Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nomash River Cave GUE-BC 20-21/06/2015

Last year, I had a fantastic opportunity to join Jim Dixon and other GUE-BC members in diving the cave at Nomash River. We planned to go again this year, and I was very excited.

I got quite a few photos throughout the trip. You can see the whole photo album here:


The plan was to go up for two days. For this we spent two weeks planning gear and making preparations (it was a 5 hour drive, and the nearest civilization was 2 hours away). After the trip, we learned a lot. One of the biggest lessons was that you didn't need to bring everything! We definitely brought too much. We had originally had a step in our planning to review and cut out duplicated/unnecessary things, but we ran out of time for that step. Oops. It would definitely be something for next time. Hand sanitizer and more toilet paper were two other good things to add!

Dave and I went over the Friday evening on the last ferry to help get an early start the following morning. The lights of Nanaimo were pretty looking through the ferry doors. Another benefit of diving was declaring Dangerous Goods and being put at the front of the boat!

We met Dennis at Jim's house in Ladysmith, and chatted some before getting to bed. It was always a pleasure to stay at Jim's. The next morning he made eggs and coffee, and we packed up and got moving. We were very excited!

Both vehicles were full to the brim. We had two sets of doubles each, along with extra cylinders for transfilling. Jim, being Cave 2, was able to bring one set and stages, so he got off easier. Another good reason for Cave 2 (among many others!).

The drive up island was great and didn't feel long at all. There was a lot of talk about the trip and diving in general. We stopped briefly in Campbell River for food and supplies, but kept a good pace. After about two hours we turned off to Zeballos and were on the familiar dusty road leading to our destination.

Logging was everywhere, but the scenery was beautiful. We would not be at this cave without logging, so it was a bit of a double-edged sword.

Soon, we had our first look at the Nomash River. We stopped on the bridge and snapped a few pictures. This was Dennis' first trip up, so we wanted to let him see how great the river looked.

Our plan was to haul as much gear as we could down to the cave, make camp, and then go back to do the first dives. Here was our first look at the trail. Last year we had done a lot of work improving the steep slope, and it appeared to have survived the winter for the most part. Even Dave's camo-coloured rope was still there. The joke was that no one could see it, so that was why no bears or squirrels ate it.

Finally the cave! We got a great group picture: Dennis, Jim and Dave.

Dave brought wooden pallets, as it was an idea we had last year. The rocks made it difficult to find flat spaces to gear up on. With some MacGuyver action, we got the pallets down to the river. Dennis had the idea to attach a backplate. Dave's idea was to almost ride the pallet down the hill! I don't have a picture of that, but he came out of the bush with the pallet looking a bit disheveled.

It was pretty hard to describe the path to the cave. It was only a 5 minute walk, but I would liken it to the hill at Whytecliff without the road. Perhaps a short video clip would help give some perspective.

Jim tied off the primary reel to a tree outside the cave entrance. We were serious about a continuous line to the surface! When he dropped the reel into the water, the salt from the ocean and the air in the line caused a huge stream of bubbles. We joked that we had a primary reel failure, and would have to go home. You can just see the bubbles in this picture.

Once all our gear was down at the cave, we took the trip to set up camp (it would also give us a chance to cool down after all that work going up and down the hill). We camped in the same location as last year: a nearby gravel pit. It was a good flat area, and gave us lots of room.  It was quite the camp! Dennis and Dave wanted to test out their tents, so we had three. This meant that Jim and I had a tent all to ourselves. Going back to the lesson about "too much stuff" we agreed that one tent would suffice for the number of people we had. The extra tents just really weren't needed. And we would still hear Dave snoring, and Dennis squeaking around on his air mattress!

With camp set up, we were anxious to get in the cave. It didn't take long to get our gas analyzed, gear together and our dive plans reviewed. Here was a good picture of Jim in his happy place.

Did I mention we had a lot of stuff?

