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.
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 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
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 Expedition Team 2022
Mark Burkey, Louise McMahon, Luke Brock, Mitchell Parry, Richard Walker
Christine Grosart, Osama Gobara, Mauro Bordignon.
Funding and support:
Santi Drysuits, Halcyon Dive Systems, Mount Everest Foundation, Ghar Parau Foundation,
Suex Scooters Warmbac