>"Wake up! It's 6:30 a.m., and breakfast is served! The sun is rising, and it is a crisp minus 30°C [minus 22°F] outside — another day in paradise," Andreas gleefully calls out as he walks around and tries to shake life into 20 tired divers. He and Stina have been awake for more than an hour, making coffee and porridge to help smooth the day's start. One by one, we roll out of our sleeping bags and make our way to the crowded little serving room in the old school that is our home in the Jämtland mountains for the week.
>Everyone is in various states of soreness after shoveling snow, carrying dive gear and building camps for several days, but spirits are high as the sun rises over the snowclad landscape. I try to eat a double helping of porridge, boiled eggs and sandwiches in anticipation of a long day underground. Robert, Dmitri and I plan to take digital measurements of the furthest explored dry chamber in the cave, which will require several hours of diving, climbing and carrying to get there and back. We discuss some last-minute details over a second cup of coffee before it's time for everyone to depart for the day's activities.
>We decided the order of dive teams the night before, and because my team is going the farthest, we are first in the water. While we get our gear together, Marco, Lasse and Ola start to reopen the hole in the ice where we will start the dive. They saw through several centimeters of ice that formed during the night. I feel like a knight getting dressed for battle, clumsily trying to get the armor in place with help from Ane and Marcin. It is not easy to get into a harness half solid with ice while wearing every piece of thermals I own, and I look more like the Michelin Man than a knight. Getting help with all sorts of things before the dive is essential as we try to save energy, and it's important not to sweat now because it will make me colder later on.
>I stuff some chocolate bars and a thermos of hot chocolate into my drysuit pocket before we get in the water. We don our tanks, make our final checks at the surface, confirm our dive plan with the dive leader, Amanda, give a final OK and head off into the icy water. In single file we negotiate the entrance — a slightly narrow passage filled up with gravel in the bottom. Part of each year's preparations is spending a few hours underwater digging to get in. Inside the passage rests a shovel in case anyone feels ambitious about widening it a little. We do not have any problems swimming through the winding passages with our sidemount tanks, and all three of us have taken this route many times. Down, up, around and through white limestone, the tunnel goes for about half an hour of swimming before we get to the first dry chamber. At the edge of the water another team has set up a rope where we can hang our stage tanks we have breathed so far to use again on the way out this afternoon.
>We slowly crawl up a small slope with our tanks until we can stand and walk, with our backs bent, through the chamber. We typically do this with both tanks still clipped on, stopping only shortly to catch our breath in the largest room, where a perpetual waterfall cascades from the ceiling. I stop to check on the safety canister placed here two days before; it is filled with dry clothes, space blankets and chemical heaters. The second water passage (sump) is so short it takes about a minute to cross before it's time to scramble on. The second chamber starts with a small climb, and I grab a guiding rope that David installed the day before so we can climb more easily with all the extra weight. All these little things make these long dives more manageable and hammer in the message that a big team can be a great help when working toward one goal.
>Dmitri and I climb wherever Robert directs us for the next few hours and help him find the right points to measure for the best result from every angle. It is a long and tedious job, but now the chocolate bars and hot chocolate come to good use. As we slowly make our way through the room, we further explore an especially muddy and low tunnel that shoots off in a promising direction, only to loop around and come out halfway up a wall in an already explored room. We also set up a radio beacon we brought with us. On the surface, Bosse and Mats are tracking our movements with a device Bosse has built for this purpose. After about 15 minutes we get a return signal telling us the measurements are done and they have an accurate GPS position. We can now overlay it with the manual measurements of the cave and get an even more accurate map.
>Now we have only about one and a half hours to get out of our gear and make our way back to the cars. We do not want to get caught out on the mountain as the sun sets. If we have any issues that delay us and the dark creeps in, it would multiply the severity of the problems. What awaits us now is an evening of looking at measurements and leads the various teams have collected today and making a plan for tomorrow. Then maybe we can enjoy a quick sauna and, if we are lucky, some spectacular northern lights before bedtime.
>After the 2018 expedition, the combined explored length of the underwater caves in the valley is more than 3 kilometers (1.86 miles), with the majority being in the Dolinsjö Cave. This latest expedition did a thorough search for a diveable entrance in the upstream area but was blocked by a treacherous-looking pile of fallen rocks. The team found, however, a new, promising and previously unexplored entrance just a few hundred meters from base camp. This cave immediately sets off in the direction of the other caves, and we hope to further explore this area when we return next year. Follow our progress on social media under Expedition Bjurälven.
>See more from Expedition Bjurälven in this video.
>© Alert Diver — Q3 Summer 2018