"JOURNEY TO THE FURTHEST REACHES OF AEROLITO DE PARAISO".
By. ANDRES LABARTHE.
From my first cave dive I was hooked. I consider myself addicted to cave diving.
If there were something like "Cave Divers Anonymous" I would be the first to join. These days it seems
I can't get enough.
I have been conducting exploration in the northern Mexico Springs, but this March I had the opportunity to do some exploring in Cozumel. I've been cave diving there for the past two years with Chuck Jones (He lives on the island and has explored Cenote Aerolito de Paraiso for more than five years).
This time Chuck an I decided to go push beyond the end of the existing line on the Road to Chankanaab. The end of this line is surveyed to a distance of 4,240 Ft. from the entrance. Around 600 Ft. before the end of the main line there's a jump and another line going straight. We hadn't been on that line and we didn't know where it went (It was laid recently).
We elected to push first from the end of the main line to see if the passage continued. This effort will require us to do triple stage dives, in order to reach the end, and still have plenty of air to look around.
To prepare for our first push we did a setup dive. We carried two stage bottles, and breathed from one until we reached a third, then dropped both. We continued the dive to become familiar with the passage.
I was placing line arrows every 10 minutes of travel, to give us an idea of time and distance in the cave. I called the dive at 58 minutes. On the way back we grabbed the used stage tanks and left the full tanks we were going to use for next days dive. We noticed a lot of percolation coming back, I guess that passage doesn't receive many visitors.
The next day was a hot one. It seemed we were gearing up in a Sauna. Finally we got into the water. My rig consisted in back mounted doubles, and two stage bottles, one under each arm. Chuck was using side mount configuration, so he had two tanks under each arm. We had put lower wattage bulbs in our lights, in order to have an extended burn time, for the anticipated dive duration. The plan was to breathe from one of the stage bottles until we reached the full tank waiting for us inside the cave. There we would exchange it for a full one, then continue from there like a normal double stage dive. At the end of the line we'll look around for the continuation of the passage.
We ran a reel to the permanent line, then followed it to the jump that goes to the "Road to Chankanaab". We had to go through a passage called the "Wrong Way River", which is right in the middle of the halocline, dropping the visibility to less than 3 Ft. for about 200 Ft., until it starts descending and enters the salt water level where the vis. is very good.
The cave there is canyon shaped, a narrow but deep channel; average depth 50 Ft. But there are places where you could drop to almost 100 Ft. in depth.
We exchanged the tanks and pressed on. I was leading.
At around a penetration of 3,000 Ft. the cave changes completely. Its dark and oval shaped, wide and low. We dropped our third stage tank sooner than I had expected. We reached the place where the line makes a sharp turn to the right, where the jump goes straight ahead. The main line goes into a
small area with restrictions and low bedding planes. I had to be very
careful, Chuck was behind me clad in his side mounts and was falling asleep.
I was anxious to get to the end of that line. We were very close.
After going through a solution tube barely the size of a diver, we came to a small room where the line ended. In front of me there was a very small crack choked with silt, I remember thinking: What a good job for "Mr. Sidemount".
Chuck went ahead to check it out, while I searched for other leads in the room, I was starting to get disappointed (All this kicking for nothing), when I saw it, a small opening on the left side close to the floor, that seemed to suck up my light.
By this time vis. was getting bad. Chuck came back, he had no luck. I showed him the lead I had found, and started to pull out my reel. He went there to see it, meanwhile I was tying my reel to the end of the line. He signaled me to follow, I got past the little opening, and there it was VIRGIN PASSAGE !!!!!. I Went ahead laying the line, with Chuck behind of me placing it.
It was awesome; so exciting! The tunnel was small, round shaped, with black rock and white silt, we went on until I could see a wall and a line in front of me, we had made a connection to another passage !. Looking at the sides we saw a mid sized tunnel that seemed to go very straight. It must be the line coming from the jump, I thought.
I tied off close to the other line, while Chuck was taking the azimuth
of the two lines. I didn't want to make a "T". We were at third's at this point, so we called the dive at 88 minutes.
On our way back, I placed arrow markers on the new line and fixed it (securing tie-offs & getting rid of some slack). I had laid 140 FT. of new line, making our penetration and the length of that passage 4,380 FT.
It was great but we still had a long way to the entrance.
It was weird. I found myself negotiating some restrictions at the "Wrong Way River", that never seemed a problem before. Well they aren't actually restrictions, but with five tanks and the body mass of a manatee, they look small. We finally surfaced with a bottom time of 198 minutes. We were very excited.
While breaking down all the equipment (enough to open a dive shop),
we were thinking: "Where does that line go?".
And then we asked ourselves this question: "Do we want to repeat this nightmare?".
The answer was YES, of course.
We decided to do another triple stage dive, but this time we elected to carry all the tanks with us (no setup dive), since there is not much difference between swimming with four tanks or five (once you have them on). This would give us the advantage to drop the first stage right at thirds (last dive we dropped it with still 2,500 Psi on it).
This time my rig consisted in back mounted doubles, two stage bottles under my left arm, and one under my right one. Chuck wore his side mounts, and the three stages, God only knows where. He looked like a
malformed octopus,(just kidding). I don't want to hear his comments about me.
This time Chuck took the lead, and boy we moved fast. We dropped the third stage five minutes before the jump. When we got there we made it into a "T", and pressed on.
The tunnel was fairly big and straight and soon we reached the place where our line intersected (this way was much easier and faster, but not as beautiful).
From there the cave gets small & silty, also it starts to get deeper. Suddenly it turns white, very strange. We came to the end of that line, it seemed to be a dead end, Chuck went further to check out a crack, but it went nowhere. We turned the dive at 80 minutes.
On our way back we checked for leads, and marked some possible winners. We surfaced at 218 minutes after a miserable hang time. Our penetration was 4,810 Ft.
I think Aerolito is an amazing cave that has a lot of potential. But it will require some serious dives, to push it any further.
I can't wait until I can dive her again. I hope next time she will let us discover more of her well kept secrets.
|NOTE: All cylinders used were aluminum 80's, filled to 3,000 Psi. with