April 03, 2018

The Whacking Great Chamber with Maxwell Fisher, Katie Graham, and Jim Warny.  Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
As my legs started to rattle from the 70 plus pound pack while sweat rolled into my eyes from 100 degree heat, I realized that this dive operation will not only commit us to a frontier that will challenge our resolve but this dive will challenge our plans adaptability to execute the project with detailed precision. Just two weeks prior, I was bedside fighting two viruses that took a bit of the tailwind out of my momentum, now in Loma Grande Mexico and feeling a bit under the weather,  my oculus was set on going forward and downward into the cave to photo document and assist in this expedition so we hit the trail and set a pace to be at the cave entrance in 3 hours. The hike was long, steep, and hot. The canyon portion was straightforward with a lot of boulder hopping before we encountered a small steep section of Forrest to hike up before we got to the entrance of the cave.

Cueva De La Pena Colorada. Loma Grande, Huautla de Jimenez, Mexico.

 Inside the cave, I packed in most of my diving kit down the slippery and muddy gnat infested passage to a point where I could stand upright and walk.  Soon after, the gnats disappear as I traveled further back into the passage that led to a sloping beach full of sandy grit we termed, dive base.  I staged my gear here and hiked back up the multi-kilometer trail with 2800 feet of elevation gain just to get back to base camp in Loma Grande for the camera gear packed away in a Valkyrie dive scooter tube.  Moving fast, we had to make sure we were out of the canyon by dark to avoid the pit vipers yet mid day the humid 100 degree heat would threaten the possibility of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Time it right and get to it, welcome to Cueva De La Pena Colorada. 

Max and Andrew heading down into the Rio Pena Colorada
Cueva de la Pena Colorada is a remote multi-kilometer cave system comprised of dry and submerged cave passages deep in the rugged mountainous region of the high Sierra Mazateca, in Mexico. The objective of this expedition was to continue the exploration of the submerged passage beyond sump 7 which heads directly to the deepest cave in the western hemisphere, Sistema Huautla. A connection between these two caves would make Sistema Huautla one of the deepest caves in the world!  This cave is the kind of place where gear and food is measured by weight and the kind of cave where water is so abundant that dive gear is necessary to continue exploration, yet not enough water can be taken in from the heat and the hard work that it takes to explore the inner core of the cave.

Santo Domingo River, Sierra Meztecca, Mexico
 Cueva De La Pena Colorada had many natural filters that have stopped most from returning to the region.  You have a few hours of time to hike in the Pena Colorada canyon before the pit vipers come out and before the heat swelters to over 100 degrees in a humid day for the steep 2800ft. ascent and decent, while carrying heavy packs.
A topographical map of Sistema Huautla, Cueva De La Pena Colorada, and surrounding caves.
To meet the demanding expedition objectives, a team of physically fit and highly qualified cavers were selected whom had the ability to climb, rig for SRT, be certified cave divers, have survey and mapping experience,and the ability to camp in the cave for multiple days while maintaining a high level of physical and mental agility.
Andrew and Max looking out into the Santo Domingo canyon, Sierra Mezatecca
 Cueva de la Pena Colorada provides challenges so unique that the idea of civilian use recreational re breathers was influenced by the attempts made on the last expedition in 1984.

Gareth Davies preparing to dive Sump 4 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
   Under the leadership of Bill Stone, Over 200 participants including locals, the Mexican military, and teams of experienced cavers that were up for the task of diving and surveying this cave, mapped Cueva De La Pena Colorada to 7.8 kilometers with1.4 kilometers underwater. The team stopped at a point 55 meters underwater beyond sump 7, this is where our frontier exploration starts.

A profile map showing Sump 9 of Sistema Huauta and Cueva De La Pena Colorada.

Now, 34 years later a team of 30 elite cavers capable of deep cave exploration above and below water achieved a push back to sump 7 to continue the exploration of cueva de la Pena colorada.  It took the teams over two weeks to have the frontier set up for deep diving operations which has made this expedition one of the most remote diving locations on the planet!
Michael Waterworth at basecamp with climbing including the new Petzl Removable bolts and diving gear.
 It is also worth noting that Sistema Huautla and Cueva De La Pena Colorada are on the same elevation plain which makes this cave a highly desirable system to push deeper into.
Jim, Gareth, Katie, Connor, and Max at Camp 1 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 No doubt, this is the most committing and demanding dive expedition in modern day history and one of the most remote exploratory dive frontiers on the planet that come with a high reward for a connection into the deepest cave in the Western Hemisphere, sistema Huautla!

