"It sounds crazy enough to be fun"
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Sump 2 in Izvor Licanke is committing.
We worked out that if you go as fast as possible in the milky visibility on the scooter, you can just about pass it without having to undertake any decompression.
I scootered alone through the sump, my brain completely focussed on the thin, white line and keeping the speed up on the trigger and enough oxygen coming through my breathing loop.
Close to the end of the sump, as it started to ascend, I dropped off the scooters and made my way up the wall from 45m to the surface.
Surfacing in dry passage without somebody to chat too is both disappointing, but also relaxing.
Passage beyond sump 2, Licanke. Video: Ash Hiscock, 2019
The time is your own and you don’t have anyone else’s problems to concern yourself with.
I was impressed with the cave passage and made 3 journeys with my fins and suit bottle, then my rebreather, then my bailout bottle.
We renamed this piece of passage 'Helen's Highway' after our good friend and CDG treasurer of over a decade.
It was befitting of the whole team rather than one individual. After a cave diving and technical diving career of over 20 years, diving all over the world, to the shock of everybody, Helen took her own life at the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
Helen was one of those women I looked up to, wished I could be like and her generous, kind and very thoughtful nature was something I aspired to.
She once told me (when she sent me a Christmas present and I hadn't sent her one) "You don't give to receive". That was Helen all over. She didn't deserve to die that way.
It took me 20 minutes to get to sump 3 while carrying equipment and 15 minutes to go back to sump 2 empty handed.
I took it steady as I was wearing a drysuit and didn’t want to puncture it, but also moved methodically and efficiently. Being a caver of 26 years definitely has its advantages. You cannot be stumbling or uncoordinated beyond a sump.
Christine picking up her scooter in sump 2. Video: Anton van Rosmalen
I quite often chat to myself when I’m alone in a cave. Usually coming out with swear words and exclamations of incredulity when encountering something that is a nuisance.
Not far from where sump 2 surfaces, is an annoying boulder choke. Huge rocks balanced precariously and haphazardly atop one another block the passage. There is a convenient hole just the right size for me and a KISS rebreather to get through. I tried not to look too closely at the boulders - and tried even harder not to brush against the ones above me.
I trudged back and forth to a gravel ‘beach’ believing that the lake ahead was the start of sump 3.
Once all my gear was there, I started looking for the dive line. As I got down to water level, I realised this was not a sump at all, but in fact another lake.
More swear words came out loud.
I moved my gear again, item at a time across the lake which was out of my depth and finally after a bit of rock-hopping, spied sump 3 and the line tied off properly above the waterline and well back on dry land. My ex-trainee had done good.
Start of sump 3. Video: Ash Hiscock, 2019
It was a comfortable kitting up spot and I was soon in the sump which only took 4 minutes to cross. I surfaced at the edge of a sloping ramp which led around a corner. I couldn’t see any further into the cave from the water, due to a huge rock flake obscuring my view. I knew that sump 4 was only a couple of metres further on and, given I did not have enough bailout with me to dive it, figured getting de-kitted was pointless.
Feeling a bit deflated, I set off home.
As I prepared to dive back through sump 2, I tested my 'go to' bailout bottle. This one stays with me at all times and the regulator is necklaced for easy access. I took a breath and got a complete mouthful of water. I checked the mouthpiece but it seemed intact.
Looking closer to try and decipher the problem, to my horror, the actual second stage body of the regulator itself had split. Clearly this regulator could not withstand a bit of caving.
This was completely unfixable. I was faced with diving home with only one bailout bottle and with no buddy, could not steal anyone else's.
I did not hang about on the way home and took a big sigh of relief when I reached the slightly shallower part of the cave, as I knew one bailout bottle would now get me at least to the decompression cylinders staged at the bottom of the shaft.
This trip was not one to be done solo and I vowed not to do it alone again. There were too many eggs in just one basket.
Chris surfacing from her recce dive in Licanke. Video: Mark Burkey
I surfaced to find a very chilly Mark and Lou waiting to greet me. They got me out of my equipment quickly and after some warm water with nothing else in it, we bagged up some items that needed to be taken out and plodded out of the cave.
Once I had something of a phone signal, I called my friend and cave diving buddy, Anton Van Rosmalen. The Dutchman was in the south of France and was wrapping up his own cave diving project in a super deep system called Coudouliére. This neighboured a system I and my team had been exploring and they were currently only 25 vertical metres away from each other…
Anton had visited Licanke briefly in 2015 and not returned. This was his opportunity to see the entire cave for himself and do some exploration here.
He took an hour to think about it and line some things up, before he replied to say he was in.
He laughed down the phone “It sounds crazy enough to be fun!”
He had no idea…..
The good news for Anton was that, despite driving 14 hours to Fuzine and arriving in something of a ‘space cadet’ state, he had very little work to do. Ok, apart from completely rebuilding his rebreather and charging everything he owned, the good news was that all the scooters and bailout bottles were already in the cave.
All he had to do was dive... and cave... wearing his rebreather…
Luckily Anton dives the same unit as me, a manual KISS. He hadn’t arrived long when I was already eyeing him up as a spare part dispenser.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a spare BOV have you?” I pondered.
I knew he would have.
The front of mine had fallen off somewhere in the cave and I was worried about gravel ingress jamming it open. I put the spare in a pot ready to go into the cave.
Christine pre-breathing her KISS CCR prior to push day. Video: Mark Burkey
We assisted Anton on getting his rebreather to sump 2 and did some housekeeping.
I re-lined and re-surveyed sump one and Fred, Lou and Mark set about finishing the dry cave survey between sumps 1 and 2 as the original data had been long lost. They did some bolting and photography and generally wrapped up the list of 'jobs' this project produces.
Rich continued convalescing and Anton headed back to the house to finish preparations.
The team decided to take an extra day off, knowing that the push dive would take a very long time. And it did.
About the author
Christine Grosart is a Paramedic, working offshore mainly on diving vessels.
She started beach cleans around 2011 and has gone on to be a trustee, secretary, instructor and underwater photographer for the charity Ghost Fishing UK.
She wrote the first training course for scuba divers to remove lost ghost nets, in the world.
In 2009 she visited the far reaches of Wookey Hole cave and still holds the British female cave diving depth record.
In 2020 she became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for her work with Ghost Fishing UK as well as her cave diving exploration.
In the same year she was included in the BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List.