About the site
We were back in Elk River streamway this weekend, hoping to survey, tidy up some line and have another look at the end. Elk River currently consists of 6 downstream sumps that we have passed, and a seventh sump that surfaces twice in air bells and continues underwater. It’s over 1.5kms of hard caving to the known end. There are lots of interesting bits – crawling over gravel dragging tanks, sinking in deep mud, squeezing through vertical rift passages and lowering gear through breakdown piles. My favourite bit of the second trip was my push dive at the end into the sixth sump. Unlike the muddy soup I’d been crawling, wading and wriggling through sump 6 was crystal clear (on the way in). Suddenly the hard work was replaced by a dive through a very pretty cave. It definitely made me want to take my camera to the end.
About the trip
This weekend we had a team of four divers with a crew of five support cavers to help us get the gear down the pitch to the water. A few different goals were considered. These included relaying the line in sump 6, surveying sump 6, having another look at the end in sump 7, staging additional tanks in the cave for a later push and of course taking some photos. We eventually decided that fixing the line and survey took precedence. While I was very keen to take the camera I was also pretty happy to put it down after sump 3 and continue through the cave without the extra 7kg fragile load.
About the photos
The cave shots Andreas and I took in the dry sections of Elk last trip came out well and I was happy with them. They were also the result of a dedicated photo trip, and I didn’t want to try and better them while on the run and portering tanks. Instead, I was keen to get underwater photos in the early sumps. This meant being the first diver through before the water turned to brown soup. The sumps are short and very silty, and diving without fins or a weightbelt makes it hard to practise anti-silting techniques. To put it politely, there’s a lot of kicking and thrashing going on to move through the water.
It’s not just the silty floor either, as silt also pours down off the roof when disturbed by bubbles. There’s no way around the fact that within seconds of being underwater you’re going to be the centre of a large silt cloud. The key to photography through clear water is therefore moving fast. For these shots of Sandy coming through the second and third sumps I ducked into the water to the right of the available space, then curved back to look through water than hadn’t yet been swum through. The silt on the left hand side of the picture was created as I came past, and you can see it heading back the slope towards Sandy from my position.
I was glad we had another go with this in the third sump as there really isn’t a lot of time to make adjustments while keeping ahead of the cloud. I rapidly rolled through f-stops with my thumb to compensate for the strobe power being way too low in the top photo. Even though it’s a bit dark I love the textures as Sandy emerges into clear water. In sump 3 there was a bit more space, I had the strobes powered up and I was able to surface on the far side and swim around to get the second shot here. The main difference between these sumps and sump 6 is sump 6 has more room to play with…and it’s another kilometre further in. I’m still tempted.