Izvor Licanke Expedition 2022: "You have no idea how much sh!t we are in!"

Christine's car with just half the equipment...

Izvor Licanke cave diving expedition has been running since 2015, with original discoveries in 1998 by Frank Vasseur. To read the summary and previous expedition reports, head over to Ghar Parau Foundation's website: Ghar Parau Foundation

Osama Gobara, fondly known as ‘Oz’ watched despairingly as his cave diving buddy Mauro ‘faffed’ in only a way that Italians can faff.
“It’ll be fine” was the reply in a slightly high-pitched, laid-back Italian accent, dismissing Osama’s worries as he threw bits of diving and caving gear in the car.
Oz, gripped with dread, knowing what it meant to be late and disorganised for any expedition of mine, tried to warn Mauro…especially as they were already a day late.

“You have no idea how much sh!t we are in!” he told Mauro.

He knows me too well.

Christine's car, with only half the equipment...

Despite over 6 months of meticulous planning on the part of the British contingent (except Mitch Parry, who apart from occasionally using a computer once a week, had also got the flight dates completely wrong…) Oz and Mauro decided that it would all come together in the last 48 hours before the expedition.

Wrong clothing, wrong gas and wrong equipment was quickly put to bed by a few sharply worded Whatsapp messages from myself and they rocked up a day late, having never met any of my team before.
Mauro, faffing

This didn’t look good. I could feel undertones of doubt about my choices of extra push divers and I started to feel uneasy.
I knew Oz would pull it out of the bag but Mauro was a complete unknown to me and my team – they would both have to pull their socks up.
After all, everyone was here to carry their kit. All 25 bags of it, plus 5 scooters and 4 rebreathers…

After the 2021 expedition where I discovered yet another sump, sump 5 and some really nice but far too short walking passage, we re-evaluated the Licanke expedition.
Now in it’s 7th year, it was just no longer safe to keep ending up with one diver pushing alone so far into the system. We decided to bring in reinforcements.

Finding push divers for your expedition is hard.
First, they need to be CCR and scooter capable in a 50m deep, 7 degree sump; they need to be happy carrying their rebreathers and all their bailouts in a drysuit in dry cave; they need to be team players and be prepared to join the ‘big carry’ in and out of the cave; they need to be able to lay line well and survey, both underwater and above water; they need to be able to solve any problem either above or below water but most of all – they must not be a dickhead.
We don’t want dickheads on our expedition, especially if I’m at some stage to hand the end of my line over to them. I’ll only do that for people I like, who pull their weight and earn it.


Rich Walker had religiously come on every exped since 2015 at quite some personal expense and discomfort. He dislikes caving anyway, so doing it in a drysuit and rebreather really doesn’t appeal to him. By his own admission, being beyond a deep, reasonably long sump like sump 2 in Licanke, made him uneasy.
His expertise is in the water; he's just not a fan of getting out. I needed someone who didn’t mind this level of exposure and was prepared to push further.

So, while Rich was happy in deep support mode, Oz and Mauro were brought in to leapfrog the exploration. The exped was now 2 weeks long with rest days factored in, as the cave was getting longer – and harder.

Once they had got their pile of half-built KISS Sidewinder rebreather bits into some sort of machine that could support life, we had a briefing. Using a combination of huge printed out survey and the laptop hooked up to the telly, it was quite comprehensive. We then had the worlds biggest whiteboard and magnets to move people and gear across the cave to finalise the plan.

Rich loading bailouts into Warmbac bags. Image: Mark Burkey.

Rich Walker loading cylinders into specially made Warmbac bags. Image: Mark Burkey

The next morning the ‘big carry’ ensued. It was pretty slick. Scooters, rebreathers, bailout cylinders, deco bottles, bags with drums full of regulators all made their way to sump 2.
Regs were tested, rebreathers built and checked and scooters checked for batteries and damage.
Owing to several items being forgotten last time, we made use of A4 wetnotes and pens at the start of sump 2. These were for check lists to make sure no divers set off into the blue yonder minus a camera, food, tackle bags, suit gas bottle, spare oxygen etc.
Once you had set off, there was no turning back. The plan to cross sump 2 has always been to go hard and fast on the scooter trigger to avoid decompression. It is a committing dive.

