• The Lips Bypass in Devil’s Cave System – Ginnie Springs

    February 4, 2016
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    Experienced North Florida Cave Divers frequently hear a common question from newly certified Full Cave Divers:

    I recently finished my Full Cave certification and am looking for something new to explore that would be appropriate for someone recently certified. Do you have any suggestions of places to go?”

    Frequently the response is a long list of non-advanced passages or sometimes just general suggestions of areas in various cave systems to explore that would qualify as good places to "practice skills" and/or for a newly certified full cave divers to develop experience.

    For the purpose of this article I am going to concentrate on the Devil's Cave System (Devil's Ear / Devil's Eye) on the Santa Fe river in High Springs, Fl. The easiest way to access this cave system is from Ginnie Springs Outdoors which is a privately owned facility / park. If you received your Full Cave certification in North Florida it would be nearly impossible for you to have not heard of the Devil's Cave System before and is as unlikely that you have already not already been in the cave system previously.

    That being said the most common suggestion to the question previously stated previously would be to dive “The Catacombs.” Although The Catacombs is an excellent place for a new cave diver to practice their reel skills and a fun area to explore it is still a commonly explored area and that is why it is so commonly suggested. I am going to offer you a alternative suggestion, and that is to explore “The Lips Bypass”.

    What is “The Lips Bypass”?

    If you have been into the Devil's Cave System, even an Intro to Cave Diver should be familiar with “The Lips”. The Lips is a bedding plane that is located approximately 300 feet down the gold line from the "Ear Cavern Area" through the “Gallery”. You must pass through the lips on the gold line to gain access to a small “room” immediately before “The Keyhole”. I have always called this area (room) just past the lips and before the Keyhole as the “Ante-Keyhole Room”. As you enter into the Ante-Keyhole room to the right there is a silty area called “The Gizzard”. If you have never taken the time to explore it then tie off a reel to the gold line sometime and go take a look. The Gizzard is much larger back there than you would expect. Anyhow you will find to the left of a keyhole (back 30 feet or so) there is a white line that runs back into an area you might have not paid much attention to previously. If you follow that line it will eventually come to a “T” (you will not hardly ever find T's in North Florida Caves but this is one of those exceptions). Following the line from starting on the Keyhole side down to this “T” there will be two choices once you arrive to that T .... you can either follow the line that splits off to the left of the T (left of where you came from), this is the BACK SIDE of the “Lips Bypass”, or continue past the junction at the "T" and that line goes to the “Keyhole Bypass”. You should NOT enter The Lips Bypass initially from the back side (you will see why shortly) but I wanted you to be aware of where you will end up once you EXIT from The Lips Bypass. The “Keyhole Bypass” will make a good story for a different article (it contains areas that are not side mount friendly too).

    Where is “The Lips Bypass”?

    Now that you know where the lips bypass exits down and left of the Keyhole let's discuss how to find it from the front side which is how you would want to begin a dive into that area. There is permanent line in the Lips Bypass HOWEVER the line starts a ways back inside and this was done intentionally to keep divers from just happening upon it by casually peeking into open holes and spotting it -- then deciding just to venture in and get themselves into a tight area they did not originally intend to visit.

    That being said here is how you can find the Lips Bypass.

    There are a few ways to find where the line starts in the Lips Bypass. I am going to discuss the easiest way to locate that line. As you explore the area and return to it on subsequent dives you will find the other ways to access the area on your own. It would be hard not to discover them and should be fairly obvious to you. As you approach the lips from the gallery on the main line (gold line) the main line will enter into the lips and down the RIGHT side of the lips bedding plane. Just as you enter into the lips if you stop and look hard to your left you will see the bottom of the lips bedding plane run over to and eventually “hit the side wall” and pinch off. It might initially look like there is nothing over there but in fact there is something there! If you move over to the left you will come upon a small “hole” in the bottom of the bedding plane. Once you get all the way over to the left where the hole is located (easily big enough for someone in back mount to fit into without issue) if you look down into you will see a small “room”. This should be considered the start of entering into the lips bypass.

