Wow! I’m just back from a pretty epic Wildscreen 2012. Great to catch up with old faces and meet plenty of new ones, all the while geeking out on a fantastic ensemble of seminars, sessions and screenings. Festival highlights included seminars with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr Jane Goodall, and on a personal note, seeing some of the footage Rolf and I shot for Wild Arabia cut, graded and on the big screen during the Alexa presentation. Congratulations to the Frozen Planet team for a magnificent haul at the Panda awards and particularly to Mark Smith who also won the much coveted Golden Panda for My Life as a Turkey. Already looking forward to 2014!
The Wild Arabia team are currently feeling pretty smug that the promotional photographs we took of Rolf with his Alexa have been included in the NAB 2012 issue of Arri News. In fact, Rolf is even on the cover! Congratulations to Chadden, Mandy and Ahmed (and I even managed to sneak one in myself!). Click the image above to download the full issue from ARRI (pdf).
Marcus and I headed back to Mexico in June 2010 to take part in the Mexico Cave Exploration Project (MCEP) Science Week with Dr Chris Werner, Dr Eduard Reinhardt and hosted by Zero Gravity – it seemed as good an excuse as any to head west again! Our objectives were primarily to produce an accurate and detailed map of the Yax Chen section of Ox Bel Ha, the world’s longest underwater cave system and deploy an array of temperature sensors that will help inform scientists modelling water flow through the caves. Dr Reinhardt and his team would take sediment samples that reveal records of paleoclimatic change in layered deposits of formainifera. A little further exploration would also be undertaken in Ox Bel Ha if the chance arose. The surveys were hugely successful and it was a great opportunity for us to see part of a world famous cave. Marcus and I totalled 8 dives for the project, the longest of which was just under 4.5 hours.
More details can be found here: MCEP Science Week
Florian, Maurizio and I headed to lake Radovjića for the final day. The lake was formed back in the sixties when the valley into which a number of small springs emerged was dammed in order to create a reservoir. These springs now emerge at the bottom of the lake. Maurizio spoke to a old local lady who remembered where one of the springs had been before the lake was formed, and she pointed us towards an area of the lake with very steep sides – the spring had emerged from the base of this cliff before the water levels rose and submerged the entrance. As this area was five hundred metres away from the nearest possible entry point, we opted to take the scooters and do a quick scouting survey of the area to see if we could find the entrance to what promised to be virgin cave. The visibility in the lake was fairly crap (~3m) which ensured when the scooter I had borrowed failed after only a couple of minutes, Maurizio crashed into me, not being able to see much beyond the end of the massive cave scooter he was using. Fortunately I was able to hitch a tow with my immobilised machine to continue the dive. Not being able to see much more than Maurizio’s ass for the rest of the journey, I was pleased to reach the other side and dump the scooters. There appeared to be numerous cracks and crevices in the wall but, encouragingly, there also appeared to be a weak surface current that looked like it was being generated by water welling up from below. The first crevice narrowed to nothing but amazingly on only our second attempt (cave diving can be a lengthy process!) we found a passage that appeared to continue on. The visibility in here was also excellent compared to that in the rest of the lake so we were pretty sure we were on to something, and, at the back of this room, at a depth of around 25m, was a small shaft with clear cold water gushing out of it. Florian and I dropped down to check it looked promising and from a small washing machine chamber at the base there appeared to be going passage. With Maurizio not diligently respecting his absence of cave training we headed back out, marked the entrance with a surface marker and headed back across the lake to get some more bottles for a clean attempt at the new passage.
