20-23/8/2020 – Team: Karl, Tom and Nico
The full report of our first trip to the Lot area, to find out if our concept for expeditions worked (the van, the diving equipment, filling options, …). We went out for a long weekend: 1 day of travel and 3 days of diving in which we explored 4 different caves over 5 excellent dives.
Day 1: Traveling and scheduling
Schedule was between 8h-8h30 for the first pick up, but with room for margin. Karl’s first pick up at 9h15 was at Nico’s place. Adrenaline and excitements let us to be very talkative and a little bit less of loading the van, so we were quickly behind schedule again. The second pick up at 10h30, same scenario, and more time behind schedule 😊. We finally left Antwerp around 11h15 with great enthusiasm and laughter. After all, it was a holiday and foreseen as a lessons learned to improve future trips like this.
In short, we took the BBQ set and never used it but ate KFC at 22h in Cahors. So a lot of “lessons learned” were put on the Excel checklist.
Cahors is a beautiful city but not really in the vicinity of the caves site in the Lot. Driving for 1h at the very least on small roads towards our caves. A big lessons learned in capital letters, bold and in red colour on the Excel-sheet and a subject of constant accusations and acknowledgement of our stupidity. Trust is good, control is better. Never let anybody reserve a location who hasn’t been there 😊.
The hotel/apartment has no parking spaces and we were obliged to go and look for a decent and safe spot, going from one place to the other (the hight of the van was mostly the killer). A big sized van/bus/camionette is not easy to drop. Finally we found an appropriate location but more than 1km away from our location. And not the first time nor the last time we asked ourselves who booked this place. We agreed it was a shared responsibility but we also agreed it was better to point the finger to the guilty one (who wasn’t with us) who booked the apartment. Bashing feels much better than self-acknowledgement of stupidity 😊.
Day 2: Stay calm, eat a suikerwafel
We left Cahors way to late at 9h with no coffee or breakfast. We passed a supermarket and brought all kinds of food. Again too much talking and laughing and not talking into account the schedule with room for margins. Meanwhile the temperature was rising, the sun came out at full force and when we arrived at the parking of the first cave Ressel, the blistering heat was scorching our equipment and heads.
Only at the location were you could go into the water (river side) there was some shade.
The cave is 20m to the left and indicated with a rope on the side. There is no way of detecting the entrance of the cave if you don’t know this. Completely submerged in the side of the river at 6m depth.
Dive 1: Emergence du Ressel
12h00. This is what we came for. Each of us was carrying double 12L with 300b air and a stage of 80cuf. Tom’s first time in Ressel. He didn’t know what to expect was very anxious but relax at the same time. Because of the heat (we are in a dry suit) we really needed to cool down in the water of the river at 22°C. We performed the S-drill, talked about the dive plan, the 1/3th rule and began swimming. Slowly we moved up the river with hardly any current and started to descent. 12h15: the cold fresh water hit us right before the entrance of the cave. We came from 40°C outside, to 22°C in the river, to 12-13°C in the cave. At this point we were happy with dry suits. Karl went in first followed by Tom and Nico as last diver. This means when turning, that Nico is first and Karl last. This sequence was also kept for all other dives we did during the weekend.
The Ressel has an easy access and wide long corridors. Beautiful rock formations and clear water. About 150 m deep into the system, it splits into two passages: one tunnel stays shallower at about 10 m depth whilst the other runs broadly in the same direction dropping repeatedly until it reaches around 18m. The two passages rejoin and 300 m from the entrance. At that point, the cave takes the first dramatic plunge in a narrow crack to almost 32m. We took the more straight going channel till the narrow crack and reached our 1 third of available air and turned around. Going back Nico took us into the other channel that’s runs less deep to avoid possible deco and to take the scenic route.
We spend about 50 min into the system and we finned a bit to hard in the way in and also the way out, but enjoyed every minute off it.
We had a great debriefing and small lunch. Again the heat was tormenting and we choose to take off to the second dive site of the day: Landenouse.
