Cavern Diving Missouri

February 2000

Ethan Brodsky

Last Updated: March 10, 2000

The weekend of February 5, I went to Missouri for a cavern diving class with Diversions SCUBA . The group, led by instructors Tami Ebert and Craig Carlson, left Madison Friday afternoon and returned late Sunday night. My classmates, Joe and Michael, are shown at left. As Michael was also working on an underwater photography class, he brought a camera along to document our trip. Photo credit for all underwater pictures goes to Michael Frydensberg, and he deserves our gratitude for taking these wonderful pictures (and adding to his task-loading during the class). He claims he only got "a few" good pictures out of the whole trip, but even the ones on this page (there were quite a few more good ones) show that to be understatement.

We stayed in Waynesville, at the heart of Missouri cave country, within a half hour drive from the two caves we visited. We began each day in Bennett Springs State Park in Lebanon, MO. Bennett Springs has an average flow of a hundred million gallons per day, though it was down to roughly 60 million gallons the days we were there.

Though these are considered "cold springs", we had just come from Wisconsin and were grateful for any water that wasn't frozen - at nearly sixty degree it was very comfortable. The Missouri DNR uses Bennett Springs as a fish hatchery and the basin is filled with literally hundreds of Rainbow and Brown Trout. Diving is only permitted during the winter months - the park is packed with fishermen the rest of the year. The entrance to Bennett is huge - as large as a multicar garage. The cavern descends down at a steep angle from the pool, coming to a restriction at around eighty feet of depth.

We spent our afternoons at Roubidoux Spring, just a few blocks from our motel. Roubidoux Spring is a much smaller spring, at the base of a limestone bluff overlooking a wide valley. The picture on the left shows the spring from ground level. The flow is from the base of the concrete retaining wall. The picture at right shows the spring from a vantage point far above, at the top of the bluffs.

The entrance to Roubidoux is wide, but only a few feet tall. There's only a small section that a diver can easily fit through. Above are some pictures of the entrance with divers swimming in and out (Tami, myself, and Joe, clockwise from top right). In the top left picture, you can just pick out the line running in from the right and through its first placement near the center. When making penetration dives, the first rule is to run a continuous guideline to the exit - that way you can find your way out in case of silt-out.

The main focus of the class was on anti-silting fin technique, line handling skills, and teamwork. We began the class with horrible technique and went downhill from there (well, that's how it felt at times. Cavern is different from other PADI classes in that it's very possible not to pass - we got accustomed to being criticized after every dive, but ultimately it helped us become much better divers. The picture at left shows Joe demonstrating his excellent fin placement skills, while the picture at right shows how well I can handle a reel.

As the class progressed, however, we began to work together better as a team. Here are two pictures showing Joe and myself working to remove our guideline as we proceed out of the cave. The first picture shows Joe illuminating me as I undo a placement. The next shows me reeling in line, as Joe moves ahead to undo the next placement in time for my arrival. Working together makes everything a lot easier, since it reduces the workload on the diver operating the reel.

Running a reel is more difficult than it looks - you need to keep enough tension on the line that it doesn't bird-nest (as shown previously), but not so much that you can't reel it in. All the while, you need to keep track of your bouyancy, hold your light, and sometimes even deal with strong currents pushing you out of the cave.

We passed our surface intervals discussing the dives, hiking and exploring the area (there were a number of dry caves up in the bluffs above Roubidoux), and filling tanks. We brought our own compressor so we we could do four dives a day without having to run to a dive store for fills.

Roubidoux is richly featured, with menacing formations jutting out from the walls and ceiling. The complex structure inside the cave challenged us to maintain perfect bouyancy control - one wrong move and we'd touch ground, with a plume of silt to mark our mistake. There's quite a few fish inside as well. Above are a few photos of the formations and fish.

Between training dives, our instructor Tami and her friend Miki, did some real cave diving. At left is a picture of Tami and Miki coming back from a dive in Roubidoux.

At right is a picture of our team posing behind the "Prevent Your Death - Go No Further" warning sign marking the end of the cavern zone at Roubidoux - the cave continues down to a depth of more than 150 feet.

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Seriously, the window should be wide enough for about two inches of whitespace on each side of the top photo. If it's too narrow, the text ends up on the bottom (ok), off the edge (not good), or covered by pictures (not good). If it doesn't look good, try making the window larger, even if it requires increasing your screen resolution.

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