Diving the Siphon Series - Rats Nest Cave, Canada
Something I have been curios about for a while has been the sumps and beyond in the Grotto. Having first ventured into the tourist side in 2006 and seeing the dive line disappear beneath the surface, it always beckoned me.. The survey just would not cut it. I did my research and read all the trip reports, talked to and emailed some of the original explorers of the sumps. I even found out there was a movie made of the dives, but I have yet to locate a copy. So not being able to find any photos or video, my original idea was to "redo" the recording of the passages beyond and add detail to the siphon series on the survey. This would allow non-divers to "see" what is on the other side and inside the sumps.
To my delight Chas Yonge received an email form Tom Barton (one of the original explorers) and after telling Tom what I was about to do, Tom said he was always curious about were the climb across the pit into sump 4 went. I had a lead!!
On June 27th, 2012 without any Sherpa's I hauled all of my dive equipment into Rats Nest down to the Grotto. I beat the Explorer tour up the hill carrying the lead, bottles etc! Hopefully I did not make them feel too unfit. Once the equipment was prepped I left the cave for a break/rest returning later in the evening after all the tours had finished. I was with Diana Kirkwood who assisted in the kitting up and I dove sump 1.
Sump 1 was first boldly dove in 1978 by Paul Hadfield, with a single hip mounted bottle (see Photo). This was a very bold undertaking at the time (and currently). As relayed to me through a phone conversation, after surfacing on the other side of sump 1 and wandering down the decorated passage and seeing the 4m down climb into sump 2 he returned in the zero vis back to the living. Then he did what all good Brits do when achieving great success. Celebrate by getting drunk ;)
Sump 1 is a shallow sump with a max depth of 3m, but with the required buoyancy control you will reach a max depth of 1.9m. From dive line belay to dive line belay the sump is 21.9m long, with the tightest portion being similar to going through a car window with dive kit. The amazing thing about this sump is that it has speleothems through out it. This would mean that this was once dry cave passage that had plugged creating the first sump with the drip water from the Grotto. It is the first sump with formations I have seen in Canada, normally you see this in Mexico.
On my return I removed one of the 2 dive lines in the sump to avoid future entanglements, picked up some old lost webbing and an old flashlight lost ages ago to a diver.
I turned back at sump 2 in the well decorated passage in between the sumps, this was just a probe into the sumps. I watched the vis over the next 2 weeks (It takes 1 week for the sump to settle to ok diving conditions). I returned after three weeks and dove sump 2, which is around 60cm high and quite wide not the horrible squeeze I was expecting. It is longer than Sump 1 and has 2 air bells in it close to the downstream side (you can climb into them). On surfacing you move through some slick mud floor passage to where the passage drops. I dekitted and left the equipment and down climbed 10m to sump 3 (a duck).
A quick breath hold and this was quickly passed. Moving through the next passage you have to drop a 5m pit (can be down climbed, but being solo I rigged a rope) into the fault rift. After traversing through this mud slick fissure, almost falling to my death on one section I stopped 15m above Sump 4. Staring up into the crack that emits a waterfall, and across into the rift on the far side of the pit. Where do they go?
I think the survey is off and you rejoin the fault in the Grand Gallery somewhere below the first "shower" on the Bone bed side. If this is correct it could make for a very sporting long way round trip. I plan on checking compass bearings on my next trip when I go to do the climbs, after Raspberry in the spring. Also all formations stop at Sump 2, just fossils and chert adorn the walls in a few places here and there.
I am returning Paul Hadfield's dive equipment to the Grotto Sump so people can wonder, and be amazed about how bold explorers can be. This will stay there as long as I am in Canmore.
Oh, I did celebrated like the original explorer of Sump 1, I got drunk.