The Eleventh Bonne Terre Mine Expedition was on April 12th, 2008.
The mine is located in Bonne Terre, Missouri, about an hour southwest of St. Louis in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. This year, even though several guests expressed interest in joining our team, we traveled to the mine with only six of our core members. Chuck, Carrie, A.J., Cheryl, myself, and for the first time since 2005, fresh from her Full Cave training, Jitka. Carrie had to work late on Friday and, after driving by herself from Winthrop Harbor, joined us a little after midnight.
While loading up the van Thursday night, for my 6:00am departure on Friday morning with Jitka, I got a call from Miss Donna at the mine. The Park and Allen Lodge where we usually stayed was having some electrical difficulties and we would have to be transferred to the lush “Depot” bed and breakfast. I remembered that place from my first trip to the mine; this year we were going in style.
The drive to the mine was uneventful. Once there we contacted Miss Donna and sorted out the new room arrangements. Chuck, Cheryl and AJ were booked into two beautifully converted railroad cars, with the rest of us in the “Depot” proper. After a few minutes to explored our new digs, we commenced with the usual Friday night routine and headed to the “Shamrock” for some great prime rib. Soon, bellies full, everyone retired briefly to their rooms while I started to set up the projector in the Depot’s great room for the evening’s video of “Pirates Of The Caribbean III”.
While in the process of setting up, I got a call from Cheryl. “My husband, my Dad and I are trapped in our room! We can’t get the door open! Miss Donna is outside working on it, could you give her a hand?” My initial thoughts were “Now I gotta see this….”. When I arrived, the door handle was missing, the internals were broken and little Miss Donna was trying to kick the door in. Sparing the gory details, roughly an hour later, the pins were pulled out of the hinges, the latch was pried over, the door was repaired and we all headed back to the great room.
We invited the other guests of the Depot to join us and at about 10:30pm, with the movie over, the party broke up. Most everyone went back to their rooms to crash while I waited up at the Park and Allen for Carrie to arrive so I could show her the way to her room.
This year we started our dives earlier in the morning and forewent the usual breakfast in lieu of muffins, snacks and fruit, courtesy of the local gas station. We met up with our good friend Bear and during the usual pre-dive planning and briefing it was decided to take a look at a new area of “The City” at the bottom of the mine. As we stacked up our gear at the mule entrance before entering the mine, a small amount of snow started falling. As we were hiking down and in we noticed that because of a lot of recent rain run off, the water level in the mine was a bit higher than usual. Areas all around “the dock” where we’ve been setting up our gear the last several years were now under water. This run off also knocked down our usual 100+ feet of visibility to a mere 50 or 60 feet.
After suiting up and entering the water, we dropped down next to a submerged boat. We passed the mule paddock and stalls along with several other buildings in the city, or rather next to it. After breaking out a cave reel and running it through a silty mine shaft, we turned the dive at some steps leading up to the cafeteria. The visibility in some areas was clear as ever; in others fairly hazy.
After doing the required decompression, Carrie informed us she had a major flood in her dry suit during the dive. All her thermals and underwear were soaked. After sorting out her clothes she figured the “Weezle Wear” could be dried quickly, but her underwear were goners and would take forever to dry. She opted to go “al Commando” the rest of the day making her the object of several jokes and friendly chiding for the next two dives. (Not to mention the ribbing she got later when we noticed her bra hanging from the mirror in her car while drying out.)
While discussing our next dive, in the brand new, warm, surface interval building, it was decided, at my urging, to return to the “rotator” for better video documentation after last year’s camera problems.
Once again back down in the mine, we suited up, jumped into the water, and after a very long surface swim, submerged. In no time we found the “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 an ore dump below. After passing the “rotator” we saw some empty dynamite crates and a broken barrel. Later we worked our way around a shallow breakdown being careful not to stir up the light silt and killing the roughly 60 foot visibility in the area. Again after our obligatory decompression we surfaced from a very good productive dive.
