is that it should be reserved for experienced divers with experience in the particular system. When divers elect to recalculate thirds, eventually the gas reserve becomes to small to be safe.

The advantage of the CCR is that you have a bail out radius which enables you to spend as much time as the scrubber will allow, normally about 3 hours which is a huge opportunity here in the Riviera Maya.

The cave systems here are like Swiss cheese with many different side tunnels and passages. They are also very shallow. These two characteristics combine to create a situation where divers have a very long range on an 80cuft cylinder. Depending on you gas consumption while bailing out and conservatism factor you want to build in you will have a radius of at least 40min in most places. There are other benefits worth mentioning:

  1. Once you come of the frequent traveled passages you will often encounter quiet significant amount of percolation that can seriously affect the visibility.
  2. Thinking about the lost line or lost diver scenario, imagine how your chance of survival or the chance of finding your dive partner will increase with an hours long supply of breathing gas.
  3. How many accident reports have we seen that speak about people drowning only minutes away from an exit, what would have happened if they would have been on a rebreather.
  4. Taking pictures on the way, on a CCR you penetration distance is not going to change because you stop at a place to take some pictures or simply take a brake.
  5. Think about a reverse block way back in a cave, how much more relaxed are you going to be, knowing you can stay there fro hours.
  6. No time or gas pressure to go to a certain part in the cave and therefore reduced chance of pushing limits due to being goal oriented.
  7. And many more

Of course this is a double edged sword and there are as well some negative aspects:

  1. Buoyancy is definitely more difficult.
  2. It is the perfect tool to bring people that where before limited by their air consumption far into the overhead environment and by that outside of their comfort and experience zone.
  3. With most units together with the bail out your overall size in the water column is bigger and therefore you need more effort to travel.
  4. Many ups and downs consume Oxygen and Diluent volume.
  5. Getting overconfident due to the feeling of having unlimited gas supply.
  6. Proper bail out gas and volume is never an issue until it becomes an issue.
  7. And many more

To have a real advantage with the CCR we have to change the way we dive in the cave. Instead of using it to go for that record braking long distance penetration why not stay closer to the entrance but get to know all the lines that are in that area.

For example, at Naharon we dove up the main line and did the Jump towards the double domes. We swam up that line until we reached 40min, or bail out distance. On the way we stopped several times to take pictures and simply stopped the timer while we did not go further in the cave. On the way we marked the double set of line arrows that mark the jump towards south western sac be. On our return we arrived back at the arrows and new that from this point on we had 30min for further penetration so now we did the jump and enjoyed the really unreal beautiful sac be section.

On the way there we pass yet another set of double arrows marking the jump that lead down towards Cenote Mayan Blue and again marked it. We continued in the sac be tunnel until we had reached 30min from the jump and turned our dive. On the way back we stopped again a couple of times to take pictures. We didn’t even have to take care about the time since we were well inside our bail out range.

Howard pushing a tank through....

As we arrived back at the Arrows we decided to make yet another jump and check out the line that leads towards Mayan Blue. After some time we turned from there and now did the entire return trip back to Cenote Naharon.

As you can see, we did in one dive what, in conventional OC cave diving style would need three dives. We had an average depth of close to 60ft with a 180min runtime, me carrying an 80cuf and Howard 2 40cuf bail out tanks.

Another example would be Carwash where we could use Lukes Hope to restart the 40min bail out range and therefore had plenty of time to visit the room of tears and all the different Ts in the back. On the way out we did the jump that leads to the back of the room and stayed there for like 30min just doing pictures and enjoying the decorations.

In Grand cenote we went down to the Cuza Nah Loop and could restart the 40 min each time we past a cenote which was awesome since this gave us the possibility to do the jump at the mid way of the loop and take our time while swimming down that line again taking pictures and having a great time. On the way back we continued the loop on the other way since we were still easy inside our bail out range.
And the same was done in all the other places.

