Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I'm a 7 atmosphere girl now.

A little bit about my latest dive. I am a trained amateur, don't try this at home.

The day was magical and the butterflies were frolicking and my hubbie and I were eagerly driving though the wilderness known as Eagle's Nest. Bump, bump, bump through the 19 miles of packed limestone.

The only thing that stood in our way now was some soft sugar-sand. Though the road has been improved, there's 2 spots of deep sugar sand that make me feel like a young girl headed to a bar with a Fake ID....you hope you get in, but you are never really sure until you are past the bouncer.

We are the only folks there and get ready quickly. We each take our AL80 stage bottles (filled with 30% nitrox good to about 140') and our AL40 deco bottles (these are in the stories of all diving accidents where the unlucky diver always has "oxygen" tanks) filled with oxygen (can't take this deeper than 20'). We then gear up with our doubles, our HID lights, our 2 back-up lights, safety reels, and so much exposure protection I feel like the Pillsbury Doughboy. We are also sporting our new Nitek computers that will aid greatly in managing these multiple gasses. Did I mention that one should not try this at home? Seriously, only a suicidal fool would even think of doing this kind of dive on a single tank.

After a not-so-quick bubble check and the other customary checks & drills, we start our descent. The surface basin reeks of algae and mung. I am amazed that the fish can survive in such scum and I think back to when I had an aquarium and realize that it was CLEAN! Mike leads us to the "the chimney" and we drop our deco bottles close by. Well, we don't actually "drop" them...there are eye bolts drilled into a fallen log and we clip them to these. If you've never seen the chimney before, you've seen it before...unless you were born breech. Yes, that's exactly what it looks like, and its about 70 feet deep until we reach the ballroom. Its pretty neat going down the chimney, because you work on not hitting the sides with your fins or hands while trying to clear at the same time. Once past the chimney, it goes from the tight hole to a huge room....its probably as large as the Ice Palace and the water is so clear its invisible. You really do feel like you are flying through there. We don't have time to play now though and we rush down to the top of the mound to drop (uh, I mean carefully place) our stage bottles there. For the non-divers who might happen to still be reading this, we don't take that tank deeper because the oxygen content would be toxic at a deep depth. That bottle just waits there for us to return.

Mike leads us along the upstream line and its exhilarating to watch the depth gauge read deeper and deeper. At the same time, my brain is easing into extreme euphoria and I'm a little distracted by all the pretty rocks around us. If you've ever marveled at how tall the Sears Tower is while standing below it, its the same kind of awe. The scale in Eagle's Nest is quite grand. I never understood the allure of cave diving until I realized its often like visiting the Grand Canyon. Perhaps folks from Arizona or Utah aren't as impressed, but for Floridians who are accustomed to flat, flat, flat....its tremendously breath-taking.

We make it down to our planned 200'...well, I made it just a little past that ....to 209. We know we can't go any deeper using plain old air. At this moment, we are still a few classes away from being able to use a mixture of helium that contains less that 21% which would allow us to go deeper. We hang there until our turn time of 15 minutes and start heading back. We spend some time exploring the downstream as well until we hit our thirds (cave divers always dive using the rule of thirds: one third going in, one third to go out, one third for emergencies), then head back to the mound to pick up our stage bottles and switch to that gas.

After some time spent going up very, very slowly, we are ready to start our 50' deco stop. We have to do these one at a time, since we both can't be at the same depth in the chimney. I go first and keep an eye on Mike below me as well as our other buddy above us. After 3 minutes, we all move up another 10 feet; we keep repeating the 3 minute stops each 10 feet until we get to where we dropped our oxygen bottles. Now, the big switch to that and we settle down in the muck for about 20 minutes. Not a long deco at all....helped quite a bit by the nitrox we breathed on the way up.

All in all, it was the most exciting dive I've ever done. So much cooler than seeing the same pretty fish over and over again. I'm afraid that I am really becoming a deep-water junkie.

No comments: