Today I finally had a day off to go out and do some exploration, so I headed out to Dan’s Cave to push the shallow tunnels of the Ninja Passage that Hitoshi Miho and I found a few months ago.
Three stages and sidemounts (5 cylinders) were used to get out past the Deep Way, Fred’s Room, the Slytherin restriction and up into the shallower (75 feet deep) attic area called the Ninja Passage over 3500 feet from the entrance.Here the end of the line was waiting with a nice loop already in place to connect into the full explorer reel I was carrying.
There were two possibilities for continued exploration here, one right and one left.I chose right and began the methodical “crystal column shuffle” where by the diver has to lay on their sides and slowly crawl between vertical crystal columns mostly 2 to 3 inches in diameter and 3 to 10 feet tall, with less than two feet in between them.
This went on for nearly 15 minutes, as the passage slowly bent to the right as I crawled.Eventually I came to a high window in the passage that was nearly blocked by thin, translucent formations resembling glass rose stems that grew from the bottom of the window and were connected to the top. There was just enough room for me to lay on my right side cylinder with my arms extended in front of me and slide past the tiffany barrier without breaking any of it.
After falling from the window into the next passage I was very disappointed.Only 20 feet away, I could see a yellow line (my line) that I had installed in the opposite direction of the attic area nearly two years ago. The passage had come full circle and I had created a loop through a stunning maze of crystal jungle.
I knew exactly where I was and didn’t want to swim through the delicate gauntlet I had just come through, so I marked the line with an arrow and headed back around to the entrance of the attic on the old yellow line.I was surprised how close it was to my starting point but knew there had to be more cave in some of the leads I saw heading off on the opposite side of the Ninja Passage.
I went back in on the new line where I had started to try and find passages heading left (southeast). Almost immediately, the new lead paid off and I was swimming through a series of high domes filled from top to bottom with thin soda straws, columns and thousands of snake-like crystal helictites clustered on the floor, formations and ceiling.
Each of these domes had deeper leads below, probably leading to the same place I was swimming/crawling towards, but the deeper leads looked unstable below floor of the domes, so I opted to stay high and enjoy the view.Eventually my gas reserves got low and I decided to cut the reel free in a small, decorated, alcove on the side of one of the domes.
I left a marker and began the slow, tedious crawl back through the vertical forest of glass I had come through. On the way out, there were several times that I just stopped, laying there on my side with some incredibly intricate piece of crystal inches from my nose.I could feel my heart and breathing slow as I lay there taking in the ridiculous beauty.Having a place of this magnitude completely to yourself, with no one within miles of you, makes you want to just stop and soak it all in.I felt like I could lay there for hours.
There is nothing like this place anywhere else on earth and for now, I had it all to myself. I didn’t want to leave.I’ve been diving this cave for 11 years nearly every day and I still can’t process it all.As hard as I try with words, this place is beyond description, and photos and video just don’t do it justice. I feel like it’s easier to breathe here. I can see better here.I feel better here. The world just seems better here.
Fortunately, or (unfortunately) training and muscle memory kick in and the fog of quiescence lifts long enough for me to move to a place where I have the room to check my gas supply. The needles on the gauges don’t lie. It’s time to start the swim back to the entrance.
Once back at my starting point of the attic, I check my gauges once again and see that I have just enough gas for a short foray down into the deeper section heading under the new domes above. I follow my old deeper line heading southeast and quickly realize that there are a few leads here that I never checked during my original exploration of this 130 foot deep passage.At least 3 good leads seem possible and I mark them on the line before turning around and heading back to the Slytherine restriction about 4000 feet away.
On the way out I’m distracted by some very large remipedes gracefully weaving back and forth in mid water of the deep tunnel.These crustaceans which resemble small, translucent centipedes are some of the largest I have seen in the cave.As I pass one in front of my light, it casts a 3 foot long shadow on the wall. I think to myself, if this thing was as big as it’s shadow, no one would be able to dive in these caves.A recent study shows that the venom in the jaws of these small creatures is extremely potent and basically turns the inside of it’s victim to liquid.
Earlier this year, I was actually attacked and bitten by a smaller species of these animals while pointing it out to a client.As this had never happened before (in nearly 25 years of cave diving) I reported it to a friend who is an expert on them.He wrote back and said “don’t let them bite you, the poison is extremely strong”!This time I made sure I kept my light between myself and the creature and I dubbed him (and his intimidating shadow) “Megapede” before I left he and his friends to their own devices.
As is usually the case, the swim out, picking up all of the stage cylinders, gas changes on the computer etc. were all done with my brain on cruise control. I didn’t even remember doing it after reaching the entrance more than two hours later.I spent the 70 minutes of decompression looking up out of the entrance of the cave through the glass window of the crystal clear water between me and the green jungle above.
It’s a magical sight and watching the birds, tadpoles and insects do their thing on the surface makes the tedium of decompression go faster. As the minutes ticked away on the computer, I thought… Just another day in the Bahamas underground. What a great day off!
The Butterfly Forest and The Pineapple Pool
Location: Abaco Island, The Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave, Northern section of the cave (Badlands and North)
Diver: Brian Kakuk
Maximum Depth: 80 feet
Bottom Time: 2 hrs. 40 minutes.
Total Dive Time: 3 hrs. 25 minutes
Mode: Side Mount, with 4 stages.
Gas: EAN 33 and Oxygen for decompression
It had been just about a year since I had the time to get back to the area of the Bonzai Tunnel area in the northern part of Dan’s Cave.
(see UPDATE - Navajo Passage and the Bonzai Tunnel Date: 7/18/2010 below)
I was so enamored with finding the massive Bonzai Tunnel and where it might possibly lead, that I had ignored the possibilities of the continuing shallow passages that had gotten me there. Through the Bad Lands, The Good Lands, The Sanity Room, Helictite Haven, Gray Pool, The Navajo Room, this 75 to 80 foot deep labyrinth of white-walled, and unbelievably decorated rooms is overwhelming and inspirational to say the least.
Yesterday I completed a 70 minute set-up dive and installed 2 stage cylinders of Nitrox 33, one in the Sanity Room and the other just past the “Operation” restriction, a tight, and extremely fragile restriction engulfed by curly “angel hair” helictites. Passing through the spaghetti sized formations in this restriction reminded me of playing the game Operation as a child, whereby, should the player accidentally touch the sides of the “patient” while extracting one of the various cartoon internal organs, a loud buzzer would sound and the player loses the game.
Here the outcome of touching the sides was not a game and the results more permanent with the sounds of breaking glass hitting the floor of the cave should an errant tank (or my head, fins, or elbows) move too far to the left, right, up or down. As usual, I held my breath and pushed the final stage through the restriction with my body at a 45 degree angle to the floor and fins low and held close together…….no broken glass. I win!
With stages set, I was ready for today’s push back to the shallow passages surrounding the Bonzai Tunnel. Carrying two more stages of Nitrox, and side mounts, I would have a nice long bottom time using a total of 6 cylinders throughout the course of the dive with an additional decompression cylinder of pure oxygen back at the entrance. Movement through this section of Dan’s Cave is long, slow and tedious. Trying to move this much equipment (4 cylinders on my person at once) through the fragile parts of the cave can become monotonous and your mind can wander, with great consequences to the cave.
Focus on spatial awareness was the only thing in my head while pushing two stage cylinders ahead of me through the crystal filled rooms toward the first drop site. A sigh of relief bubbled from my regulator and I left the first stage near the Good Lands, about 800 feet into the cave. Now my balance was much better and the pace more efficient.
There is a definite difference between an exploration swimming pace and a tour pace. Breathing, swimming and trim are at maximum efficiency. Bumping the cave or formations is not only bad for the cave, but it also slows you down, throws off your balance and focus and these in turn degrade gas consumption. In other words, the more efficiently you can swim, the less gas you breathe, the further your penetration, which was my main goal today.
I felt like Keyes’ mouse Algernon as I maneuvered as smoothly as possible through the myriad of passages, restrictions and forests of crystal pillars toward the cheese, or in this case, cave that no one else had ever seen.
