Sistema Actun Chen

By Christophe Le Maillot


Only the mosquitoes and ticks on these early April days seemed to enjoy the 100-degree humidity. Bernd Birnbach and I wish we were as well adapted to this environment.

A 45-minute hike through the damp, Yucatan jungle brings us to Cenote Kop, the main entrance of Sistema Actun Chen (Cave Fount). It is located 7 kilometers south of Akumal on the property of Don Lorenzo Ancona and his son. Entering is made difficult by the fact that all equipment and tanks must be lowered 25 feet through a narrow crevasse before reaching the small pool of crystal clear water.

200-foot wide room

The initial 800 feet finds us in small 'cheesy' passages of unstable limestone. Visibility quickly turns to zero. Several restrictions are navigable only in our side mount configuration and hopes for larger passage keep us squeezing forward against the steady flow of water. Continuing northeast, the cave widens but reveals few of the beautiful formations so abundant in other nearby systems. Several hundred feet further, walls suddenly disappear and we find ourselves in an enormous, 200-foot wide room, later named La Mancha. From here the cave splits into two major sections.

One side snaked N-W and it was not long before we had emptied the reel, tying-off in a large, incessant tunnel. A 12-foot stalagmite more than compensated for the lack of other decorations. Later in the week, Bernie and I pushed the east side and struggled through several small and nasty bedding plains. But persistence paid off. Spilling out 1,500 feet of line we also hit "pay-dirt" by finding an equally promising passage to come back for.

Nightmare logistics

The exploration of Sistema Actun Chen started an April 7, 1998 and up to the date of this composition has revealed more than 17,000 feet of passage. A halocline sits at 35 feet and a less pronounced one at 21 feet. The average depth is 38 feet with a maximum of 73 feet recorded. Most sections are very large yet some major restrictions produce a challenge. Although eight other cenotes have been discovered, during exploration the 45-minute trek to Cenote Kop remained the most feasible entry. These nightmare logistics limited the number of dives and divers to but a few


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