This dive was done so I could find whether I remembered which end of a tank was "up". I could, but was out of practise at fighting my way into a strong spring like Little River (which was flowing strongly as the waters receded after recent flooding). The water was not quite as clear as usual, with other evidence that flow had recently been reversedin the form of various detritus inside the cave. It took me about 20 minutes to force my way to the chimney! Then I toodled off, not very far in, but slowly recovering my sense of familiarity with the place.
I was wearing (due to experiments with weights to find what was right for my new drysuit) a weight belt with only 3 or 4 pounds of weight on it. Somehow I contrived to drop it in there somewhere without noticing. I found out this error only when preparing for a cooldown dive at Telford Spring so I determined to go back the next day and try to find it.
The dive to retrieve the weightbelt did not take long. It was not far in, lying where it had fallen when I was fighting my way into the spring against the unusually strong current. I must have missed seeing it on the way out - I don't think it could have been dropped on the way out, getting out is so much more peaceful than getting in. Ah well, live and learn. Try not to drop too much more gear on this trip.
So I tie my recovered weightbelt of around a bit of the wooden steps, and I says to myself, "what about a proper dive then". So off I go down the main line, not so very fast, eventually taking a side passage I don't think I'd been in before. It didn't go far. I had a little deco because I had my computer set on air to give myself extra safety margin. As I say, I'm out of practise.
Telford also has more silt in the water and is flowing faster than I remember it. Post-flood conditions in other words. I hacked my way in and found a side passage - the one and only side passage in the early part of the cave. This led to another little jump-off-a-jump and then back round to the main line in an oxbow. Continuing up the main line I came across some well remembered territory plus some odd bits that I had forgotten. A couple more jumps to be investigated later. After 60 minutes of penetration I turned the dive and came out a lot faster than I went in.
Picked up a buddy at the dive site and he suggested we do this loop. The Big Room circuit involves a right turn at the Grand Junction, (the gap there is a little bigger than I remember it) then round through the Big Room to where the line ends distinctively in the roof of the cave, then a visual jump back to the main line (gold) and down back to Grand Junction. I note the snap-and-gap at the Hill 400 line has been removed. Just a simple jump now.
On this dive I took the main line past grand junction to the Hill 400 ine, and then did a bit of the wormhole tunnel. But I had been going quite slowly and couldn't go far in - not getting to the bits of the tunnel I hadn't seen before - for I more or less hit thirds as I hit the tunnel. Next time I will have a buddy bottle same size as my doubles, so I can breathe the doubles down to half and still have the usual 100% safety margin. But really I should breathe less air - still out of practise.
I did the early part of Telford again, coming up to the lowish Posturepedic (?) passage about 500 feet in from the start. I turned there because I wasn't sure if the passage opened out. Apparently it does and I should try it. On exiting I found the lowish passage had had an effect - the left hand post of my doubles was within one turn of being switched off. I shall check this next time I do such a narrow passage.
By kind permission of the owner I got to do this very pretty dive, which is for sidemount only. The system has three entrances - the first, upstream one a semi-sidemount entrance (you can carry one sidemounted tank but must dismount the other), the second, middle one the main entrance and the third, downstream one the only one from which you can do a backmount dive. Upstream of Entrance Two is sidemount territory, so as to be kind to the cave. Downstream of entrance two is emphatically sidemount territory, there is absolutely no way you will fit through wearing backmounts. I went upstream from Entrance Two, which leads to the semi-sidemount entrance to air (Entrance One) after about 1200 feet. I did 900 of the 1200' on my sidemounted steel 95s. These worked quite well. I hope to be able to do a photo shoot in this passage as it is very pretty.
I went downstream from Entrance Two - into serious sidemount territory, described as "not for the faint of heart" by the property owner. But this dive was cut short when my primary light failed and I swiftly found that though I was still carrying 4 working lights (diving solo I rarely dive with only three) my backup light was not making a good job of cutting through the somewhat silty cave - silt swept down from my upstream dive before lunch the same day. So I turned my dive at a particularly nasty looking restriction - I want full illumination when I try that one!
Also, as I turned, one of my regulators started to freeflow. I found that I could very easily "regulate" the flow myself by turning the tank valve on and off with each breath, and eventually the freeflow stopped so I never had to use my backup regulator except for a few seconds when the incident first happened. It surely is nice to know that this regulate-it-yourself trick works so easily when sidemounting. The tank valve is right there by your hand. On the way out I met a very handsome turtle in the cave entrance. Alas he was not as pleased to see me as I to see him, so he scuttled away.
Back at Brent's place I stripped my regulators down and found oceans of mud inside, no doubt from crawling through the silty sidemount passages. Sidemounting is hard on the gear in this respect. After cleaning, the offending regulator gave no more trouble.
