by Nathalie Lasselin:
As a kid, I was always curious about what lay below the surface. When I later became a cave diver, I was able to give free rein to my curiosity in my work, and to explore and film the mysterious underground world. Nearly ten years ago, facing the darkness, I made my first cave-diving film. Since then, I have been privileged to interview great explorers such as Jim Bowden, Bill Rennaker, Lamar Hires, and more.
A year ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to the opening of the very first technical and cave diving center in China, located in the province of Guanxi. Since then, I have gone back three times to try to understand and document the amazing world of karst systems.
It may seem strange to have such passion for rocks and underground rivers, where the water is often less than pristine. But think about it: exploring karst systems is like looking at the very source of life on which, in the end, we all depend. Looking for and understanding connections between different karst systems is key to protecting the groundwater and health of neighboring populations.
In the Guanxi region, the Yao people have been living for ages in close relationship with water springs. Still today, they rely on springs for drinking water, agriculture, fishing and even washing clothes.
Let’s have a look at a typical exploration dive.
Starting out: after filling the tanks with trimix, the guide drives us to a “karst window” in a pick-up truck. We meet the villagers there, who are always happy to help us carry the equipment to the water. After installing our rebreathers and bailouts, we begin the dive. The caves are large and very deep: to this day we still haven’t found the bottom despite diving down to 165 meters. For three years now, the crazy “Bulles maniacs” French team who first discovered the site has been coming back for more exploration. The team splits and each diver is responsible for a specific goal. Since everything is still to be done, the task is often finding a passage in a specific direction or laying a line deep into a tunnel. As we go deeper and deeper, dark black and brown rock surrounds us. The tunnel is so big that we can only see one of its walls at any given time. In the comfortable 21 degree water, tiny suspended particles fill the space – we can’t see much in front of us. We need to be careful not to make sudden movements with our legs, as every inch of the flat rock is covered with very light sediment. Installing a line is a challenge: the rock formations around us don’t seem to want to help much… slowly but surely, we lay and secure the line. With each new dive, we’re able to go a little further. During the long minutes of decompression, we pass the time exploring the depths around us, filming jellyfish, fossils and the large variety of rock shapes.
Exploring new territory is always exciting, but we must always remind ourselves of the dangers of exploration. Commitment, dedication and a good dose of humility will help us, as Martyn Farr said, “reach the conclusion of all dives.” Maybe we’ll make an archaeological discovery, and maybe we’ll simply help local people to preserve their drinking water.
Nathalie Lasselin is an award winning filmmaker, a TDI Cave and Technical Instructor, and she has dove and filmed in over 40 countries, always striving to explore, document and protect the mysterious underground world.