All in all I really enjoyed this week especially the possibility to visit lines I have not been too in a long time. I really love to do complex navigation, see different lines and go back and forth and all around.

Another bonus, so to speak, was to get more experience on the Kiss Classic which I really start to like more and more for its simplicity, the 20min prep in the morning and the 5min tear down in the evening, the free chest, constant O2 flow which facilitates buoyancy and the general possibility to keep the same configuration than with a set of doubles.

For Howard it was great too because he really got to know quiet a bit of each system we dove at, although he only did ONE dive there.

Considering all of the above, I would call the caves here perfectly suited for CCR diving if you bring the right set of skills, a good attitude and some creativity to the table.

Of course there are always people that say OC backmount is the only way to go and others believe that OC sidemount is the best, then there are some that believe in multiple stages or scooters or I don’t know what else; Me, I think it all has its use and its just what you do with it that makes it valuable. Try to get the most advantages out of whatever equipment you use and try to work with the right tool for the job!

Keep the loop closed but your mind open!!!

Patrick

July 25, 2009   4 Comments

A Tattoo, A DPV and Another Way to Waste Your Employeer’s Time.

It is good to be back in Mexico!  I went back to the states for a week and let me tell you, it was cold cold cold.  I was wearing a hat and a winter jacket; My friends thought I was crazy.  I have to admit, my blood has gotten very thin living in Paradise.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do any diving while I was in the states, however, I did bring back some gear which was sorely needed for us to continue our deep work.   The list of new gear includes new climbing pulleys from Petzl for the lift system, a bunch of caribeaners, tank bands, regulators, hose retainers, mouth pieces and some valves.  I am feeling well stocked now.  I also finished my back tattoo. hans-back-tattoo.jpg

On Friday, I visited my friend Jay at Electric Lotus Tattoo in Boonton, New Jersey and sat for two hours.  This was the easiest sitting yet.  The first two sittings were absolute torture.   Both sittings I was in a terrible spiritual place and exhausted when I arrived.  This time, I was spiritually centered, well feed and relaxed.  I was ready. I only got out of the chair once, about 20 minutes in to look at the first new color in more then a year. From that point on, I just sat there, ate Good & Plenty candy and drank a Coke.  I am super stoked about the art and I am glad I kept my head in the game and finished it.  There were times when I was sure I wasn’t ever going to go back and finish it.

Now on to the DPV portion of the story. After many discussions with Steve Bogaerts and Patrick, I elected to purchase a Silent Submersion N19 DPV. In the end I selected it because it was near my price range, though very expensive, and it was a known quantity. Plus, I hadn’t seen the Tahoe DPV (Scooter) Benchmarks which placed the Cuda as the pack leader for a small technical scooter.  I am still happy with my purchase, although it hasn’t been in the water.  I will have to wait a week for my back to heal before I can get wet.  The suspense is killing me. n19-closed.jpg

And now for a good way to waste some of your Employeer’s time, not that you aren’t right now.  David from Cancun turned me on to the Ejido Jacinto Pat Documentation web site this morning.  He wrote,

If want to see more photos and videos of Nicolai and Gang check this “old site”
http://www.divesitevideos.com/EJPP/
David

There are some interesting dive reports about Nahoch Na Chich and Dos Ojos check it out and let me know what you think!

I hope to get back to diving the first part of next week.    In the mean time, we have an article coming from Patrick about his DCS and another article about me not passing my multi-stage course.

November 12, 2008   1 Comment

Minotauro Down Stream and Nohoch Na Chich

This weekend brought two more days of wonderful diving.  On Saturday, I dropped Allie off at Xpu Ha Beach and got an opportunity to explore the down stream section of Minotauro.

To access the down stream section, you swim to the back of the Cenote to the duck under.  At the T you make a right.  This section of cave is definitely sidemount.  There are lines everywhere.  If you make the first jump to the right, you have to pass a fun restriction.  After a couple of minutes you will reach a T.  If you go right, you go through a sidemount restriction and end up under the steps in the cenote.  If you go left, the line ends and you can jump back onto the main down stream line.

