I will lead with the video compilation that I put together. Enjoy!
The planning started in January, and it all came together in the first week of August (the full trip encompassed Friday July 30 to Saturday August 6). It was a fun challenge to do the logistics as different people would be bringing team resources like generators, trail building equipment, gas boosters, breathing gas, as well as their own breathing gas and supplies.
A lesson learned from past years was to reduce unneeded or unnecessary equipment as much as possible. That took work because we didn't want to leave behind anything important! This was part of the fun of planning a fairly serious expedition. While we would be 1 or 2 hours away from "civilization", having everything on hand when needed was a far better option. Not quite the same as doing a dive at your local dive site! One thing learned this year was to clarify and beef up our existing emergency plan, which while adequate needed improvements.
You could just imagine the amount of gear. This was just my truck and Dennis' jeep. Everyone had similar loads...
The weather for the week was perfect. Only one or two days had a few drops of rain. The rest of the time it was sunny. Sometimes too sunny! The heat caused large winds, which wrecked Jim's event tent. Here was Jim and Dennis before that happened. We had to rig up a lean-to with a tarp for shade after that.
Each day had at least two teams diving at Cave 2 and Cave 1 levels. Here was Jim and Dennis, and Jim and Kees, and finally Nick and Jo (I stole one of Nick's pictures).
It was a leisurely affair, with breakfast in the rising sun, a morning dive, lunch, a dive in the afternoon, dinner and then the campfire channel. Jo devoured half a bag of marshmallows by himself!
With the sun so strong, we had the brilliant idea to bring cots and hammocks into the trees. It truly was incredible to listen to the wind while relaxing in the cool breeze. We really were on vacation! Here was that view.
The trail survived the winter quite well, but it was still a challenge to go up and down. We put in more steps and did other trail improvements. I made a short video of going up and down the trail, which should give a good idea of what it was like every day. But, I didn't mind this commute!
Here was a picture of the trail from the top, looking down.
We had left wooden pallets behind the year before to help gearing up, but those were gone. The river must have flooded and carried them away. Next time we would have to store things like that further up the hill. The cave entry had been opened up due to some extensive "gardening". But the entry was still a bit unstable and several times rocks shifted while we were coming in and out. We would have to give more thought on how to get around that next year. Also, the most treacherous part was just walking around the entry. Walking over the round river rocks with heavy gear was challenging to say the least.
Jim along with Jo, Dennis and Kees, pushed pretty far back in to the cave. They discovered that it got a bit deeper than they thought (about 42 meters if I recall). However, the majority of the cave was quite shallow. The entrance section for example was only about 9 meters on average, and it was perfect for Cave 1. The main line was in good shape for the first part of the cave, but beyond that it was quite a mess. It would take a lot of work to fix it all up, and this was a great opportunity to practice a lot of skills that you really wouldn't get to do in a well-maintained cave.
Jo brought up his booster, and it helped being able to move gas around. Next time we would need more drive gas, as well as air to do additional blending. A compressor would solve that problem, but this time around we didn't have one. Something for a future trip! Here was the "booster station".
There was some flow this year, but it really was not very much. Prior to the trip, there had not been much rain at all, which I'm sure helped reduce the flow. The visibility was the same amazingly clear cold water that we had come to expect. There were some areas where percolation clouded things a little, but it was never much. Here was a beautiful shot of the exit.
And a shot of the river beyond. I thought it looked a lot like Mexico, only about 20 degrees colder!
I didn't get much video or pictures from in the cave as my lights weren't powerful enough. Jo did do some photo and video dives so I hope he got something good. However, here was a picture I was able to get of Dennis.
There was also some life in the cave. Dennis and I found some kind of swimming worm, and I do remember seeing an aquatic insect scurry into a crack. The worm had many legs (or parapodia) so it resembled a centipede, and was definitely swimming.
There were also many small trout, both in and out of the cave. I met an angler on the road, and he said the fishing was excellent.
We had one equipment failure while Jim was gearing up for a dive. The knob came off his deco bottle, and then in the process of fixing that, the bolt snap cracked in half. Fun times! Fortunately, it all happened at the surface prior to the dive.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip. Thanks to all those who were involved, and especially to Jim Dixon for organizing. I really could not wait until next year! I'll leave off with a few last-minute scenic photos.