It’s the 4th day of Cave 2 training. We are sore and tired. Our fingers are chewed up more than normal. I suppose it’s because of trying to mess with gear in the cold and dragging extra equipment that we aren’t used to in the caves. So far class is going ok. It’s certainly challenging and fun. But at the same time we have a ton of stuff to work on with Mark, including kicks and team communication. The amount of information that we are learning is vast. Plus with all the new equipment and navigation, it’s just made for a very busy week. I can’t believe how fast the days are flying by.
The morning started with the usual routine. Tina is feeling better with less congestion but she might be getting some kind of eye thing. Her eyes are bloodshot, and she is just generally not feeling one hundred percent. For whatever reason, this morning was the morning that things decided to break. I suppose it was the cold. While I was out in the truck organizing the tanks, checking gas, putting lights back on the harnesses; I decided to move all the stage and deco bottles to the tailgate to get them in an easier position to analyze. As soon as I turned on my stage bottle to check the pressure, I heard a loud hissing noise coming from the first stage regulator. I grabbed a spray bottle with soapy water and tried to find the leak. The short high pressure hose was completely shot, spraying a steady stream of gas out the side of it. It had basically ruptured and I didn’t have a spare. So I sent a text to Mer to see if I could borrow a stage reg set or if she had a spare hose. She said she had a few extra sets so I was good. All the other gear was ok and I finished packing the truck. Tina packed lunch and then came out to analyze her gas before we left for Madison.
Our plan for the day was to head North to Madison Blue. We like Madison a lot; because in just a few hundred feet of cave, you get many different cave experiences. The first part is fairly big with some flow, then you move down into a bedding plane at about 175ft (The video below actually starts with Tina going into the bedding plane) from the entrance and it stays low for a few hundred feet before opening up again. The floor goes from sand to silty sand then back to sand. There are also lots of colors in the rock. Here’s a video of us diving Madison at on a short Cave 1 dive earlier this year, just to give you a sense of how the cave looks.
We arrived at the park entrance around 8:30 and I swear it was colder this morning than the past few days. I also remembered that the water temp in Madison is colder than the other caves at around 68 deg year round. We all basically arrived at the same time. I borrowed a stage reg set from Mer and put my stage together, while Tina walked her stage and deco bottles to the water. Once I had my stage together I walked it down to the water as well. As I was charging the stage it (turning it on before dropping it into the water) the O-ring under the valve wheel ruptured ( bonnet O-ring failed) on the stage bottle itself. “What are the odds?” I thought. I had a hose failure earlier in the morning and then a bonnet O-ring. So That bottle was not usable for the day. I had to go back up the stairs and borrow a stage bottle from Mer. Mark in the meantime tried to fix my bottle but the O-ring was torn and repairable.
Once we geared up and my stage bottle issues were taken care of, we all got in the water. During the GUE-EDGE, I was just feeling off. Maybe it was fatigue or maybe I was just cold, but I couldn’t get my brain going. I struggled on the Gas calculations and it was a little embarrassing. After finally formulating the dive plan, getting all the stages and deco bottles clipped on (always a struggle) we were underway. Our plan was to run up the main line, just past half hitch and take a jump to an area called the Rocky Horror restriction. We wouldn’t go through it but we were going to try to see it. Rocky Horror is a really long restriction that you can only have one team in at a time. The name describes what it must feel like going through it. Normally from what I understand, you need to stage some safety bottles (aluminum 80 stages carried back into the cave for extra gas in case of an emergency) on either side of the restriction just in case you get stuck or it takes longer to get through the section. We’ve never been there or gone through it.
The dive started through the rabbit hole entrance which was really cool. We’ve not been through it. I was running the reel and found the gold line in a few minutes. From there we proceeded into the cave breathing from our stages (as you normally would). We ended up dropping the stages at around 400-500 feet in. Neither of us are very comfortable with the stages at all. You just feel like you are 20ft in diameter, trying to manipulate the stage clips on your side, that you can’t see, all while maintaining buoyancy. The stage drop did go a little better this time. We proceeded on back gas for another few hundred feet to a small restriction called “Half Hitch”. We’ve been through half hitch before but not much past this point. I was still feeling off. I just was not having a fun dive. I was trying to flutter kick more than frog kick so that I could work on it (per Marks request) and since I don’t flutter kick so well, it was a struggle. It’s important to do different kicks in different environments. Think of it like a tool box. The frog kick is a nice easy slow kick that can be used in big cave. The flutter kick is one that you would use in narrow cave because you would end up kicking the walls of the cave with a frog kick. Then there is a modified flutter and modified frog. All designed for different environments.