Jesse Houser and Lee White rig connecting passages from Agua De Carrizo into Nita Ntau which all connected into Sistema Huautla. PHOTO BY: CHRIS HIGGINS @chrishigginsphoto

There are not many places on the planet where you can visit a karst region that has seen almost 50 years of cave exploration with the promise of unexplored passage than in the high Sierra Mazeteca of Huautla De Jimenez.

cavers descending down to camp in the TAG shaft of Nita Ntau which is now connected to Sistema Huautla. PHOTO BY: CHRIS HIGGINS @chrishigginsphoto
This year, PESH made significant connections with Nita Ntau and Agua De Carrizo.  These two caves connected into each other and also connected into Sistema Huautla near camp 2 in La Grieta.  This added one of the largest rooms in sistema Huautla (the TAG shaft) and brought sistema Huautla to over 50 miles of cave passage! Congratulations to the teams for all of their efforts. Last year when we were at the bottom of the TAG shaft in Nita NTau, we noticed a fault that was sucking air.  We scribed some data and brought it back to basecamp which verified that the TAG shaft was right above La Grieta. It was fantastic to hear that Nita NTau connects and a huge bonus connection of Agua De Carrizo. 

Some members of the crew that connected Auga De Carrizo and Nita NTau into Sistema Huautla. PHOTO BY: CHRIS HIIGGNS @chrishigginsphoto

More about last years Nita NTau push.

Over the years, there have been numerous expeditions involving qualified project cavers from around the world that bring their expertise into the region with the guarantee that they will find new cave passage and continue the documentation one of the worlds best karst regions.

Basecamp in Loma Grande
Among the thousands of caves that can be found in the region, Sistema Huautla has been one of the most famous caves that keeps giving up unexplored passage "cave booty" and is at the forefront of Mexico dry cave exploration.

Huautla De Jimenez, Mexico

  There is no doubt that Sistema Huautla has seen a lot of traffic among the worldwide caving community and has seen just about every skill set to map and document unexplored passages of the deepest in the western hemisphere.
Basecamp in Loma Grande, Sierra Mezatecca
Sistema Huautla has set a high standard for cave technique evolution, equipment development, and has became a classic example of how cave exploration is conducted.

Connor Descending into sump 4 with his dive kit
There are many entrances to Sistema Huautla and some of which have been connected by by the use of diving equipment. Currently, cave exploration and operations in Sistema Huautla continue with the PESH organization.

Andres preparing dive tanks at Dive base in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 PESH (Proyecto Espeleologicio Sistema Huautla) is a 10 year project the will continue to map and work with the Mazateco people on infrastructure and educational development. Cavers will go a few thousand feet deep into the many conduits of Sistema Huautla and some teams will push leads that would nearly connect back up into the surface.
Gareth Davies preparing his rebreather with his Shearwater dive computer in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico

The Hydrology of Sistema Huautla is rather extensive and some have considered the cave as a water park of rope work in waterfall passages and swimming in warm water that has a clear blue color.

 Water is what makes these caves continue to grow and evolve so cavers who have experience with Huautla caves got together and developed some of the foundational elements of the Huautla Resurgence Project and  a collective was created to focus on the hydrology of the system.
Gareth and Connor prepare to shuttle packs and dry tubes through sump 4 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
Over the years, diving, aid climbing, survey, and the advancement of equipment considerations have been employed to keep the expeditions safe and efficient so cavers that have come into the Huautla caves had to meet and exceed expectations of spending multiple days camping inside the cave while being able to travel over a few thousand feet of underground descent and meet the objectives that have been set forth to continue the documentation and exploration of Sistema Huautla .

Maxwell fisher preparing his rebreather at dive base in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
In May of 1981, a hasty team led by Bill Stone set out into the Santo Domingo Canyon and looked at Cueva de la Peña Colorada as being a potential location for watershed from a larger unknown system.

