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Yax Chen
The Roots

This smaller project has been started by us in the summer of 2021. The new area introduced some new challenges to our diving, and the excessive amount of rainfall during this period further complicated the picture for us in terms of visibility. However, for quite a while the cave showed interesting possibilities and it was worth for the team to wait for improving conditions and trying to push the newly discovered area to the east, north-east.

The main entrance for the project was Yax Chen and we travelled on the downstream section. On one of our survey dives here, we reached one of Gary Walten's end of line from 1997 at a penetration distance of 1,6 km. The line ended in front of a massive collapse with some rocks fallen in a way that the space between them could be fitted by a diver in sidemount configuration. As always, we wanted to swim in a little bit and check if the tunnel was really over. The strength of the flow was considerably strong, still flowing downstream into the rubbles. As we climbed up the hill between the cracks a bit of daylight was visible on the top of the pile. We tied in and brought our reel all the way to the crack. Indeed it was a cenote, but the way out was very small even in sidemount and on top of this a log blocked our way. It is unknown if Gary or other divers ever saw this daylight source. Being excited about finding a new cenote we managed to pull the log to the side and tied it in place with a piece of cave line. Now we had to get all our gear off, squeeze through and hand it to the first diver already on the other side, and put everything back on again.

Finally being on the other side Laszlo immediately wanted to drop back down into the cave on the other side of the collapse, but it seemed even smaller. At this point Bjarne pointed out why don't we follow the flow of the water in the cenote? So we agreed on doing that. Unfortunately the cenote was in a mangrove forest and densely overgrown with roots, so often we had to "cut" our way through as we pulled some roots out of our way. After 57 meters we reached the overhead again where another line from 1999 was waiting for us. We knew this was another connection between Yax Chen and historic Ox Bel Ha.

The strange thing was only that on this side of the cave the line was much closer to the cenote but still nobody thought about traversing it. The cave here was very dark, full with organic sediment, was shallow and had tannic water. Maybe because of these conditions plus the roots blocking most of the sight discouraged previous explorers to move on. Because of our challenging experience with the cenote we named it Cenote Roots. On this side of the cave we continued our survey and it became quickly obvious that seemingly the east side of the main line here looked open. We decided on checking leads here on the following dives.

 

Cenote Roots first impressions

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The cave behind the "Roots"

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Preparing for an exploration like this proved challenging in the beginning. Although the distance wasn't big by any means a restriction of this size can be a problem for many reasons. If we wanted to find new cave here, this was the best and closest way through so we had to get used to the challenge. It was time consuming on each dive to unclip everything, handing all the stage bottles and DPVs through, gear up on the other side and then continue. With time we got more efficient in this. The first dives here on the most promising leads were led by Emőke, but very quickly the cave started to die down towards the east, it was very heavily filled with dark and fluffy sediment and the tunnels were very irregular. Navigating some more restrictions here did not help and we tried to take other directions. Often we were halted by a few months of rainfall which rendered the entire region undiveable due to the shallow depths and accumulation of tannic and hydrogen sulfide.

Tannic water in one of the cenotes of the area

Gear load at the restriction

One of the leads turned more south-east than east, the flow picked up and the visibility improved. The cave changed in it's configuration as well, it was more solid, dissolved rock and had plenty of collapses. We knew following this direction we could get closer to the sea and maybe even connect. The distance started to increase and the amount of sidemount-sized restrictions with a lot of sediment increased too with further penetration. The progress was slow and tedious, the cave seemed to have open rooms and hidden cracks around every corner so just identifying the best way to push on was difficult. Our closest spot to the sea was difficult to travel and as we neared 3 km distance from the entrance we decided to look for a better way. Unfortunately we were hit by another set of rains and storms and the conditions worsened. One day we decided to dive regardless. Arriving on the '99 lines the visibility was close to zero. Sometimes you keep going further and further in hope of the conditions improving, but it was not the case this time. Since we were already there we thought we will try to explore a better route towards the sea anyway. In almost complete blindness we tried to lay our line from wall to wall until we hit something and relied mostly on our compass, much wasn't visible anyway. After some trial we managed to establish what felt to us as a decent sized tunnel, made the travel close to the sea shorter and was scooterable. This new 300 meter tunnel became the new path of travel after our initial major restriction. On subsequent dives we managed to bring more gear through here and were able to look around longer at our last leads. Despite being so close, we never managed to connect this part of the cave to the sea, we were short of about 50 meters of distance. After this when the conditions allowed us, we moved to the north, tied some new shorter lines into our exploration and by the end we had a new fully connected section of 5,8 km.

The total new exploration distance in the area was: 6060 meters / 19880 feet with a new coherent area of 5800 meters / 19000 feet, avg, depth: 6.5 meters / 21 feet, max depth: 12.6 meters / 41 feet. The team has only used GUE sidemount configuration with multiple stages and SUEX DPVs.

Longest penetration: 3 km/1.86 miles from Yax Chen.

Average bottom times were: 7-8 hours with no required decompression

The dive team consisted of: Emőke Wagner, Bjarne Knudsen and Laszlo Cseh

New discoveries: 1 new cenote and 1 new connection between Yax Chen and Historic Ox Bel Ha.

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