Apr 072015

Life has been a little bit quiet on the website of late, because life has been incredibly busy in the real world. Since our last successful exploration weekend in Elk River I’ve spoken at Oztek, done a couple of lovely ocean dives, a weekend in Gambier and packed three overstuffed bags for Mexico. I fly out of Melbourne next weekend for two weeks of caving, diving and exploration with the PESH (Proyecto Espeleologico Sistema Huautla) expedition.

The PESH mission is to run ten annual expeditions to the Huautla System. This April is the second one and continues on with the aims of pushing the known cave past 100kms in length and one mile in depth. There are more than two dozen people participating this year including seven of us cave divers. The “wet” portion of the trip focusses on Red Ball Canyon Sump which hasn’t previously been dived. It is close to the sump that connects the cave to Li Nita and perched well above the main river. In theory it could be short, shallow and easy to pass. In reality we will find out what happens next when we get in there.

Huautla is somewhat isolated from the civilised world so packing has been an exercise in prediction. Unlike most of my travels I’m taking very little dive gear. We are using high pressure carbon fibres tanks which makes my normal regulators useless. Given the distance from the surface and despite the chilly water I will be using my Elk-standard semi-dry rather than my Otter drysuit. And the expedition diving is being sponsored by Dive Rite with new Nomad LTZ sidemount harnesses and LX20 hand held primary lights – perfect for the job. Almost more exciting is not having to pack either of those bulky/heavy items.

So what’s in the bags? A sleeping bag and mat for the hut up top, and a sleeping bag liner for the shared sleeping bags in the cave. Trog suits and thermals including a pair of the Fourth Element J2 base layer. It’s always nice when the gear you’re using has been tested in the cave next door to the one you’re visiting. Dry bags, caving packs and SRT harness with a spare chest ascender and hand ascender for when the teeth wear out on the second 800m ascent. And of course a spare stop wheel for the way down. My Scurion and spare batteries, small Archon video lights and then endless camera gear.

I’m taking my camera housing in case the sump gets exciting enough to warrant underwater pictures. I’m not keen on taking it into the cave because it’s both heavy and delicate on the vertical pitches. But should the diving deserve it, I would be devastated not to be able to take underwater shots. For the rest of the wet stuff the camera will be travelling in a small orange pelican case which I depth tested to 5m on the weekend with minimal leakage. I’ve bought myself a new Canon 50mm f1.8 lens to play with some portraiture and mid range shots.

Much of the team is already on site and the cave has been rigged for this year’s efforts. Despite a little early and unexpected rainfall the trip is going well. By late next weekend when I arrive I’m hopeful that the extra water will have dissipated and it will be time to go diving. While there is internet accessible in the next village down the hill I don’t expect to have many updates for you until I make it back to the world. There will be news on the PESH Facebook page periodically during the trip. Hopefully I will have time this week to write up some of my dives over the last few weeks and schedule these to share with you while I’m away. By this time next week you’ll know whether that happened or not!

 Posted by at 10:00 am
Mar 092015
Pushing upstream and downstream Elk River

I know I’ve skipped a couple of trips on here, including some nice photos from Scrubby Creek and Shade of Death. However the excitement of the Elk push dives this weekend is going to post first and I will have to get back to the Scrubby Creek shots for you at a later date. The Elk project has been going on for just over two years now and it seems that at times we’ve been making a lot of effort for very little progress. This weekend we put in a lot of effort and got great new cave in return. It was a three day weekend in Victoria so we [read more…]

Feb 172015
The camera on the course

The careful reader will have noted by now that I take my camera with me on nearly every dive. There are a limited number of exceptions each year, usually where the camera would seriously impede further cave exploration. From a practical perspective this means I can do almost everything I need to do on an average dive with one hand or with the camera propped between my forearms. It also means that anywhere between half and all of my available brainpower is devoted to f-stops and strobe positioning rather than deco, navigation and gas consumption. The key to success is knowing when to forget about art and concentrate on diving. [read more…]

Feb 102015
Rebreathers in the Shaft

The Shaft is a beautiful dive, and an impossible cave to photograph. After I finally achieved that classic shot of the sunbeam down the middle of the hole, rockpile lit up and diver frozen up in the shallows, I declared I never needed to take photographs in there again. And yet, two summers on I was headed over to Gambier with my parents for a fun family weekend with a Shaft booking in place. A couple of weeks beforehand Kelvyn was chatting to the landowners about the long-discussed intent of opening the site up to rebreathers. While there have been “special interest” dives in the Shaft on rebreathers previously regular [read more…]

Feb 042015
Backlit bubbles in Tank Cave

After our very pleasant jaunt through DD31, Moo and I headed over to Tank Cave for the rest of the Australia Day weekend. It was good to see a whole bunch of freshly minted Advanced Cave divers working through their first group dives with enthusiasm. Tim and I left the gold lines to them and headed down the back of the cave. I was on the rEvo but Tim was back on open circuit and carrying a couple of large stages in addition to his sidemounts. The rEvo makes a big difference to photography in Tank, as once I’m in the right spot I can take more than a couple [read more…]

Jan 282015
Surveying in DD31

About the cave DD31 aka Swain’s Cave was discovered and first entered in 2012. It extends to over 2.4kms of streamway passage leading to a terminal sump shortly before the expected resurgence on the surface. The entrance is in the same doline as DD4 Jones Ridge Cave which has been known for decades but this little gem didn’t reveal itself until very recently. Combined, the tunnels in DD4 and DD31 add up to over 5kms of passage. I had caved in DD4 previously when we inserted Harry into the terminal upstream sump and I was excited to have a look at the downstream half of the system. About the trip [read more…]