May 282014

Sump 7 air bell

Last weekend was our twelfth trip into Elk River cave. We missed the Easter trip with a few people away (out on the Nullarbor, in my case) and it was good to be back two months after the last trip. In March Steve spent his time beyond sump 5 pinning down and re-routing the existing line to make the inevitable zero-vis exits as painless as possible. This work, and the stash of tanks staged at the end, set us up well for a push beyond the end of the line this trip.

Clear water in sump 6

In addition to putting Andreas in sump 7 to push, I also intended to accompany him with camera in hand. On previous trips I had carried the camera nearly to sump 5, after leaving my dive gear after sump 4. This trip I carried both, while Tim, Steve and Andreas lumped large tanks. A few hours into the trip I knew I had to get the shots, because there was no way I was dragging the camera rig back in there again. I’m happy to say the shots came out!

Sump 5 is just a short one, and I didn’t bother to take the lens cap off. After a quick gear rearrangement in the next chamber we descended into the silt carried into the start of sump 6 by the flow. The second shot here is Andreas getting his first view of clear water in the early part of sump 6. You can see the mud caked on the ceiling of the tunnel – there’s no chance we’re going to scour this place clean with a few trips through. Muddy exits are going to par for the course. For photography this meant picking the spots to swim out wide, turn, snap and race back to the line before the vis closed in.

The top photo here is from sump 7. The cave here is getting larger underwater, and we swam between mountain and down rift passages. Andreas is under the first air bell here which is one of the few places mud can’t billow off the roof above you. From here we headed down again and the line was just starting to rise to the second air bell when Andreas had a few gear difficulties. Unfortunately these led to us turning the dive, with the cave ahead beckoning. So no new line was laid but I’m hopeful that I’ve achieved the photographic objectives and that the camera doesn’t need to return. Although it was pointed out to me on the drive home that I was keen to put together a short video series at some point…so maybe once the pain has faded a little more, I’ll rethink that plan.

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