Hiking down the trail to the pena colorada river. the main entrance is just below the red cliff face to the left.
  Later in 1982 Sump 1 was pushed for 524 meters and divers popped out in dry passage that continued on for a kilometer leading northward towards Sistema Huautla.

There were challenges with transporting open circuit gear through the sumps and Rob Parker is transporting a "sled" of 8 composite tanks through Sump 3 in the  Peña Colorada.  It came to a point at each sump, some tanks, and people, had to be left behind while the lead divers (and their support teams) proceeded forward. Only 5 tanks reached Sump 7 for the final push.
[photo �1984 Bill Stone]
Exploration was stopped by the discovery of a second sump and according to Bill Stone, a priority was made to connect this passage with the deepest known point in Sistema Huautla which has been estimated to be  (10 kilometers away and 300 meters higher). 
Team photo during training in the fall of 1983 at Indian Springs, Florida. Rear, left to right: Carlos Lazcano, Elena Lazcano, Pat Wiedeman, Bill Stone, Gary Storrick, Bob Jefferys, Clark Pitcairn, Noel Sloan, John Zumrick, Sergio Zambrano. Front, left to right: Clark Daily, John Evans, Rob Parker, Angel Soto.
[photo �1983 Bill Stone]
A total of 7.8 kilometers of virgin territory leading into the plateau were surveyed on this expedition, with 1.4 kilometers of this distance totally underwater. This was comprising of 7 sumps, the longest of which was 524 meters in length. The expedition established the first ever subterranean camp set beyond an underwater tunnel.
Spartan Outpost: Left to Right: Bob Jefferys, Rob Parker, and Noel Sloan work on a meal of freeze dried food at Camp 2, 4.2 kilometers from the entrance and beyond six sumps comprising a kilometer of underwater travel. Camp 2 was occupied for 7 days during the 1984 expedition. Only the clothes worn under each person's wet suits were taken beyond Camp 1. Just 20 meters beyond this camp lies "Sherwood Shaft," the 55-meter pit leading down to Sump 7.
[photo �1984 Bill Stone]
The teams progression was put to a halt by sump 7, which is a massive sump at the bottom of a 55 meter shaft with no ledge or dry land surrounding the sump pool.  This sump was pushed for 165 meters that went down to a depth of 55 meters. It has now been more than three decades since cave explorers have returned to Sump 7 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, until now.  This expedition required specialized training and experience from the participants that were involved due to the unique environment that the cave presented.
A random KISS Shepard rebreather was hanging out at sump 2. In the background  Katie and Max prepare to shuttle gear through sump 2
All of the cavers had experienced with vertical competencies, rigging detail, and able to perform within a minimum standard of physical agility that allowed for safe and efficient travel into mountainous jungle environments.   Each caver that was involved also had competencies in bolt/aid climbing, cave camping, survey, medical, cave rescue, and be a certified Full Cave Diver.

Connor preparing tanks in sump 4
A certified Full Cave diver is a certification level where a diver will have to to pass four scuba diving certification levels that involve submerged cave environments.
Gareth testing his rebreather with his shearwater dive computer in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 The diver will start from a underwater Cavern diver class , and moves along into a Into to Cave, Apprentice cave, and Full Cave certification.  This means that divers were put through seminars that would cover topics in Gas Management, an array of Line drills, specialized equipment functionality, streamlining peak performance buoyancy, and dive physics. Becoming a Full Cave diver can be difficult as these topics are put into demonstration by the use of challenging and potentially stressful situations that test the divers ability to solve problems and follow protocol.  I received a Full Cave Certification after going through 4 weekends of rigorous training in 54 degree water with temperatures that were between 15 degrees and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Attempting to find experienced cavers that are competent in project caving, cave camping, aid climbing, survey, and cave diving is not an easy order to fill but 30 of us answered the call to be on this dive expedition.  