Along the way, two more stages were dropped and picked up without remembering having done it. An hour later, as if waking up from a deep sleep, I arrive at the “balcony” of the Bonzai Tunnel and the last stage was dropped. I groped for an over-filled reel of line on the back of my harness and quickly tied it into the existing line at the balcony. While tying in, I peeked over the edge and into the abyss of the giant tunnel below for just a second. The lure of this deep, blue water tunnel tries to suck me in, but I reluctantly turn toward the first shallow lead I can see, keeping my eyes on the prize.
The first lead is a total stroke of luck on my part. Of the three that I could see in the area of the balcony, my first choice takes me south and then west, zigging and zagging between forests of crystal columns stained black with encrusting bacteria in small, white walled limestone passage. The floor is so eroded and irregular, that it would be impossible to tread here if these passages were drained of water.
Only 50 feet from my where I tied in the reel, I round a corner and immediately have to put on the brakes. It takes everything I have to stop my sideways momentum while rounding the corner and I use fins and fingers, spastically flapping backwards before my right hand finds a column sturdy enough to bring me to a stop with my nose only inches from the edge of a sea of clear crystal soda straws.
I float there for a second, cross-eyed at the formation closest to my face, and hold my breath while I use the thick column to pull myself backward to a safe distance. “Slow down!” screams loudly through my head while I realize the entirety of the room in front of me. A tall, flat-roofed room, with a 30 foot wide mound in the center is filled with every shape of crystal formation I have ever seen, and some that I have not. The crystals reflect my light back at me, bouncing from one formation through and to another, creating a whitish-green aura in the space. It is as if someone had placed lights throughout the room.
One of the columns has a series of soda straws encircling it. The straws that start in the ceiling several inches away, yet they descend at 45 degree angles and converge about mid-way down the column, attaching themselves like spokes on a wheel. I have never seen un-broken soda straws take on these angles and the site reminds me of the funky lamps of the 70’s where oil droplets run down monofilament fibers simulating rain drops, but the Tiffany marvel in front of me is infinitely less tacky. I am in awe.
I started scanning the room for possible ways through the crystal clogged room. The space on the left side looks wider and I can see darkness on the far side, possibly indicating more cave beyond. I carefully floated into the space, twisting and contorting my body and tanks to avoid the chandelier obstacle course. I’ve made these contortions hundreds of times before and feel like the movie thief passing through the laser grid of a non-existent alarm system. I wish I could remove my fins at this point as they feel more like axes among the thin crystals. I keep them low and together using only my finger tips to gently pull my way through.
A fortunate natural gap in the crystals eventually allows me to float through without destroying anything and I pass into the small dark void behind the formations only to find a dead end. Thankfully there is room to turn around here as backing out would have been catastrophic. The line is reeled back up to the last good tie off point and now I try the right hand side of the room. I am immediately met with an odd, red (and very large) flowstone formation barely hanging on to the wall near the ceiling. There is only a very small gap on the floor beneath the formation that will allow me to pass. While sliding beneath the formation with head down, I think that knocking the heavy crystal guillotine down from its hold on the cave BEFORE going under it might have been a safer option. After all, with very little material actually holding the massive crystal in place, it falling to the floor was inevitable.
My fins clear the trap and I can breathe. Once again, I raise my head and come to sudden stop. This time though, the way on was clear but the site takes my breath away. I entered a room, probably 30 feet wide, 12 feet high and more than 100 feet long. The room is absolutely filled with white soda straws, hanging from peach colored rock walls and ceiling. Each straw has small, horizontal angel wing helictites. There are hundreds if not thousands of them. It’s as if I have entered a room filled with crystal butterflies, each hanging on to its own crystal flower stem.
I find a solid stalagmite, tie off and set the reel down. My need for finding more cave is squelched by the need to just look. I float there, holding on to the mite, trying to absorb it all. I can’t see enough. It is overwhelming and I have a hard time making sense of it, like one of those visual images that turns into something else if you stare at it long enough.
I can see from my perch that the room continues and the soda straws and butterflies only increase in numbers along the way, their tiny wings beckoning me on…”come this way” and I have no choice. I am paying much more attention to the sites than I am to exploring the cave. The butterflies eventually give way to larger columns, but the way on is still easy enough. The floor past the butterflies begins to change from the eroded limestone, to a more flat, crystal flowstone. Rim stone dams and crystal pools begin to dominate the floor, each one becoming larger and more crystalline the further I swim.
After another 200 feet or so, I glide over to a short, sturdy, white stalagmite to tie off. As I make the motions around the mite, my eyes are forced to the right side of the small passage. I secure the reel and drop it, stunned at the formation on the floor and moved closer, lying on the floor next to it. I muttered to myself, “no way”.
In front of me was a kidney shaped pool of yellow dog tooth spar crystal, maybe 10 feet long and 3 feet wide. The smallest crystals in the pool were maybe 2 inches long with the larger ones 4 to 5 inches long being clustered together and sticking up at different angles, resembling the leaves on pineapple tops. I must have spent 3 or 4 minutes gawking at these amazing crystals. I have never seen anything like this. It seems impossible. I could feel my heart beating in my chest when I reached out and touched one of them, as if trying to make sure I wasn’t imagining them. They were real enough.
I checked my tank gauges and was still a few hundred PSI from my required turn-around pressures. I carefully moved away from the pineapple pool, picked up the reel and began laying out more line. I only went another 20 feet around a corner before the cave stopped dead. Normally I would have been disappointed, but this time, I was feeling fortunate and giddy. This cave continues to give and give and give some more, each discovery more mind boggling that the last. Sometimes it seems as if the cave is just playing with me, seeing how many more ridiculous sites I could stand before it was just too much for my brain to take. Sensory overload is a complete understatement here.
Overwhelmed, I decided to stop looking for leads in the fragile area and use the extra gas to take my time exiting and making sure I did not destroy anything on the way out of the new area. I cut the reel free, left a marker and started a very slow, but utterly fascinating trip back out through the newly discovered Pool Room, The Butterfly Forest, and then beneath the “Guillotine”, back out into the relatively spacious passages near the Bonzai Tunnel.
At the last stage drop near the Bonzai Tunnel, I stopped and reeled down one of the other obvious leads. Over 100 feet of line came off the reel before I decided to save it for another day (no need to be greedy). I reeled it all back in, picked up the stage and headed back through the hour-long crystal obstacle course between me and the entrance.
The dive was a lot of work, but easily one of the most rewarding I have ever done. With set up and clean up dives, a total of 15 cylinders, more than 6 hours of bottom time (most of it swimming) and 3 days of diving was required to put in only 610 feet of line. Every single foot was worth it. This is not a place that many people will see, but for the few who will eventually make it there, I can only say, “prepare to be amazed”.
Update Fred's Room Date: 10/22/11 Location: Abaco Island, The Bahamas Site: Dan’s Cave, Fred’s Room and beyond Depth: 151 feet Bottom Time: 180 minutes Gas: EAN 32, EAN 27, Oxygen New distance explored: 990 feet.
Today I found myself slowly swimming toward the south eastern part of Dan’s Cave, heading for some lines laid by cave diver Fred Davis, back in 2003, or 2004. An “old school” cave diver, Fred had spent nearly 10 years living on his small boat and exploring caves here on Abaco Island before a serious bends hit ended his diving career and he sailed back to the states to take on new adventures.
Resembling a sort of junk wagon (all I was missing was some pots and pans banging on my sides as I swam), I was laden with side mounts, 3 stages and two of Ken Smith’s “cave pingers” the latter which I would drop at designated sites along my path swimming into the cave.Meanwhile, Nancy Albury would begin locating them on the surface in our continued efforts in validating the footprint of the cave passages for our conservation proposal protecting this and other amazing caves in the area.
There are very few lines that I had not checked out in this cave over the last 6 years, but this is one that I had only seen once before and never gotten around to investigating it.The first pinger was set near a junction 600 feet into the cave which leads to the back side of the beautifully decorated Crystal Palace.The second was placed at the junction that is on the farthest side of the Crystal Palace and is also my first stage drop, where I leave my 32% nitrox stage before descending to deeper portions of the cave.
