Saturday, 24 June 2017

Photographing beyond the there in the end!

With time fast running out, there were just a few bits and pieces that still needed sorting . On some test dives both mine and Christine’s Peli cases flooded and so all the gear would need to be dived through the sump in dry tubes. For added protection I decided to protect the gear in the same way as I do in the UK and heat seal everything in to bags. Fortunately Ashley was driving to Croatia and kindly took a lot of the heavier camera consumables that I would have otherwise struggled with if I’d had to fly with it.  My normal battered and bruised Scurrion lamp was also deemed not up to the job and so I am eternally grateful to Rolf at Scurrion for the sponsorship of a dive version Scurrion for the trip.

Christine had already shipped my Apeks dive gear (Also sponsored, see the pattern of thanks and recognition here!) , flash bulbs and walkie talkies, so my packing was looking a little more realistic than normal.  At least it would have if I hadn’t needed to stuff  in a bulky wet suit, wellies, helmet, 3 camera lenses, laptop, various chargers etc, etc……still who needs more than one change of clothes anyway!
Licanke resurges through to this impressive lake
Day 1

Although I managed to forget my mobile phone, the flight out went smoothly and we were soon being collected by Richard Walker and being chauffeured to Krnica Dive centre where we met up with Ashley and Robbie.
We were soon fettling gear, analysing gas bottles, putting twinsets together and robbing as much lead as we could get our hands on to try and sink the large dry tubes we would be taking.
Soon Ash’s van was overflowing with kit and it was time to grab a quick bite to eat and head to Fuzine to the house we would be using as our base for the next few days and hook up with Rick.
Krnica Dive Centre
Ashes van gets loaded to the roof!

I tested and re-tested every piece of the camera and video kit, sealed everything into bags, ensured there were spares of batteries, cloths, SD cards, added heat packs to make certain the lenses would not fog, just about everything I could think of as once the kit was in the cave there would be few chances for do overs.
Priorities, the camera gear gets its own bed!

In fact I was so focused on trying to make sure I didn’t mess up on the entire reason I had been invited on the expedition that it didn’t even occur to me to be nervous about the impending cave dive itself!

Day 2
The big day

The drive to Licanke was short, only about 10 minutes and in no time we were unloading a vast amount of gear that would need to be dived through the sump. I busied myself by walking my twinset over to the sump pool and went through all the pre checks Christine had taught me., then went back to keeping myself occupied with taking stills and video of the preparation.
Finally it was time. I sealed my camera in to the dry tube and hoped it would all go to plan.

I hadn’t given the dive a second’s thought until now. I slipped in to the cold sump pool and Robbie dropped the twinset down to me.  I would be dived through first, chaperoned by Christine and Rich. I was finally feeling a little nervous. In my training I had never worn a helmet in the water and it felt odd and a little off-putting.
Rich went through my buddy checks and the dive plan. He would lead followed by me, and then Christine.
I dumped the air from my wing and descended in to my first sump.
Me in the 1st sump

I was very conscious of my buoyancy and keeping the sump line within easy reach, but quickly these became automatic as I marvelled at the clarity of the water and the passage itself.  It was almost dreamlike, floating in the flooded passage effortlessly, and all too soon we were surfacing.
Christine eagerly asked how I’d enjoyed it and I think my grin from ear to ear must have answered her.  Throughout the next couple of days the visibility would deteriorate considerably in the sump, but the enjoyment of diving it would not.
Rick in the 1st sump

Back to the job at hand - the dry tube was brought through and the flooded camera boxes dried out and filled with equipment. I was possibly more nervous of shooting video than I had been of the diving, but quickly took to the task at hand and begun cataloguing the equipment being dived through, put on to an inflatable raft and scooted across lakes to the large dry cave beyond where it would have to be carried to the 2nd sump.  

Gear being scooted across one of the lakes

Day 3
Back in my comfort zone

Again we would be mostly shooting video of the gear being hauled. The combination of the fact that the cave had only ever been visited a handful of times and that it will flood during heavy rains meant there would be a lot of loose and moving boulders, which would have to be carefully navigated.

Licanke Main Stream Way
Christine moving kit through the main passage

Rich took a tumble at the sump pool just to remind us that an accident beyond a sump is something to be avoided at all costs. Ash dove the decompression bottles in to the sump in preparation for the push dive and once filming of this was complete I was allowed back in my comfort zone to take some stills on the way out.

The sharp and loose rock was unforgiving

Day 4
The Push

This was what the whole thing boiled down to. Christine and Rich vented their pre-dive nerves by squabbling over who’s neoprene gloves had the holes in them……I kept well out of the way!
I headed straight for sump 2 to set up the camera whilst Richard and Christine  took their time as they were caving in full dry suits and trying their best not to work up a sweat that would cost them valuable body heat on their push dive.
Each diver would have an ‘assistant’ to help them kit up and ensure that everything was checked and re-checked.
I tried to get some shots of them for the record, but both were eager to get going before nerves and the cold could take hold.

Christine checks her bottles ready for the push dive

Ashley and Rik had come up with the awesome plan of taking in a jet boil and making hotdogs so we could keep ourselves busy as we awaited the divers return.
We knew they were diving a fluid plan that would allow for a maximum of 60m and were expecting them to be around an hour and a half.
We spent a little time taking a couple of photo’s and munching hotdogs as the time ticked on….and on.
I had been told I would see their lights at the 6m decompression stop well before they would surface which would give me time to set up the video and capture their return. The hour and a half came and went and still no sign.
Ashley and Rik seemed slightly less concerned as they happily begun eating the hotdogs and buns that had been put aside for our heroic push divers to celebrate with!
At this point a light appeared in the sump pool and we all eagerly took our stations to record their return.

Christine and Rich surfaced, excited and full of adrenaline. There had been a ‘moment’ where in zero visibility the line had snagged on of their many tanks and snapped, separating them. This in my training had seemed the scariest thing I could imagine happening, but fortunately both Christine and Rich are well practiced in their drills and recovered the line before it could pose any risk to them.

Rich with his bouquet of bottles in sump 2

Jubilant, they looked to us for their celebration hot dogs. Ashley looked sheepishly at them and completely lied through his teeth telling them the buns had perished in the water so only a couple of sausages remained for them!

Hot dogs, the perfect caving food!

Later that evening the line data was analysed and was found to have yielded 99m of new passage with the end still wide open. Fortunately the passage hadn’t gone deep and had in fact levelled out somewhat, but it would mean that to push further next year, re-breathers would be needed. 

Day 5
Don’t you pee in your wetsuit?

The final day in Licanke would be spent stripping out all the kit. It would be all hands on deck for this and we soon mastered the best way to perform this by creating chains of people across the various obstacles and passing the kit along. After only a few hours we were packing up the dry tube and trying to get enough weight on it, and failing miserably, for Rich to dive it out.
Christine asked if I fancied being scootered through the sump and I agreed. She explained that I would need to keep well tucked in behind her and keep a hold of her harness strap at her tail end. Once the other side I was allowed to play in the sump pool and eventually resurfaced giggling like a 6 year old.
At some point talk degraded to weeing in your wetsuit and Christine admitted to releasing often in the cold water. I couldn’t help but think that the sump had seemed a little warmer than usual as she had scootered me through and tried to push the image out of my mind!

This has been an awesome experience. I have made some great new friends in Ash, Rick, Robbie, Rich and Christine along the way and got to do something I had never imagined I would be capable of.

The Gang

Report by Mark Burkey

Friday, 23 June 2017

Photography beyond the sumps......gotta get there first!

In 2004, whilst on holiday I took my PADI open water and advanced qualifications and haven’t dived since.
I wasn’t what you would call a natural in the water and the training didn’t exactly leave me feeling confident in my abilities, and so, although a nice experience, I figured it was probably not for me.

I have also been reminded of a conversation with my mum when I first started caving. I was keen not to be nagged by her and told her something along the lines of  “No mum caving is really quite safe, far less accidents than climbing, it’s not like I’ll be cave diving….now that’s dangerous!”

Fast forward several years and I get a phone call from an enthusiastic Christine Grosart whom I had met at Eurospeleo 2016 and had been underground with a sum total of once.

After a quick round of pleasantries she dove in telling me she had a cave project in Croatia called Licanke, that a team had been the previous year and this time they wanted someone to come along to help with stills and video. I explained the photography would be no problem, but video would be all new to me and whilst I was happy to give it a go, I couldn’t promise what we would wind up with. I had a flick through the diary at the dates she had proposed and pretty much agreed that I’d be available.
“There’s one other thing,” Christine added, as I was about to hang up. “You’ll need to dive a small sump to get in to the cave.”
I spat out my tea in my lap, and laughed nervously and then realised she was serious. For the life of me, I have no idea why I went and agreed, but that is exactly what I did. We would have 3 months to see if I could be turned from an underwater version of Bambi to someone who wouldn’t be a liability to himself and the team.

This had all happened just before I was due to head off to Meghalaya and so I put it to the back of my mind and headed off for a month.