Connor in Sump 4 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico

Among the group we have push divers and support divers. The members of the team were: Zeb Lilly, Andreas Klocker, Chris Jewel, Maxwell Fisher, Jim Warny, Michael Waterworth, Connor Roe, Gareth Davies, Mirek Kopertowski, Teddy Garlock,Tomasz Kochanowicz,Matt Jenkinson, Kyle Moschell, Daniel Mitchell, Dane Motty, Christian Stenner, Charlie Roberson, Adam Walker,  Dave Watts,  Katie Graham, Matt Vinzant, Josh Brackley, Gilly Elor, Andrew Akinson.

Connor and Gareth preparing to shuttle gear in Sump 4 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico

 The objective that the support divers had was to get through the sumps and help with hauling equipment for the push divers.  Secondary tasks include aid climbing leads and survey. The push divers are a small group within our group that will proceed to sump 7 and attempt to dive the frontier of the Pena Colorada where the 1984 expedition stopped.  Technology has changed since 1984 and with the advancement of re-breathers, mixed gases, DPV (dive scooters), and new techniques and technology, the push diver will have every available advantage to continue to push the deep water frontier.
Gareth and Connor preparing to dive in sump 4 Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 A substantial amount of preparation and planning has gone into this expedition and must be performed as a collective effort among some of the best cavers in the world.

Connor shuttling packs underwater in sump 4 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico PHOTO BY:
Some of our equipment that we employed for the task had some unique submersible qualities to keep other equipment dry and manageable.  One of the specialty tools that we used was dry tubes with special sealing properties that kept the inside of the tube waterproof.

using horses to bring dry tubes down into the canyon in Loma Grande PHOTO BY:
We placed our camping gear and dried food inside of 3L Nalgene bottles and stacked the Nalgene containers on top of one another, inside the tubes for transport underwater and through the cave.  The gear list was extensive and the amount of effort to operate the expedition was some of the most incredible commitment in project caving history.

These 3 gallon Nalgene bottles are filled with different types of jerky!
Arriving in Oaxaca in that usual evening time that I am use to, I employed a cab and arranged a hotel so I would not be walking around Oaxacian streets at night with heavy packs.  On the way to Huautla the bus blew a tire on the winding highway in the mountains,  I was not surprised by this occurrence since I pointed out to the driver that the tires were stripped down to the metal.

Broke down on the way to Huautla
Thankfully he had an upgraded tire that was just bald.  At least the metal was not showing but no tread on the tires which worked and we made our way up into Huautla without any more incidents.  Once I got out of the van I was able to find a taxi cab driver who knew the route to Loma grande, the location of where our base camp was located. When deciding on where the best place would be to base out of, the team had a few options but after going over the pros and cons, the decision was made to stay at the remote mud house and tin roof neighborhood of Loma Grande.  After two hours of winding dirt road the majestic Rio Santo Domingo and the Rio Pena Colorada come into view as the taxi pulls up to a house with a van with Florida license plates. 

The drive to Loma Grande PHOTO BY; Jim Warny
Once I got out of the car I was greeted by Gareth Davies and Andreas Klocker and was also immediately briefed on the latest political situation within the neighborhood. Communication cable line for the mickey phones was being laid out down the street which caused a stir with the community. 

Basecamp in Loma Grande, Mexico
The communication cable is for a phone connection inside of the cave between two given points and the purpose of this communication cable was for phone communication between camp 1 and camp 2. They figured that we are in Loma Grande not to explore caves but to steel children. Sounds more like an excuse to not have us there since they had nothing else to blame.

 It did however, cause a problem so Zeb and Andreas had to deal with driving to various cities to meet with the leaders of the region and within the neighborhood, town hall meetings were called and cancelled before they commenced.

Zeb Lilly preparing pure oxygen tanks for deployment into the cave.
 It’s not the most favorable situation when there is more equipment than what most dive shops have in stock sitting in the living room of a families house while the neighborhood stages a coup d'éta. 
Lots of food packed in 3 gallon nalgene bottles at basecamp.
The neighborhood was on top of a ridge that faced the Santo Domingo river. The mazatec enjoy being off the grid and have created a sustainable living condition utilizing the resources around them which included the bare minimum of necessities.  There "off the grid" living conditions allow them to enjoy the environment around them and utilize the natural resources from the mountains and nearby markets with little contact to the outside world.