We made it just past Half Hitch, when Tina spotted a tunnel with a line in it. This happened to be where we thought our jump was going to be for Rocky Horror. So I tied a jump spool into the gold line. There were no arrows indicating the jump but it was a tunnel to the right with line in it, so it must be it. It was a, narrow, low and silty passage. We could see the line leading down the tunnel was old, brown and seemed very delicate. I spooled out my jump and made my way to the line for this tunnel. Any little movement that I made stirred up the silt as I made any movement at all . So I carefully tie into this line and proceeded a little way into the tunnel to give Tina room. The bubbles from me exhaling were causing percolation to rain down on me from the ceiling. Think of this as snow in a cave. So not only is the tunnel getting silty with every small movement, now I have a greatly reduced visibility from percolation. All I can see behind me was Tina’s light, even though she was just a feet behind me. I think we both had the same thought at about the same time. There is no way this is the way to Rocky Horror. It feels like someone hadn’t been in here in 20 years. I felt like at any moment the line that we were following could fall apart from deterioration. So we carefully carefully backed our way out of the tunnel to a place we could turn around. I untied my jump spool and we continued up the main line to see if we could find the tunnel we should have taken.
We traveled maybe a few more hundred feet and I hit my turn pressure. We never even got to the jump for Rocky Horror. Well actually I was getting cold so I turned the dive a little early, which has nothing to do with what happened next. We are kicking out of the cave and I begin to relieve myself, as cave divers do. Most of us have an overboard dump for waste (i.e. a pee valve) Men wear a cath and women use a she-p. Basically you can pee while on a dive and not wet your drysuit. Well occasionally the cath can come off or leak for whatever reason, and when it starts to leak it only gets worse the more you pee. Anyway as I’m peeing, I get that warm feeling running down my leg that no drysuit diver likes to feel. “crap, did my cath leak?” I thought. So here I am, having a nice swim out of the cave and I get back to half hitch, and I can tell my leg is wet, and was not just a little bit wet. So I’ve just peed myself, that’s fun. Meh it happens though, it wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last I’m sure. Meanwhile Tina and I are sorting out some man-made gear failures, which is making the dive take much longer. The problem with peeing yourself is that it just makes you colder after the nice warm sensation goes away.
We finally made our way back to the basin after being in the cave for what seemed like forever and I was cold. We were on deco, and where normally Tina is the one shivering, I was this time. I was just soaked with pee and my wrist seals had leaked some, so both arms were wet. I was pretty much wet down one leg, my chest and both arms. Not fun, and fortunately our deco was only something like 5 minutes. We got out of the water and had our lunch. I hadn’t brought any spare undergarments so I was going to have to do the next dive wet again. I thought about changing caths but I didn’t think it would help at this point, so I opted not to. In other words, every time I had to pee for the next dive, I would be peeing myself. On the plus side, it would be warm for a few minutes. So I had that to look forward too. I just kept my drysuit on and tried to warm my hands up with the trucks heater while eating lunch. I rarely get cold but the air temp was in the 30’s and I was just miserable.
After lunch our next dive was a fun dive to go explore the Godzilla Room. The Godzilla Room is a jump to the right at about 200 ft in. It takes you to a small circuit. We weren’t diving stages on this dive. Tina was the lead and I was supposed to take compass headings to get used to doing that underwater. I was still really cold and of course for whatever reason, the moment we got into the cave I had to pee. At least the water was warmer than the air. Even as we tied in our jump to go up to the Godzilla room, I was thinking about ending the dive early if I couldn’t get warm. At some point, it’s just not safe to be cold. We swam for another 10-15 minutes poking around the tunnel, which by the way was really cool, and unlike the rest of the cave. I don’t know how far from the Godzilla room we were before I signaled for Tina and I thumbed the dive. I’d had enough, and we made our way back out of the cave. No real drama ensued at this point. Mark made our dive debrief quick because I think everyone was cold at this point. It was getting late too.
We exited the water and efficiently packed the truck with all of our wet gear. The nice thing about Madison is that there is a bathhouse that I used to change out of all my wet undergarments. I finally started to warm up once I get some dry clothes on and my heavy down coat. Tina was a trooper too. We were both cold, tired, and hungry but we kept a steady pace getting things put away. Madison is an hour or so North of High Springs so we still had a bit of a drive. The drive seemed to go by quickly and I dropped Tina off at the house to take care of our pup, and she said she would get dinner going while I went to get gas fills at EE.
Dinner was a huge bowl of clam chowder and grilled cheese sandwiches. This was a perfect meal for a cold day like today. I wolfed it down. It’s funny how the past few nights we barely even speak to each other at dinner. Not because we don’t want to, but because we are tired. Our faces are chapped, our hands are sore, our bodies ache and we are just generally fatigued.
We still have some homework too. Fortunately we are still moving forward. Every day is a new skill and more challenging. The key thing is that we are still having fun. It’s a lot of work but the class is fun. Honestly if it wasn’t for the cold, it would have been a blast today. Tomorrow we go back to Ginnie with stages, which in a way I’m looking forward to. You can bet I’ll bring extra undergarments with me tomorrow.