Cave diving in Siberia
Only four hours to fly from Moscow to see Abakan , capital of Khakassia. Positive temperature, solar weather and absence of snowdrifts completely change traditional opinion about a severe climate of the Central Siberia . Diver's fortune gave up us to foothills of Kuznetsk Alatau - a picturesque valley of Small Sya river and miner's town Tuim, together with Novokuznetsk cave diver's team.
Inspired beauty mountain's ridges, covered by forest, cult caves with rock pictures and many untouched historical monuments are everywhere. First settlements Homo Sapiens settlements have appeared here about 34 thousand years ago. Ours diver's base - in the old village, are called Small Sya. This is a favorite place for modern shamen and well-known Stone Age people settlement. Stone axes, bones of mammoths, killed by our ancestors and the most ancient musical instrument of the World – pyrite a flute have been found here. Here are the salt lakes, possessing by wonderful medical force from very old time, collecting around of them people, looking for the God's wonder. Curative mineral water is so strongly saturate with a salt solution, that there is possible to read a newspaper easy, laying on a surface of the lake. For three thousand years before our ear here already was a prospering state, left for us one of the most ancient observatories of the World – Shira's « Stonehenge with dolmens». Barrows and fresh excavates of them are everywhere .
But our purpose - a huge collapse in a top of mountain close with Tuim town. A place, described in the book "Archipelago GULAG" of A. Solzhenitsyn as Tuim camp (Correctional camp for Soviet government enemies) – copper-ore mines. Hard job are here «very good and fast, for two years killed many of them». In Stalin's years all slopes of the copper mountain were «literally» covered by prisoners from concentration camps of the Soviet authority. Here worked up to 2300 exiles simultaneously. Prisoners made many narrow and wide mines in the limestone for collecting up a deposits of copper ore and molybdenite inside of the mountain. The survived local residents told late, that they got into natural caves sometimes, or by taking out the ore, created huge man-made underground halls. Later, being afraid of collapses, a top part of the mountain have brought down by an improbable force directed explosion, having created thus a majestic collapse with vertical rocky walls up to hundred forty meters of height. In some years after that at the bottom of the collapse was formed nice lake with turquoise color of water, becoming a popular place for cave diver's exploration.
The leader of the diving exploration project in Tuim's collapse – Oleg Grigorjev, very experience dive instructor and cave diver from Novokuznetsk city. «I has got in my first cave still a schoolboy », - Oleg tells, – «I was attracted with darkness and vertical pits. I have been keen on exploration of cave halls, endless labyrinths and fascinated with mysterious magic of the underground World. I started as usual overland caver and a member of cave divers support team/ We were just carried cylinders through caves to sumps. But my dreams and wishes to dive into sumps were so strong, that I began my studies in a scuba diving. Therefore in 1983 in the age of 17 years I has plunged into my first sump in a cave «Pandora's Box». Many years late, already as dive instructor, I had to travel and dive in the most various places: in warm and cold seas, rivers and lakes, to communicate with the big number of divers everywhere in the world. It seems surprising, that after that I became completely confident, what exactly cave divers are not most ordinary and talented people from all which I met on a life».
Oleg and his team visit Tuim collapse place not first time, they dived here many times the already. In the beginning they used ropes and speleological technique for come down from the top of rocks to the lake/ and bring down an underwater equipment – trace. It was very dangerous and unsafe way because of often rock falls. Later they have found more simple way -- old 250 meter horizontal mine, connecting the collapse with the mountainside.
Now, having armed with miner's lanterns, we drag our cylinders through seeming an infinite underground tunnel. Here is very cold, minus temperature and all mine's floor are covered with ice. Here is necessary to watch out, that will not be to strike one's forehead about a low stone arch, pieces of armature sticking out everywhere and will not be dragged out on the slippery ice. Happily having avoided all dangers in the mine, we coming on a strong transparent ice, covered the lake on the collapse bottom. Rocky walls leaving in heavens hang above a head literally. Broken blocks are on the ice - traces of recent rockfalls. Recollecting a Latin saying «Memento more», here aren't a relaxation.
Our expedition - a part of the long-term research project. Step by step, trip behind trip, immersing behind immersing cavedivers are explore all underwater emptiness. Here are many underwater adits (mines). Part of them has very narrow entrances, in others there are old rails, trolleys, cables and wooden logs. The lake's bottom have been filled up with huge rock blocks, and it has a depth to 40 meters . The opinion exists, that an entrance into a big underwater cave are somewhere in the lake's depth.
