I’ve just hit the ground in Australia after a brilliant two weeks cave diving in France topped off with speaking at Eurotek in the UK. Over the course of the trip I took over 2,000 photos in the French caves. And over the next few weeks I’m looking forward to sharing my favourites with you, with a little backstory behind them.
As usual, huge thanks to those who made my diving possible and enjoyable and accommodated my need to take lots of photos – Joachim Krieselemaier, Tom Feiden, Georg Stauch, Duncan Price, Forrest Wilson and Ken Smith. Thanks also to Leigh Bishop, Eurotek co-founder, for inviting me to the conference to speak about our ongoing Elk River project in Birmingham.
Since it was a trip to the Lot, I figure I should start with the most famous cave. The Ressel is well known, and certainly there are a few famous photos of the shaft to the deep section which you will have seen. It’s a spectacular place in the cave and I can see why it attracts underwater photographers. I was lucky enough to dive it twice, once in the first week and once again near the end of my trip.
The cave itself has a deep route at about 25m and a shallow route at about 9m which both lead to the shaft. This conveniently means that if you enter using the deep route and exit via the shallow route, much of your deco has blown off by the time you swim out to the entrance. The shaft is about 400m into the cave.
The site was very busy. There are now parking spaces for five vehicles on the side of the road, and on our first visit we were lucky enough to get two spots just as cars were leaving. When I returned to the cave with Duncan in the second week we parked several hundred metres down the road and carried our gear back to the river. In both instances we geared up sitting in the relatively warm river water and I loaded everyone up with strobes before swimming upstream to the cave entrance. We passed Polish teams on courses, French fire-fighters gearing up and German divers deco-ing at 6m…a bit more traffic than your average Mt Gambier cave.
I suspect in quieter times the vis might be a little better in the entrance. Once we cleared the dodgy vis in the entrance the shape of the rock lines along the tunnels became clear. You can see the shape in the first two photos, both taken on the shallow route. The flat areas of roof trap exhaust bubbles which create brilliant diver reflections to play with. I was glad to be on my rEvo and able to pass under without a single bubble escaping to disturb them. The passage drops several times through beautiful tall fissures with parallel horizontal rock ridges defining them.
The third photo here is the famous shaft. We spent some time on the first dive trying to get four models arranged, but with open circuit deco restrictions and some narcosis coming into play it didn’t quite line up. On the second attempt I only had one model so I compensated by putting three strobes on him. This certainly worked to light up the shaft, if not giving quite the depth that a second and third model would have.
And last up, this is a photo of me swimming home, taken by Duncan. Having decided I’d taken all the angles of the shallow route I was going to find, I set up the camera and handed it off in exchange for one of the off camera strobes. Once we’d worked out minor confusion between the focus lever and the shutter lever (and I’d refocused the camera) Duncan took a series of shots of me in the Ressel. Unfortunately the pre-flash button on the left hand inon strobe popped out somewhere along the line so these are a little dark but look – I’m diving in France!