Christine preparing her rebreather. Image: Mark Burkey

Christine preparing her rebreather. Image: Mark Burkey

After a day off and some mandatory last minute faffing, the plan was for me and Osama to go straight to sump 5 and dive it. We also needed to survey the remainder of sump 4 and the dry passage between sumps 4 and 5. I had been alone the previous year so a proper survey had taken a back seat.
Osama and I set off a few minutes ahead of Rich and Mauro. I towed the spare scooter and Oz the forward pushing bailout bottles. Rich and Mauro followed on with 'safeties' staged through the sump at key points and decompression bottles for the 'home' side of sump 2.
I also took a bunch of polyprop ‘washing line’ to help protect the thin exploration line at the exits of the sumps and set about rigging this on the far side of sump 2 before the others appeared.

Everyone had made it past sump 2. The game was on.

Izvor Licanke team 2022

Izvor Licanke Expedition Team 2022
Mark Burkey, Louise McMahon, Luke Brock, Mitchell Parry, Richard Walker
Push divers:
Christine Grosart, Osama Gobara, Mauro Bordignon.

Funding and support:
Santi Drysuits, Halcyon Dive Systems, Mount Everest Foundation, Ghar Parau Foundation,
Suex Scooters Warmbac




Active member
Part 2

“Just like a parrot”


Christine and Rich in Izvor Licanke main streamway, with the ghost of Mitchell Parry in the distance...Image: Mark Burkey

Oz and I quietly trudged up and down the passage between sump 2 and sump 3, wearing our rebreathers.
It was mostly walking, with an awkward boulder choke soon after sump 2.
There was a convenient hole to pass through but it was better not to touch anything above you and not look up. The sizeable hanging death was best out of sight and out of mind. We hadn’t managed to find a suitable way around it.

Screenshot 2022-08-19 at 17.17.09.jpg

Rich surfaces beyond sump 2, Mauro's lights behind and the 'kit pile' of scooters and cylinders.

Mauro didn’t get the memo and I bumped into him just after he’d passed through the boulder choke stating; “f****ck man if that stuff decided to come down now…..” .
He shuddered and carried on moving our bailout bottles.
Rich and Mauro saw us off into sump 3 which is a short and pleasant dive, before surfacing in the extremely irritating bit of passage before sump 4.
Only 8 metres long, this passage is extremely sharp and the entrance and exit at sump 4 has a needle-like layer of rock, perfect for tearing drysuits, stabbing knees despite knee pads and ripping hoses. This slab of rock on the entry to sump 4 (best done by giant stride in, levitation out…) was responsible for ripping Anton’s hose off his bailout in 2021.

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Christine carrying her rebreather between sumps 2 and 3
Oz and I got away relatively lightly. His oxygen regulator unraveled itself in the pool, so we had an odd 5 minutes with me trying to fix it while Oz circumnavigated the pool doing doggy paddle. “Stay still for god’s sake!” was the best advice I could offer.
Reg fixed, I unclipped my mask from the safe place I had put it on the washing line, immediately dropping it into the sump that eats gear. Oz went down to rescue it, recovering the line reel I had dropped in the very same spot last year, at the same time….

Sump 4 goes on a bit, for several hundred metres and touches 30m depth at one point. It has an annoying vertical ascent with hardly any belays about 2/3 of the way through, then takes off again at 11m depth. I came across my tie off from 2021 and the line was still in good order for the final ascent.
The passage between sumps 4 and 5 was just as nice as I remembered it but of course, shorter.

Sump 5 was waiting, right where I left it.​

Oz and I became a bit more chatty now that we had made it to the start of exploration. It was something of a relief to tie the line reel off and set off underwater into virgin territory.
I was hungry. The cold water and significant exertion of caving with a rebreather (forgetting we’d just done a 50m deep, 600m long tech dive…) meant hunger and thirst were real issues.
I ignored it and set off laying line into sump 5. The visibility started out murky from where we had trodden up the gravel while kitting up. It soon went instantly clear and in typical Licanke fashion, did not offer up any suitable belays in any suitable places.
I ran the line reel down to about 15m depth and marveled at the big, blue expanse ahead of me. The cave looked to be going ahead and off to my right, but it soon closed down. Scratching my head, I heard Oz calling for me (he was a little way behind, sorting the Mnemo surveying device). Divers can talk quite well on rebreathers, so I tied off my reel and swam back to see what the problem was.