I had been back less than a week when I got a message that the first thing we would need to do is see if the CDG would agree to me joining as a member specifically for this project.
I would be diving a back mount twinset, the same as the rest of the team, and so would train in this configuration. At the CDG meeting everyone was most welcoming and agreed to my membership with the caveat that Christine took responsibility of me as my mentor.
What have the CDG let themselves in for!
Our first couple of training sessions would be in a pool in Bristol. This would mean driving down from the Midlands after work to meet up for the evening pool session at 8pm and typically getting back in the early hours as the M5 was going through night time closures for road works.

I have to say I think I really did look the part in my shorts, t-shirt and wellies; certainly it seemed to impress the other ‘try dive’ students who all seemed to be pointing at me admiringly!
Rocking the look!
It was immediately obvious to Christine just what she had taken on as I coughed and spluttered my way around the pool with all the finesse of a hippo!
Christine is however a very patient and skilled teacher and, eventually, I begun to grasp some basic diving concepts such as….. how to NOT somersault under water every time I lost my buoyancy…. NOT to try and breathe when the regulator isn’t in my mouth and finally that although you can get away with peeing in a wetsuit in open water this is frowned upon in a swimming pool ;)
With these important basics covered it was time to move on to something more serious.

We then progressed to quarry diving in Vobster Quay and Stoney Cove. Apeks Dive equipment had kindly offered to sponsor me all the dive kit and so I was even beginning to look a little more the part.
Under advisement I had purchased a 5mm semidry, which isn’t dry at all, but a two-piece wetsuit.
The quarry temperature in May was around eight degrees and whilst I pulled on my neoprene the more experienced divers, all in dry suits, looked at me like I was mad. Christine assured me that as the water temperature in the sump would be around seven degrees that it was a good idea for me to train in a wetsuit…she explained this whilst struggling on another layer and getting in to her dry suit ;)
Apeks Kit Talk
All dressed up and nowhere to go!

I didn’t really notice the cold as we submerged - I was far too nervous. This would be the first time I had properly dived in over a decade.  I had been briefed and practiced on the surface the drills we would be performing and Christine would demo what she wanted first and then I would try to replicate.   I would be so engrossed in the lessons I often didn’t even notice the cold until I surfaced with a blue tinge to my skin and lips, and so it would repeat.
Video was shot so I could get feedback between dives and slowly over the sessions I begun to feel I was progressing.
Feedback time

As things slowly begun to drop into place the quarry sessions would become more complex to include: following line reels blindfolded to simulate zero visibility, then lost line searches then gas failures. The itinerary was full on and hard work, but I found the more I was taught the more comfortable I was becoming in the water.

After a couple of evenings in the pool and several weekends in the quarries practicing drills, skills and overhead environments, Christine declared me ready…well she kinda had to.  We were out of time!

Photo's and video courtesy of Christine Grosart

Saturday, 17 June 2017

More Extreme Caving in Burlington Combe - Lionel's Hole

We (Mark, Jess, Kay and I) had attempted to complete the round trip in Lionel's Hole, Burrington Combe back in January but decided to turn back at the second duck in the streamway as one member of the party, having failed to get through one of the six squeezes, was a little concerned that he might not be able to complete the trip.
Fast forward to this month and new provisional members Liz and Tony turned up looking of a caving trip. I was elected to take them on their first trip and Kay, having asked me several times when we were going back to complete the round trip, decided that this would be a good trip for the novices.
Well it was tight and squeezy throughout and a real navigational challenge but we did it!
The novices loved it but Kay decided that she did not like the cave at all - the first cave that has she hasn't liked! I think there were a couple of reasons for this.

  1. The route description says, "Ascend a narrow trench that leads steeply up to the right to a point beneath some wedged boulders. Here an awkward wriggle along the rift at high level ends in boulders." Kay didn't think is was an awkward wriggle, she found is was really challenging and had to be pulled out backwards by Tony.
  2. The route description says, "It is necessary to drop down a square-shaped slot in the floor." This time I had to help a wedded Kay back up as she was stuck like a cork in a bottle.
Strangely enough the more Kay didn't like it, the more I enjoyed it. Anyway have a look at the video and decide for yourself if it is a trip you would love or would hate.

Team Members: Keith, Kay, Tony and Liz

The Video

Saturday, 10 June 2017

A days photographic play in St Cuthberts Swallet

Mr Marris has been absent for a while having moved a little further afield so we were chuffed to have him on a photographic trip in to St. Cuthberts hole this weekend.