If you skip the first jump, you will pass serveral others.  At 30 minutes or less, depending on how much jumping you do, you will reach a 4 way T.  I decided to continue straight ahead.  The cave pinches down and starts to turn back on it self and really snakes around.  It is low and silty.  After another 10 minutes, I could feel the distance pressure building and I turned around.  I had plenty of gas, I just felt like I had gone far enough.  Plus, down stream is a noticeable siphon and when the cave gets smaller the water velocity climbs, making the return trip slower and labor intensive.

When I reached the 4 way again, I had plenty of gas so I decided to check out the branch to the right as you are exiting.  The first thing you come to is a very entertaining restriction.  I decided to remove one tank and was rewarded by passing it cleanly.  The branch was a lot of fun.  The passage was never straight for more than a  couple of meters and really twisted and turned.  There were plenty of minor challenges along the way.  I reached the end of that line in less then 10 minutes.  There are some jumps back there that need to be checked out. I turned and decided to check out the other branch.

The left branch, as you are exiting, was much of the same.  Just great sidemount sized cave passage, beautiful tannic stained decorations and plenty of opportunities to hone my skills.

Total run time was 122 minutes and  my max depth was 20feet. This is really one of those caves you can loose an entire afternoon in.   After I cleaned up, I jumped in the Toyota and crossed the highway to Xpu Ha beach.  I met Allie and Sophia and we had a nice dinner on the beach.  I did some swimming and headed home.   What a great Saturday!

Patrick Widdmann sitting with Sonny on the surface interval at Nohoch Na Chich

Sunday delivered another excellent dive.  I headed down to Nohoch Na Chich with Patrick, Katy, Alain, Alian’s friend and Sonny. Sonny is diving with Protec for the week and is an excellent diver.

Until today, I thought there were only two ways up to Heaven’s Gate.   I discovered is there is a third line up there.   It never ceases to amaze me how much line has been laid in Nohoch.   The third line is just to the right of the main line.   The swim from Nohoch to Heaven’s Gate took about 30minutes.  When we reached Heaven’s Gate we T into another line, made a right and swam for another 30 minutes.  As we approached our turn time of 60 minutes, I could see a small very strong green light in the distance.  I couldn’t tell if it was a dive computer or a cenote.  I was really drawn to it, it seemed so out of place.  We reached it at the 59 minute mark, just shy of our turn time.  It turned out to be a very thin shaft of light from either a solution tube or a very small cenote.  I didn’t have time to really investigate it.  The swim back was uneventful but fast.  We covered the same distance in 13 minutes less.  We were really huffing it.  Our total run time was 114 minutes and max depth was about 30feet.

Alain hoisting a tank up on his surface interval at Nohoch Na Chich.

When we got back to PlayaDel Carmen, we decided to go to dinner together.  Hannah,  Sonny, John, Patrick, Katy, Allie and I went to Pummarola restaurant on 1st avenue and 40th street.  We had an excellent Italian meal and shared some of our war stories.  There was plenty of laughter and we really had a wonderful time!  If you are interested in the food in Playa Del Carmen, you should check out http://www.PlayaEats.com.  It is a restaurant and food review website.

Playa Del Carmen Itlian Fried Cheese Pummarola Restraurant

And a fitness update, for those of you following my weight.  I was down to 234lbs this morning.  I have been bouncing between 235 and 239 for a while.  It has been frustrating.  However, I am starting to spend more time around 234 instead of 239.

Allie, Sol and I committed to a Jeff Galloway running program for a half marathon.   This past week I ran 3.5 miles twice and 4 miles once.  I think this is good progress!  Just a couple of months ago a mile was a challenge.  We are targeting the half marathon distance for December 2008.  I will keep you posted.