Oz was surprised to see me but swore he hadn’t called out for me. Clear as day I’d heard someone shout my name. Freaky.
I shrugged and went back to my line reel, casting around for ongoing passage. Half of me hoped for a continuation but the other half prayed that this would be the end of the cave and we could stop this 7-year nonsense and go home, carrying on with our lives, having fun elsewhere.
I had tipped literally thousands of pounds into this project, as had my team, and we did start to wonder just how much more we could take.
Oz caught up with me and pointed upwards.
Oh no.

Mnemo survey device

Going up on rebreathers while laying line is stressful and it didn’t help that I was low on oxygen. I had a spare bottle back at sump 2 but I had to get back there first. All these ups and downs burn through oxygen on rebreathers and I wasn’t up for another ascent, which might be futile in any case. I started up the smooth wall and with only 50 bar of oxygen left, thought ‘stuff this’ and came back down, giving the line reel to Oz.
I picked up his Mnemo on the way back and started moving my bottles and rebreather back to sump 4, getting some of the work done for when Oz returned. At least I’d managed to film the dive on my Paralenz dive camera.

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The way on in sump 5. Still from Paralenz Vaquita.
Another half an hour or so later he surfaced. The cave had continued very shallow, at about 2m with the occasional air bell. This is a nightmare on a rebreather so I had no regrets about not continuing.
Meanwhile, back between sump 2 and sump 3, Rich, a self-proclaimed introvert was spending hours at the mercy of an extremely excitable and talkative Italian.
He had worked out though that if you turned the helmet lights off, Mauro went silent.
Rich quickly exploited this tactic of ‘saving batteries’ by turning the lights off to get some peace and quiet. Explaining to us later he said he was a bit like a parrot – they go quiet when you throw a blanket over their cage!
To keep themselves occupied, I’d requested that they get some nice images and video from the decorated side passage in between sumps 2 and 3.
Of course, with no check list and the Italian method of ‘winging it’ the go pro didn’t make it through sump 2.
So, the guys had nothing to do the entire time we were gone.
Check lists. They are the future.
During one of these pitch black siestas, Rich and Mauro both jumped up and turned their lights on as they both heard Oz and I returning. They made their way to sump 3 to greet us, only to be faced with nothing. There was nobody there...
They looked at each other, confused and slightly rattled...and spent another couple of awkward hours waiting for us.

Back at sump 5, Oz and I were making our way back home. I was now very hungry and feeling energy sapped. Food was available at sump 2, but we hadn’t brought any further in. Oz donated one of his baby food gel energy pouch things. It was utterly revolting but it gave me a short boost to get me back through to sump 2.
Rich went and got me some food when he realised his life was possibly in danger due to my hunger and I soon got ‘back in the room’ having eaten a tuna pasta tin of cat food.
Nutrition. We put that on the list for next time….

Due to excellent planning and timing, shortly after surfacing from Sump 2, the four of us could hear voices. The support team of Mark, Lou, Luke and Mitch had arrived and we were extremely grateful to see them.
We had been underground about 15 hours and discovered a couple of hundred metres of new underwater passage, which was still going. In addition, we completed the dry survey between sumps 4 and 5 and the remainder of sump 4. We left forward pushing bailout bottles at sump 5 as well.
We even got some video. That was a seriously productive day out.


Christine Grosart with the menagerie of Suex scooters.

Izvor Licanke team 2022

Izvor Licanke Expedition Team 2022
Mark Burkey, Louise McMahon, Luke Brock, Mitchell Parry, Richard Walker
Push divers:
Christine Grosart, Osama Gobara, Mauro Bordignon.

Funding and support:
Santi Drysuits, Halcyon Dive Systems, Mount Everest Foundation, Ghar Parau Foundation,
Suex Scooters Warmbac



Active member
Part 3
Wild World

I was well and truly broken after that 15 hour day. I didn’t ache so much, but mentally I was wrung out.
I asked Oz how many days off he though he’d need before going back. He gestured “two” with his fingers while inhaling a mouth full of Mauro’s incredible mushroom risotto.
That was me out. I needed at least 3 days off and even then, wondered if a trip in excess of 15 hours wearing my rebreather was something I wanted to do that week. Again.
Mauro was super fired up at this point. Having seen the carry between sumps 2 and 3, Rich had no interest in going there with his JJ.


