The Tenth Bonne Terre Mine Expedition was on May 18th, 2007.
The Mine is located in Bonne Terre, Missouri about an hour Southwest of St. Louis in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. This year most of the regulars and a few new people joined the expedition. New to the mine this year were fellow divers Art Helt and Steven Mueller. To round out our regulars, diver Jeff Schultz and Michele Valent returned this year. We were a little bummed on finding out Bear had other commitments and though he should have time to hang out and chat a bit, he wouldn’t be able to go on any dives with us. Our drive down was very enjoyable and as anticipated, Jeff’s humor and animated conversation kept us well entertained. At the mine, after hooking up with Chuck, Cheryl, AJ and Steve, we commenced with the usual Friday night festivities including an above water tour of the mine, our annual Bonne Terre one mile run, dinner at the Shamrock and a projection viewing of “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” on the Park & Allen Lodge room wall. Because of work commitments Carrie and Art arrived later, and caught up with us about the time we were leaving the Shamrock. Not everyone made it through the whole movie.
The next morning we all woke early to try out a new, close by, Mom and Pop breakfast place. The food was great and in large helpings, but the service was a little on the slower side and several members of the team had to bail out early to get back to the mine for equipment set up and dive briefings. Lead diver on this year's deeper and more advanced dives was Brenda, an experienced local diver, and an old friend of Carrie’s. Brenda suggested a dive to shoot an uncommon wooden ore dump near the bottom of the mine and some discarded dynamite crates. We hiked down into the mine with our gear, suited up and splashed in. As our dive unfolded I noted Chuck’s buoyancy and finning techniques have become exceptionally skilled. When Chuck’s skills improve he tends to do it in big steps as opposed to gradually getting better with each dive like most divers. I was impressed and felt like a bull in a china shop compared to the rest of the advanced team this year. Shortly after passing the Ore Dump, the battery in my camera unexpectedly died. Disappointed, the dive continued with no record, but we passed many artifacts leaving the options open for future trips to this area of the mine. During the latter parts of the dive, I started getting an increasing headache. With the exception of a bit of a brisk pace at times, it wasn’t a very aggressive dive, so I attributed the headache to sinuses and finished the dive with no other trouble. We emerged from the mine, had some snacks and re-hydrated on a wooden deck near the mule entrance. During our surface intervals between dives, we were entertained by Jeff’s stealthy stalking of the little anole lizards that frequent the area.
The next dive had the makings of one of the best ever in the mine. Our plan took us through the keyhole, past the mule’s hay mangers, to an ore cart “rotator. Four ore carts in a string could be pulled into this dumping mechanism, which would then rotate them upside down and empty them into the ore dump below. After passing around the rotator we would then head to a shallow breakdown area where good finning techniques would be needed to keep from stirring up the substrate and killing the visibility. Afterward we would come around through some different passages and lazily swim out our deco at 20 feet on the way back to dockside. Shortly after changing out the battery in my camera and re-sealing the housing, we all headed back down into the mine. The dive had been proceeding as planned when right after passing the hay mangers, the battery in my video camera again died. Damn! After several attempts to get the camera working again, I resigned myself to the fact that, for a second time, this was going to be another scouting type dive. We passed the Rotator and through the breakdown area without raising the slightest amount of silt. After swimming through some new (to us) mine shafts we ascended to 20 feet and casually swam out our deco back to the dock. Once on the surface, even with my camera floating useless behind me and my still increasing headache, we all agreed that this was still one of the best dives in the mine to date.
Back on our wooden deck, in the Missouri sunshine, word came to us that our friend Bear had a nasty eye infection and went to the hospital to have it taken care of. While waiting for an update on his condition, we planned an easy, non-deco, hour-long dive that would include not only the advanced divers, but our whole team. I again changed to a new battery in my camera, but was starting to get concerned about my headache. After some debate I opted to sit out this last dive of the day, but would at least hike down into the mine to help with gear etc. and shoot some above water photos. Shortly after the team submerged Bear showed up with a large patch on his oozing eye. He was OK, but complained that the doctor gave him a shot in the butt. After a little more then an hour, my friends re-surfaced and reported that this had been another great dive. Even though everyone was a bit chilled and very tired, we were all soon back at the Shamrock eating prime rib and discussing the accomplishments of the day’s dives. The Saturday night movie was “Open Water II” and, like the night before, few people made it to the end.
The next morning after another early breakfast everyone felt refreshed and ready for the last dive of the weekend. My headache was gone and the batteries looked to have full charges. At our morning dive briefing it was decided to dive an area Brenda called “The Sea Witch’s Lair” along with some of the far reaches of the ladder room. The only snag would be a very long underground surface swim to conserve air before reaching this part of the mine. As luck would have it we (with Miss Donna’s permission) were able to pirate the pontoon boat used for the above water boat tours. To make the traverse possible we had to completely suit up and spread out across the seats to distribute the weight. Once at the far end of the lake, we carefully entered the water two at a time. Chuck did a comical forward dive into the water filling the legs of his dry suit with air. Once everyone was safely in the water, we dropped directly to 110 feet and became the first team to shoot video and document several tiers of scaffolding set up by the miners to work the tunnel ceilings. After some decent video, we left this area and started swimming though some mine shafts that have either never or rarely had divers through them. We could tell this by the submerged spider webs that were undisturbed by the slowly rising water when the mine was abandoned, yet disintegrated when Brenda’s exhaust bubbles rolled across the mineshaft ceilings. All too soon this last dive was over and after some underwater hugs, we ascended, thanked Brenda and the other Bonne Terre folk for another great weekend of dives and video documentation. By noon we had packed our gear out of the mine, loaded up and were heading back to Milwaukee.