Having now dropped both pingers and my first stage, I was able to increase my swimming pace and begin making some real progress.The next stage was dropped at the far end of the “deep way”, a 150 foot deep section with smooth scoured rock and small, delicate “pools” of dried brown mud that show cracks resembling spider webs, indicating that this section of the cave was once as dry as a bone during lower sea levels.
After this the cave begins to rise into a ridiculously decorated chamber of white and red formations of every size and shape.Passing through this chamber and beyond, I eventually came to the line I was looking for.This part of the cave has been rarely visited and it is a great feeling knowing there are still parts of this cave that have rarely, if ever been seen by human eyes.The last stage is dropped near a T in Fred’s old line and I opt for the right hand side of the T.This line ascends into yet another amazingly decorated chamber, with a 20 foot-high vaulted ceiling and one side of the chamber containing a massive, 20 foot high and 10 foot wide crystal waterfall made up of thick white crystal draperies.
Fred’s line passed by the bottom of this waterfall and continued on through a crack in the wall, where once again the passage opened into another wide, decorated room.I followed this line to the far side of the room where it suddenly terminated at a low, oval, solutional side mount-sized tube, carved out of the beige, limestone wall at a depth of 120 feet.I quickly tied in a full explorer reel and moved into the small, solutional tunnel which after only two body lengths, turned into a horizontal crack that got so low that I could only fit in with my head turned sideways.Fortunately, the floor of this small gap in the rock had several eroded stalagmite “nubs” which made convenient line tie offs.I inched forward, exhaling and pulling in the low tunnel when I saw a small slit in the rock with black behind it.I pulled myself sideways toward the crack and suddenly broke into a chamber so large, the beam of my light was simply absorbed by the blackness.
Emerging from the small tunnel was both exciting and a relief, but at the same time, knowing the return trip through the tiny opening might take a while, I decided to reserve extra gas for the exit. I swam into the large room, panning my light from side to side, when a crystal grotto appeared in the distance, a dark blue void behind it indicating a decent sized passage continuing on.
I floated through the middle of the grotto and swam on into the blue beyond.Large slabs of limestone lay haphazardly across the floor of the 30 foot wide passage, creating holes and bridges, but none of them appeared to continue into any real passages below.Eventually I emerged into a tall chamber with a steeply descending floor heading down into a classic “drain trap” passage, while the middle of the chamber opened up to the right. Trying to stay shallow to conserve gas and to keep my decompression obligation as low as possible I followed the expanding chamber to the right around some large boulders.As I rounded the boulders I glanced up near the ceiling and could see dark gaps between slabs of flowstone covered rock, indicating a shallower room above the chamber I was in.
I selected the largest gap in the boulders that I could find and carefully slipped between them, cautiously ascending into a small, well decorated room.The room was made up of pure white, sculpted rock that was sporadically “frosted” with old and eroded crystal formations.There were several possible leads in the Swiss-cheese rock of this shallower, 75 foot deep passage, and I tried at least two dead ends before I found one that continued on for any distance.Here the reel began spinning faster, and the line ran out seconds later.
There at least two more leads in this area, but I pulled the line free of the reel, tied it off and placed an arrow on the end. Surveying my way out, I fell back through the ceiling slabs and into the large descending chamber.I looked hard toward the bottom and could see at least two dark tunnels that might continue on into more cave beyond.At this point my main concern was getting back through the tiny warren where I first began laying line and I decided to save the survey and gas supply. I swam through the slab-strewn tunnel, back through the crystal grotto and across the large blue room toward the tiny opening.As I approached, the hole wasn’t even visible and my mind began to envision the tiny hole having filled in after I swam away from it on entry.From this distance is seemed as if the line simply disappeared into the rock and no opening was actually visible.Once I was within a few feet, the phantom crack reappeared, and though it did seem smaller from this side, it was obvious that it was still intact.
Once again turning my head sideways to fit into the gap, I expelled all the air from my harness.I removed all my accessories such as empty exploration reel, safety reels and spares pouch and pushed the lot ahead of me as I exhaled and committed to the crevice. On the second attempt, the crack accepted me and I moved forward a few inches at a time until I reached the portion where I could actually lift my head and enjoy the smooth, crystal-encrusted dimensions of the space.Anxiety fell away and within a few more breaths I was out of the small tunnel and back into swimming space.I took my time on the way out of my new surroundings, enjoying in awe, the size and quantities of amazing formations in what I now called Fred’s room.
To me, a place of such stunning beauty and age is something that needs to be savored and appreciated in that first moment of discovery. It will never be new to me again, and there is a feeling from that first experience that will just not be the same on following visits. So I just stopped and looked, absorbing the intricacies of both the positive space of blinding white crystal details, and contrasting negative space of the blue and black voids behind them. As has happened so many times in this cave, I floated there, staring and shaking my head in disbelief at what can only be described as impossible.
The swim back to the stage cylinders and the hour of decompression at the entrance were all muscle memory.Both happened automatically while my brain was busy sorting through the images of discovery that had just been burned into it, much like seeing the outlines from a camera flash even after you close your eyes….the images remain, eyes open or closed, and no matter what the rest of you is doing. When it comes to exploring this cave, it is a sensation I highly recommend having.
Update Pan's Labyrinth
Date: 8/18/10 Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas Site: Dan’s Cave – Pan’s Labyrinth Diver: Brian Kakuk Time: 11:30 Bottom Time: 124 minutes Depth: 79 feet Mode: Side Mount Open Circuit Gas: EAN 33 Side Mounts, and 2 stages, Oxygen Deco
Last week while searching for leads in the extreme northern end of Dan’s Cave, I ended up making a last minute diversion onto an older line that runs parallel to the extensive and highly decorated passages of the Sanity room and other passages nearby.
The passage I had chosen was similar to the others in size, but not in decoration or extent.A few weeks ago I had removed a cylinder to squeeze between a “jaws” shaped crystal formation only to find the passage beyond blocked by formations a short distance further. On last week’s dive, I was surprised to find myself through the “jaws” once again, and arrived at the end of this line in fairly short order.The line ended in a 5 foot diameter passage that was completely blocked by thin bars of crystal and soda straws, which was in stark contrast to the relatively boring passage I had travelled to get to there.It was as if someone had decided to turn on a crystal making machine right at this point and left it on, blocking the passage all together.
During last week’s dive, I had found a narrow gap between the left (western) wall and the densely packed formations and decided to try passing it with a jump reel, the only extra reel I had with me at the time.At a snail’s pace, I angled myself up into the gap with my head turned sideways and against the side of the passage, trying not to break any of the soda straws and small columns that bordered the small gap. A large, thick helictite growing out of the side of the wall, made for a convenient place to route the line and after two body lengths of squirming through the gap, and a final, odd, inverted turn, I fell arse over elbows into a small decorated area which require a stretch of the imagination to be considered a proper room.Fortunately my efforts were rewarded with a maze of larger columns that that continued on out of sight. That dive ended there at the end of the jump reel, but the labyrinth of columns leading off into the distance stayed in my head and todays dive was would be an attempt to push through the place I was now calling Pan’s Labyrinth. Once again I pushed a cylinder ahead of me through the “jaws” and after reassembling my kit, quickly tied in a new explorer reel.Once past the odd twisting gap, I set my sights on the labyrinth of columns showing the way into virgin cave.The dense maze of 5 foot high columns though close together, always left a gap just large enough for a diver to slip through without much effort, as if someone had intentionally left a zigzagging path. After 200 feet or so, the labyrinth gave way to a series of 10 foot high vertical rifts in chalky white breakdown and smooth, eroded passage.The vertical gaps showed multi-.level erosion, making it obvious that water had moved up and down through this passage at very different times in history.The percolation of my bubbles hitting the ceiling created a milky haze in the water that was siphoned intosmall, oval “rabbit holes”, lined up along the upper ledges of the rifts. The water moving through these holes was a sure sign that there was indeed more cave somewhere beyond the holes and I just had to find a way around.
