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Lineater Spring

About six weeks ago we were able to negotiate land access to the Lineater cave system. Before we could make any dives, Hurricane Hermine came through and felled several large trees blocking the access roads to Bernice Sink and the spring.

On September 23rd, Brett B Hemphill, Andy Pitkin, and Charlie Roberson spent half a day cutting trees and pulling them out of the access roads with our trucks. That afternoon, we made the first dive in about thirty years from Bernice Sink, which is ~4,000' upstream of the spring entrance. Bernice Sink looks like a small version of Falmouth Spring where all the water comes up and over a 2-3' deep sinkhole. What was left of Guy Bryant's original exploration line looked thirty years old so we ran new line out about 1,000'.

Based on this recon dive, we decided to reline and resurvey the entire system. On September 29th, Brett B Hemphill, Andy Pitkin, and Joel Clark entered at the spring and relined and surveyed just over 2,000' upstream. A couple of days later, Joel Clark and Ken Sallot entered at the spring and cleaned up the remnants of old line.

On October 2nd, Jonathan Bernot and Charlie Roberson entered at Bernice Sink and surveyed the upstream line that had been installed the week prior and added 3,100' of additional line. It's an interesting thing adding line in a cave that's already been explored but no line remains. All the challenges of virgin exploration with none of the rewards. Occasionally, we would encounter pieces of thirty year old line just to remind us that we weren't the first to explore this section. Ten feet here, two feet there. I was running the reels while Jon surveyed behind me.

Route finding was not entirely straightforward in the 15-20' visibility. We missed the left fork, which turned out to be a hole in the ceiling and took Ferriter's loop, which is a rather small section of passage. We also missed the upstream continuation and ended up completing the loop and tying back in on our own line. We realized this as the cave started to siphon but decided to continue and finish the loop before going back to find the upstream passage. In doing so we also found another small loop not on Guy Bryant's original map. Oh well, at least it's all surveyed.

After locating the upstream passage, we continued on about 500' and found what we were looking for, the deep section. About 2,500' upstream of Bernice Sink the cave goes from 35' average depth to 125' average depth. What doesn't change though is the howling flow, which reminds me of Manatee Springs. As we descended the large pit into the deep section, the line cuts back under a duck under into a short maze-like section and then opens up into moderate sized passage reminiscent of the smaller passage in the back of Cathedral. Tall passage with smooth walls and very few tie-offs, unlike the sharp formations in the initial shallow 4,500' of the cave.

About 500' into the deep section, we encountered a restricted section, where the main flow goes around both sides of a wide slot restriction. After dropping our scooters and negotiating the left side of the restriction we ended in a low bedding plane with a smooth rock ceiling and floor. We had no idea if we were in virgin territory since there was no sign of line and the existing map ends ~2,000' upstream of Bernice. The flow was still strong but the cave seemed to be getting smaller which was a bit discouraging.

On October 9th Andy Pitkin and Charlie Roberson scootered back to the bedding plane and added ~350' of line after dropping a radio locate transmitter at the top of the pit. Adding 350' of line while swimming felt more like 700' in the strong flow. About 150' in the low bedding plane ended and opened up into proper phreatic passage. With the strong flow and passage size we knew this was the way on. As another reminder that we weren't the first here we spotted a twenty foot section of original exploration line. Tom Morris and Buford Pruitt discovered the deep section in 1986 and it was later explored by Tom Morris and Wes Skiles. All these dives were done from Bernice sink after wheelbarrowing their gear from the river. Tom Morris has been encouraging us to dive here ever since our dives last year in Cathedral. After the dive, Andy and I quickly performed the radio locate using two receivers and some ad hoc triangulation.

On October 12th, Jonathan Bernot and Kristi Bernot picked up where Andy and I left off and installed 1,579' while on the trigger. This section of passage trended East but opened up into Cathedral size passage with smooth walls and kicking flow. Jon and Kristi put the end of the line solidly into virgin territory before picking up the radio locate and exploring 284' of side passage just upstream of Bernice Sink in the shallow section.

On October 16th, Andy Pitkin and Matt Vinzant added 2,470' while scootering in large Cathedral sized passage. Andy reports that the 15' visibility limited their ability to see both walls and sometimes could see none at all. Andy used the route-finding trick of heading perpendicular to the ripples in the sand that Jon and I discovered last year while exploring Cathedral. The passage is headed south again directly towards a large dry sinkhole and still has strong flow.

Many cave divers, including Sheck Exley, have speculated that Lineater may connect to Cathedral due to the similar water quality and strong flow. I don't know if that will happen but we plan to find out. The exploration continues.

Charlie Roberson