    STOP HERE and don't enter yet. You should run line before entering into this area as you are moving quite far away from the gold line. The easiest way to approach this is to return to the gold line just outside of the lips. Tie a reel at that point to the gold line and then run your reel low and across the FRONT of the lips OUTSIDE of the bedding plane itself. Don't be a bonehead and run the line across the main part of the lips where everyone passing through the lips will risk being entanglement in your line – so run it LOW outside and below the front of the lips and across the front over towards the left. Once you are out of the way over to the left far away from where the gold line passes through the lips you can then rise up and enter into the lips and begin heading towards the hole on the left. This will allow you to be tied into the gold line but at the same time keep your line out of the way and be able to still approach the Lips Bypass initial entry point easily.

    Once you enter into the hole on the left you will drop into a room and be on the "upper level”. If you stop here and take a look around for a moment you will notice that by moving forward it will soon drop down again into a “lower level" of the room. If you take a moment to look down into that area AND BACK TO THE RIGHT you will see a small area that looks like you would be entering into a “hallway” of sorts (it is small). It is not immediately obvious that there is going passage as it almost looks like a dead-end. This is where you need to go to access the Lips Bypass permanent line. After you drop down into the lower area and proceed to the right you will eventually come to that “hallway” where you need to take a sharp turn to the right. After performing the right turn you will have a very short distance to travel until you will come upon the line that is tied off to a rock on the floor. It is right in the middle of a restriction so you will need to tie in your reel here then work your way through the restriction. At this point it is a matter of following the existing line which will eventually terminate at the T that was described in the section above previously. Once you get to the T you then would follow the line to the RIGHT (your right as you exist the Lips Bypass) and that takes you over to the Keyhole. You will not that once you exit the Lips Bypass area and arrive at the T the flow coming from deeper in the cave will want to carry you naturally toward the keyhole as most of the flow coming from the Keyhole Bypass area wants to flow mostly toward the keyhole itself and not back out through the Lips Bypass from where you just came (some of the flow does however which you would already realize as you would have just came through that area).

    If you decide to proceed further into Devil's then of course once you have turned your dive you would simply take the reverse path through the Lips Bypass during your exit and pick up your reel along the way.

    Can you dive it in Back Mount or is it Side Mount only?

    I just did a dive here 8 days before I wrote this article. I was diving in a side mount configuration and by dive buddy was diving in back mount. The Lips Bypass is large enough that you can dive it in either configuration. It is certainly easier in my opinion to dive it in side mount as there are numerous low areas and points where you need to turn your body to fit through areas as you want to protect the cave from impacts from your tanks. My dive buddy had a couple areas that look him maybe 10-20 seconds longer to work out in back mount than I did in side mount – so I just paused and waited for him to work his way through and then we continued on together.

    What is the bottom composition like? Is there a lot of silt?

    The first 70% or so of the entire journey through the lips bypass is either a sand bottom or rock bottom. In the last 30% of the lips bypass there is a little silt that has settled but nothing major to be concerned about. If your buoyancy and trim are as they should be (certainly if you are full cave certified you should have the necessary level of skills already; and if you are not full cave certified you should not be in this area in the first place!) then you should have no problems. This area is not much smaller or silty than the smaller areas of the Catacombs so if you have been through there this should feel similar albeit a little tighter.

    Conclusion

    If you like smaller passage and navigating restrictions and exploring then you will probably think this is a fun area to dive. This is not an area that you should go explore without running a line so don't break the rules. If you run the line from the gold line to the permanent lips bypass line then you will easily be able to find your way back out to the main line. There is not a lot of silt and it mostly consists of a sandy bottom. It is however very neat looking cave and someplace that few people explore. Many people dive the Devil's cave system for years and years and never bother to go check it out. Frequently divers don't even know it is there at all! 

    One other thing – if you plan to dive in this area and you come upon a line that someone has already run into the Lips Bypass do NOT follow behind them and run a second line. There really is not enough room in certain parts for a team to pass each other easily – yes it could be done but not everyone might be comfortable doing so, therefore why create that situation --- please be polite and save the dive for a later time.

    Also, there are a number of videos on Youtube showing the Lips Bypass. You can find a link to one such video that we did in the Videos section of our website at FloridaTechnicalScuba.com.

    I hope you find this information useful and if you do decide to check it out let me know what you think!

    Safe Diving!

    Brett Floren – Cave Diving Instructor