After back tracking a few feet, I looked low on the floor and found a low horizontal gap between the eroded floor and the white wall that seemed large enough to pass through.I stopped half way through the gap and stirred up a little silt with my hand just to check the water flow and it also slowly siphoned past me further into the crack.Eventually everything that was horizontal, turned vertical and I found myself once again in small meandering canyons of white limestone until the passage I was in abruptly came to a halt, leaving me to decide between a small vertical crack which doubled back to the left, and a smaller horizontal crack in the ceiling on the right hand side of the passage. As I stuck my head up into the shallower lead, I could see a halocline just inside, so I figured this lead may go up into shallower room. I squeezed past the ceiling crack and found myself in very wide, 3 foot high room that was completely filled with short crystal columns, helictites and soda straws from floor to ceiling.The room is a twin of the glass factory in Ralph’s cave and I had to keep my head and fins down near the floor in order to keep from breaking anything.
As I began to work my way though the formations, I kept scanning the sides of the room for any indication of a drop where I might find a way out and beyond it.Approximately 150 feet across the chandelier of a room, I found the far wall had a gap between it and the floor.I squeezed down through the slot and ended up back in a series of vertical rifts that continued on in the same direction.Unfortunately, none of these rifts really went any great distance, and I ran out of line just near the end of the longest one I had checked.
Once again I swirled some silt from the wall to check the water flow, and there was none to be found.Eventually I came back up into the low chandelier room.The fine ceiling silt from my bubbles had stratified out in long horizontal swirls throughout the crystals.The milky swirls stayed motionless, so I knew I had lost the flow back down in the vertical rifts just before the gap in the ceiling.Although I was annoyed I had missed the going lead before the high room, I was still in awe of the crystal forest that now enveloped me. The room was a beautiful distraction, but my thoughts were now back at the vertical lead that had back tracked on the left wall right before I entered this room. Once I arrived back at the missed lead, I stirred up a little silt and sure enough, it took off down the vertical rift out of sight.Without any line left on the exploration reel, my efforts now turned to counting knots on the line as I slowly surveyed my way back to the “jaws” restriction.
I pushed one of the side mount cylinders ahead of me and ducked my head to pass through the jaws, but something on my back had caught on one of the crystal “fangs” that hung from the ceiling.I backed up and tried again….and then again… and then again.I deflated all of the air from my harness to reduce my profile, but this did nothing.Eventually I backed up far enough to where I could remove the second cylinder and pushed it ahead of me as well, giving me room to move more to my left and away from the “fang” that was trying to keep me in the cave.I passed through the jaws in seconds and reassembled myself on the other side.I’m not sure why had been able to pass this restriction before without issue, but today murphy was giggling at my erratic attempts and profanities as I eventually gave in and de-kitted to pass the restriction.
None the worse for wear, I took my time swimming back out, picking up my stages one at a time and just enjoying the scenery.Pan’s Labyrinth is a great dive if you don’t mind working for it just a bit.I have come to love the dives where a little “grinding” through multiple restrictions will pay off with amazing rooms and more passages to explore.I’m looking forward to seeing where the missed vertical lead will take me next.Maybe another amazing room, or maybe a dead end.Solving the puzzle is my favorite part of it all.It also doesn’t hurt that the puzzle happens to be in the most beautiful underwater cave on earth either.
Update 8/2/10 A land far, far away
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave, Badlands – Past the Gray Pool
Diver: Brian Kakuk
Bottom time: 182 minutes
Max Depth: 162 feet
Gas: EAN 32 Stages, EAN 27 Side Mounts, O2 deco.
Mode: OC Side mount
Today’s dive was a huge relief.Two weeks ago, while meandering in the distant but shallow passages in the northern part of Dan’s Cave, I literally stumbled on a window into huge, deeper cave running below the maze of crystal filled tunnels.
Since then, the short glimpse I was able to get into the huge blue void at the very end of the dive has been burned into my brain and I had been obsessing with getting back to the end of the line. So for me, today’s dive was like a kid chasing the ice cream truck with a fist full of quarters and finally getting it to stop.I was where I wanted to be more than any where else on earth and my “prize” was waiting for me at the end of the line.
I carried three stages of nitrox, which I thought would get me close to the new discovery, but the 3500 foot swim there seemed to take forever. I was well into my side mount cylinders by the time I finally got to the balcony leading into the massive tunnel.Tying off the fresh, over-filled reel, I was already looking for my next tie off point on the boulder pile below before my fins ever cleared the balcony.
Once I reached the bottom of the slope, the vastness of the tunnel really sank in.At least 40 feet tall and 70 to 80 feet wide, I could not believe that this huge, empty place had not collapsed and filled in at some point in the cave’s history, which is at minimum, 350,000 years old.Swimming down this tunnel, I found myself feeling much further from the entrance than I actually was, with an overwhelming notion that the shallower passages above were somehow friendlier, even “warmer” and more inviting than the massive abyss I was now kicking through.I felt tiny and insignificant, and sure that no one would ever be able to find me should fate decide that I stay here.
I tried to shake the dark feelings as I swam a bit faster, hoping somehow, that if I reached the end of this gargantuan tunnel, I would find a rise back into the shallower and more inviting levels of the cave.Three more tie-offs along the floor, and I could finally make out an “end” to the tunnel.I swam even faster, now aiming for what appeared to be a small gap in the top of the massive collapse that marked then end of the passage.Unfortunately the collapse turned out to be complete and I swung both right and left of the breakdown pile in search of a gap in the boulders that might lead to more passage.
I back tracked 30 or more feet and on the right hand side, near the bottom of the tunnel found a sloping, smooth passage heading deeper and away from the boulder strewn chaos of the massive tunnel.Even though depth increased greatly, the smaller size and smoother walls of the new lead felt much more comfortable, and the dark feelings began to fade with the excitement of finding going passage.
Reaching a depth of 160 feet, I was at the limits of my gas mix and hoped that the passage would begin to rise quickly, or I would have to turn the dive.I passed by smooth, water worn walls, and floors of bright red, cracked mud, left over from the days when this cave was dry. The deep, even cracks in the mud remind me of Spanish tiled roofs, and I marveled how these “tiles” could have managed to stay intact since the caves flooded more than 13,000 years ago.
Immediately, the passage did begin to rise, but the walls and ceiling became fretted and loose with huge chunks of limestone seeming like they would break off and squish anyone who might be sending up bubbles to break them loose from their precarious ledges.I found two small alcoves that seemed like going leads in the frail rock, but both of these ended in diver sized rooms, making turning around difficult. I decided that the end of the second lead was a good place to end the dive, tying off the end of the line and placing a line arrow.
As I slowly turned around in the confined, little space, 4,000 feet from the entrance, a small, but heavy piece of the ceiling decided to give up it’s hold and landed squarely between my shoulder blades with a soft thump.I’m sure the view was hilarious as I gave up all efforts at some sort of proper swimming technique and spastically kicked and grabbed at the floor boulders, pulling myself out of the “collapse” that I was certain was happening above me.A few feet away from the danger zone and I looked back to see the cloud of silt I had created, but the ceiling of the cave stayed put.
My composure regained, I was glad no one was there to see my frantic “escape”, which on the surface would have been equated to a little girl screaming and running from the monster in the closet.
On the way back out of the deep section, a large, rounded area on the left hand side of the tunnel seemed smoother, and the red mud floor had been washed clean, revealing a flat, almost polished, white limestone floor at a depth of 162 feet.I believe that this area will end up being where the next major lead will be found, but my time on this dive was done, and I headed back out in to the huge tunnel above.
I ascended up the entry slope, and just before I reached the balcony I could see off to the left side of the tunnel, behind the mound, that a wide, flat passage continued on into the distance, opposite of the direction I had gone.
The shallower passages were a welcome sight and I tried to take my time and enjoy the amazing decorations on the way out. No matter how many times I go through one particular area, I always find things I’ve never seen before.It is a hard place to leave, but I know I’ll be back.
The next dives in this part of the cave will be logistically difficult.It will require at least one set up dive to get additional cylinders far enough through the myriad of restrictions and fragile crystals in order to push farther north. Three hours after beginning the dive, I breathe the surface air again and as the mask comes off my face, I feel warm summer rain and thunder booms in the distance.The frogs in the entrance are sounding off in a chorus of squeaky balloon noises, and I just float there for a while and think about the cave.
