Ordinskaya Cave, Russia
Lamar and his son venture to the Russian outback to do some training and enjoy a little adventure during their annual summer vacation. Icy waters, a steep entrance and late night dinners made the trip all the more alluring. Divers are welcome to join Lamar next year, if you dare! Click the title to read the full story. by Lamar Hires
My son, Jared, and I traveled to Orda, Russia 100 miles east of the city of Perm for our annual summer vacation. It’s about a 25 hour trip from Moscow by car, but we flew to Perm and only experienced the road trip from Perm to Orda. I was reminded many times we weren’t in Siberia, yet it was July and every afternoon I had my Mountain Hardwear fleece jacket on. The weather was unpredictable; it would start out sunny, then rain and then get chilly or just rain all day. I was invited over to teach a basic cave class for 6 people which turned out to be 9 people plus 3 full cave and 3 instructor trainees. Needless to say it was a busy 8 day session of 15 hour days. The small town of Orda was very accommodating and we visited the nearby town of Kungur nightly for dinner European style, meaning dinner at 11 pm or later.
Ordinskaya cave is an extensive system with multiple passages and rooms to dwarf most of the Florida cave systems. It’s a gypsum cave so the rock is very brittle so tie off points are selected with caution and awareness. There is no flow in the cave but silt is not much of a problem with the main passages being well over 20’ in diameter with some of the rooms more than 40’ from floor to ceiling and exceeding 150’ wide. The “ah” of the passage size helps you forget about the 42 degree water temperature for the first 15 minutes, after that you remember its cold. The cave has been mapped but it needs to be surveyed again and distances updated as noted by our swim times and distances.
I have been diving in coldwater, including Antarctica, but I was spending in excess of 3 hours a day in two sessions each day. I warmed up by climbing out of the cave after each session the 177 steps as reported by Reggie Ross who has been there before. I didn’t count the steps to confirm his count because I was pretty sure he had missed a few.
It’s a lovely setting on the river. A small, rutted truck path used by fisherman winds alongside and I saw people walking bicycles along the path because it was too difficult to ride after the rains. To get to the cave you descend a set of wooden stairs to a short path parallel to the entrance. Stopping along the platform at the entrance gives a breathtaking view of the river and spring that feeds into it. The series of steps and ladders down to the water are slippery and there are handrails that you don’t dare let go of while descending. As you enter the cave you feel the air temperature drop and you just know the water will be cold. There were patches of ice in the cave left from the previous winter thaw. I watched some video of winter diving and it looked like the divers spent much of the day digging out of the base house to make a dive. A new diving platform and staging area was built two months prior to my trip. The site now had the conveniences of Florida cave diving parks, obviously a little something Andrey Gorbunov, the owner of the cave site, picked up on his visit to Florida the prior December.
Before the staging area divers had to pick a place on the rocks and balance their gear, but at least the divers don’t have to carry their doubles down to the entry area. Sherpas carry the cylinders from the fill station to the staging area. These guys would bolt up a backplate to the cylinders and walk them up and down the stairs two and three times a day with a webbing harness, the shoulder straps wrapped in rags, to cut down on the chaffing.
Dive planning is very straight forward with many routes to keep a cave diver busy for a week setting up and completing circuits to see the front section of cave before even thinking about exploration (which there is much more to do). The main line section of the cave is very large passage while the side passages are comparable to Peacock and Devil’s Ear in size. The gypsum rock is very different from the limestone of North Florida or Mexico. If you touch something it may break off in your hand. If you try to ceiling walk it may rain down on you. When the first group of students were practicing ceiling walk techniques I watched a piece of the ceiling the size of a cinder block fall from the ceiling. I determined that pull & glide and ceiling walk propulsion techniques can be described, but not practiced. In Mexico cave divers don’t use these techniques because the cave is delicate and decorated, in Russia it’s for safety.
As I swam through the side passages the most noticeable feature was the size of the boulders on the floor. They were the size of cars and buses, sheared from the ceiling and resting on the floor, The latest boulder to shear from the ceiling was about four years ago according to Andre so I was very attentive as I swam looking for any signs of future breakdowns. The silt was very fine but settled quickly in the cave. There wasn’t any flow so any silt from the floor or percolation from the ceiling stayed localized.
I plan to go back next year to assist with mapping and exploration of the cave. If you are interested in going contact me. You must be comfortable in coldwater, drysuits and dry gloves. The diving requires stamina and patience. The site is remote with limited facilities. The menu for breakfast and lunch is local Russian food and the evening meal is exceptional.