Cave Exploration: Beginning With The End In Mind
Scuba Diver|Issue 05 - 2020(119)
Building complex adventures on simple skills
Julien Fortin
In an age of omnipresent social media, where everything is translated into easily digested snapshots, we often only see the final result of a given project, shiny and polished, and more rarely the slightly messier road that led there. While it can be truly inspiring to look, for instance, at stunning cave diving exploration photographs, a beginner diver might feel entirely disconnected from the reality of these images. How could there possibly exist any link, let alone a path, connecting the recreational diver to these framed perfections of extreme adventure?

But beneath every step of every exploration project lies the accumulated practice of countless hours spent rehearsing procedures until they become a mere tool used for a broader purpose – and each of these procedures can be broken down into simpler bits and pieces, all the way to the very basic training we all experienced when we took our first breath underwater.

When beginner divers look at the final product, it is important for them to not feel like they belong to a different underwater species, but instead to begin with the end in mind: realising that every single step was currently taken in their recreational diving practice, if done correctly, is bringing them an inch closer to the limitless adventures awaiting under the water surface, in every ocean and every cave.

If my former self, 20 years ago, had known how important each skill and nugget of knowledge would turn out to be, there is no doubt I would have paid even more attention to things that can wrongly be seen as just another checkbox necessary to gain another card.

THE OBSTACLE IS PART OF THE GOAL

When exploring, the difficulties to get to the water are very much a part of the adventure. Far from diminishing the pleasure from the dive, they increase it with the exhilarating sense of having earned it.

Sitting on a rock, enjoying the cool air of the dry cave while still drenched in sweat, I let my eyes wander through the cone of my headlight. Even if it was not for diving, this place would already be worth the trouble. Hundreds of stalactites hang from the ceiling, and a literal silver lining is adorning the side of the clear sump where calcite rafts once accumulated and left this natural, geometric cave painting. To get there, Sam and I had to walk through the jungle with our backpacks full of gear, ever grateful for Jeremiah’s and Jose Luis’ help carrying our tanks, until the hole in the forest ground leading to the cave. This hole is a karstic window, the spot where the ceiling of the cave underneath collapsed after millennia of geological wear and tear, and an entry into an underworld full of spirits in the Popol Vuh, the traditional Maya text.

Using ropes to build a pulley system, we lowered a good 200 kilograms of gear into the opening, rappelled down and penetrated further into the cave, zig-zagging between rocky slopes and rock formations that would not be disparate amidst a collection of sculptures in a Guggenheim gallery, until reaching this glasslike pool of water. We have not started the dive yet, but we are both already dripping, our hands holding on to the rough sensation of the rope, and our backs numb thanks to a prophylactic Ibuprofen-based breakfast. But all the sweat and effort necessary to get to this moment should not be considered as a price to pay for the dive, rather as an inherent part of it, which should be wanted and enjoyed just as much.

GEAR PREPARATION AND BUDDY CHECKS

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