This had to have been the oddest cave I have ever surveyed. With the river level reading 18.29 feet at the Luraville gauge just up river of the spring, the cave had an average depth of 1.4 feet with a max depth of 4 feet! In fact, most of the cave passage is half flooded stream crawlways that sumps and then surfaces repeatedly over it’s short course. Even though my dive lasted two hours, neither of my dive computers registered it as a real dive, since the depth was never deep enough to activate either of them.
I am unsure of the history of Hidden Spring, who originally explored it or laid the first line. I do know that Drew Dalton and Jerry Murphy relined it within the last few years, and most of their line remained on my survey dive. When Drew/Jerry put in their line there was only a short section of old line on the ceiling of the cavern, so who knows how far the original explorer made it. The Suwannee River Water Management District doesn’t even have a name listed for Hidden Spring, instead referring to it as SUW919971. There is a description on Cave Atlas including a report from 2006 of an unfortunate individual and his friend experiencing some bad air after freediving through the entrance sump into an air chamber. Luckily they both survived the adventure, but to avoid such type III fun, I advise against repeating!
I’ve checked out the spring on a few previous occasions, but on 6/19/2021 I had a chance to go out there with dive gear for a proper recon. For the dive I used my KISS Sidewinder mCCR on a Katana 2, with LP46’s as OC bailout. I almost always prefer to be on a rebreather, especially for exploration and surveying. I certainly could have gotten away without it in this cave, but almost completely eliminating time pressure from my mind is a wonderful advantage for mapping, exploration and re-negotiating restrictions that SOMEHOW I fit through on the way in but GOOD LORD WHY CAN’T I FIT BACK OUT. More on that later.
Diving this cave was interesting. Since the cave is so shallow you spend half of your time crawling over sand banks that almost reach the ceiling, then the other half enjoying the brief weightlessness of being suspended in the water column. The current is very strong in the cave, and since you’re not in deep enough water to effectively kick, progress is slow.
I spent about 45 minutes making my way into the cave, repairing line and taking my time enjoying the cave and all of the fossils. The end of the line is just on the other side of a small restriction, about 16″ tall and 36″ wide. When I was eyeing it up I decided to take my right tank and explorer reel off, pushing them in front of me. I made it through with some squeezing and had a good look at the end. The cave continues in this direction but I don’t think this is the way to go about it, the next restriction was even smaller. I took a few photos and a video, then tried unsuccessfully to turn around. As I have found a few times in the past, the Dive Rite fins are far too long and stiff for the small stuff, and have held me back several times from being able to turn around or back up. I reached behind me and took off my fins, curled up in a ball and slowly rotated myself back around. I took everything else off except my left tank and CCR, then pushed my right tank, fins, reels, backup bag and primary light back through the restriction as I took a survey shot and measured the distance out.
After the enjoyment of the end restriction my survey went on successfully, and in the end I spent 2 hours taking notes, data, photos and just trying to enjoy the cave. 2 hours to go a total of 552 feet… 4.5 feet per minute ❤
So where does it go? Good question. The close proximity to NSS-CDS owned Cow Spring makes me curious about a possible downstream Cow connection, perhaps taking some of the water that doesn’t come out at Running Spring. A dye trace could quickly confirm or reject this theory, but in the meantime I plan on returning with some changes in configuration (read: single tank, H-valve, CCR) to permit further exploration. If anyone out there is contemplating a dive here- if your sidemount skills are solid then the first 270′ of passage is attainable. If you’re thinking about trying to push EOL, you’re going to need proficiency at no-mount as any extension to this cave will be earned by taking it all off, exhaling and squeezing onward!
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