Cave diving is very fascinating, but it is also a most dangerous passion to have. The advances in underwater cave exploration have always been determined by the state of the available equipment.
Decades have now passed since this pioneering event. Inventors of diving equipment have steadily created more perfect and trouble-free underwater devices, but cave diving in Russia is still an activity for a devoted few.
Today, in Russia there is an estimated fifty thousand certified SCUBA divers, among which no more than 50 (only 0.1 percent of the population of divers) venture into cave diving. These people use special equipment for diving, and they are easily recognised. They always use at least two regulators, carry dual cylinders (either a twin set on the back or a side mount configuration where two or more tanks are carried on each side), a minimum three torches, a helmet, a reel with a strong thin rope (the guide line) and their particular swimming style, frog kicking, which prevents whirling mud or silk to kick up from the bottom. They reel out a guide line to mark their route during the dive. Wreck divers use very similar techniques for wreck penetration.
To perfect cave diving technique and skills, it is necessary to undergo a long training program and to be passionate about diving in underwater caves. Insufficiently trained divers can perish in caves only too easily. Therefore, few people venture there.
In this little community, most divers know each other well. Members of this little select group are at the same time heroes and outcasts of the diving community. Their passion for underwater speleology is “vicious”, but the performers are also seen as idols and brave individuals such as Sheck Exley and Jocben Hasenmayer.
Underwater cave explorations and the achievements of Soviet and Russian cave divers were so insignificant on a global scale that very few people in general knew about the existence of underwater caves in our country. Russian caves, with their difficult entrances, vertical pits, narrow passages and cold muddy water, are strikingly different from those in the warm-water recreational destinations such as those in Florida or Mexico where it seems that only the laziest divers don’t pursue diving in the underwater caves found there. Recreational cave divers in these spots can set up a dive rigging directly out of their car trunks.
The beginning of modern cave diving in Russia
The picture in Russia was about to change when a landslide on the banks of Kungur River, which is about 80 kilometers from Kungur City in the Ural Mountains of the Perm’s region, exposed an entrance to a hitherto unknown cave.
The first visitors to the cave were local people who had gone down the slope of clay in search of a cow which had fallen down into the cave. When they got down there, the rescuers caught a glimpse of the big cave halls, chambers and three underground lakes with crystal-clear water. The cave was named Ordinskaya in honor of the nearby Orda village.
IIgor Lavrov, the well-known scientist and researcher of the Ural caves, visited the cave for the first time in 1993, where he made topographical maps of the dry part of the cave. He also invited Victor Komarov, a cave diver from Ryazan City, to do the first reconnaissance dive in one of the cave’s underground lakes in April 1994.
Much to their surprise, they found that the cave lakes were covered with a 20cm-thick layer of ice. Not letting this stand in their way, Lavrov and Komarov asked local fishermen if they could borrow some of their special devices for ice drilling. With these tools, they made a small hole in the lake ice that was big enough to squeeze a diver through.
For this first dive under ice and into the cave, Komarov took one 7-liter tank. Lavrov secured Komarov at the surface with a safety line that Komarov gradually let out. The diver let out about 30 meters of line when he suddenly plunged into a narrow crack and went down to a depth of seven meters.
Komarov had fallen through the ceiling of a wide underwater tunnel. Absolutely clear water, huge spaces and prospects of future exploration were tantalizing. But to venture further on one little tank was too dangerous. So, Komarov came back to the surface to get another cylinder and returned to the location for a second look.
This time, Komarov went much further into the underwater tunnel. Subways with snow white walls spread out in different directions, leading the cave diver further and further into this underground realm.
Komarov had already let out 70 meters of the guide line when it became stuck in the narrow entrance crack underwater. He couldn’t go any further and had to turn back. Koramov gathered up the rope by rolling it around his elbow and managed to untangle it and pull out the guide line from the crack. He eventually made it out of the sump.
Intent on having this cave for themselves and not having other cave divers running around in it, Lavrov and Komarov decided not to speak to anybody about the cave for the time being.
Only three years later, in the snowy winter of 1997, 20 cave divers from different Russian cities arrived in Orda village at the invitation of Lavrov. The joint team of underwater cave explorers organized dives right away into all the underground lakes of the cave.
They dived in buddy teams a couple of times a day, and there were enough first explorations in this huge system to go around for everybody. New underground labyrinths crossed huge halls, underwater passages and canyons disappeared in different directions and seemed endless.