Sac Actun Exploration Team (SAET)
Exploration Report April 2003 – Jan 2005

The Sac Actun Exploration Team is a small group of dedicated cave explorers, from countries all over the world including Germany, Sweden, the UK, Canada and the USA, who reside in Mexico and are involved in the ongoing exploration of Sistema Sac Actun and surrounding caves.

Sistema Sac Actun is a classic fault and fracture depicted anchailine cave formed predominantly in the Carrillo Puerto Formation of the Yucatan Platform 1.6 to 24 million years ago. The study area is located on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (the part of the Yucatan Platform that is currently above sea level) in the state of Quintana Roo close to the town of Tulum.

SAET feels very privileged to be able to explore in such a unique and fragile environment. With this privilege comes many responsibilities, not least among them a need to inform a wider audience about the extent and importance of this karst aquifer, in the hope that it will lead to further study, greater understanding and most importantly protection and conservation of this amazing natural resource.

SAET are proud to maintain a close and productive working relationship with the Instituto Nacional De Anthropologia Y Historia (INAH) of Mexico and many other scientists drawn from diverse disciplines including Archaeology, Biology, Bio-chemistry, Ecology, Geology, Hydrology, Paleontology and Speleology in an effort to promote the study, scientific documentation and understanding of the historical and environmental values of Quintana Roo karst structures.

The following is a short chronology of the exploration carried out to date by SAET:

  • April 2003
    Schmittner, Sieff, Berni, and Phillips began resurvey and exploration dives in Nohoch Ha (Big Water) in an attempt to connect this downstream section of cave originating at Cenote Naval (named for the nearby Naval air station) to the rest of Sistema Sac Actun (White Cave) on the upstream side of Naval. The final connection was made by Schmittner on the 8th April 2003 and brought the total length of surveyed cave passage in Sistema Sac Actun to 25,111 meters (82,386 feet).

  • 27th March 2004
    Coke and Schmittner locate a new cenote which was named Chuliab (Jaguarondi) while exploring in the jungle. This newly discovered cenote is ideally located between a number of nearby caves including Sistema Sac Actun, Dzonot Took (Burned Cenote) and Sistema Nohoch K’iin (Big Sun).

  • April 2004
    Schmittner began the first exploration dives at Cenote Chuliab establishing significant upstream and downstream passages.

  • 14th April 2004
    Bogaerts continued exploration from the end of Schmittner’s upstream line and located a new cenote in what would now become Sistema Chuliab which was named Nauyaca (The Jumping Viper aka Fer De Lance).

  • 20th April 2004
    Sieff and Bogaerts locate Cenote Nauyaca overland.

  • 21st April 2004
    Bogaerts continues exploration upstream towards a possible connection with Sistema Sac Actun entering at Cenote Nauyaca. During the dive a tunnel collapse traps Bogaerts on the wrong side of a major side mount restriction. Fortunately he is able to exit via a new cenote Puut’s ul (Escape) he discovers a short distance from the collapse. Exploration is discontinued in Nauyaca due to unstable and dangerous passage conditions.

  • 21st April 2004
    Sieff and Berni connect a new cenote they have found (Cenote Equinox) to Sistema Nohoch K’iin.

  • 25th April 2004
    Schmittner continuing exploration upstream in Sistema Chuliab makes a connection to Sistema Nohoch K’iin (terminus of Dan’s Bonner Line explored 1997). This brings the total amount of surveyed line in Sistema Nohoch K’iin to 16,513 meters (54,177 feet).

  • May 2004
    Sieff and Berni continue exploring further downstream from the new Equinox section of Nohoch K’iin towards a cave named Sistema Cave Under the Sea (CUTS aka Doorway Under the Sea & Altar Maya) which had been originally explored in 2001 by Nicolai Toussaint and a group of French cave divers.

  • May – October 2004
    Schmittner, Davidsson and Berni conduct a number of dives in CUTS to resurvey existing lines and investigate possible leads.

  • October 2004
    Note: In September 2001 Schmittner completed 8 exploration dives out of Cenote Ka’as (Ugly /Evil) which was located between Sistema Sac Actun and Sistema Abejas (Bee’s) in an attempt to connect the two caves. Exploration in this area was extremely difficult due to the nature of the cave and deemed too dangerous to continue at this time.

