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  • Writer's pictureChristine Grosart

"We had all become distracted by the loss of a 5 grand scooter..."

Updated: Nov 21, 2021

Lou and Fred in Licanke between sumps 1 and 2. Image: Mark Burkey

Rich and I conducted the important but tiresome task of sorting cylinders to be filled, checking regulators, fixing regulators, dealing with fizzing pressure gauges and cracked o-rings and analysing each cylinder, before packing them into their own tackle bags for transportation through the cave.

This is all done in a relatively pleasant environment of Krnica dive centre and a dip in the sea afterwards is always welcome.

The team began to arrive at the airport and we loaded the rental van with Js of oxygen, trimix and air banks and Mark’s entire collection (almost) of camera gear.

We headed up to Fuzine and moved in.

The next morning we headed to the cave entrance. We had never been here in August and were shocked to see the water levels had dropped dramatically. Sump 1 was still a sump, but it added extra faff having to lower equipment down onto dry land rather than the convenient deep pool we had been used to.

Furthermore, inside the cave the normally flooded deep lakes which we scootered equipment across were now wading depth. This meant a prolonged carry with each of the 15+ bags, scooters, rebreathers and camera gear.

Scooter practise in our local puddle

Another factor was that the low water levels exposed rocks that had never been trodden on, as they were usually underwater.

We weren’t long into the carry when Mark found one; carrying a heavy dry tube, he trod on a slab which I normally caught my knee on when scootering across the lake - and it snapped right under him.

I heard shouting and hurried back to the spot where Mark had ended up. His knee had shot down a slot after the rock had broken and twisted. After a quick assessment (good job I’m a Paramedic) I was happy to move him and after the initial shock, he felt better and had a good range of movement. His thick neoprene wetsuit had supported him enough to prevent any further damage and he wanted to carry on.

It was a stark reminder that we were thin on the ground for support and we couldn’t afford to lose a single person. Added to the extra time and effort involved with lower water levels, we knew this trip was going to be tough.

The carry was also interrupted by my nagging concern that I had only seen 2 scooters carried into the cave. I knew there were 3...

After some discussion, 2 divers were sent back to sump 1 to look for the missing Suex XK1. Somehow it had come free and was hiding in an alcove on the wrong side of sump 1.

Several hours later, as I headed back to the lakes to get another cylinder bag, I heard an almighty bang and loud voices. Then silence. Back at the climb, nobody was there so whatever it had been could not have been that bad….

Lou and Fred set up equipment at sump 2. Image: Mark Burkey

It turned out that Rich had attempted the awkward climb up into the boulders and slipped, falling backwards whilst wearing his JJ rebreather; the huge slab of rock behind him bending the frame.

He was unhurt but we vowed that despite the climb being short, we should put in proper bolts to discourage people from free climbing it with only a hand-line - especially with thousands of pounds worth of heavy, expensive gear on their backs…

Rich pointed out that we had all become distracted by the loss of a 5 grand scooter and needed to concentrate. With such a small team, two of whom had never been in this cave before, the pressure was starting to show.

It seemed to take an age to get all the gear to sump 2 but it got there and we set Fred on the task of checking all the cylinders and regulators. A few had succumbed to the carry and we switched them out for new.

Rich takes the time to show the trainee cave divers some nuances of laying line

It had been a long day and the team elected to take a day off the next day rather than launch straight into the push dive. This was a wise decision.

We spent our ‘day off’ brushing up on cave survey, knotting more line and sorting cameras.

The next morning, Rich and I got into our drysuits and the team got ready to see us to sump 2 and off into the unknown.

Not the normal things you do on cave expeditions...

We had not even got as far as the boulder pile when again, I was called back. This time, Rich was in trouble.

He was coughing incessantly and complaining of exhaustion. He could barely put one foot in front of the other and he wasn’t even carrying anything. We feared the worst and sent him out of the cave.

Did he have covid?

I carried on to sump 2 whilst thinking on my feet about what to do. We were a man down and there was only one diver left capable of pushing the cave. It was all down to me. I’d have to do it alone...

With thanks to Ghar Parau Foundation and the Mount Everest Foundation for supporting

this expedition.

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.

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