A good day out…
We met up with Nathan as planned at 10am in the car park closest to the cave. He had brought a friend along to come and help, called Mario. Mario is 25, a new member of the CLPA and was clearly being given some sort of induction involving carrying diving gear half a kilometre in the heat – none of which was his!
Nathan explained that he was the first person to dive the first sump in this cave 15 years ago!
We made it to the entrance with a bit of prickly bush bashing and a shin-bashing dry riverbed. Here, we gathered kit by the entrance and sent Nathan ahead to check that the boulder choke was safe (he was concerned that the winter floods might have caused it to move and become unstable). He called up that it was and we followed, ferrying ten 7 litre cylinders, 5 divers wetsuits, equipment and lead (top tip – unless you are all diving at once, share lead!!!!) fins etc and a bolting kit and rope, in case it was needed for the climb out of the water at the end of sump 1.
Rich and I were to dive first and see how far we could get. It is reported that the winter floods rip the line out of these sumps, so we had plenty of line ready to go in and loads of snoopy loops for belays, if required.
A line was tied off at dive base and water levels were extremely low. We passed all the equipment down the ropes and Rich and I kitted up in 7mm wetsuits and sidemount gear with a little buoyancy and set off into sump 1. This is 70 metres long and has a maximum depth of 21 metres. The sump was crystal clear with a blue tint as many of these Herault sumps have. Nathan followed five minutes behind with the bolting kit and rope.
The line was there…..but very slack and we took in metres and metres of loose line. It had been laid in zig zags across the passage and every belay except one had come free. We tied up the loose stuff as best we could and surfaced in a large air chamber with the reported climb in front of us. A thick rope was already in place, to our relief and we climbed up the rock face to land on a ledge above. We started down the jagged rock through some holes which led to the start of sump 2. Again the line was in place, but this time was much slacker and was combined with old, French washing line. I tried to tie some of it together in case the visibility was decreased on the way home
We flopped into sump 2 and very soon surfaced in a bit of an airbell with the continuation ahead. Annoyingly, this meant a brief excursion above water, crawling on hands and knees and falling face first into the water on the other side of a rock barrier. Rich dived in front and I couldn’t help but giggle through my regulator as I watched this GUE technical instructor, our lord and master, crawling on his hands and knees then wallowing unceremoniously, helmet and all into the water face first, fins waggling in the air. You had to be there……
Rich dived ahead with the line reel and, after a narrow rift, soon came across the end of the white French dive line. It was tied off to a rock spike pinnacle and the line was wrapped around it several times, almost in a statement. Here we go……
Rich tied my line reel into to line and began to pay out line into the rift ahead. It was a narrow, inclined 45 degree rift and I deployed my extreme-tek backup torch to spot the way on. This long, narrow beam hunted out a widening in the passage lower down whilst Rich searched for tie-offs as he went higher. He indicated to me to tie the line off as he went and two belays later, the viz started to go. Ten metres of progression and I could hear, but not see, Rich scrabbling and scraping ahead and not finding anything to tie the line to, he wriggled back towards me. I fended off waggling fins and coiled up loose line, whilst Rich began to reel back in towards me and gave me a thumbs up and ‘turn around’ signal. I pulled a snoopy off a rock and the rock simply broke in two and fell off the wall. The whole cave is made up of porous, fragile and friable rock which simply won’t tolerate interference.
We dived back on thirds and I kicked on ahead looking for a better way on as I simply didn’t believe that this nasty rift could be it. I got ahead of Rich and deployed my extreme-tek cave spotting torch and carefully examined the wall to my right. I noticed a pile of boulders a bit above me and, using Rich on the line as a lighthouse, swam up and over to have a look. I shone my torch down a large, ongoing railway tunnel of a passage which was ongoing as far as my torch could penetrate – at least 20 metres. There it was. The lost way on was stretching out in front of us. I signalled to Rich and he came over to have a look and we stared at each other in amazement.
Then, Rich tapped his watch and I tied two snoopy loops onto the line and built a rock cairn to signal to Joe and Oz where to tie their line off and we set off home.
We surfaced between sumps 1 & 2 to explain to Nathan what we had found. I stumbled over my French in excitement but he got the idea! Nathan had surfaced in the airbell found by the British team 3 years ago and confirmed it as a ‘cloche’ – closed off airbell.
We all dived back to base and Oz and Joe kitted up. I gave them very clear instructions and directions about what we had found and what to look for. We left the line reel for them in between sumps 1 & 2.
Meanwhile, Rich and I got changed into something more comfortable and began hauling gear with the help of Nathan, back up the pitches. We got everything except Oz and Joe’s kit out of the cave by the time they returned.
They had tied into the line at the cairn and set off down the railway tunnel – which Joe declared was far bigger than any railway tunnel he had seen – and laid 36 metres of new line to a depth of 30m where gas reserves turned them around.
We hauled their gear out and began the soul destroying task of getting kit back to the cars which ended in doing so by torchlight as the moon rose steadily.
The day by far exceeded our expectations and a return trip this week is planned to resurvey sump 2 from scratch, as Nathan does not have proper data - and survey the new line and add some more, having decanted as much trimix into exploration bottles we can, in case it goes deeper. Nobody wants to do deco in this cave in wetsuits.