Even though it was only moments ago, it almost seems as if the dive never happened, like it was a land far, far away. I float there, listening to the frog songs, knowing these, deeper passages will now take over my thoughts and I’ll be obsessing about them until the next time I can return.Exploring this cave is a never ending cycle of seeking and finding and I hope that I can continue seeking for a very long time.
UPDATE - Navajo Passage and the Bonzai Tunnel
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave
Time: 10:30 AM
Maximum Depth: 103 feet
Total Time of Dive: 2 hours 27 minutes
Mode: Open Circuit Side Mount with 2 stages
Gas Used: EAN 33 travel stages, EAN 32 side mounts, O2 for decompression
The last few exploration dives in Dan’s Cave have been some of the best dives I have done in my 20 years of cave exploration and none have been as rewarding as todays.The Northern part of Dan’s cave includes the areas known as (from south to north) the Badlands, the Good Lands, The Sanity Room, Helictite Haven, The Gray Pool, and as of last week, The Switch Backs, where the line ends at a distance of 3,321 feet from the entrance in the northern most part of the cave.
On the last dive through the Switchbacks, so many leads were found, that I was sure that the lead I had finished in was not the main way on as it has turned completely around and headed south.On today’s dive, I decided to check out some of the promising leads on the left hand side of the passage approximately 3000 feet into the cave.
At 3,050 feet, I tied in full reel to the main line and headed back to the north in a nicely decorated passage approximately 10 feet wide by 8 feet high with white walls and brown, crystalline formations.Only 100 feet from the tie in point, the passage zigged to the left once again but continued on for another 100 feet or so before I ended up seeing my own line from a previous dive up ahead of me.
I reeled up almost all of the line I had just put in and tried a smaller lead that had no silt, and the floor was a series of gray rim stone dams.The small, clean dams gradually ascended into a series 45 degree angle rifts with soda straw ceilings and hard, flowstone floors, but less than two feet between the two.
After the last rift, I fall into a small room.The floor of the room is a series of conical silt mounds with scattered hard bottom and older red formations that have been eroded over the aeons.I floated over the steep silt mounds and noticed that many of them had red striations sloping down toward the bottoms. I could see that the red marks were actually places where small, powdery chunks of Sahara dust and fallen from the ancient eroded formations on the ceilings and walls and rolled down the mounds creating straight, but odd patterns as gravity kept the dust particles moving toward the bottom of each mound.
These immediately reminded me of old Navajo sand paintings I had seen as a child in school, with a whitish back ground and the dark red “sand” creating the artist’s images.I quickly dubbed the passage the Navajo Passage and continued on hoping that I would be able to find the main way on again.After another 200 feet or so, there were more leads and more decisions to be made.Over the last few weeks, I had been lucky enough to pick “the plum” with most of the leads that presented themselves and I was wondering when this luck would run out, and I would have to begin the “hit and miss” style of systematically checking each and every passage before finding the main route again.
Today I picked the plum once again but this time more so than any other.When I had first found my way into the Sanity Room a month or more earlier, I had found a deep cleft around the margins of the room, with one particularly large opening dropping down to a depth of 110 from the shallower 75 foot deep passages of the Sanity Room.It was obvious to me that this collapse was an indication of deeper cave below, but the Sanity Room collapse was complete and I could not find my way into deep passage below.
In the back of my mind, I knew there was deeper cave below the new passages being explored and there just had to be a way down into the deeper section of cave somewhere in the labyrinth of the shallow passages I had been exploring.
The passage I was in today had switched back to the north so I felt like I was making real progress and hoped that the trend would continue.I came to a large split in the passage and just as I was about to decide right or left, I saw a section of the floor sloping down in the middle of the split.Still hoping to find a doorway into deep cave below, and potentially thousands of more feet of cave to explore, I slowly moved toward the top of the slope as the reel began spinning faster with the last few loops of line coming off.
The reel ran out exactly as a small balcony revealed itself with nothing but black void seen below it.I stretched the line a few feet so I could look over the precipice and see a 40 to 50 foot wide by 20 foot high passage with cobalt blue water stretching off at the bottom of a massive boulder pile.
I quickly pulled the loop off of the reel at a distance of 3,550 feet from the entrance and tied it to a perfectly translucent stalagmite that was situated on the right side of the balcony.I had to see if the massive void below me was simply a large room or if it was going passage.I threw on a spare jump reel and leapt from the balcony floating down the huge slope, my arm stretched out as far as it would go with the light head in hand, thinking it would show me the wall were the room would end.I never saw any wall.What I did see was a huge, round, white-walled tunnel stretching on into blue darkness.
I hung there shaking my head in disbelief.Somehow I knew this passage was here but the odds of me finding it in the ridiculous labyrinth above seemed insurmountable. Yet here I was. The Bonsai tunnel in front of me just begging for line and one more stage cylinder. Instead I began reeling up the jump reel and looking to the side of the talus mound that I had just floated down.A very large tunnel, the opposite direction I had just gone, was also wide open.It seems my balcony was simply a window above a partial collapse of a huge, deeper tunnel with huge, continuing passage at both ends.
I don’t remember the trip out.I feel like I was transported back through the tiny holes, painted mounds, spastically decorated crystal helictite walls, ceilings and floors and back to my stages.I was no less than out-right giddy as I swam back through now familiar territory of the new-er passages. All the way out, I was planning future stage drops, set up dives, gas mixes, double explorer reels, and lots of deco gas for what I am sure is going to be incredibly exciting exploration before the end of the summer.
UPDATE – THE REDICULOUS ROOM
Diver: Brian Kakuk
Location: Abaco Island Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave – The Good Lands
Bottom Time: 2 hrs, 9 minutes
Depth: 78 feet
Mode: Open Circuit Side Mount and 2 stages
Gas: EAN 32 and Oxygen for decompression
Yet another stunning push past the Badlands and into unknown territory today.A single stage of EAN 32 was left in the cave yesterday, approximately 800 feet from the entrance.This was picked up today just as I hit 3rds on the stage I was carrying, giving me a bit more distance before having to switch to the side mount cylinders.
I had only used 200 PSI out of each side mount cylinder before I reached the lead that I was hoping would give up some new passage.This entire section of the cave, dubbed “The Good Lands” is one of the most densely decorated pieces of cave anywhere on earth.Moving through this area is slow, and some divers would consider diving here tedious.Breath control becomes key in moving between thin rods and columns of crystal and fins are essentially useless here. Simply having un-even pressure in the side mounted cylinders is enough of a weight difference to throw the diver’s trim off potentially destroying everything within their reach.
The vertical orientation of the calcite “bars” requires the diver to rotate side ways with one cylinder up and one down.At one point, the only way on between the columns requires me to turn up on my side and bend at the waist, in a sort of fetal position as I haul myself along slowly with anything solid enough to handle being pulled on.
Eventually I reach the end of my old line and I tied in while balancing between the white and black crystals, the latter being stained by black bacteria, which gives the place it’s flash fire/smoke damaged appearance. Another back bending shimmy through the bars that protect the new lead and I am headed off again into a white, walled passage.I notice how the soft limestone walls are devoid of the black staining of the bacteria, while any crystal formations are nearly covered. Yet another mystery to be solved, but not today.
I pass through two small canyon-like passages, and end up in another rising area of dense columns nearly barring the way on.I swim back and forth along the picket fence of thin crystal bars, trying to figure out which gap will allow me to pass into the rising room beyond, without destroying the cave.A gap near the middle seems to be the best choice, and once again, I’m turned up onto my side, doing what I now call the “Crystal Column Shimmy”….turn on your side, breathe in, wiggle, slide, glide, settle down, then exhale and look for the next possible point of least resistance, again , all while lying on my side.