A stop at a stand and a typical look in the mountains of the sierra Mezatecca, Mexico.
 No more flushing toilets or shower heads, the bathroom consisted of a toilet that you pour a bucket of water into to flush and the shower room was a bunch of buckets of water. Stove is propane and the houses are made from the mud that they get from the side of the road. 
Mud blocks are made on the side of the dirt road for the foundation to a house.
Inside one of these rooms was living quarters for 8 people to sleep right next to each other like a pack of sardines and our gear...lots of gear, everywhere.  Scuba tanks, Ts of oxygen and helium., Climbing equipment, bolts, bags, electronics, a sked, scooters, spoils of dive line,  and large coils of rope.

Living quarters at basecamp in loma grande.
I took a quick walk to the edge of the promontory and Looking down a 45 degree steep angle into the Rio Pena colorada, I can see a sheer limestone cliff with plated walls, cactus growth, and dried out hanging gardens that dangle over large patches of red wall. There were also a few karst windows within the canyon walls, leading to believe that there was a lot more than just some pretty non technical canyoning in the Rio Pena Colorada.  
Rio Pena Colorada, the main entrance is below that indentation in the mountain.
 Taking a closer look into the canyon, impressive amounts of water have cut through the valley and fortified this deep canyon that leads into the Santo Domingo river as the water eroded a boulder field  roadway through the steep landscape What kind of water hydrology has brought forth such incredible power and turbulence?
Max and Andrew hiking down into the canyon.
The temperature on the trail heading into the canyon was peaking at around 100 degrees and we had 2800ft. of elevation loss to negotiate in order to get into the Pena Colorada canyon. As we started off, the terrain reminded me of a dry autumn day as our swift walk in the forest crackled the dried leaves and pine needles that covered on the ground.
Gareth and Chris hiking down into the canyon
The air smelled of pine as the occasional wind blew up from the canyon below. We continued down into the canyon and the flora changed to trees with agave looking plants growing on the branches. The terrain started to get steeper and not too soon after, there was a foundation to a stone house that offered some flat ground and a rest point for the group.
the jungle line starts here with a fantastic view.
We had little time to rest so we quickly mounted back up to continue our descent into the canyon, the terrain changed once again to a jungle like environment as we started to hear the flowing water of the pena colorada river. We passed by a generator which is the location where the horses that carry gear turn back to Loma Grande. 

Horses haul packs from the generator.
We had a lot of equipment taken down by horses but we carried our kits down and I had to make an additional trip down with just a Valkyrie scooter dry tube for my camera gear. We continued to descend down a steep, dry, and muddy trail until we got to the “rock” which was a place with.... a massive rock and scuba tanks stacked up on top of another with a compressor to fill these scuba tanks.
Gareth, Chris, Andrew, and Max, at the Rock.  The rock is where the compressor filled tanks for diving.
The majority of our tanks were composite fiber glass tanks that could be filled to 6500 psi. but We kept them at around 4500 psi, which is substantially more than the standard 3000 psi. that would go into a typical scuba tank.
Tank filling station.
These fiber glass tanks were pounds lighter than aluminum or steel tanks but we had to compensate by placing weights on the tanks for neutral buoyancy. Once we were done here we headed into the canyon which was a typical and straightforward boulder hopping canyon with a flowing water that would lose and re-emerge. 

Max hiking in the Pena Colorada Canyon.
We passed by the main entrance of Pena Colorada which had a boulder pile of rocks rising to the entrance.
Canyon breakdown rubble leading to Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 Some of these rocks were polished which gave a sobering feeling to the massive amounts of water that come out of cueva de la Pena colorada. 

Looking out into the canyon from the main entrance of Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
We continue on and eventually make it to the cairn drop where a short slog through the forest took us to the canyon entrance of cueva de la Pena colorada. There are two entrances to cueva de la Pena colorada. The main entrance has a large rock pile with the center piece polished by water charging out of the cave. 

Pena Colorada canyon
The other entrance is further back up the canyon that has a nice size cavern alcove with a unknown upper passage. This canyon entrance by-passes the main entrance sump which helped considerably with gas management and logistical arrangements. 

