Chip’s Hole 2005 Exploration

Chip’s Hole 2005 Exploration

WKPP Exploration WKPP/GUE


Chip's Hole
Chip’s Hole, aka “Pipeline”

More photos in the Chip’s Hole Project photo gallery

Over the past few months the WKPP has been preparing for an exploration push in the Chip’s Hole Cave System, aka “Pipeline.” Conditions within the Pipeline System are different from those in other parts of the WKP due to the water source and the fact that this system is less sensitive to surface water intrusion than the Leon Sinks and Wakulla Cave System. The cave is also unique in that for most of the initial 2,500ft the cave is extremely small and restrictive requiring extensive setup and cleanup. I felt we had the team in place to get this project off the ground and made arrangements at the beginning of the year to kick things off.

The project consisted of 3 phases: site prep, setup and exploration. Site prep took the better part of 6 months as we had to deal with some early season tropical systems and rain. We also had to reline the first 2,500ft of cave and remove 20+ years of twist, braided, electrical cord and phone cord used by divers to negotiate the system over the years. The cave profile is unique in that the depth isn’t as much of an issue as the cave configuration– small/silty/shallow, small/sandy/midrange, medium/silty/shallow, large/silty/midrange, medium/silty/shallow, large/silty/midrange and massive/silty/shallow.

WKPP Chip's Hole support crew
Jim Miller, Hunter & Brian Swearingen, Scott Cox, and Walter Gordon on an
early set-up dive to place the
upstream habitat

Phase 1 and part of Phase 2 were done on open circuit to assess the line and determine if it would be usable. Long range Phase 2 setup and Phase 3 exploration was done on Halcyon RB80’s. Bottom gas was 21/50 with plans to evaluate gas needs should the cave drop deep into the Leon Sinks System. I am preparing a more detailed write-up but wanted to bring the rest of the team into the loop. Despite it being more than 5 years since the WKPP extended the line in Wakulla to 19,000+, exploration is alive and well in the WKP and within the WKPP. Quite honestly, it’s what we do better than anyone and this project was no exception. Our support and cleanup teams took care of business, got the job done and I credit their efforts in giving the exploration team the best shot we could ask for.

Chip's Hole 2005 Exploration Project
Jarrod Jablonski and Casey McKinlay on a set-up dive during phase 2 of the project. Photo by David Rhea

Support Summary, 21-22 October 2005
Todd Leonard

Friday, 21 October:

Bennett, Cox, Leonard, and McKinlay met in High Springs to caravan to Chip’s for the final setup dives. All worked to transport gear to the water, then Bennett and Leonard began their dive. It was a double-stage single scooter dive, with each diver transporting a payload of two Magnum scooters, one drive bottle, and one 70ft deco bottle. The 70ft bottle was placed in a 60ft deep room just upstream from the Cal’s restriction, the best available deco location before the final ascent/exit through small, shallow, and extremely silty conduit. The drive bottle and setup team’s first stage bottle were dropped adjacent to the first safety depot.

Finally, the Magnums were dropped adjacent to the second safety depot. On the way out, the gold line was repositioned and snugged in a few positions. Back in the basin, Cox joined the others to ferry gear to the surface and setup the trough with deco gas.

Saturday, 22 October:

With setup completed and the silt allowed to settle overnight, the push team and initial support crew met for breakfast at 6:30am, then proceeded to Chip’s to get the day started. Cox and Gordon assembled their gear immediately to remain on standby throughout the day as safety divers, while the rest of the crew aided the push team in assembling gear and moving it to the water’s edge. Additional support crew arrived in time to see the push team get underway at 11:04am, which began the long process of waiting and regularly monitoring the basin for bubbles. The expected bottom time ranged from 400-600min (not counting time in the cave decompressing on the 70ft bottle), but the support team had to be ready to initiate safety and cleanup dives at any time.

