All of that floating around in the pleasant tropical surrounds in Truk Lagoon had to come at a price, and it arrived last weekend with 32 hours of painful caving in Elk River. After multiple set up trips to load in tanks to the beginning of sump 5 last year it came time to use them. The plan was for three divers (myself, Steve and Ryan) to traverse sump 7 and emerge in the freshly discovered Hall of Crazy Horses on the other side. We would take through an emergency pack of camping gear, a rope for lowering gear down the 10m high waterfall, and a selection of 7L tanks for push diving in sump 8.
I also intended to take the very big camera through and get some great shots in the Hall. After returning from the last exploration dive, Steve reported a massive chamber. I had dismissed some of that as the over-excitement of exploration but I was expecting a moderately sized bit of cave. So when I unpacked the camera at sump 4 to take a few practise shots and discovered it was completely dead, I was more than a bit disappointed. We left the camera at sump 4 and continued onwards and downwards to the sump 5/6/7 complex. Luckily Steve had his GoPro handy so there are a few shots of our adventure. The first shot here is me about to do the first dive in sump 8.
With the camera down for the count I was able to concentrate on completing the survey of the last third of sump 7. We all emerged on the other side with our various loads of gear and headed down into the Hall. As it turned out, Steve hadn’t been exaggerating – it’s big. Ceiling heights are hard to judge without a disto but look to be more than 20m up. At the far end, sump 8 was blue and beckoning. You can see from Steve’s photo above that the bedding plane is angled up. I was hopeful for short and shallow and that’s exactly what we got. Sump 8 turned out to be 20m long and 1.5m deep. I surfaced on the other side to discover another 150m of large streamway passage.
The cave trends back to very tall, narrow rift with similar white-veined black walls to those found before sump 5. The heading continues in a similar direction. After some nice walking passage the stream descends into sump 9. We had to go back to the end of sump 7 to pick up the rest of the exploration tanks. From there it was an hour down to the start of sump 9 where we inserted Steve and sat down to wait. Ten minutes later Ryan and I could hear a “coooo-eeeee” over the top of the sump – there’s a high and dry connection somewhere up in the distant ceiling. Sump 9 is 50m long and there are a couple of options for the way on from there.
We were out of time. After leaving the mostly-full exploration tanks in situ at sump 8, we headed back into sump 7. Two and a half hours of diving and caving saw us at cave camp in the early hours of the morning. A short and refreshing sleep almost made up for having to pull my wet and cold wetsuit back on later that morning. By midday we had made contact with the dry support crew and shortly after 4pm we were back on the surface to see the end of a hot and sunny day. The survey data is being processed and I’m looking forward to some big changes to the end of the map. Now all we have to do is another three load-out and supply-in trips, and then we can get back to those exploration tanks and the challenge of sump 10.
Both photos here are by Steve Fordyce.