The gap in the middle pays off and after two body lengths, I am able to lay flat again and use short frog kicks from my ankles to meander into the rising room.When I get to the top, I stop and make a tie off on one of the shorter, more solid stalagmites.After the tie, I rise up off the floor and float there looking at another forest of soda straws, 1 to 2 inch crystal columns, and an occasional large, brown fluted Roman column, usually laying on it’s side, with relatively newer white stalagmites growing off of it at different angles.
I notice that I have ascended all the way back up into the halocline and my light hits the fresh water interface like a prism with white, red and blue light running horizontally across the crystal forest in front of me.I look at my computer and see that I have come all the way back up to 62 feet, fairly deep for a halocline on Abaco, but with recent rains, it makes sense that it could be this deep.
Once again I have to try and find a way through crystal.The right hand side looks best and I begin the slow contorted trip to the other side of the room.The back of the room descends into soft, white breakdown boulders, but I can see a gap below that will allow me to pass.It is almost a relief to get out of the crystal above and be in a place where I can actually swim without fear of breaking something.My relief is short lived and after less than 100 feet, I hit yet another rising, delicate area.Two attempts on the right hand side prove fruitless, and I have just enough gas reserves for one more attempt on the left side.
There is one small gap between several thick, white stalagmites, with nearly identical opposing stalactites less than a foot above, creating a sort of round toothed shark like smile of a formation.After sizing up the gap, I try to slide my head through the “jaws” and to my surprise it goes.I figure if I can get my shoulders through, the rest of me will follow. Putting one arm in front and one arm back along one of the cylinders, I am able to push my way through the formation down to by pelvic bone.Here I am able to take full breaths again and I stop for a second to get a few full breaths.
While I am laying there, my mind wanders to the opposing formations that have my lower back and pelvic bone squished for the moment. Not painful, but I certainly know it’s there.I think about what would happen if the “jaws” decided to close while I was in this position and decide that I have rested here long enough.A quick pull on my left cylinder valve and a deep exhalation and I am through to the other side.I fall into another black stained room of formations as the reel runs out.There is good water flow back here and I can see my silt being pulled further into the caves, past the black bars ahead.
I drop an arrow on the end of the final tie off and turn back to the jaws.They seem smaller now than they did on the way in, but a few wiggles and tank adjustments let me pass with about the same effort as was used on entry.I look at the computers as I clear the restriction. It has taken me more than an hour to get to this point and I know it is going to be an ever slower trip out between the maze of bars and the silt I have stirred along the way.
Another 504 feet of line was added today into what I can only describe as ridiculously decorated passages and rooms.The trip back to the entrance is easy and I spend the 15 minutes of decompression watching birds on the surface climbing down the leather ferns and drinking the sweet fresh water at the surface of the cave.They have no idea I am there and it is as if I am looking through a liquid one-way mirror.They calmly drink without fear or nervousness as the bubbles are purged from my body.A perfect ending to a perfect dive.
Update - The Sanity Room
Thousands of crystals in the bottom of a rim stone dam in Dan's Cave. Photo by Brian Kakuk
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave – Bad Lands/Good Lands
Diver: Brian Kakuk
Bottom Time: 152 minutes
Max Depth: 79 feet
Gas: EAN 34, O2 deco.
Mode: OC/Side Mount and 2 stages
Today’s dive was my last opportunity for exploration in Dan’s cave for the next few months, so an all out assault, with another 800 feet of knotted line, side mounts and double stages was the plan of the day.Since this part of the cave is so low and decorated, I decided to run the stages out in front of me, with the valves clipped off to the harness, but the ends of the cylinders out in front of me.The aluminum 80 stages have perfect buoyancy for this, so swimming along the circuitous passages of the Badlands was easy with the first stage cylinder being deposited at the usual place, and the second a short distance past the place where I had been accosted by the cave two days prior, now called "The Good Lands".
Today I took much more time to appreciate the thousands of different formations that represent the cyclic history of high and low sea levels this cave has seen come and go.Red, ancient formations resembling Roman columns, probably more than 350,000 years old, are wrapped and frosted in white crystal blankets of relatively newer crystal from the last sea level drop between 13,000 to 20,000 years ago.I find myself visualizing this room when it was dry and the constant, relentless dripping in the darkness, which only ceased when the sea once again drowned the stone forest.
Exploring this portion of the cave would have been impossible when it was dry.There is simply no where to stand or crawl between the millions of columns, stalagmites and fragile and deeply eroded floor rock.The button my by buoyancy jacket is the only thing that allows me to safely glide between the columns and over the crystal pools without destroying everything in my path.I feel fortunate to be here in this place, in this time, where technology allows me to see and experience this it in relative comfort and ease.
I pass over a timeless rim stone dam and it’s bounty of stunning crystals on the way to the end of the line.A loop in the end of the old line makes for an easy tie off and I enter into new passage nearly without stopping. A smile comes over my face as the high but narrow passage opens to a wider passage filled with crystal columns and at least 3 dark leads head off in different directions.The first lead runs through a forest of thin formations most of which are covered in small wing and finger shaped helictites.Long, but splinter-thin soda straws gather in bunches along the more massively decorated areas, all evidence that this place has been undisturbed for aeons.
About 500 feet past the tie off, this passage is suddenly blocked by a mass of thin columns and soda straws so thick, that passing them is impossible without destroying them.I’m frustrated as I can see large passage heading off into the distance behind the fragile obstacle, but I cut the reel free and tie the line off next to the crystal barrier before back-tracking to find a way around.
Half way back, one of many possible leads looks as if it will circumvent the blocked passage and allow me to continue on in the right direction.A new T is placed in the line and the reel begins to spin once again, though this time, the passage stays small, almost too small with fragile glasslike formations making it necessary to hold my breath and coast through some of the tighter places.
As I progress, the passage begins to change drastically, and the formations begin to regain their white and cream crystalline colors.Cascading crystal water falls, with more rim stone dams become the more dominant structures and I pass pool after pool of calcite within a short distance. After only 200 feet, I find myself in a small dead end chamber that ends in another pool at the foot of small, but amazing frozen water fall.The room virtually glows as my light is reflected in all directions from the white calcite walls and floor.I tie off to a short stalagmite, cut the reel free once again and begin the tedious swim out of the delicate passage.
Once I reach the high, wide room, I tee into the line once again and try the left side, hoping that the dark passage in front of me will continue.It does and while I pull the last few feet of line from the reel, I suddenly realize that I have had the song “You are my sanity” by Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds ( http://www.lyricszoo.com/dave-matthews/you-are-my-sanity/ ) playing in my head the entire dive.As I look out over the ridiculously decorated passage, I feel like maybe this music, and not words best describe this place. In my mind I can see the cycle endlessly dripping water slowly dripping to the music, building the forest in front of me, only broken by the current rush of water that has now filled the void and allowed me to come here. I dub the room the “Sanity Room” and the music stays with me all the way back to the entrance of the cave.
Brian Kakuk sliding through a restriction in the Badlands of Dan's Cave. Photo by Jill Heinerth
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave, Badlands – Wonderland area
Diver: Brian Kakuk
Bottom time: 103 minutes
Max Depth: 104 feet
Gas: EAN 34, o2 deco.
Mode: OC Side mount
Today the push to the north in Dan’s Cave continued.Still elated by Sunday’s discovery, I found myself on automatic, swimming through the labyrinth of the Badlands section, dropping the stage cylinder in the usual place and working my way over the 7 or 8 T’s that lead out to new discoveries .I was so focused and intent on getting to the new section of cave, it was as if I had been wearing blinders for the first 20 minutes, and I simply “appeared” at my destination without remembering any of the trip there.
I tied off a new reel filled with 800 feet of freshly knotted line, and just as I finished placing a yellow arrow on the T, I was completely blindsided when a 15 pound piece of crystal gave up it’s precarious hold on the ceiling and came crashing down on the front of my helmet, pulling my mask down to my chin, my regulator to my chest, and gashing my right hand as it made it’s way to the floor a few feet below.
