The secret cave
Updated: Feb 16
Before I go into details of our dive here, I should stress that this cave is NOT for public access and is indeed the water source for the town of Millau. Permission is required to dive here and we obtained this through a friend and a French cave diver before visiting the cave. Illegal dives here are quite likely to spoil ongoing attempts to reach an agreeable solution about diving the source, hence I have withheld its whereabouts.
The plan was to video the cave and as a result, will offer any footage we have to the local speleo activists to use in their quest to demonstrate how important divers are in the protection of caves and scientific hydrological research. At the end of the day, we are the only ones who can actually see what goes on under the water, under the rock, in the dark.
We drove almost 2 hours on nothing but winding roads and stunning gorges until we reached the village and after a little inventive French speaking and some friendly locals, located the source. We parked up but our French guide, Mehdi, was not there. Worried, I made a few calls back home to some friends who knew him but there were no such worries, as he showed up minutes later, having been diving in the Font d’Estremar all day!
We began carrying kit to the cave and we spoke to Mehdi in our best going out French and he spoke to us in pretty good English. He was to dive with us and both Rich and Joe had video cameras.
Due to gas logistics (there are no filling stations down here, so all trimix was pre-filled, as were deco gases – the rest is to be topped off by the compressor, courtesy of the Derbyshire Section CDG) Rich and I dived sidemounted as these were the only ‘backgas’ cylinders we had left which could be used, the rest still full of 15/55 for next week.
So we dived on 60m gas to reach pretty much the terminus of this cave, which ends in a jumbled, jagged breakdown choke at -65m.
The journey there however, was spectacular. Clive Westlake, my ex-CDG mentor was the last person to dive here 4 years ago and prior to that, the last diver had been in the cave no less than 8 years ago. And it showed.
Our exhalation bubbles sent bits of conglomerate and chert raining down on us and wafting past the video cameras. Anything you touched simply broke off in your hand so we dived it with kid gloves. The entrance is a narrow rift and we dropped off our deco bottles as we followed the winding, ‘diaclase’ (maze) to the head of a shaft.
I’ve seen some impressive underwater shafts, some pretty famous, but this was one of the more pretty and intricate ones. Mehdi dived a Megdalon ‘recycleur’ and stealthily crept along behind us, grinning in awe at the view he was presented with, descending above Rich with his double 18W filming lights, above me with my HID… he said it was pretty amazing! The visibility was infinite and sparkling blue.
I saw the line snaking off towards the breakdown terminus and thumbed the dive at 59.9m. We had a nice ascent and Mehdi began chatting to me through his RB and I felt obliged to waffle some crap in French back!!
We picked up our deco gases and Rich filmed Mehdi down some side passage while I wrestled with getting an ali stage clipped off to sidemount 12s, all the while feeling a bit underweighted; I soon realised that this was due to a sticking wing inflator valve which was filling my ‘Scoff-Bag’ at a rate of knots. Giggling at my stupidity for not noticing it sooner, I told Mehdi I was fine and that I would deal with the simultaneously freeflowing regulator later……
Such annoyances don’t spoil a great dive like this though and we surfaced at dusk, waffling in barely coherent Franglais at how good it was and how worth the drive etc etc.
I asked Mehdi if he would please join us for dinner, or a beer at least. One step ahead, he produced a bottle of delicately balanced local white wine which had been cooling in the resurgence all the while!!
We waited for the others to surface and giggled uncontrollably as they had stuck true to form, getting totally lost and taking the wrong line and ending up in some shit-hole about 0.5m high and full of mud, unable to turn around etc. They did make it to the deep in the end but they won’t live it down as it’s not the first time either!
The stars started to come up over the gorge and the white limestone cliffs were lit by the moon and we tore down the gorge after Mehdi who showed us to a very welcome pizza restaurant and made sure we were looked after.
An absolutely awesome dive, great company and a superb evening. Days don’t get much better than this. Thankyou guys.