Canyon entrance into Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
The entrance starts off with a hands and knees crawl for about 300 to 400ft. It is a bit of a nuisance due to the heavy packs, tanks, and slippery conditions and the sounds of thousands of gnats can be heard in the air as your breath in the humid warm air.  The second half of this entrance down climb has a hand line to ease the sliding slope.

preparing to enter the cave in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 Once at the bottom, the passage opens up into walking passage. It is a bit muddy but it is easy walking passage with some formations on the walls and ceiling. A second hand line is encountered that descends down to the main trunk passage of the cave. Going left would have taken us to the other side of sump 1 so we went straight and headed for dive base, the location where dive gear is sorted out just before sump 2. At this point in the cave, the passage is a bit fluted and sharp from the water turbulence passing through these otherwise dry chambers in the rainy seasons.

Self portrait looking out of the main entrance in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 We got down a few large sand piles and the reflection of chrome plated first stages, shiny carabiners, side mount kits, and tanks come into the picture. Dive base is where we prepared our dive gear, checked buoyancy, made adjustments, and brought packs to neutral buoyancy.
Dive base in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
We spent some time here and I had to modify a Valkyrie scooter dry tube cylinder for my camera equipment. The bulbs, batteries, camera, and flashes fit perfectly in this tube but there was a lot of consideration that had to go into packing and the transportation of equipment especially what can and what can not get wet. 

Zeb Lilly preparing to dive in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
For items that can not get wet, we packed these items in specially made dry tubes made for transporting gear underwater. I had to strap an additional 25 lbs of lead onto the Valkyrie tube and 10 more lbs of lead onto the fiber glass tank to make everything neutral in the water.

Katie diving in sump 2 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
 My other tank was a steel 50 so I connected the dry tube to the back center of my dive rite LT side mount harness and had a steel 50 and a composite fiber glass tank on my sides with 4500 psi in each tank, yea the dive rules were being bent here a little bit, but there is no cert cards being cut for expedition cave diving. These were necessary and life critical adjustments that we had to make due to gear  our demand and the remote nature of the cave. We also had to wear our full SRT kits under the dive harnesses so we were able to climb out of sump 3.
Andres preparing to dive from dive camp in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
Diving through sump 2 only took about a minute to get through and visibility was around 10-15 ft. Once on the other side the passages expanded in size and voices started to echo for longer duration's of time, this cave is getting bigger!. The remainder of the cave is walking passage with incremental submersed passages to dive through. 

Katie and Max shuttle gear through sump 2 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
Carrying tanks around breakdown piles and sharp rock quickly became a bit annoying, so I went back to dive base to grab my yellow Petzl 45L transport pack. This worked quite well and after an hour we were able to shuttle our gear to Sump 3.

Connor preparing gear inCueva De La Pena Colorada PHOTO BY;Jim Warny
Sump 3 is a bit longer than Sump 2. We had about 600ft. of submersed passage to follow and a depth of around 65ft. to negotiate. This sump took about 7 minutes to get through and had around 10 ft of visibility. We followed a nice bright yellow line as it zigzagged a bit through the sump and surfaced in a large room with a large pond. 

popping out in sump 3 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico PHOTO BY; Jim Warny
Following the yellow line into the pool and surfacing was a little disorienting but once we surfaced into the main corridor, the massive sump room had a large borehole passages that continued deeper into the cave.
SRT climbing out of sump 3 in Cueva de La Pena Colorada PHOTO BY; Michael Waterworth
We placed our tanks on the line and swam over to the SRT line.  In order to get out of the sump, we had to SRT climb directly out of the water and pass some re belays to get to the top, with gear in tow. We climbed out and proceeded to continue through the Wrath of the rim stone section where large and quite deep rim stones slowed our pace.