It took me a 3 or 4 seconds to even realize what had just happened.I pulled my mask out of the way so I could recover my regulator, which thankfully, was undamaged and only inches from my mouth.Once I replaced the mask and regained sight, I looked at my attacker lying on the floor, an eroded and withered section of crystal comprised of 3 stalactites staggered in size from large to small, fused together at the tops resembling a heavy, but beautiful Pan’s flute. I could not believe I had been hit. I was 3 or 4 feet from the ceiling, and had made no contact with anything in the area, so the formation must have given up it’s millennia old grip on the overhead simply from the vibrations of my bubbles crashing into the ceiling.After regaining my composure, I hung there, wondering if the cave was trying to tell me that today’s efforts were unwanted, and that I would be smart to run home.
Since no one has ever accused me of being smart, I rechecked my helmet, back up lights, both regulators and contents gauges before timidly finning into the new lead. Line began to roll from the reel, when I noticed my skinned hand was leaving tiny, red, lava-lamp like globules in my wake.At the rate the red globules were weeping out of the wound, I figured I could easily finish the dive and get back to the entrance before I was empty of the stuff, so my mind refocused on finding more cave.
Swimming less than 100 feet from where the cave had attacked me, I found myself once again weaving between hundreds of 6 foot high and 1 and a half inch diameter bars of clear, calcite crystal.The bleached white limestone passage made harsh 90 degree turns back and forth and I was hard pressed to find areas wide enough to pass through the column choked tunnel.
Eventually the passage once again began to rise slightly and then widened into an incredibly decorated room, very similar to the Dopamine Dome room several hundred feet back.I entered the room and had to decide right or left.Both directions led into long, dark, highly decorated areas and I was sure that I could dump the entire reel in either direction.I made a tie in the middle and went right, but only swam 20 feet before I realized that further down the side of the room on the right hand side, a deep cleft led into dark, descening passage below, but with a ceiling made up of precariously stacked boulders.
It had only been a few moments since my last attack from above, so I held my breath as I glided down through the cleft into the deeper passage.At a depth of 104 feet, I knew the passage could be heading for depths of more than 150 feet, and although excited, my gas was a little too rich for any real time down deeper, so I chose to save this section for another dive when I was better equipped.
I headed back up into the shallower and more decorated section of the cave and continued on around the right hand side of the room where I knew I would be able to finish off what line was left on the reel.
At the far side of the room, two good possible leads begged for attention, and I chose the left this time, thinking I might be able to find a way completely around the room in a counter clockwise direction.The passage was beautiful but I had gone little more than 100 feet before it dead ended completely.I rewound the line onto the reel all the way back to the intersection where I had gone left, and now tried right.Again this passage appeared to dead end, but a small, oval and angled hole high in the wall looked worth poking my head into.
The snow white limestone oval lead to a short drop on the other side and once again I was in impeccably decorated passage, with at least 3 leads begging for line.I chose left, and after one squeeze through two large crystal columns, I was rewarded with and incredible site laid out before me.
The formations in this part of the cave, though absurdly white and crystalline, had become slightly tainted with a black bacterial coating that made the entire cave look as if some ancient fire had left behind everlasting smoke damage.The “soot” covered every thing, but didn’t quite hide the whiteness of the crystal formations beneath.I swam a few feet further down the passage, squeezed through one more set of bars, and before my tanks had even cleared the crystal restriction I was stopped in my tracks by what was laid out on the floor below me.
I hung there, not stuck by the restriction, but stunned by the largest, crystal filled, rim stone pool I have seen in the Bahamas. At least 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, with several different sections, the pool held hundreds of thousands of tiny star like crystals, all with a slight coating of the black soot.I stayed wedged between the columns, staring in disbelief for over a minute before moving over and past the amazing formation.
With only several more wraps of line left on the reel, I began looking for my final tie off.I followed the passage around a right hand corner and found a hefty piece of eroded floor rock to make the final tie.A narrow, high walled passage continued on in the distance and I could see many more formations as the room widened beyond sight.
The circuitous swim back to the stage took longer than I expected, slowed by my insatiable searching for more leads on the way out.Before picking up the stage, I made one quick diversion down another T to recover a jump reel I had left a week before.
To say that Dan’s Cave is inspiring would be an understatement of great proportion (thus the ranting logs over the last week or so).As of today, April 8th, I have been in this country for 23 years, making this an anniversary dive of sorts.In all the years and thousands of cave dives that I have done here during that time, I have still never stopped feeling the way I do today, which just happens to be exactly the way I felt on my first exploration dive in Guardian Blue Hole back on Andros 21 years ago.Each cave has slowly given up pieces of it’s individual puzzle, some large, some small, but always in a manner that leaves you breathless and aching for more.Happy Anniversary to me!
Gliding through a crystal forest in Dan's Cave. Photo by Jill Heinerth
Date: 4 April, 2010
Place: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave: The badlands
Diver: Brian Kakuk
Bottom Time: 90 minutes
Max Depth: 78 feet
Gas: EAN 34, o2 deco.
Mode: OC Side mount
Understanding addiction – I get it now. Discovery of The Dopamine Dome room.
Today’s dive was a continuation of a series of dives over the last 3 days trying to figure out the maze of tunnels and small rooms that make up the Badlands in Dan’s Cave.The last two dives were spent checking leads that I had found in the past and learning the outward passages in order to determine the outer limits of this section of the cave. In those dives, many loops were closed, new circuits created and tons of line arrows placed for safety.
As I swim into the cave today, I am elated to be heading back to a new discovery.I’m trying to keep my breathing rate down to maximize my time, but it’s more difficult today than usual. I’m too excited.A new, extraordinarily decorated doorway that I found yesterday holds promise of unseen beauty on the other side, and I cannot get there fast enough.I drop a stage cylinder at the appropriate T, approximately 900 feet from the entrance and continue on, gliding through the increasingly white and fragile passages.
When I reach the doorway, I fumble with the full reel, wishing I could get it tied off faster, but my excitement only slows me down and affects my dexterity.The line finally Tee’d in, and the marker placed, I am now where I want to be, heading through the small, crystal doorway with nothing but clear, blue water and white crystal columns on the other side of it.
The small passage meanders through a forest of white and red stained-glass columns, often times requiring me to crawl at a snails pace and turn on my side to squeeze between them.After 400 feet of zigging and zagging through one of the most densely decorated passages I have ever seen, I enter a domed room that rises and opens in front of me.I am stunned.I try to think of words to describe this place but I can’t.Even calling it a place is insufficient.It is a feeling.It is an experience.It’s impossible.
Fairly small in comparison to others found in this cave, this room is only the size of my dwelling back on the surface, but there are very few places on earth that I can think of that compare with the beauty I was floating in front of.Crystal formations of every possible color and texture fought for space across the room. It seemed as if the void in the rock, created eons ago, was trying to heal itself. It was trying to grow back together with tens of thousands of crystal formations attempting to fill in the gap that is the room.
I tried to look through and past the forest of crystal columns in order to find any possible passage around them.I chose the right side of the room first, carefully dodging narrow stalagmites and columns that had formed long before we were considered homo sapiens sapiens.My mind wandered as I floated along, searching for the easiest gaps in the formations.I could not believe what I was seeing.My arrogance had me thinking that no one had ever seen a place like this before. That no one could have ever felt what I was feeling as an explorer being given the opportunity to see and experience this place before anyone else.
I was drunk with discovery. I kept thinking to myself; “ This place is mine. All mine. I found it first”.I was simply overwhelmed. I stopped, floated, and tried to take in what was all around me, eventually realizing that I belonged more to the place, than the place belonged to me.
A few hundred feet of line later, I had decided that this side of the room did not have the exit I was looking for, so I cut the line free, tied it off and doubled back to the entrance of the room.I tied off once again and headed off down the left side, which was a little wider and easier to swim through letting me pay more attention to my amazing surroundings than to spatial awareness and not breaking anything. At least two leads on this side look promising but as the reel neared empty, I realize my time is up.
One second of muscle memory interrupts my high and I check the metal and plastic gauges that remind me of my frailty. They are my interventionists. They bring me back to the reality of what I am, and reaffirm the fact that I am not really meant to be in this place.My eyes well up behind the rubber and glass that have allowed me to experience this place so clearly. I don’t want to leave and I try and rationalize staying just a little while longer. But I can’t.I roll the last few feet of line off the reel, tie it off near the best looking lead I can find, and leave a marker.
