May 202013

Sump 1 in Elk River

About the trip

Although I didn’t take very many photos on our last weekend trip into Elk River, I wanted to share a couple more of them with you. Last week I talked about getting shots of Sandy coming through sumps 2 and 3 and the difficulty of staying ahead of the silt to get a shot through clear water. On the same trip I was also keen to get a shot in the first downstream sump. Jim Arundale was the first person to pass sump 1. Over a number of attempts he pushed his way through the short underwater distance to the other side. The most pertinent feature of the first sump isn’t the length though, it’s the height. The fact that I can fit the camera housing through means that the sump is at least 28cm high – but I’d be very surprised if it was much more than that.

About the dive

The dive through sump 1 can therefore be a bit exciting. After a crouching, crawling and roof sniffing journey from the gearing up spot down the stream, there’s a nice pool to stand in and put your tanks back on. Once prepared you kneel in the water, grab the line firmly in one hand, and wedge yourself into the flattener. Forward progress comes from wriggling on your belly and pushing with your toes against the roof and floor. The rock feels like flowstone and the ridges you can see there have a nasty tendency to grab at gear and hold you back.

Sump 1 self portrait

Being a streamway, it’s also as silty as you would expect. If we haven’t spent too long standing in the mud and gearing up the first person through may see something, but the ones after that definitely don’t. This sump is a difficult dive, and getting the housed camera through can be interesting. So getting the camera in the right position to take some photos while in there, and have them show anything at all, sounded like a challenge. I have seen a photo from sump one taken looking forward into the clear water in front of the diver. What I really wanted to take though was a photo with a diver in it. Given the impossibility of sending two divers through together, or having any clear water between them, the only option left was self-portrait.

About the photo

The photo above is one of two that had clear water in them. As I was holding the camera at arm’s length in front of me I could see that it was in clear water…through the silt that was in front of my face. I would inch forward against the rock, and the silt moved with me for the same net result. I discovered that I needed to have my head down and sideways to fit through, which didn’t help with getting a face in the picture or with seeing where the camera was up to. I used both hands to push the camera forward on its base while also running the line and working the shutter release with my left hand. In this shot I’ve paused for a moment and you can see my right hand moving back to unhook one of my tank valves from the cave.

The second shot was taken just as the sump starts to open up –  that’s the surface shimmering above me and there’s finally enough room to look up. With sump 1 behind me, the rest of the cave beckons.

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