Chris Stool’s Daring Dive in Cueva De La Pena Colorada

Chris Stool’s Daring Dive in Cueva De La Pena Colorada
Incident LocationDiver Full Names (Deceased)
Cueva de la Peña Colorada, MexicoChris Stool

We delve into the daring exploration of Cueva de la Peña Colorada, a renowned cave in Mexico’s Oaxaca province. A team of dedicated divers embarked on a journey into the depths of this cave, facing numerous challenges along the way.

The Enigmatic Cave

Cueva de la Peña Colorada, also known as the Colored Rock Cave, is nestled deep within the mountains and forests of Mexico. It features both dry and wet tunnels, attracting explorers from around the world for half a century. This cave, situated in the Santo Domingo Canyon, is believed to have connections to the deepest cave in the Western Hemisphere, Sistema Huautla.

A Historic Expedition

The last exploration of Cueva de la Peña Colorada occurred in 1984, led by Bill Stone. Over 200 individuals, including locals, the Mexican military, and skilled cave explorers, mapped out the cave, uncovering 4.8 miles of uncharted territory, with nearly a mile underwater. They achieved the remarkable feat of reaching 180 feet underwater beyond Sump 7.

Dr. Andreas Clucker: A Diver and Scientist

Dr. Andreas Clucker, hailing from Austria, began his journey in marine environmental science. He conducted research in various prestigious institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Andreas combined his love for marine science with cave diving, primarily exploring caves in Tasmania’s Juni Florentine region.

The Return to Cueva de la Peña Colorada

In 2018, 34 years after Bill Stone’s initial exploration, a team led by Dr. Andreas Clucker set out to return to Sump 7 and continue towards Sistema Huautla. This ambitious expedition required a substantial team, including 24 experienced cave explorers, such as Zeb Lilly, Teddy Garlock, Matt Finzant, Chris Stool, and others.

Advanced Diving Equipment

Since 1984, diving equipment had significantly evolved. The use of rebreathers allowed divers to go deeper and stay underwater longer without carrying excessive tanks. Many divers on this expedition opted for smaller side-mounted or chest-mounted rebreathers, ensuring they could navigate the cave’s depths.

Equipment Preparation and Logistics

Months of preparation went into readying the equipment. After arriving in Florida, the team conducted practice dives in the state’s stunning springs. They also packed over 74 liters of provisions for the underground camps, ensuring everyone had enough sustenance for the journey.

A Challenging Descent

Reaching the cave itself was no easy feat. The team descended 2,296 feet into the Pena Colorado canyon, carrying all their gear. They then transported this equipment 3.1 miles deep into the cave, passing through five sumps. A fortunate discovery allowed them to bypass Sump 1, using a previously unknown entrance.

Confronting Obstacles

Upon reaching Camp 2, situated just above Sump 7, the team faced the challenge of moving equipment through difficult passages. A massive pile of boulders blocked their path to Sump 3, leading to temporary camping near the Grand Lagoon.

The Exploration Begins

The first two divers, Chris and Connor, ventured into Sump 7 after 34 years. Their journey took them through challenging underwater passages with limited visibility. They reached a wide horizontal passage with branching tunnels, reminiscent of previous explorations.

They were determined to continue their exploration of Cueva de la Peña Colorada and Sistema Huautla.

The Initial Setback

As they reached the pile of boulders, the large passage abruptly ended, and they couldn’t find any hidden passages. Disappointed, they returned to the surface, wondering if they had overlooked something crucial.

A Plan for Return

A week later, Zeb and Andreas devised a plan to return to Sump 7. They believed there might be a way forward that Chris and Connor had missed. While Jim and Adams monitored the surface, Zeb, Andreas, and the support crew prepared for another dive.

Challenging Weather

Meanwhile, on the surface, the rain poured relentlessly. Despite Chris’s assurance that it was common at that elevation, the downpour continued, turning the streets into rivers.

Return to Sump 7

Zeb and Andreas, equipped with their diving gear, reached Sump 7. Visibility was initially poor but improved as they descended. They followed Chris and Connor’s previous dive line, hoping to find a way forward.

The Solo Attempt

After a break, Andreas made a solo attempt due to Zeb’s diving gear issues. He explored deep areas and surveyed passages that Chris and Connor hadn’t been able to due to time constraints. Sadly, their efforts in Sump 7 yielded no progress.

An Unexpected Threat

Eight days into their journey, a sudden and thunderous noise interrupted the peaceful silence. It became evident that a heavy downpour was rapidly filling the cave system.

Desperate Escape

With rising water levels, Andreas, Zeb, and the remaining four members decided to move deeper into the cave, seeking safety in the “whacking great chamber.” Zeb devised a plan to secure a dive line in a narrow passage.

Longing for Safety

While safe from drowning in the chamber, they were far from the cave’s exit, separated by flooded sections, Camp 1, and their dive equipment.

Endurance and Hope

As they awaited rescue, they listened to the gurgling water and rationed their meager food supply. Gradually, the water level began to recede, offering a glimmer of hope.

Surface Help

On the surface, Teddy Garlock arrived to assist. He extended guidelines and collected equipment, leaving supplies tied to the guideline for their return.

The Successful Dive

After days of waiting, Teddy returned to Sump 3, where the water had significantly receded. He extended the guideline to the other side and found himself surrounded by headlamps. Help had finally arrived.

Their 69-hour ordeal between the two flooded passages was a challenging and disappointing chapter in their exploration of Cueva de la Peña Colorada. While their aspirations for a groundbreaking connection to Sistema Huautla didn’t come to fruition, their resilience and teamwork were commendable.

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Who were the divers involved in the exploration?

The divers included Chris Stool, Connor Rowe, Zeb Lilly, Andreas Dane, Gilly Myrick, and Matt Finzant, among others.

How deep is the cave?

The cave reaches depths of up to 328 feet (100 meters).

Were there any casualties during the exploration?

Yes, unfortunately, one of the divers, Chris Stool, lost his life during the expedition.

Patrick Broin
Patrik, a seasoned cave diver, shares his first-hand experiences and expert insights on the treacherous world of cave diving accidents.
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