Rapture of the rimstones in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
From here, the cave continues to be walking passage and a few pools are crossed in order to get to the remainder of the cave.  Quickly, we come to a small climb that takes us into the Whacking Great Chamber, what a massive room!  We stopped here to glimpse into the black void of this chamber and it will be a photography focus for another day.  Leaving the Whacking Chamber we descend down into a ribbon passage borehole with pools of water.
nice ribboned passage in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
Soon after we got out of the water pools we come to the final swim in the grand lagoon that took us to camp one.

a team member is crossing the great lagoon in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico PHOTO BY; Michael Waterworth
Finally at camp we were greeted with some caver cheer and hot tea, the English love their tea and it was welcomed with open arms.
Camp 1 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada
Camp 1 had a really nice beach with a level surface made to fit around 8 people with gear and a nice kitchen quarters.  The cave is quite hot so a thin sleeping bag and a sleeping pad was all that was needed.
camp 1 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
We sat around the campsite and cooked up some dinner while we discussed what the plans were going to be for the following day. A mickey phone was about to be connected so communication between camp 1 and 2 was going to be operational.
camp 1 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
Camp 2 had some camp sites but they were all bolted to the walls with hammocks due to the nature of the room where camp two was established. We had to make sure that there were enough places to accommodate people or they would not be liking life if they had to sleep on a cold sharp rock.
one of the higher borehole passages has signs of water action on the floor in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
The following day we woke up and headed for sump 4.  Connor and Gareth had a plan to head to Camp 2 and assist with setting up the port-a-ledge and assist with diver operations at sump 7.A portaledge is a mobile platform that climbers use to spend nights on multi day climbs by setting up tents on this platform. A portaledge was used for sump 7 because of the sheer wall from the vertical shaft that goes into the sump.  There is no place for divers to set up their equipment unless a portaledge is setup.
Connor preparing to rap into sump 4.
The boreholes to sump 4 had breakdown piles in place which slowed progression but there was a high room with a muddy floor that had some interesting signs or water movement. Its amazing to think that the water would get that high in the cave.

Maxwell in one of the Rimstone pools near sump 4 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
Continuing on we passed some voids that went down 50 meters to the water table and another sump. There were some formation rooms but a few down climbs later and we made it to the 40ft. drop leading into sump 4.
Connor rapping down into sump 4 with diving gear and the crew preparing for a dive.
This was a interesting rap as it had a large flow stone pouring over the ledge and a nice free hang rap down to the bottom.

Connor rapping into Sump 4 as Gareth prepares to dive and the crew prepares dive equipment.
 There was water flowing over the edge of this large flow stone which added to the dynamic of the room.

Connor descending over the flowstone to sump 4 in Cueva de La Pena Colorada
This flow stone was quite impressive to see and it was a nice rap down to the sump pool. Gareth and Connor prepared to dive through sump 4 and continued to shuttle diving gear through sump 4 and onto sump 7.

Jim ascending up the large flowstone flowing over the rap into sump 4 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
I wanted to make sure I got some photos of Gareth and Connor going through the sump so I set up for a photo shoot here.

Gareth and Connor in sump 4 in Cueva de La Pena Colorada
They had tanks with mixed gases for deep diving and other camping equipment that was meant for sump 7 support and camp 2.

Connor in sump 4 in Cueva de La Pena Colorada
After Gareth and Connor went into their dive, we headed back to camp 1 and headed over to the Whacking chamber to photo this massive room. 

ribboned passage in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
On the way we stopped to photo some more of the ribbon borehole passage in the lower levels of the cave before we popped out into the whacking great chamber.

Passage from the grand lagoon to the whacking chamber in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
The Whacking Great Chamber was very impressive and a massive room that led to an upper level. The rock was a bit dangerous and exposed to hike up but there was a rope in place for people to get to the top. The rope was from the 1984 expedition so a piece of rope was taken out for testing.  Max and Katie went to the top to stage the photo while I set up at the bottom. Jim was also assisting at the bottom. At the top of the chamber Max reported that there were a lot of beautiful white formations but I did not manage to get up there after the photos were taken.  Once we were done with the Whacking Chamber, he headed to sump 3 to get some remaining photos and pack up all of the camera gear.
Jim looking over sump 3 in Cueva de La Pena Colorada
We headed back to camp and we basically ran out of things to do, Gareth and Connor were beyond sump 4, camp 2 was full, photos were taken, so the following day we headed out of the cave. Jim and I retrieved our gear the day after and than on the last day, I headed back down with the group to photo the main entrance and dive base.

