Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
Syndey harbor on a cloudless night.

Category — The Pit

Angelita With Allie and Resurvey at The Pit

I am in the states for a wedding, house repairs, life maintenance and CCR Hypoxic Trimix with Andrew Driver.  Before I left I had a chance to make two more dives, one at Angelita and one at The Pit.

Angelita and Deploying Lift Bags
Allie hadn’t been to Angelita and we wanted to take some pictures.  Plus, I needed to practice some of my open water skills and try out my new Liquivision X1 dive computer in advance of Hypoxic Trimix.  So we packed up the 4Runner and headed south.  The drive from Playa Del Carmen to Angelita is about 40 miles.  As you are passing through Tulum you need to stop at Don Pablo’s shack, pay him and get the key.  This was the first time Allie had to go through this process.  I think she found it very entertaining.  She told me that Don Pablo was impossible to understand, and she is fluent in Spanish.  With my limited Spanish, I agreed that I didn’t understand anything he told us.

We arrived at Angelita and it was very hot.  We were roasting.  Note to self, go north for August and September.  We geared up and walked the gear down to the water.  Allie thanked me for recommending that she dive in a single 80.  There is really no need for more then that at Angelita.  The Cenote is about 200Ft (60M) deep, however, the water below the Hydrogen Sulfide layer is really dark and creepy.  And unless you are a depth junkie, there is no reason to go below about 105FT (32M).  Most of the beauty is between 90FT (27M) and 105FT.

I was using my rebreather.  I wanted to practice making stops in open water and shooting a couple of bags.  As you can imagine, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to deploy lift bags diving in the caves.  And I think there is definitely something more challenging about doing precise stops in open water, then in the cave.  Andrew sent an email out that instructed us to be practiced in all our emergency drills and deploying the lift bag prior to class.

We did a one hour dive, I accomplished my skills with little chaos.  The only chaos for the day was when I broke the zipper on my new wetsuit.  Putting it on, I ripped one of the teeth off the zipper.  It is was a bummer, however, we found a solution and the dive was excellent!  Allie deeply enjoyed Angelita, it really is stunning.

A Shallow Cave at The Pit Needs a Resurvey

During my survey class with Steve Bogaerts, the last day was spent resurveying a shallow sidemount cave at The Pit.  The first attempt at resurveying the cave netted about 709 uncorrected feet of knotted line.  That survey was done over the course of two dives.  The cave is relatively level.  It is tight and highly decorated in some areas.  I was unable to finish the mainline survey, because the cave became too difficult for me to collect accurate data.   Steve showed his chops as he surveyed by me with relative easy.  Fortunately, I was able to complete the survey of the two branch lines.

This left with an incomplete resurvey and it has been nagging at me.  Every opportunity to dive was plagued with indecision about whether I should go back to The Pit to complete the resurvey.  Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that I hadn’t driven the Toyota 4Runner to the water’s edge yet.  On Saturday, I finally gave in and decided to attempt to complete my mission.  I packed up the truck jumped in and headed out, it wasn’t going to be a very successful day.  The first warning was that I forgot a second depth gauge.  I realized it before I got on the federal highway.  So, I headed back to the house and got the Liquivision X1.  Problem solved.  I headed out again.  This time I got on the federal highway and got down near Puerto Aventaurus when I realized I had forgotten my wet suit.  That was the second warning!  I should have quit and gone to the beach.  Instead I drove back, got the wetsuit and decided to dive any way, though only one dive.  Problems solved.

I finally reached the road to the pit and I started the tortuous drive.  I only dragged the bottom of the truck once and the running boards twice.  When I get back to Mexico, I am removing the running boards.  I think I can solve the bottom dragging with better route selection and a sledge hammer.

I suited up and got in the water.  Everything was going great.  I started the dive and the first thing I was reminded was how small this cave is.  Since I had spent so much time on the CCR, I had forgotten about tiny spaces.  We dive pretty big cave in the rebreathers.  I was a little out of practice and my sense of scale was improperly calibrated.  I really took my time returning to my last survey station.  I was enjoying the cave and relearning it.  We had identified a lead in compass after the last survey dives, so I spent some time checking it out.  I came up empty and continued on to the last survey station.

Before reaching the last survey station, I needed to negotiate two restrictions that required me to remove a tank and superman it.  The first resurvey I was able to collect data through the first restriction.  I was unable to collect through the second.  When I reached them this time, I was reminded why I had trouble.  They are both really difficult to negotiate with a tank, slate and pencil in hand.

I passed the restrictions, unclipped my survey slate and realized I had lost the pencil.  So, I reached for my 2-Zip pouch that was supposed to be clipped to my butt ring.  It wasn’t there.  I was frustrated to say the least.  I needed to turn around a look for the pouch in a really tight passage.  I elected to continue down the line to bigger passage and then come back.  I found the pouch, got my extra pencil out and got resituated.

I was finally ready to pick up my survey work.  I took one station, which was really difficult.  I was still super manning the tank and trying to manage the slate and pencil.  My hand was getting tired and I was reaching my limit.  I was reminded why I had trouble in this segment previously.  It is really difficult for this newbie surveyor.

I started to take a second station and I lost the pencil again.  I was about to give up and go home.  It floated by my face as I grasp for it.  Of course the cave was bigger here and I needed to ascend 5-6 feet in a crack to get it.  I got the pencil and continued for another couple stations.  At that point, I looked ahead at a bedding plane depicted cave with a lot of silt on the floor.  I just couldn’t fathom surveying through there without creating a real shit storm.  I abandoned my effort.  I was defeated again.  I had collected about 40-50FT of data.  I decided to disregard the new data, I was too much of a mess for it to be useful.  So, the survey work remains incomplete!  I had forgotten how much more difficult surveying is then just diving.  I need a lot of practice, especially in challenging cave.

I exited slowly and enjoyed the cave.  I felt defeated and bummed.  I felt like my performance was crap.  And to be honest, it was labored at best.  I should have called the dive when I forgot the wet suit.  I just didn’t see it as a warning.  I saw it as being forgetful.  Later that day I was admonished by Patrick, I should have bagged it earlier in the day.  I guess exploration fever had me.  When I get back to Mexico in a couple of weeks, I look forward to giving it another shot, after I do a handful of tight sidemount dives.

On the bright side, I spent about 30 minutes swimming around the cavern zone of The Pit.  I was there all alone and I was overwhelmed with the beauty.  It is one of those places that make me feel really really small.  The space is so huge it is indescribable.  A real natural wonder and it draws me.  I think it is one of my favorite places on earth right now.  It is on par with Moab, UT or the Tetons in Wyoming.

I am going off line for a couple of days.  I have a wedding and a Hypoxic Trimix class to tend too.  Wish me luck!

September 5, 2008   4 Comments

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…..