We had to test the compressor and generator. Because of the stupendous noise of the generator we decided not to unleash the decibels on the parking lot of Ressel, but travel into the mountains and found ourselves a desolated spot on the road to Landenouse. Unfortunately the compressor could not fill Bi12L more than 210b. We had 3 sets so it took us more then 1h. Lesson learned: this set up is only for small bottles from rebreathers, not for full blown double sets. Wasted again some precious time but holiday mode was still on so no stress.
Dive 2: Landenouse
There is a very very limited parking space of 2 cars. We had a huge van… so decided to park a little illegal but clearly safe and of the road.
The entrance to the cave is bizarre. It has a stone built construction around it. As it is a fresh water source somehow the locals constructed this wall, but the diving community was able to install this new wide stairway.
Landenouse has a brand new stairway built and only 1 car was parked here. Very small basin and none of the team has ever dived here. The heat really got to Tom and Karl, so we decided to get dressed in the shade. This time again, the cooling in the water was very necessary before descending. The water in this cave was around 14°C.
18h20: S-drill and review of the dive planning and we started looking for the entrance. Constellation was the same; Karl goes first, Tom second and Nico closed the ranks. The bizarre entrance was straight below in the center of the construction. Wiggling our way down into some really narrow places with curves and constrictions deeper and deeper to find ourselves suddenly into bigger hallways with very good visibility. A really interesting entrance to say the least. On the bottom there was gravel and some sand, but the rest were impressive rock formation (some very black). The visibility was not like in Ressel but still very decent to 10m and beyond. Sharp edges and some beautiful corners and curves we went about 350 meters before turning. The pace was already much better than the first dive. We reached 22 meters max depth and 45 minutes into this system.
Returning to the surface something happened to the face of Karl. He looked devastated. The heat and a serious sugar dip got to Karl. He was overcooked, low on sugar and in a bad mood. The rest of the team went to work and served cola zero and a sugar waffle the minute he got to the surface. Lukewarm from the sun at this point, but surprisingly the waffle resurrected the mood of Karl and sarcasm quickly became the norm again. Needless to say Tom and Nico did not suffer from sugar dips therefore sarcasm was served as topping on the desperate Karl.
Slowly some colour returned and his sense of humour returned. The heat changes of today where a bit too much. In weather conditions like this: arrive, dress, get in and get out. We spent too much time in the sun.
Meanwhile it was 21 and Cahors was far away. Each village we checked for some place to eat but all restaurants were full. Eventually we arrived in Cahors at 22h and decided to go to KFC were we became the last customers. Chicken lives matter apparently in KFC as stated in their own propaganda. We had our doubts. Still in an good mood and having something to eat, a storm raged over Cahors with rain crashing down. We as last customers had to leave in the pouring rain, but it did not kill our mood. Back at the apartment, we quickly tried to get some sleep.
What a relieve, the temperature today would be at a maximum of 26°C. About 8 degrees lower than the day before, just what we needed. Some clouds were predicted, so we would be shielded from the burning sun as well. Ideal conditions!
We were here to learn build up experience on these kind of trips and the immediate result was that we turned to the Cave to be filling station to refill our tanks. Since it was close to the caves we wanted to explore that day and we didn’t want to use our own filling equipment anymore, it was a smart choice. We got there as soon as possible that morning, but because of the distance (and a little GPS reading mistake from Tom that added half an hour) it took us quit some time to arrive. Another lesson: zoom in to the GPS map if you are in doubt of which road to take…
Dive 3: Cabouy
It only took about 25min from the filling station to get to the Cabouy cave. The road there was relatively tricky with the big van we are driving. Luckely we didn’t encounter a few other cars coming from the other direction, the narrow steap roads in between rocky walls made it challenging to pass by.
The reward was pretty amazing… In the middle of nature and in a valley in between the mountains, there appeared a little pond. The parking was small and pretty full because the location also serves as a starting point for hiking.
