I edged away from the main line, drifted toward the wall on the left and pointed my light into the hole that I saw there. The low ceiling pushed me to the floor of the passage where the silt rose up threatening the visibility. I lowered my head and turned my light inside the worm tube and that’s when I saw the line. It was running along the far wall of the thin passage tied off in a shallow alcove. No wonder I’d missed it, the guideline was hidden from view.
It was July 2, 2017 and I was far back in the Cenote Chikeen near the second entrance where I had been searching for the back way into the Throat of the Dragon. Taking in a breath, my body rose away from the floor and pivoted to the main line where I placed a directional marker showing the way out. Then, I tied off the main line with a finger spool and moved back to the hidden junction, eased down to the silty floor and penetrated the worm hole.
I extended my hand and wiggled further into the tube until I could just reach the line and connected my spool to the junction–now I had a continuous guideline linked all the way back to the surface of the cenote.
Silt obscured the face plate of my mask and the walls of the tube pushed against my tanks–it felt like I was squeezing into a drainage pipe. I reached into the tube with both hands, gripped the sidewalls and pulled myself into the worm hole.
The tube opened somewhat and turned to the right. I drifted through the tight passage fast enough to stay ahead of the rising sediment that threatened the visibility. I held no fantasies about how things were going to be on the way out. I would be sightless and dependent on the line for sure.
As the passage turned it opened into a chamber and there in front of me was an unmarked T-intersection–just one line tied off to another. I pulled a marker off my rack and secured it to the guide line to avoid any confusion as to which way was out of the cave.
When I glanced to the left my heart leapt in my chest. The line dipped under an alcove into a tiny restriction. Above the restriction was a hole like the porthole in a ship–the same landmark I’d seen from the other side of the restriction. I knew in that moment that I’d found the back entrance into the Throat of the Dragon–so many dives, I thought, but I needed to be certain.
I took a another marker from my rack, removed my right tank and pushed into the restriction. The hole was tight, my head turned to the side, absolute darkness as the silt engulfed me. I worked further into the restriction, my left hand with the marker tracked the line until I felt it rise out of the hole. I secured the marker as far as I could reach and backed out of the restriction.
I hovered over the T-intersection and checked my gas. I wasn’t yet at thirds but the question was: do I push through the restriction to the other side?
I was 99% sure that I had found the Throat of the Dragon but I couldn’t know in an absolute way until I actually passed the restriction and observed the passage on other side. The safest mode was for me to exit the cave and return to the restriction from the other side and confirm the marker that I had placed just outside the restriction.
I finned out of the cave. I had fresh gas waiting at the main entrance. My plan was to leave the jumps and markers in place and return to the Throat of the Dragon from the other side, confirm the marker and complete the circuit.
An hour later I was once again swimming along the backmount line. I passed the junction with the Rusky arrow and the line leading to the back passage twenty minutes after reentering the cave. I finned over a black silt floor toward a white limestone tunnel. Here the cave changes character from low, wide passages over black floors to white tunnels decorated with stalactites and stalagmites.
After perhaps five minutes I came to the first of two jumps that take you to the line that services Mauro’s Basement. Tying on to the first junction I finned over the top of a boulder and threaded through a narrow restriction that I passed on my side between two columns. I made quick work of the next junction and swam along the line another three minutes to the jump that bends right to the Throat of the Dragon.
The cave narrows here, twists and turns, with horizontal restrictions between bedding planes. I came to a T-intersection which I marked, turned right and entered the Throat of the Dragon. The passage is smallish and decorated with formations streaked with black water marks from ancient times when the passage was only half filled with water. I passed through a restriction, followed the passage as it trended left and came to the restriction marked R1 on the map.
Removing my right tank I carefully penetrated the hole which squeezed me between the wall and a large column. As I pushed through R1 I bumped some air into my bladder in order to stay above the silt. With my right tank ahead of me, I edged forward and turned left with the passage and saw the line dive to the floor.
There before me on the line was my cookie. I hesitated in stillness and contemplated the situation. I had worked hard for this–twenty dives had brought me to this moment. The restriction was smaller on this side–sort of an arching hole over yellow silt with a sharp edge along the roof of the arch. I had tried it one time before, one month earlier and backed out because it was so constricted and I had no idea what awaited me on the other side of the restriction. Now things were different because I knew the terrain on the other side of R2.
I vented the air out of my wing, dipped down into the hole and removed the cookie from the line. I shoved my tank ahead of me, turned my head, and inched into the hole careful not to lose the line. The sharp edge of the arch bit against the top of my harness as I forced myself deeper into the silt. Lights or not, my world was suddenly black. No shadowing, no light whatsoever just absolute darkness.
I exhaled and the bight of the sharp edge let up on my shoulders and I eked further into the restriction. I felt pressure on my left side where the wall of the cave pressed against my left tank. I exhaled and inched forward again, and then again, and my head was suddenly free of the restriction. I slithered out, and up, and saw the T-intersection and my marker as I broke free of the silt but not of the line.
Moving to the intersection I positioned myself facing out of the cave and Ok’d the line with my thumb and index finger. The silt swirled as I hooked up my right tank and took stock of my gear. With everything in order I moved into the worm hole and back to the main line picking up my spools and markers along the way.
The rest of the dive was anticlimactic. Later as I loaded my gear into the car bees swarmed my wet gear and I was stung. The sting left an itchy blue bruise on my arm that lasted over three weeks. Nothing about diving Chikeen had been easy–the bugs were fierce, hauling tanks to the water through 100 yards of humid jungle was tough work, and sorting out the passages that no longer matched the map was a challenge. I had earned the Throat of the Dragon and felt changed or transformed somehow compared to when I had arrived in Tulum earlier in the summer–I had learned a lot through the process of diving the Throat of the Dragon.
Back in Phoenix, Arizona, someone asked me, “Why do you cave dive? It seems really dangerous and scary.” I used to respond to this question by telling them about the utter beauty of the passages that you experience but this summer I learned a deeper truth. The number one reason I enjoy diving in Cenotes like Chikeen is the challenge of the act itself. I love cave diving for the sake of it and everything else is second to that fact.
Not that the beauty doesn’t matter. It does. Its just that the challenge of the experience is the central thing that drives me to explore submerged caves.