While discussing our third dive of the day, which is traditionally a longer shallow dive, we found out that our friends Bear and Josh had found a new mine shaft that as yet hadn’t been named and had been only partially explored. Being that our max depth would only be 40 feet, we all switched to either bigger tanks or max filled the ones we had to allow for a longer dive. After our last and most lengthy surface interval of the day, we hiked back down into the mine where our gear awaited still wet from the last dive. Again, we did a very long surface swim, the longest yet, before dropping down and tying off the reel. We followed the cave line for a long time while working our way along this new double wide mine shaft. On the way, we passed a silt-covered sign that had a barely legible “Burma Shaft” painted on it. Just after the sign, we swam under a slurry type pipe that crossed horizontally across the middle of the shaft. I should note this shaft started two ore cart tracks wide. As we continued the rails stopped, though the cross timbers continued and eventually combined into a single track. At this time the shaft also got narrower. Soon the timbers themselves stopped, but we still followed the darker track bed quite a while before, after penetrating to 900 feet, we ran out of cave line and turned the dive. On the way back out, we again passed several artifacts and the “Burma Shaft” sign. Once we left the shaft, with air above us and no deco, we made a casual swim past several ore carts, the “Sherwood Forest” area, and the pump used to hold the water level in the mine. After a total of 90 minutes, and upon reaching the end of the “Sherwood Forest” area, Carrie started doing a wide-open flutter kick toward the 20 foot safety bar where we normally exit the water. I’ve been diving with Carrie for over 15 years and have never seen her do a basic flutter type kick before. Right after she took off, Chuck and Jitka took off too. There must be some kind of problem. I tried to follow, but with the drag of the camera, etc., I couldn’t keep up. By the time Bear, Josh and I exited the water the others were gone. After a short time I found them all behind their own pillars, whizzing and vowing to wear diapers the next time we plan a longer cold dive.
We packed up our gear, climbed out of the mine and hooked up with Cheryl and A.J. Soon we were back at the “Shamrock” eating that great prime rib. After dinner, everyone decided they were too tired for the evening movie and we all went to bed early.
It was decided to go out for breakfast before heading out to the mine Sunday morning. After an unusually lengthy discussion and a tight vote, we ended up going to “The Huddle House” for some basic quick food. We all slid into a single booth and ordered fine cuisine from the breakfast menu. In no time, our food arrived and we enjoyed a riveting discussion on weight loss while finishing off some biscuits-and-gravy with a side of grits covered with cheese. After we were finished eating, and coffee’d up, we went back to the mine to hook up with Bear, Brenda and Josh. It was decided for the last dive of the weekend to have both Cheryl and AJ join us and go back to the “Sea Witch’s Lair” to shoot some scaffolding that was missed because of the camera issues last year.
While getting our gear together outside the mule entrance, it started snowing again. Back down in the mine, where our gear never dries, we suited up, jumped in and started a long surface swim to conserve air before dropping down. Last year we hijacked the tour boat and entered with a giant stride from that. No such luck this year, as it was out on a tour. We surface swam past where the elevator “structure” breaks the surface, bumping into pillars along the way. Soon we arrived and submerged. We dropped directly down to 110 feet and headed right into a dark mine shaft. In short time we were shooting new video of the many tiers of scaffolding and the long ladders leading to them. The miners built and worked from these trapeze type scaffolds to knock the loose rock from the roof of the shafts and rooms right after blasting. Though it was the most dangerous job in the mine, they prided themselves on how smooth and straight they could make the ceiling. Many men died doing this, but because it was one of the highest paid jobs, there were always more volunteers. We followed Brenda through several more mine shafts that last year contained spider webs, that proved we were the first ones through them, as the webs were destroyed by our bubbles rolling across the ceiling of the shafts.
After shooting more video to supplement last year’s documentation, we turned the dive and started heading back. Once back at the 20 foot deco bar everyone finished his or her deco and as usual no one wanted to leave the water after the last mine dive of this season. Jitka was doing giant swings around the bar, Bear was trying to sneak up and jump on Carrie from behind, Brenda was high fiving and hugging everyone, while Chuck was hanging out with Cheryl and AJ comparing remaining air, etc. Shortly after burning most of the air we had left at the bar, we slowly surfaced and climbed out of the water.
After the dive we disassembled our gear, packed it up and started goodbyes. Bear was staying down in the mine to do at least one more dive with another diver. The rest of us hoisted our packs, and for the last time this year, started the steep hike back out of the mine to the surface.
When we all arrived at the surface the weather was nicer. After the final hugs and pictures, not to mention a last quick stop at the Depot for the rest of our stuff, we all went our own ways for an uneventful drive back home. Now all that was left was to sort out the video still and these field notes.