The dive itself was very impressive. We obviously gained some confidence from diving the day before in the other caves, but logically followed all safety checks again before going under. Although it was a bit difficult to find the entry at the beginning we had a good pace. We descended pretty quickly to about 30m. From there onward we ascended again to about 12m. After turning back we had to descend to the 30m point of course to make our way back out. We have returned at the 450m point of the cave, perfectly as planned in terms of our air supply.
The rock formations felt very similar than the Ressel dive. The visibility was good and we were even followed by an eel. We met halfway the cave and it swam with us and it even joined us during our decompression stop.
Because of the longer an deeper dive we had a decompression stop. The profile below is from Tom’s computer, showing the gas switch to EAN30. A longer deco stop to wait until all computers were clear of course gave some room for fooling around with the camera’s, which will show in the video footage of day 2 that you can find below.
Dive 4: Emergence du Ressel
In between dives, we went to the filling station again. We decided to do the (late) afternoon dive in the Ressel again. Now that we were familiar with the cave again, it would be more relaxing and we could enjoy the cave and it’s beauty even more.
Another plan was for the team to go to the 4th drop off, that goes to around 40 meters. We just had a touch and go at that depth, but must admit it was difficult to immediately turn back since it was magnificent down there. As you can see in the dive profile however, we did the dive according to plan and immediately returned.
After the dive we were fortunate enough to spot a little sign, that lead us to a steak place hidden between the trees. We were able to sit outside, had a big steak and some red wine. What else could we need? Perfect end of the day: sitting there relaxing, talking about diving trip memories and life in general.
Our last day in the Lot area. We originally planned to make 2 dives today, but the last days learned us we wouldn’t have time since we also still needed to drive back to Belgium afterwards. So we quickly cleaned up the apartment and drove off to do one dive only. We still had to refill the tanks, so we made a stop at our friends of Cave to be.
Dive 5: Saint Georges
The last location was chosen to be Saint Georges. A little bit of stress hit the team (and especially Tom) since the cave has a pretty narrow entry. The cave takes you straight down to 28m and moves up again, similar to Cabouy the day before.
We didn’t make it a long dive, since we still had to drive about 900km back home afterwards. We had a short team briefing and decided we had a great weekend already and didn’t want to take any risks just because of it being the last dive before heading home.
Even though a few divers left about 15min before us, we had a decent visibility during the whole dive. Even though you can surface again in this cave we decided not to do this and just continue following the main line.
The narrow entry (and exit of course) proved to be challenging, but didn’t gave any trouble getting through as the visibility was good. Just following the line lead us out without any issue. The footage in the video below shows the narrow pass-through.
After the dive, we made some coffee (and sugar waffle of course!) before getting in the van again for the drive home. The whole ride went smoothly, especially since we had Nico in the kitchen… He provided Tom and Karl with some bread, cheese, sausages, spread, …from the back seat that we renamed “kitchen”.
It turned out to be a good idea to have a lot of food available in the van, since we hit Paris in rush hour and got into big traffic jams. Yes, it was Sunday so not a working day but we believe the holiday season and weekend had something to do with it. Karl dropped off Nico first, Tom afterwards. By 3AM on Monday morning, everyone was home safe again.
Some good lessons were learned. Since that was the goal of the trip AND everyone made it back safely, we can consider it a successful tryout! We’ll have some follow up meetings to discuss of course, but some of the conclusions are clear from this article already. Even though these are sometimes very logical, time pressure and underestimation makes you overlook them quit easily.
- Choose accommodation timely and pick a central position.
- Take weather into account for dive planning, especially the heat. Dive in the morning or late afternoon.
- Our compressor solution will work great for 3l bottles of rebreathers, but it suffers when using it to fill up 3 double 12l tanks.
- Watch out for sugar dips, even when it’s hot and you’re not hungry. Force yourself to eat something, cave diving takes a big impact on your body and that body needs to be fueled… Especially when it’s hot outside and cold in the water.
The good news is that most lessons were linked to logistics and weather but not to the dives themselves, where we maintained much more than the regulatory precautions. And that’s much more important since we are less forgiving circumstances under than above water…
DAY 2 COMING SOON!
DAY 3 COMING SOON!