This was the pivotal dive of the trip. I returned to the "particularly nasty looking restriction" with main light working. It still looked nasty. And that restriction, plus one or two that followed it, became my main learning curve for the whole trip. By the time I had mastered the restrictions between entrances 2 and 3 at Pocohontas, I was a much more experienced and much happier sidemount diver. But it didn't happen immediately. At first that tiddly little passage had me so scared (dear me, the cavediver's S-word) that I would only attempt it going in backwards. So that I could crawl out forwards more easily than I went in. (OK I'm a coward but I own solocavediver.com and I'm still alive). And in fact that couple of hundred feet of very narrow passage became my whole dive as I went backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Practising my skills. Experiencing the particular thrill, new to me personally, of no longer being able to hold my head upright in the cave - forced to bend it down into the thin-sand-on-rock floor by the hard rock ceiling, rock pressing against belly and rock pressed against spine. Just an inch lower and I think my regulator would have been pressed into the floor by my bent head, likely causing a freeflow. But then the cave opened out. I went on practising the worst part of these restrictions until my air supply hit thirds. Then I came out a considerably more experienced cavediver than I went in.....
There's a magnificent rift at the start of this dive! It descends from the initial 20 foot level to the main 50' level, the rift being just wide enough to allow a sidemounted diver to descend in comfort. Then you enter the main, sidemount passage via an archway at the bottom, and after some pretty passage without any too too serious restrictions, if you're me you leave a hero marker at the point of furthest penetration. Which is not all that far in because you're diving with what's left in your tanks after the previous dive. I also left a hero marker pointing the way out at one junction where I thought the signposting was rather obscure (three lines are tied together and only a rather nonobvious clothes pin marks the exit route. Clothes pegs do sometimes slide along ropes you know... They sometimes up sticks and migrate!!)
Here I returned to the fairly tight, longish sidemount restriction that held me up on Dive 10, indeeed becoming the be-all and the end-all of Dive 10. Knowing I could handle stuff that size, I was able to go straight through, even keeping ahead of my own silt cloud most of the time. (A tightish downstream passage like this is a bit like an Interstate with a minimum speed limit - if you go above a certain speed you stay ahead of all the silt, if not a cloud envelopes you that may not be quite as welcome as the shekinah Glory of the Lord). The silt cloud only caught up with me once during this dive, and soon after that I caught up with my own hero marker from the previous dive, completing the short traverse after 32 minutes and exiting at Entrance Three.
This was my first de-kitting dive except for the entrance to Ilam main rising back in the UK. But I don't really think of that as a de-kitting dive because the place where you have to de-kit is to get under the very first shelf into the cave - you're within 3 feet of air! Though I suppose you could jam and drown even so, in theory. But here the de-kit was definitely inside the system, not very far in but out of the light zone. So, I removed my right hand tank, pushed it in fromt of me to the rim of the pit, put it back on, muttered "any more de-kitting and I abandon this dive" and descended to the more open lower level. Downstream the passage continues fairly low between horizontal planes coloured rusty by minerals in the water. That goes on for about 100 feet, then it opens out and not long after that (another 200 feet) I recovered my hero marker from the previous day. Then it was a simple matter to complete the traverse to Entrance Two. I shot off a few more photos to finish the reel of film. The last is in the entrance pool at Entrance Two, alas without the handsome turtle who would have starred in mid-photo if he had shown up.
After I had sorted out this little lot, I dropped down into the pit myself having used very little of my air supply - it's pretty shallow in the upper level of that entrance. Going upstream the passage has very many offshoots, and it gets quite complicated, also it stays quite low. I experimented with one passage, settled on another, placed a line arrow an a doubtful junction (actually Most Doubtful Junction Of Trip - three lines come together in a T, coming back the correct move is to take a right, but the tee is almost hidden under an overhanging rock so it would be easy to go straight on - and there's no marker within twelve feet of it to show the way to air. There is, I admit, a line arrow within eyesight down the exit line but it might as well be on the moon if there was a silt out. A silt out is not all that unlikely with gap from ceiling to mud floor at circa 2 feet. Hence I installed a line arrow right at the tee.). I went on past the 1500 foot marker - from Entrance Two, not Entrance One - eventually turning before thirds because it was really getting very silty and low. Another time I'll come back, I hope, and investigate that upstream section more thoroughly. Getting out of Entrance One worked better than getting in - my Braille is improving daily.
I met Lance Ohl at the dive site (having previously chatted with him at Little river) so we got to dive together. Irritatingly my gear played up - I'm still relatively new to the new drysuit, and I couldn't get its buoyancy right in the open passages of Devils Ear. I kept getting too much air in my feet. Eventually I got fed up with bouncing alternately off floor and ceiling, and called the dive a little early, apologising to lance afterwards. ("Don't apologise, Charles. ANYONE can call the dive at ANY time for ANY reason". He's one of the good guys, is Lance).
It's been a long time since I dove with my cave instructor! He had a cold or we might have done so earlier on this trip. Blue Spring was my idea, because it has been closed to scuba since before I became a cavediver, but is now open again (due I suppose to an outbreak of common sense in Lafayette County. Many thanks folks!).
Now this spring ought really to be called "Green Spring" rather than "Blue Spring" because the water in it contains a lot of green vegetation, flowing pretty fast in places. So you can't see as far as in a clear water system like Litle River or Devils Ear, visibility around 10-20 feet. There's a long sequence of connected sinkholes, ending at the Suwannee River (and the state park). We got in and went upstream for 3 sinkholes. Quite fun, though because of the lowish vis. it will never be Brent's - or my - favourite dive. Being slightly congested I managed to give myself a nosebleed during this dive, my left sinus failing to adjust to the many changes in pressure one inevitably gets when the dive plan involves diving betseen three sinkholes. Ah well. It takes more than that to make me not enjoy a cavedive. A good end to the holiday.