Martin Grass was to take us in and a couple of trainee leaders (Luke and Ollie) would join him. With myself and Jess that would make a full team of 6.

We were soon changed and heading down the entrance rift and down Wire Rift. En Route Martin reminded me I'd mentioned on a previous trip that I wanted to photo The Cascade, which we did before heading down to the September series where Brendan grabbed a shot at The Fingers Formation and Curtain Passage before heading on to the Chain Climb to Gour Hall where again I grabbed a shot.
After this we headed up to Long Chamber to photo a Curtain Martin had mentioned before making our way out. At the entrance ladders after wire rift Brendan and I again grabbed the chance to take a shot.....well it was a photographic trip :)

On exiting we thanked our leaders and grabbed a quick cuppa before heading back to the Midlands after a most excellent days play.

The Cascade
Chain Climb
Long Chamber
Entrance Ladders

Present: Martin Grass, Ollie Newton, Luke Edwards, Brendan Marris, Jess Burkey & Mark Burkey

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Through to Cwm Dwr was a bit of a stretch for Mel!

Mel arrived to a wet Welsh morning on time at 10am. We waited half an hour or so to see if Los was going to make it, but decided she was probably still in bed when the clock reached twenty to eleven and so headed up the hill for a through trip to Cwm Dwr.
No camera today so the going was quick and we were soon dropping in to the main stream way. After the first half dozen pots Mel decided it would be easier just to jump in them, and as we were moving at a reasonable pace she didn't get a chance to chill down.
After an hour and a half of caving we exited the stream way in to Cwm Dwr and as we had made such good time we decided to do a couple of add on's. First we popped up Heol Eira, which was prettier than I'd remembered. We then headed up in to the Upper Smithy for a poke around.
Mel found a couple of the climbs rather strenuous and by the time we had reached the exit crawls her legs were cramping up every time she bent them.
We slowed the pace and took breaks for her to stretch out and still exited at a very reasonable half past 3.  A good fast paced trip which offered the chance to refresh my navigational skills in some of the less explored area's of the system.

Looking like she's posing, Mel grimaces as she tries to stretch out her legs ;)

Present: Mel Bell & Mark Burkey

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Craig a Ffynnon. A damp introduction to caving.

We had promised our latest recruit Rachel a day trip for her first underground adventure.  After plenty of procrastination around the tea pot on Thursday evening we eventually decided upon a Welsh classic, Ogof Craig A Ffynnon.
We introduced Rachel to the Dudley tradition of a full breakfast at Luigi's cafe before heading off to park near the old lime kilns on the old heads of the valley.
As we changed it looked like it would be a busy day in the cave as several of the Gwent caving club arrived and begun kitting up.

One of the Gwent groups went ahead and we followed in. 

Rachel was soon oohing and aaarrring at the decorated chambers as we made our way. At gasoline alley we caught the other group and so opened up the camera kit to waste a little time and take a few snaps. 
After 10 minutes we could no longer hear the others and so the gear was packed up and we continued on. Rachel had no problems with any of the climbs, crawls or water and soon we were at her he first real challenge, the boulder choke.
I led in and could hear her scrambling along behind me. After 10 minutes we emerged the other side. I looked around to find Rachel struggling between boulders, a huge grin on her face....always a good sign :)
Next we slipped and slid through the mud and on to the Hall Of The Mountain King. Here we took Rachel through the bypass to see the start of the Seven Tunnel before heading back in to Travertine Passage for a quick photo before retracing our steps to the entrance to the North West Inlet. Here Keith wanted to grab a little video of people coming through the flooded passage. We each took it in turns to jump in the icy water until we were all thoroughly chilled and then headed out in to the sunshine. I would be staying on for a Sunday trip with Mel, but the others would be heading off so I said my farewells and waved them off after a good fun trip.

Rachel in Gasoline Alley
Rachel admires the formations 
Travertine Passage

Present: Keith Edwards, Kay Wood, Rachel Rushton & Mark Burkey

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Mendip Cave Photography Hat-trick

For the 3rd year running well chuffed to have brought home the top prize to Dudley Caving Club. Again this year judges couldn't pick between 3 of the entries and so the winning spot went to 3 shots rather than just the one :)

The Zig Zags in Upper Flood Swallet
Arete Chamber. St Cuthberts Swallet
Aveline's Hole
Winners Presentation
The Goodies 

Winner: Mark Burkey
MCRA Award: Dave Watts 

Distinctions: Dave Watts & Stuart Gardiner

Dave Watts Flickr feed Click Here
Stuart Gardiner Flickr feed Click Here
Mark Burkey Flickr feed Click Here