Here I am during May of 2005
at the entrance of J2, a new deep cave in the Cheve area.
Jon Lillestolen and I were about to enter the cave carrying supplies
for Camp 2. It would be a
four day trip underground and we would be involved in the final
exploration push for the year
which left the cave at -1100 meters deep.
the Cheve Project
Sistema Cheve, in southern Mexico in the state of Oaxaca, was
discovered in the mid 1980's by Bill Farr and Carol Vesely. Since
then it has been pushed to the depth of -1484 meters, making it the
deepest cave in the Americas. The cave system has the greatest
proven depth potential in the world as proven by a dye trace from it's
main entrance to the resurgence 2547 meters lower. This is nearly
500 meters more than the current cave depth record of -2080 meters in
Krubera in Abkhazia. The current terminus of the main Cheve
system is a large breakdown pile reached after diving through two
sumps. It is just over 9 kilometers from the entrance making it
currently the most remote underground location on earth. Because
of the logistical difficulties of continuing exploration from this
point, the last two year's efforts have focused on finding mid-way
entrances that might provide a quicker route into the middle Cheve
system. I participated in both the 2004 and 2005
expeditions. In 2004 I helped in the early exploration and
mapping of J2 (also called Cueva Barbie). That year we pushed the
cave to a depth of about -400 meters and ran out of rope in big going
passage. I also helped with some exploration and mapping in
Sumidero Aguacate. In 2005 the primary objective was to continue
the push of J2. We were prepared with camping gear and many
kilometers of rope. After stalling out at a sump early on in the
expedition at -750 meters, the team was able to send several divers
through the sump who then spent a week digging at a gravel and boulder
dam and were able to lower the water so that the passage could be done
without dive gear. After this major breakthrough, exploration
continued rapidly beyond the sump. A major breakdown borehole
passage was discovered that averaged around 20 meters wide and 10
meters tall and continued for more than a kilometer. The final
exploration trip ended at -1100 meters and 6 kilometers from the
entrance. We turned around at a drop into a 5 meter wide by 20
meter tall stream canyon...a promising lead indeed! The cave is
only a couple of kilometers short of where it will likely intersect the
main Cheve drainage, several kilometers downstream of the current
terminus of Cheve.
In 2006 we returned to survey a couple more
kilometers of large trunk passage, but unfortunately the cave reached a
sump at about -1200 meters. Jim Brown accomplished a recon dive
into the sump. It went for roughly 150 meters before resurfacing
in another chamber and then entering a second sump. This was
enough to determine that further progress along the main route would
require a major diving expedition. In the final week of the
expedition Bill Stone, Jan Mathessius, Pauline Berendse, and I pushed
climbing leads in the bottom portion of the cave, but found no
significant continuations. In the next to last day I climbed up
two aid climbs in an infeeder near Camp II and we surveyed about 200
meters of passage there but were stopped at another climb.
In 2009, we returned to J2
during with a major diving effort to push the sump at the bottom.
After a month of arduous gear hauling, we had enough gear at the sump
for the first dives, and the sump was rigged for travel by Jim Brown
and Jose Morales. Marcin Gala and I spent nearly a week camped beyond
the sump mapping a maze of passages beyond and discovering another
sump. At the end of the expedition, Jose Morales and Bill Stone
returned to dive in the next sump, but ran out of time and supplies
after exploring 500 meters of underwater tunnel that has not yet
emerged into air-filled passage. Articles on this expedition were
printed in the January and February 2010 issues. A portion of the
January issue is available here.
In 2010, Jon Lillestolen, Marcin Gala, and I co-led a smaller
expedition to the J2 area, with the main objective of connecting
another cave, Last Bash, into J2, hopefully succeeding in bypassing a
flood-prone section of passage that repeatedly trapped cavers in 2009.
We succeeded in connecting the caves, and an expedition
report was published in the AMCS News.
Plans are currently underway for a return expedition in 2012 to continue diving beyond the current end of exploration.