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  • Christine Grosart

"That was a f***ing epic dive!"

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

Day two, and we were on schedule.

All the bottles, harnesses and lead had arrived at the bottom of the climb. Ash replaced the rope on the climb, which was looking a bit frayed. Chris carrying a dive cylinder in the dry cave Mark wielded his camera, shooting video for our short film and this was expectedly time consuming, but it was important to get the lighting and the focusing right.

Once at sump 2, Rich decided that standing still was too difficult and somehow manage to step backwards and trip over a small, sharp lump of rock. I turned to see him doing a backwards flying angel into the streamway. Unfortunately, he landed on another, larger lump of sharp rock which caused an impressive bruise on his thigh which seemed to grow day by day. Rich’s bruise spreading nicely…

Whilst by our standards, the caving was easy, you cannot take your eye off the ball for a moment in this cave as it is so seldom travelled and the rocks are sharp and friable. Boulders move and hand holds sheer off. Rescue from outside isn’t really an option, so the team tried hard to exercise care.

Ash set off into the sump and returned half an hour later, spluttering about having had a “f***ing epic dive!” The visibility was crystal but as expected, had gone to zero in the 21m deep shaft where mud clings to the roof and exhalation bubbles bring it down. Ash also reported that Frank’s old line was buried for several metres on the sand slope beyond the 21m deco drop, so a spool would be needed to clear it. He’d had a go at pulling it out but it wasn’t budging. To push that amount of sand upslope, there must have been some serious flooding over the winter. Rick in Licanke main streamway.

Satisfied, Ash left with his bottles and we re-grouped to take some still images and a bit more video. It took 8 flashguns to light up the main passage and the results were stunning. We stood in precarious positions, looking this way and that way, while Mark composed his shots. The dry cave is big, with sharp black rocks and boulder at foot and reddish mud walls closer to the roof. There are some decorations but not many and the boulder choke with rocks the size of cars, is hot and sweaty and slippery going. It’s always a relief to get back into the streamway again to cool off. Rick in the large main stream passage in Licanke.

Lunch was an interesting affair.

Ash doesn’t really eat anything other than Haribo and Nutella and usually opted to go without. We found some tins of tuna salad which survive sumps quite well, but this time brought them through in the dry tube with some forks this time…. They weren’t very nice but they were edible. I bought some jaffa cakes and thought chocolate and cherry sounded pretty cool, but they soon invited complaints. It seems gastronomy is an issue underground so we definitely needed to work on something better to keep the troops happy the next day.

As we surfaced from sump 1, Robbie was there – as he always is – to pull the twinsets out of the awkward concrete pumping station. Rich looked at my twinset and picked up the go pro which had been clipped off to my harness. “Ooh, that doesn’t look good…..” Water was sloshing around in the housing. I opened it quickly, pulled the battery out and Mark gave me some silica gel to begin the possibly pointless task of drying it out. The cave had killed the second camera in as many years and I was quite annoyed. Luckily Ash had one and offered it to me to use in the second sump, for which we were very grateful.

The days were always followed up by cold beers, housed in Rick’s huge ice box. Robbie found us a nice restaurant, which served up trays of delicious food…we had pork, sauerkraut, huge balls of home made gnocci and a meat stew. The local wine was superb and we always made an effort to get out of the cave in reasonable time for tea. Nobody wants to still be in the cave late into the evening so the extra days were welcomed.

I was a little nervous about the next days dive. There is always a lot of pressure. We had brought these guys out to help us, spent 3 months training Mark to cave dive, Ash had driven 2 days to be here, Rick drove down from the Netherlands….even though they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if we had failed, we definitely did not want to let them down.

I went through my check list in my head over and over and at some point, fell asleep.

Ash Hiscock in sump 1

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