As I begin to leave, more than an hour after entering the cave, I am flat out giddy.I realize what this place and others like it have done to me (or for me).This is my vice, my high, my addiction and I know that in the end, I will do what ever it takes to experience this again and again.Over the last two decades, I have created a life for myself in these islands that have fed my addiction, often times with room for little else. This is what I need. This is what I crave.I have joked about being consumed by these places in the past, as if they were a drug, and kidding that I was always “Jonesing’ for my next fix.My experience today has exposed my feelings for what they really are.
Hi, my name is Brian and I’m a speleoholic.(Man if feels good to get that out.)
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Micrite Mesa, Dan’s Cave
Bottom Time: 2 hrs.
Total Time of Dive: 3 hrs. 22 minutes. (202 MIN.)
Maximum Depth: 163 feet.
Gas used: EAN33, EAN 26, Oxygen
Mode: Open Circuit, Side Mount
Today’s dive was an attempt to explore new cave in the South West part of Dan’s Cave.The passages here are massive with one room known as Wrigley Field being 500 feet long by 200 feet wide.Two weeks ago, Brian Kakuk found a restriction in some breakdown near the end of Wrigley field that had good water flow coming out of it indicating more cave beyond.He passed through the restriction and into a passage that ran at a depth of 160 feet.The end of this passage became breakdown boulders once again, but led up to a shallower gap that opened into a very large room, still leading to the south east. 400 feet of new line was laid on this dive from the end of Wrigley Field.
Today Kakuk picked up at the end of the line.Using 4 stages and 2 side mounts, of EAN 33 and EAN26, the first stage was dropped (EAN 33) at 800 feet near the CrystalPalace.The second stage (EAN 26) was dropped at 1300 feet at the end of a passage called the Deep Way (depth 146 feet).The third stage was dropped near the end of Fangorn Forrest (2500 ft. penetration), and the 4th was dropped at the end of Wrigley Field.
After tying in to the end of the line, the passage continued to the south west but slowly descended into another breakdown.In a near mirror image of the 160 foot deep passage discovered a few weeks before, a small tunnel was found that eventually led to yet another breakdown.At the top of this breakdown a low, but wide, scoured bedding plane restriction was passed leading into a 60 foot wide, by 15 foot high tunnel.This tunnel was filled with white, eroded micrite boulders, with the sides of the tunnel being 20 feet deeper than the flat upper portion. This passage was dubbed “Micrite Mesa”.
Micrite Mesa continued for approximately 400 feet where it then slowly descended into a small grotto of stalactites and stalagmites at a depth of 155 feet.The end of the grotto slowly ascended a large boulder pile and when it was topped, yet another huge room, bigger than the Micrite Mesa was found screaming off into the distance.The line ran out here and a terminal tie off was made just at the top of the boulder pile and a distance of 3,885 feet from the entrance at a depth of 102 feet.The new room was continuing on in a south east direction.
The return trip was uneventful and Kakuk made it back to the entrance with a 2 hour bottom time and another 90 minutes of decompression.Further exploration will require set up and clean up dives.There are many rooms and passages along the way that are much too fragile for scootering, so swimming is the only viable option.There are at least half a dozen restrictions along the way that will not allow rebreathers to pass, so we are stuck with good old fashion open circuit side mount and stages. But still we can’t wait to get back to the end of the line!
Brian Kakuk checks out micrite formations in Dan's Cave. Photo by Dr. Kenneth Broad
Nancy Albury checks out a crystal pool in the Crystal Palace, Dan's Cave. Photo by Brian Kakuk
Stalactites and Helictites along the route to the new south passage in Dan's Cave. Photo by Arek Pers
Dan's Cave Exploration Update 4-11-09
Brian Kakuk's Dive Log:
Location: Abaco Island, Bahamas
Site: Dan’s Cave
Depth: 163 feet
Bottom Time: 226 min (3 hrs. 46 minutes)
Water Temp: 74
Mode: O/C Side Mount
Gas: EAN 32, EAN 25 with O2 Deco
Today’s dive was a stage push to the end of the south east passage of Dan’s Cave to try and lay more line.I chickened out when I got to the site and decided to leave one stage in the van after thinking about how cold I would get during a 4 hour plus dive in 74 degree water in a wetsuit.
I had placed two aluminum 80’s of EAN 25 in the cave yesterday, one at 800 foot penetration and the other at 1300 feet penetration.These were used today with an addition to 3 stages of Aluminum 80’s (1 of EAN 32 and two of EAN 25) and two steel 85’s of EAN 25 for side mount gas.One Al 40 of O2 and one Al 67 of O2 were staged at 20 feet in the mouth of the cave for decompression.All went well and stage pick ups and drop offs went smoothly.I thought that pushing a stage through the deep restriction just past Wrigley Field (2800 feet penetration) would be difficult, but there were no snags and the final stage (5th) got me through the entire 160 foot deep passage. I dropped it just outside the grinder restriction at the entrance to Micrite Mesa (3,600 foot penetration).
Just a few hundred more feet and I hit the end of the line at the entrance to a very large tunnel at 3,885 feet penetration.After tying in the new reel, I pulled out a compass and tried to keep a southeast heading in what I thought was a massive room, but turned out to be a 150 foot wide and 105 foot deep tunnel heading in the right direction.After swimming only 200 feet, the passage turned left to the east and continued at the same depth.The passage width varied from about 100 feet to nearly 200 feet wide in most places with one short speleothem framed “squeeze” of only 30 feet wide and 20 feet tall.
I had to swim from side to side down the passage to make sure I was not missing any big leads that headed down the sides of the room out of view.Even though visibility was in excess of 200 feet, it’s amazing how large tunnels can be missed just because of depth perception and rock color. I ran out of the extra line arrows I had brought to mark any possible leads I might find, but kept one for the end of the line.
As I rolled the last bits of line off the reel, I realized that I had been fooled by a large oval divot in the wall to the south and had turned to the wrong side of the passage for the last 100 feet or so.After setting the terminal tie and leaving my last arrow, I swam off the line a bit and saw the rather obvious tunnel I had missed continuing on my original course of southeast.I placed a cookie on the line where I had made the wrong turn so that I can tie off here next time and continue in the right direction.
The swim out was frustrating as I had no more line arrows to mark several more large leads I could see while swimming down the opposite side of the large tunnel. Oh well…. sucks to be me.
When I got back to the restriction at the Micrite Mesa, I felt like my progress was slower than before so I stirred up some silt at the entrance to the grinder restriction to check flow.I quickly realized that the cave was siphoning a bit more than normal.The flow in the inland caves here on Abaco is rarely strong enough to be taken into consideration in the dive plan, but being so far back, I began to wonder how much time and gas I would lose on the more than 4,000 foot swim out against the flow.During the swim back, I realized that we were just coming off of a full moon and the tidal movement would be stronger than usual.Subconsciously I must have been more concerned about the flow than I let myself believe, because I got back to the entrance faster than I had gotten to the end of the line going with the flow! It’s amazing how the mind and adrenaline work.
I reached the first deco stop at a depth of 40 feet at 2 hours and 15 minutes.Decompression was not as cold as I had envisioned and the crystal clear entrance pool allowed me to see a rarity up on the surface 20 feet above. While watching the clouds and birds up on the surface, I noticed people looking down into the cave (and throwing rocks at me!).
After a moment I realized that the rock thrower was actually cave diver Gene Melton from St. Augustine, who had stopped by while on vacation with his family here on Abaco to see how my dive had gone.After signing to Gene above that I still had another 40 minutes of decompression, he and his daughter Sierra snorkeled down to the 20 foot stop, and after exchanging OK’s, the two began relieving me of my stages and carrying them back to the surface (and then the van) which was very much-appreciated after a long swim.
Up on the surface, just as the advertisements say, the Bahamian sun was warm, the conch salad was cold and you couldn’t ask for a better exploration dive.So now the end of the line in the southern part of Dan’s Cave is 4,565 feet from the entrance.Hopefully the next dive will put it past the one mile mark!