Osama and Mauro fettling rebreathers at sump 2. Image: Mark Burkey

We agreed that there also wasn’t much value in having people sitting between sumps getting cold all day and as Osama and I had already moved the push bottles forward to sump 5, there was no point in Rich and I crossing sump 2. Each time a diver passes that sump there is elevated risk. Rich’s JJ had broken in numerous ways in any case so he had carried it out the cave. I left mine in and rebuilt it, so there would always be one standby diver with a fully functioning rebreather, quick access to a drysuit and fully charged scooter ready to help beyond sump 2 in case of an emergency.
Osama managed to flood his KISS sidewinder when he carried it to sump 2. I always carried my rebreather fully built and waterproofed but for some reason the guys decided to do it their way. Some faffing ensued and after some stolen sofnolime, the unit was back working again.
Oz and Mauro set off while Mark snapped away with his camera and Lou rounded up rather less than enthusiastic volunteers to help her complete the survey.


Chris and Mitch just beyond the boulders between sumps 1 and 2. Image: Mark Burkey

Lou had done an incredible job or resurveying all the dry cave between sumps 1 and 2 as we could not access the old data. This is the beauty of this expedition; everyone gets to learn lots of different caving and cave diving expedition skills in a relatively comfy environment. A short 7 degree cave dive between you and daylight being ‘comfy’…


Mitch Parry keeping his feet dry. Image: Mark Burkey

Rich, Mitch and myself posed in various positions throughout the cave while Mark Burkey tried to take pictures he hadn’t managed to before and he came out with some stunners.
The next job was to go back to the houses and cook for the guys when they came out. The accommodation this year was 2 houses close to each other with excellent and comfortable facilities. We had tried to get a ‘camp boss’ – someone to take care of the cooking, cleaning, shopping and general domestic duties while we faffed and fixed broken things and recuperated.
Unfortunately, she got injured and wasn’t able to make it, so we put our best cooks to work to batch cook for everybody and re-heat stuff for the divers who came out late.


Canyon beyond sump 8. Image: Mauro Bordignon.

Back in the cave, Oz and Mauro were making good progress to sump 5 and continued laying line in irritatingly shallow cave. It surfaced, then sumped, surfaced, then sumped again…it carried on like this, with intermittent sandy air bells until they finally crossed what was now sump 8.
Not believing there wouldn’t be another sump just around the corner, Mauro set off walking in his diving gear.
The cave got bigger as he walked down a clean washed stream way, a canyon, which got higher and echoed more as he went. He went back to Oz and they shed their diving gear and set off into new, galloping size passageway.
Getting bigger all the time, they filmed with the go pro and tried to estimate the size and distance they were travelling. Soon, the canyon broke out into a huge boulder chamber. There were precariously balanced boulders the size of cars everywhere and some stalagmites close to the walls. The big breakdown chamber reminded me of a smaller version of the Salle de la Verna.

Huge chamber.jpg

Wild world, discovered June 2022 beyond sump 8, Izvor Licanke. Go Pro still, Mauro Bordignon.

Trudging up and down the big boulders, Mauro was non-stop singing “OOOOH Baby baby it’s a wild world……doo do do dooo do do….”
Oz is deaf to him, so carried on trying to measure things mentally.
They came across another sump. Sump 9.
Neither of them had a mask or diving gear, understandably, but as with the others it was blue, clear and inviting.
Filming with the go pro as they walked back, they made their way back to sump 2 where they took a 15 minute break and a short snooze before heading back through the deep sump.
Some of the team went back into the cave to meet them and get the news. They had been underground about the same time (15 hours) plus a bit of faff at the start.
There was still a lot of work to do. All their discoveries needed to be surveyed and they wanted to do a bit more filming.
Owing to Mauro’s incessant singing, we decided to call the new, gargantuan chamber; “Wild World”.
Izvor Licanke had not done what she had promised. We were sure the cave would close down.
Instead, she opened an enormous, 30 metre high can of worms...

Izvor Licanke Expedition Team 2022
Mark Burkey, Louise McMahon, Luke Brock, Mitchell Parry, Richard Walker
Push divers:
Christine Grosart, Osama Gobara, Mauro Bordignon.

Funding and support:
Santi Drysuits, Halcyon Dive Systems, Mount Everest Foundation, Ghar Parau Foundation,
Suex Scooters Warmbac




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