August 10, 2008   2 Comments

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

Dive the cave my young warrior. Sage advice for a dive at Pet Cemetery. Dive: 420

I have had more then one person tell me to dive the cave.  At minimum, both Patrick and Steve have told me that.  Some other guidance I have received:

  • I shouldn’t rely solely on the line and markers.
  • I shouldn’t play tourist in the cave.
  • I shouldn’t put my life in the trust of a plastic disk.

This is sage advice, because on my return leg of a dive at Pet Cemetery the line ended short.

I drove out to Pet Cemetery for a cave dive in search of Blue Abyss.  When I got in the water, I met two divers that were returning from the Blue Abyss.  One of the divers is relatively famous in the cave diving world and the other a guide from a local shop.  We talked for five or ten minutes while I strapped on my gear.  I told them my plan to head for “Tanks on. Tanks off” restriction and look for the jump to head to Blue Abyss.  They exited the water and I started my dive.

The first thing I found was that the primary line that used to end in open water was cut back.  I thought that was weird and continued.  I jumped on the cavern line.  When I arrived at a natural spot to install a jump, I went looking for the primary cave line and quickly installed a jump with an arrow.  I followed the cave line over two T’s and marked them appropriately with my personalized non-directional markers.

About 10 minutes into the dive, I came to the end of the main cave line. It was cut and hanging in mid water.  I thought, “hmm…. That is weird. Who would cut the line and just leave it hanging in mid water?  Jerks!”  I tied my spool to the end of the line and found the other end of the cave line tied off to a stalactite.  I very graciously repaired the continuous guideline and continued on.  I have to admit that I had a very uneasy feeling at this point.  For the next 80 minutes the voice in my head was chattering away.  I just never felt right.  I eventually had to turn the dive on nerves.  I just wasn’t right.  I was a little spooked.

The return swim went much faster then the penetration.  I still hadn’t found the Blue Abyss, so not only was I spooked, but I was disappointed.  When I arrived at the stalactite at which the repair was made, I found the line had been cut again.  This time one inch of my line was hanging out.  Someone had removed my repair.

I swam past the end of the line a little looking for the other end of the main cave line and it was gone.  I returned to my stub and hovered for a second.  I was at least 10 minutes or 500 feet from the Cenote which I entered at and all I had was a 1 inch stub.  I cursed whoever removed the cave line and started to develop a plan.

The next thing I noticed was a thick red line on the floor perpendicular to the original line.  I assumed it might be the cavern line, but I had never swum it and didn’t really want to experiment on it.  I considered tying in my reel for a minute and swimming in the direction of the line, but I elected not to.  As I swam around a little, I saw a light a hundred feet away.  I decided to swim over to the divers.  I was familiar with this section of cave and it was in an air dome.

When I reached the divers, I gave them thumbs up and asked them to surface.  I asked them, “What happened to the cave line?” They told me they were performing a re-lining of the cavern and they had told everyone.  Well, I didn’t know about it.  And the divers that I had spoken to earlier hadn’t said anything to me.  They said they had cut the cave line earlier and had seen it was repaired.  They thanked me for repairing it.  They told me which way to go on the cavern line and that I should exit the cave.

I was completely taken back by the whole situation.  I was in disbelief that anyone would remove a line that had 2 fresh non-direction markers on it and was freshly repaired.  Oh, and they had parked right in front of my truck.  If you had been to Pet Cemetery, you would understand there are not a lot of vehicles out there.  I am not sure what to say about the whole thing, other then it could have gone so much worse.

I was lucky that I had been in that section of cave before and knew how to get out, with or without the primary line.  I had been paying attention on my previous dives and was familiar with the route.  I had been diving the cave.

This should serve as a warning, the line you installed, may not be there when you return.   As I have said in previous posts, the lines here in Mexico change all the time and sometimes without warning.  They can change while you are diving!  Don’t trust your life to a guideline. Dive the cave and practice progressive penetration.  Learn the cave you are diving and carry a compass.  You never know when you might want to know which general direction to head.

May 11, 2008   3 Comments

The Quest for the Blue Abyss. Part 2.

