Get ready for tough terrain, aggressive wasps, tarantulas, foot long centipedes, fire ants, poisonous trees. Generally everything is after one thing, you! The jungle is very thick in most parts and there are hidden holes and crevices all over the place just waiting to break your leg, watch where you step! Most caves and sinkholes are usually invisible and completely overgrown, you really need to pay attention and watch for any signs of a cave underneath. Once you find something you must be extra careful when cutting through the brush not to disturb wasps nests or much worse a wild bee hive, a potentially lethal situation as the entire hive will attack you at once!
You must then find a safe way to get down the cave or sinkhole, watch for loose and slippery rocks and the potential for a collapse. If you need to rappel down make sure you know what you are doing. You are now at the water's edge of what might be a going flooded cave, and you need to jump in and check it out. To save carrying a full set of gear you only need enough equipment for what is called Power Snorkeling. A power snorkeling setup must be light enough to carry in a small backpack for an entire day with minimal hassle. Our typical Power Snorkeling gear list includes, an AL19, a reg and SPG, a mask, small reel, lights and fins. A quick check beyond the limits of free diving and into the realm of Power Snorkeling can help eliminate many repeat trips to caves that dont go and will help ensure that a full set of gear will most likely be needed.
EXPLORATION IN WATER
Finding a virgin cave is always a privilege, it makes all the time and effort worthwhile. However exploration cave diving is very different than diving a known cave. Going into the unknown you must be prepared to deal with any situation. Remember you are the first, you are laying the line so make sure there are no line traps, no placements and make solid tie offs. Being the first to dive a cave means percolation from your bubbles will likely result in bad to zero visibility exits, make sure you can tie knots and make tie offs in zero visibility and that you are 100% comfortable and proficient in doing so. As with any cave, virgin or not great care must be taken to minimize the impact on the fragile cave environment, in or out of the water. Exploring a new system can take hours, days or decades depending on the size and complexity of the cave.
Surveying is one of the most important parts of documenting a new cave, and the most time consuming. It will take many dives and a lot of hard work to produce an accurate cave survey. Depths, azimuth, distances, taking notes of particular features, making sketches, the list goes on. Underwater cave surveying is tedious work, in flooded caves we use old school land mapping techniques, since underwater, GPS technology is totally useless and no modern electronic gadgets work underwater in a cave. A compass, depth gauge, slate and tape measure are our only tools.
It can take a very long time to explore and survey a cave, and sometimes a team or explorer will not able to finish the job alone, this is one aspect that makes information sharing among subsequent explorers so important, by sharing information and working together a large cave system can be precisely explored and mapped very quickly that would otherwise take years..
There are a few cave mapping programs that we can use to produce an accurate cave map. However all of these programs are geared toward dry cave maps and although most can be used in mapping flooded caves none are really ideal. In the past few years Sebastien Kister developed Ariane a cave mapping solution geared specifically at flooded cave mapping. This program was developed by cave divers for ave divers and has helped make this part way easier. For example with a GPS point recorded at any entrance, Ariane can precisely place the cave map in Google Earth, this is one of many features that has made this mapping software a staple of the cave diving community.