The sun isn't often visitor at the collapse's bottom, therefore temperature of water here seldom rises above +2, + 3 C degrees, and a visibility depends from seasons. The best visibility up to 10- 15 meters -- under ice, just therefore we arrived here at the end of March.
Within a framework of present expedition our team has few purposes.
1/ A support team will make two big ice-holes in thickness (ninety centimeters) ice. One of them will be very close with output from dry mine, where the lakes depth is only 18 meters , another – above a deep part, it is (as we think) just above a probable entrance in the underwater cave. It will be necessary to lay also 150 meters of guide line on the bottom between both ice-holes on depths from 18 up to 40 meters .
2/Divers are going to fix a diving bell – underwater tent. The last year, at attempt to make it, the six ton's steel cable has not sustained it and was bursted. Now cave explorers have made all necessary constructive's changes and were perfectly prepared.
3/Only after a successful finishing of all of these deals Oleg Grigorjev is going to make a deep-water immersion - to reach the greatest possible depth and to explore a new underwater cave.
«Diving here is first of all a pleasure and an aspiration to spiritual and physiological perfection. We have all for this here in the collapse -- huge underwater volumes, depth, a gloom and ice's clear water. Even the most powerful torch not always finishes up to other wall or a ceiling huge underground tunnel. And the history of the collapse and the events connected to it brings gloomy ideas to mind of the diver. Most of all I am afraid the terrible feeling of under water's cold and non stable function or regulator's freezing, when it will be necessary to close the valve of cylinders and to wait, while the first stage will thaw. And so over and over again before the following problem. I like to dive in the collapse very much, though it is necessary to overcome myself sometimes. Very unique human's endurance and great health necessary for a diving in Tuim's collapse» - Oleg tells, - «Siberians differ from Europeans nevertheless. They think less may be, but due to the Siberian temperament they do all faster and more rationally. They just have no other ways for survival.
To become a good cave diver, it is necessary to be very clever, prudent and rich person at least. These are first key's conditions fro a top rank «cave diver». Plus to this narrow and muddy sumps of Siberian caves with cold stagnant water,
which grows turbid so easily, that it is necessary to search for a way at home, as a rule, with zero visibility to the touch, that adds to Siberian u/w cave explorers such diver's qualities as phenomenal patience and purposefulness».
A long presence of a diver (more than one and a half hours) in so ice cold water is dangerous for man's life. Overcooling can start a tremor and a pain in muscles of hands and legs, hallucinations, loss of a consciousness or non control slipping under water. Therefore the unique plan was done for this dive to eliminate all possible risks.
Speleologists, do training dives down to depths of 55- 60 meters with air for a couple of days, traditionally, check, adjust equipment, refresh skills and put themselves in the order. For the deep diving they have prepared: «a bottom mix», with MOD for 90 meters , consisting of oxygen - 16 %, helium – 34% and nitrogen – 50%, «travel mixes» 28 both 50 EAN and separate cylinders with clear oxygen for final decompression from five meters. The danger of regulator's freezing is so high, so a time turn point moved from traditional 1/3 volume of gas to 1/5 stock of it. The bigger stock of gas left for back way will make so extreme dive safe a bit more.
The dive begins in the ice-hole. Oleg comes under ice and begins falling down very fast, following a rope, already putted in visibility limits of collapse wall. Huge arch, height about 20 and width approximately 30 meters appears on 22 meters depths – this is opened a majestic entrance into a u/w cave and the deepest underwater part of the collapse. Very big flat block lies on abruptly inclined slope of the bottom of the arch. A guide line from last dives is fixed on its deep end. During this moment, having looked back, still it is possible to see the greenish gloomy daylight which is hardly making the way through huge thickness of water. There are friends, fresh air, the sun and a warm, so far behind a thick layer of ice and water.
Have made a jump out from the slope, the cave explorer starts an infinite falling down in the black attracting abyss.
The falling seems so fast (a slope of 45-50 degrees), that Oleg loses the guide line from time to time, but gets it again on the depth in fifty meters. He tries to hold a correct direction and orients on rocks of blockage during this descend.