I made my second cave dive at Pet Cemetery in Sistema Nohoch Na Chich looking for the Blue Abyss and what I discovered is that the map of Nohoch that I have access to, has nothing to do with the lines and cave underwater. As I understand it, the map of Nohoch was created by a large team of people with varying degrees of expertise in cave survey. Therefore, it is notoriously inaccurate. Plus lines change all the time and new discoveries are made. I have ceased to rely on that map and have started to develop my own very nice stick map of the area.

Today’s dive was a big success! It started with an o-ring extruding from an omni swivel when I got in the water and I was doing my predive checks. In less then 100PSI, I had the value shut down. A couple of minutes later, I doffed both tanks, removed the regulator and headed back to the 4Runner to make a repair. Past experience with another leaky omni swivel had informed me that I didn’t have the correct o-rings to repair it. So, I dug in the trusty tackle box and pulled out a replacement 120 degree Scuba Pro swivel. I really like the Scuba Pro swivels for a couple of reasons:

  • Only one dynamic o-ring and it is captured.
  • It has a fixed angle that places the regulator nicely.
  • It is tiny and doesn’t change the weight or hose length dramatically.
  • It seems less failure prone because there is no screw on a dynamic turret holding it together.

So, if you have a choice, go for the Scuba Pro swivels. The repair made, I started my dive. The guys where working in the Cenote again dredging it out, so viz was crap for the first couple of minutes, but it cleared up nicely. This time I went left at the first T. When I got the second T I had a decision to make, and based on the compass heading I elected to go left. The line passes through an extensive area of open water dome and then plunges down a sandy hill into the cave. Immediately I was excited. The cave was really beautiful. After a reasonable swim, I came to a nasty looking restriction. My research later revealed it is called, “Tanks on, tanks off ” It is a fantastic window in the rock face. It is smooth all the way around. From my direction you have to pass through it by going up and onto a bedding plane. I looked at it for a second, unclipped my right tank, swung it out in front and passed it with my shoulder dragging a little. SIDEMOUNT ROCKS!

My first impression was it would be a challenge in backmount or impossible if you are a big guy. The only hope would be to go through on a funny angle. However, returning through it in zero viz in backmount sharing air would have been a supreme challenge. To be honest, returning through it in sidemount under stressed conditions would have been a challenge because there is limited room to setup on the other side. So I added a little padding to my gas to ensure a stress free exit.

As I continued the dive taking notes and enjoying the breath taking formations, I realized the line changed type and I hadn’t noticed. The line was a thick white line, the thickness of kermantle, and now it was knotted exploration line. This startled me for a moment and I had to make a decision to back track and note the line change and confirm I was on the right line or continue on and trust everything was ok. I decided to back track and put those devils to bed. Over an arrow, up through a minor restriction and there was the junction. It was about 2 minutes back. I took a mental note and continued the dive.

It is this kind of realization that starts to build mental stress. The feeling of not knowing or feeling lost is insidious. Couple the change in line, the lurking idea you might be on the wrong line and another crisis of your description and you have a recipe for a full on fear fest should something nasty go down. Progressive penetration and awareness are keys to survival. There is no reason or goal that should drive you to skimp on something as small as a two minute back track to confirm your location.

I swam to the end of the line. It took me about 40 minutes and less then 1000PSI with my back tracking and extensive note taking. The line terminated just a couple of feet short of another line, which I believe to be the Diaz Line. The return swim took about 30 minutes and about 500PSI. There was a section on the return swim with decent flow that slowed me down. But it is only a hundred or so feet long. I wonder where all that water is coming from and where it is going. Because it doesn’t pass through “Tanks on, Tanks off”.

When I got home I drew my stick map from two days of diving. It is a supremely satisfying feeling to look at the new map and know you have been there and you have a foundation for future dives. I have to thank Patrick for that. He is the one that got me to be more disciplined in my note taking and drawing. And he gave me a system.

April 23, 2008   1 Comment

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