There would be no video or photos from the first day of diving. We wanted to focus on assessing the state of the mainline from last year. We would find much of the line still in place, which was great. We ran the primary reel in and tied in. We did learn that the mainline was broken in an important spot. There was a second tunnel, and last year there was an actual T here. Part of that T had been destroyed, and we ended up following part of the mainline into the second tunnel which had a low ceiling and a great deal of sediment. Jim and Greg had explored that tunnel the previous year as well. The second dive on the first day was to retrieve the exploration reel from the silty tunnel, and move to the wider tunnel to the left of that. Once we figured that out, we got in to the bigger, main tunnel and to the drop off area easily. This cave was a perfect Cave 1 dive. It was about 15-20 minutes to the drop off that quickly went down past 30 meters. It gave a 40-45 minute dive, at about a 12 meter average. With double 130s, you had enough gas to do at least 3 dives, and there was plenty to look at. It really was a pretty cave. Quartz sparkled in the walls, pieces of rock jutted up like stegosaurus plates, and sometimes trout would dart in the shadows.

With the first day of diving over, it was good to be done. We were all very happy! Back at camp we thought that bears had moved our tent around, but it was just the wind.

We had a wide variety of dinner ideas. Jim had rice pilaf, Dennis had cheese and meat, Dave made some burgers.

And I made Hobo stew.

The best part of the day was the evening fire. There was no ban in effect, and we were in the middle of a gravel sand pit, so we weren't too worried. The fire helped keep away the mosquitoes (of which there were many, mostly dining on Dennis), but most importantly it promoted excellent conversation and relaxation. Dennis gave some astronomy lessons, and we watched how quickly the stars and moon moved when they were close to the ridge-line.

We slept very well that night. I was up before everyone else, and while I was sitting enjoying the quiet, a humming bird came up and hovered right in front of my face. He didn't stay long, but it was very cool. We had a quick breakfast and got back to diving!

Before we left the camp, I got a photosphere of it. If it worked, you should be able to scroll all around to see the glory of the gravel pit.

Back at the creek, I got a good picture of the morning light creeping along before we started diving.

The second day we had some new plans. First, we would do a documentation dive with video. On the way out, we would retrieve the exploration reel and drop it near the break in the primary line near the T. Then,we would do one more dive to repair the line and retrieve the reel. For the video dive, Dave had brought two 50 watt video lights, but one of them malfunctioned. So instead, Jim took one of the lights, and I teamed up with him as I had Heather's camera setup with two Sola lights. Dave and Dennis would be the first team in, and they would be the subjects. Our plan was to video the whole cave, and then video the drop down the shaft. Here was Jim getting ready to enter the cave.

Once the exploration reel was retrieved, and we finished the video, it was back to the entrance. Dennis and I teamed up again, I dropped off the camera, we recalculated gas, and we headed back in. Jim repaired the primary line, and everything was looking good. Dennis and I had an excellent dive, going through some of the swim-throughs and pointing our lights at the ceiling to reflect the light off of the pools of air there to create a disco effect in front of us. I didn't take many photos, but did get a picture of Dennis here. It kind of looked like he was jumping out of the dark.

Here is a look at what it was like to ext the cave.

There was a lot of video to go through, and it would take a while to go through. So I put together a teaser video of the short sequence of the descent down the drop-off portion of the cave. The bubbles were very cool. In the video is a quick piece of surfacing as well. The longer video would have to come later.

Here is the final cut video, with additional footage. The clips are not in chronological sequence as I moved them around to make a better video. There is one diver with a stage in the video (Jim Dixon) who was Cave 2 trained. Apart from that, the dive was Cave 1 limits.

The weekend ended all too soon. With the diving done, we had all the gear back up the hill, and the camp broken down quite quickly. It was a bit of a challenge packing the truck, but Dave was a pretty good Tetris player.

Soon we were back on the highway.

And back to civilization for some well-deserved celebration! A fantastic trip!

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