The support crew enjoyed each other’s company throughout the day, watching movies (“Sin City” and “The Godfather”) and football, checking the news for details on Hurricane Wilma’s progression, and feasting on BBQ. Italian divers Fabio as well as GUE instructors Gideon and Mario were on hand after a week of training with JJ; they were treated to a local surface tour of several WKP sites. Cox and Gordon setup the trough with deco harnesses, food tubes, and drink bags. The other support divers assembled gear and placed scooters and stages at the water’s edge for the first cleanup team. As the night wore on the Italian contingent made a run to Crawfordville for pizza. Finally, around 9:30pm, the bubbles returned. The crew’s long wait was over, and it was time to get back to work.

Koritz and Leonard got in the water for an initial check on the push team, and to get a summary of what gear remained in the cave and where. They returned to the surface with news, then began the first cleanup dive with one scooter and three stages each. Meanwhile, Cox and Gordon got in the water to monitor the push team as they decompressed, assist them out of the breathers, and ferry used gear to the surface.

The gear waiting in the cave included six Magnums and 10 bottles at the second depot, plus two more Magnums and some more bottles at the first depot. Given the cave’s tight and silty conditions, multiple trips would be necessary. Koritz and Leonard dropped their first stage and one fresh stage at the first depot, then continued out to the second depot. They each picked up two scooters and three bottles, and returned to drop them at the first depot. After exchanging their spent stage for a fresh one, they made another run from the first to the second depot for the remaining gear. On return to the first depot they switched back to their first stage, picked up a little more gear, then returned to the basin. Bottom time was around 130min.

While Koritz and Leonard began their deco, Jablonski and McKinlay were coming out of the trough for their final ascent. Meanwhile, Cox and Gordon continued to monitor the push team and ferry gear to the surface, while Bennett and Messersmith began the second cleanup dive. The effort included four two-man teams operating seamlessly, well past midnight in a cramped basin with lousy viz — welcome to the WKPP.

Bennett and Messersmith traveled downstream on a single stage, picking up all gear remaining from the first depot. They scootered back to the basin with three magnums, six stages each and a bottom time of around 50min. While they did a little deco, Cox and Gordon pulled the last of the gear to the surface. The divers exited the water around 2:00am.

The full support crew continued to work at the surface, raising gear from the water’s edge to the parking area, disassembling and packing it, and putting away the canopies and camping gear.

The support crew for Oct 20-21 consisted of:

Curtis Baldwin
Derek Bennett
Scott Cox
Shellie Foss
Walter Gordon
Terry Koritz
Todd Leonard
Mark Messersmith
Doug Mudry
Hunter Swearingen
Renee and Hannah
Gideon Liew, Mario Arena, Fabio

Earlier support teams included Anthony Rue, David Rhea, Jim Miller, Brian Swearingen, Alison Adler, Carol Deegan, Mark Garland, Todd Kincaid, Doug Mudry, and Charlie Roberson.

Jarrod Jablonski at Chip's Hole
Jarrod Jablonski on the way out of Chip’s Hole after the October 22 exploration push. Photo by David Rhea

Exploration Summary
Jarrod Jablonski and Casey McKinlay

For the exploration push at Chip’s Hole, Jarrod Jablonski and Casey McKinlay submerged at 11:04am on Saturday, October 22, 2005 and surfaced 14 hours later at 1:00am on Sunday, October 23. Total distance traveled from Chip’s Hole was 34,500ft roundtrip. The team arrived at the end of the line at 14,200ft from Cal’s Cave (previous exploration by WKPP divers Rick Sankey and Brent Scarabin in 1996) in less than 160 minutes. The team tied in and added 2,220ft of line in addition to survey and video for a total distance from Cal’s of approximately 16,500ft. The team spent 132 minutes in the newly explored section of cave; this effort involved exporing three side leads as well as scouring the cave for additional possibilities. Finally the team decided to began the long journey back to the surface. Exit time would be 210 minutes for a total bottom time of 502 minutes. Decompression would add 338 minutes to the profile for a total of 14 hours at an average depth of 100ft, max depth 150ft and minimum depth of 43ft. Exit time was 25% longer due to the siphoning flow of water in Chip’s as well as the large amount of equipment (5 scooters and 6 drives) in tow.

Jablonski and McKinlay used Halcyon RB80 Rebreathers, 2 standard Gavin jump scooters, 7 Magnum Gavins and 1 specially modified 45amp NiMh Gavin with video and 50wt HID lighting attachment