  • 10th October 2004
    Davidsson and Schmittner began diving in a new Cenote named Dzonot Tu-Ha (Dung Water) located between Sistema Sac Actun and Sistema Abejas. They hope that it may prove to be somewhat more productive cave than that explored out of the dismal Cenote Ka’as. Unfortunately this is not the case and if anything conditions in Tu-Ha are even more challenging than they had been in Cenote Ka’as. Davidsson and Schmittner decide to return to Ka’as for a final look.

  • 14th October 2004
    Davidsson and Schmittner connect Cenote Ka’as to Sistema Sac Actun.

  • 15th October 2004
    Davidsson and Schmittner are finally able to make the long awaited for connection between Sistema Sac Actun and Sistema Abejas through Cenote Ka’as. This brings the total amount of surveyed passage in Sistema Sac Actun to 35,967 meters (118,001 feet).

  • 18th October 2004
    Davidsson connects Sistema Sac Actun to Sistema CUTS through the new Abejas section of Sac Actun, bringing the new total for Sistema Sac Actun to 39,218 meters (128,668 feet).

  • October – November 2004
    At this point in time, all of SAET’s efforts are now focused on making a connection between Sistema Sac Actun and Sistema Nohoch K’iin through the newly discovered CUTS and Equinox cave areas. Schmittner, Davidsson and Bogaerts made repeated dives from both CUTS and Equinox sides under very challenging conditions.

  • 4th November 2004
    After a great team effort Bogaerts makes the much-anticipated connection between Sistema Sac Actun and Sistema Nohoch K’iin. His exploration begins at Equinox, to connect to a passage within the CUTS section of Sac Actun.
    The “MSJ Connection Line” is named in memory of Marike Susan Jasper who died on the 4th April 2004, RIP Marike.

This brings the total amount of surveyed passage in Sistema Sac Actun to 61,941 meters (203,218 feet). There are 55 Cenotes in the cave.

According to QRSS files Sistema Sac Actun is now recognized as the second longest underwater cave in the world after Sistema Ox Bel Ha (Three Paths of Water). Both of these cave systems are located in the state of Quintana Roo in close proximity to one another. Sistema Sac Actun is recognized as the third longest cave in Mexico (this includes dry caves) after Sistema Ox Bel Ha and Sistema Purificacion according to The Association of Mexican Cave Studies (AMCS).

The nature of much of SAET’s exploration has been through very small cave passage that is often unstable due to breakdown and collapse. Conditions are often made more challenging by extremely poor visibility caused by a combination of factors including tannic acid laden water, percolation and halocline mixing. SAET explorers often found themselves diving and surveying in conditions of limited to zero visibility for extended periods of time.

The majority of exploration dives were conducted solo by divers configured in open circuit side mount equipment. Additional stage bottles and scooters were used on dives as required and when the size of cave passage permitted. This methodology proved itself the safest, most effective and efficient protocol when conducting exploration in this particular environment.

SAET would like to express their deep appreciation to all of the landowners who have allowed us access to their properties to conduct our exploration efforts. SAET strongly believes in developing and maintaining good landowner relationships. Landowners were kept updated and informed of all SAET’s exploration plans and the results of these efforts. Maps of explorations are furnished to the landowners at regular intervals.

SAET would like to acknowledge all the hard work and dedication of many previous explorers who have shown us the way and made much of the exploration we are continuing today possible.

SAET would like to thank members of the Czech Speleological Society who explored a cave system in close proximity to the SAET study area called Dos Locos (Two Crazies) and have been kind enough to share their survey data with us.

SAET would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Jim Coke IV our friend, fellow explorer and mentor. It is due to Jim’s hard work and dedication that the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey (QRSS) Cave data base exists and has evolved into an extensive and impressive record of the Karst features of Quintana Roo. As such the QRSS data base is an extremely valuable scientific resource. Jim has been of invaluable assistance in helping SAET collate survey data and devise future exploration strategy. SAET are honored to be able to contribute all their survey data to the QRSS files.

It should be noted that all the exploration to date has been funded entirely by SAET explorers....As usual we are all broke.

SAET’s exploration of Sistema Sac Actun and surrounding caves continues. We will update our progress through the QRSS web site and with news releases as appropriate.

Should you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Robbie Schmittner, Kim Davidsson or Steve Bogaerts.

Cave softly
January 2005

SAET Members: Robbie Schmittner, Kim Davidsson, Steve Bogaerts, Nadia Berni, Dave Sieff, Bil Phillips and Jim Coke

Discussion for this trip report can be found by following this link