Volumes of the tunnels impress. As far as the torch can shine, darkness is around, only the right wall is visible time to time. Sensation does not leave, that here are black color water. Oleg does down between huge blocks with a size more than human growth. It seems sometimes, that his guide line laid in directly black emptiness. The blockage is behind his back, and ahead, where the torch achieves – the all-consuming gloom and attracting uncertainty. The descent continues for 13 minutes, when the floor comes a little sloping on 70 meters depth, and to 80-th comes to horizontal place bottom, covered with large rubbles. No ceiling, no walls are not visible. It is possible to move any direction. Oleg has chosen a way and started to unwind thin white guideline. He moved up what to look a round better time to time. Fears about possible problems with equipment began to remind of themselves by importunate ominous whisper. And thinks about long time decompression in ice cold water started to hold down a body already here. But all the same it is necessary to move forward, so the person is arranged – he should make geographical explore, to achieve his personal pole.
And here is the most difficult - do not cross that line, farther that it is not necessary to go, do not make the superfluous precipitate step, to not lose the life.
Only three minutes on depth in the cave spend for the exploration and a further continuation searching. It is made! Oleg fixes the guideline, knotted it around of a stone. There has come the time to go back. Now at home, to a warm, a light, a hope and smiles – a long way through ice thickness of cave water. On depth of 40 meters , it will be necessary to reclip on the guideline are showing the way to the decompression bell, to pass 150 meters under ice up to a shallow part of the lake, where under the second ice-hole is the warm underwater house and oxygen cylinders are leaved already. There are in relative comfort it will be already possible to stay for all decompression time.
During the long way to the surface Oleg tried to encourage himself and touched in a memory all amusing stories, which have happened with his friends under water. In a cave gloom, stopping on deep microbubbles stops, he thought about scared Maldivian diver, who has hidden from shark in a underwater grotto. Only there, in the full darkness this scuba-diver has felt him in safety, and so, that nobody could entice him back.
Resisting to the u/w cold and the great weariness are coming after deep immersing, Oleg recollected one Russian cave diver Ivan, who has slept in the deep 45 meter sump. A weariness and an action of a nitrogen narcosis so have affected him, that his brain was disconnected, literally, but he continued a movement with an inertia along a guideline, actively kicking by fins. Ivan has woken up in a cold sweat, only when he with great force and speed he strikes a blow, by helmet in the wall. He was really lucky, that he was fastened by clip to the guide line. «How are you? That happens? Tell us?» - friends asked him later. «I remember nothing» - Ivan answered, - «I remember only strong impact by mine head into the wall. Blow!!! Splash!! And I wake up. Where am I? In the sump?!!! Forward! Go!!»
Close with the underwater decompression house Oleg thought about his idols Olivier Isler and Jocben Hasenmayer the world famous cavedivers, the heroes have broken many records and survived, only because they trusted themselves, correctly planned dives and due to excellent work of them support team. «Our power is in our team and its help is vital for me. I could not make this dives without the help and supports of Alexey Bazarov, Gleb Sitnikov and Vladimir Komarisov» - were told later by Oleg.
«Many people think about us, that we are abnormal. Why are we diving in such cold place? But for us this cold water diving and good depths – excellent training and fine rest. It is just interesting for us to explore all Tuim's collapse and to dive here even more deeply. Besides, here are ideal place for equipment test in the very extreme conditions. My dream – to find the most perfect, trouble-free underwater equipment though last time I already started to doubt, that such in general exists» - Alexey Bazarov keeps up the conversation
«Tuim's collapse - it is a feeling of globality and man's disproportion with nature. We are moved by an aspiration to touch uncertainty and a passion of first explores unknown hitherto underground hydrospace. It is a long way of an internal perfection and endless underwater adventures. Here under water the voice of the Abyss, giving to us this unforgettable sensation of the pacification. The history about an ancient underwater cave - can be only a legend, but all of us equally trust in the dream and we amuse ourselves by hope to find it» - Gleb Sitnikov tells.
After the end of our diving trip Oleg Grigorjev has expressed an opinion, that even if in the nearest future there will be a technological break and working pressure for cylinders will increase up to 1000 atmospheres or even if suddenly rebreathers, which really are working in cold water will appear, all the same Tuim's collapse will remain an unique range for testing all novelties. It is not surprising, that it is not enough of that was suitable only for Red sea techno-divers survives here. Gradually step by step, leaving from importunate advertising, cavedivers will test and choose the most reliable and trouble-free equipment for all types of diving. Oleg as is confident, that the exploration of the collapse failure will inspire other diver for similar underwater researching in other places of Russia .
«I am a patriot of my country and believe, that the future diving power of Russia will grow up by Siberia » --
with this words Oleg Grigorjev has finished the story about Tuim's collapse.