We spent a short surface interval in a beautiful meadow, knotting line and watching fire planes swoop in over the lake, scooping water to drop on a forest fire in a nearby valley. We were reminded of the scuba diver in the film Magnolia and hoped we wouldn’t suffer a similar fate, however, impatient to see some virgin cave we were soon back in the water, skimming across the surface towards our marker. Dropping at the cliff face we tied off in the open water and entered the outer room. This is large and white-walled with pebbles on the floor, very similar to Vucovjića. The shaft is tight and the flow strong enough that I was forced to fully invert myself in order to progress. Laying line through this restriction in a way that wouldn’t present an entanglement hazard whilst battling the flow enraged by my double 18s choking the exit was challenging and certainly wasn’t pretty but once through things settled. Again this entrance restriction constituted the deepest section of the cave and from here on it trended gradually upwards. The nature of the cave also changed dramatically from here on in as well. The ceiling was low but the passage wide, with darkly stained rocky walls. Whilst there was still no silt, the visibility was relatively poor (compared to the other caves we had been diving on this trip) at around 6-8m. Many collapses meant that although the passage itself progressed pretty consistently, the navigable channel zig-zagged from side to side as we picked our way through. We spotted four or five cave shrimp and knowing how localised these species can be and that we were in unchartered territory we were excited to consider the possibility that these may be a new species as yet unknown. The flow, survey effort and restricted nature of the cave meant that progress was pretty slow and having just passed the tightest restriction of the dive, Florian hit turn pressure forcing us to reluctantly thumb the dive. The passage continues however.
As had become the norm for these dives the exit was fast and all to soon we were back out in the murky water of the lake. Having negated to bring any O2 with us on this dive we were faced with the prospect of 30 minutes of back gas deco. Feeling pretty pleased with ourselves this usually boring ordeal passed pretty quickly as we reflected on the dive and we emerged into the gloriously scenic Croatian countryside above, resolute on returning to peak around the next corner as soon as we could.
We headed back to Budapest the following day and managed to squeeze in a couple of dives in the toasty warm geothermal Molnár János cave that runs below the city there, an extremely beautiful cave that has been well documented in the wonderful book Divers of the Dark (http://diversofthedark.com).
You can download the survey of the Radovjića here: Radovjića Survey
Day two saw us at Glavas, a stunning pool set below a wonderful stone church. The relatively small pool belies an open shaft that heads down pretty much vertically to approximately 80m. From here the onwards passage descends at a more moderate 45 degrees to the maximum explored depth of 115m where the passage levels out and ends in a pinch shortly after. The CSS researchers were interested in generating a relatively high resolution cave map including passage dimensions that could be used for hydrological modelling. We split the cave into sections for survey according to our available gas. The RB80 team would lay the survey line to a depth of approximately 100m and survey from this maximum depth back up to 65m. Florian and I would survey from 65m up to the side passage that branched off horizontally at around 35m and then put in the jump reel connecting the main vertical line to the side passage for the third team to survey. Unfortunately problems with the RB80s meant the entrance into the cave was delayed significantly. The way we’d planned the dive, with successive efforts making use of the previous teams lines meant this delay filtered through all the teams and we spent a lot of time twiddling thumbs and gazing into the pool.
With the time for our effort finally arriving, we dropped our O2 and 50% bottles on the line laid by the RB80 team and met them ascending from the shaft below at 21m. Following a quick confirmation that everything was in place below we continued down into the shaft. After a minor kink at 30m the cave becomes entirely vertical and just drops away below. The visibility here allowed us to see about 15m below us as the walls faded into the black void below. The shaft is approximately 6m in diameter and we were able to go into seemingly relentless free fall whilst the walls expanded and contracted around us. Finally, as we approached our maximum depth of 70m, we could just make out the break in the shaft below. Looking up, it was also possible to make out the glow from the opening way above. With nowhere else to go here we ascended slowly, investigating the passage walls as we went which were rocky, jagged and irregular. In places this gave way to sheets of erosion worn stone.
Reaching the arch that separates the side passage at around 37m we spooled off from the mainline, beneath the base of a narrow chimney that ascends vertically parallel to the main shaft and into the side passage. We had plenty of gas to press on so had a bit of a poke along the line here but, having agreed a rendezvous with the third team at the 21m stop after 45mins, we were forced to head back all to soon. The forty minutes of deco was pretty chilly but passed without event and we surfaced with big smiles on our faces (possibly because they were frozen in place).
Part three of the Croatia Cave Exploration Blog can be found here: Croatia Cave Exploration Day 3 – Radovjića