Main entrance in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
The main entrance has a nice room and goes into some passage before it leads to sump 1
Self portrait at the main entrance in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
I am glad we were able to bypass to this sump as it was quite long and that would have ate up a lot of the gas especially for open circuit divers.
KISS rebreather at sump 2 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
I went over to sump 2 to help the team carry some packs and see them off as I photographed them going underwater.
Sump 2
The hike out would be my 4th time hiking out of the canyon and it was usually a brutal 2 21/2 hour hike but I was able to get this last hike out in 1 hour and a half due to the cloud cover and the temp dropped from 100 degrees to 90 degrees.  I am sure that there could be some credit going towards acclimating to these conditions but it was less time than previous times.
Saying farewell to the team as they go through sump 2
The landowners have been so helpful on this expedition and I want to thank them for housing us and allowing us to rent some of their horses to bring gear down and back up the 2800ft of elevation.
Horse hauling packs down the canyon.
My time was limited and even though I showed up to this incredible expedition just after recovering from two viruses a few weeks before leaving, the experience will be one to remember.  Mountain hiking, canyoning, diving, climbing, and everything in-between the realm of caving, at its very best! 
rented a horse to Haul bags down and back up the canyon.
The experience of a lifetime is an understatement when describing Cueva De La Pena Colorada. It is much more than an honor to be apart of such a important expedition objective and among some of the most elite project cavers from around the world.  This expedition was a test of resolve and the true durability of the equipment that we used. We have learned so much about integrating a high effort dry caving and cave diving protocol that future expeditions will now have more insight on gear selection, modification, and human agility preparations when going into a similar situation.
Connor Roe, preparring to dive sump 7 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico
The expedition continued throughout the month of April.  Our group headed back to Camp 1 when Connor and Gareth went through sump 4 and they continued onto sump 7 and camp 2. Camp 2 is a bit more rocky and the only option for sleeping accommodations is utilizing Hammocks.

Gareth Davies and Connor roe on the port-a-ledge in at the bottom of sherwood shaft, Cueva De La Pena Colorada.
From Camp 2 the Sherwood shaft is very close and the pitch down into sump 7 is around 70 meters. Descending directly onto the port-a-ledge and ascending right after a dive could cause some decompression issues with off-gassing and thrusting a diver into a state where they could succumb to a diver related illness so extended decompression procedures were essential for safety.

Gareth and Connor preparing to dive in Sump 7 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada.
The Team started to perform exploratory dives in sump 7 from a port-a-ledge and the team reported that the water viz was about 4-5 meters and they reached a depth of 51.5 meters.

Chris Jewell in Sump 7
The team also reported that it was becoming difficult to find on-going passage so they ended their dives at that point. There are two more teams that will continue the pursuit in sump 7.

Connor Roe in sump 7 in Cueva De La Pena Colorada
It sounds like sump 7 is quite the beast to progress through and continuing into the submerged passage might require the use of DPV's.

In the Middle of April, the second team which included Zeb Lilly and Andreas Klocker performed two dives in sump 7 and did not find a way past the end of the line. They found no flow in sump 7 and it seems like sump 7 might not be directly connected with Sistema Huautla.

Jim Hiking back up for the last time.
When the team started to head back and were going through a section with lower airspace between camp 1 and sump 3, the cave started to flood at a rapid rate and block Zeb, Andreas and the rest of the crew in the whacking great chamber.  

Sierra Mezatecca, Mexico
They were without their diving gear and food for three days. The water receded and they were able to make their escape and have recovered, according to the Huautla Cave Diving Expedition page on facebook. I am so grateful that they are ok and this is just another example of how these caves flood so fast, even in the "dry" season and quickly the dangers of expedition caving can turn to a reality. If this was a week before, this would have been something that I would have experienced.  

The expedition finally wrapped up in the last week of April.  The team was able to get out of the cave safe and collected most of the gear from the cave. 

 For more information on the Huautla Resurgence Project or Cueva de La Pena Colorada, please go to:

The Whacking Great Chamber with Maxwell Fisher, Katie Graham, and Jim Warny.  Cueva De La Pena Colorada, Mexico

DIVE Magazine:

Royal Geographical Magazine:

 Sidetracked Magazine:

WILD Australia article :

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