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Expedition Bjurälven from the inside out

Expedition Bjurälven team member Ane Mengshoel, is a diver since 2001 but fell in love with cave diving in 2013. Cave diving exploration of Sweden's most complex underwater cave system in the freezing mountains of Jämtland requires a good all-around organizer in the team. This is the role where Ane excels.

In the 2023 she participated in Expedition Bjurälven for the 5th time.

Where did the idea for the Expedition Bjuralven come from?

It all started in 1979 when Bo Lenander discovered an entrance to a cave in a small lake in northern Sweden. Some attempts to explore the cave in the summertime were made, but they all failed due to the strong currents. That's when the idea to explore the cave during winter came up. The flow through the cave is much lower in wintertime, which makes it possible to enter the cave.

How long has it been in development?

The first serious attempt to dive into the cave was made in the summer of 1997. The first winter expedition to Bjurälven took place in 2007. It has been running annually since then, except for 2020 and 2021, due to the Covid pandemic.

Cave exploration is one of the greatest activities I can do outdoors, and my energy level increases with every minute underwater!

What is your role within Expedition Bjuralven?

I'm an organiser by heart, so one of my main contributions is ensuring we keep to-do lists and constantly watch all parts of those lists to see if everything is checked and rechecked.

We have lists for everything (materials, snowmobile logistics, responsibilities, transport logistics, etc.). They are mainly prepared in advance of the expedition. I am also responsible for contacting some of our sponsors and running social media channels.

During the expedition, we all have many bigger or smaller roles to make the expedition week run as smoothly as possible. In addition, I also do exploration dives, which I find truly unique.

However, it is not the person who holds the line which matters the most. It is the whole team, and all the tasks are done by various people, from driving the snowmobiles to making sure we have gas and food for everybody!

How do you select team members?

New team members are suggested by existing members and decided by voting. New members must be able to contribute something to the group and be team players. We also look at our goals for future expeditions and try to select those who can contribute to reaching those goals. A positive can-do attitude, being a team player, and a safety-focused mind are typical for all our team members.

Which part of the expedition is the most challenging and why?

Some might think it is the diving itself, and of course, diving can be challenging. However, it is also challenging to keep track of all the details and logistics in advance (done by us all) to have an efficient exploration week.

In addition, it can be quite physically challenging to make snowmobile tracks and set up the camp at the beginning of the expedition week.

The weather can be very demanding, and for instance, last year, the river was not frozen, and we spent quite a lot of time making sure we could cross the river safely on our snowmobiles.

What was the most surprising thing you have discovered so far?

It is fascinating that so many people want to spend (at least) ten days out in the mountains facing harsh conditions, such as temperatures down to minus 30 degrees Celsius at the surface and only one degree Celsius in the water.

Two factors drive me; one is the possibility of experiencing the beautiful underwater scenery, untouched by human beings. The other one is the team and how we merge into one efficient organism during the expedition week. I'm not saying that we always agree, but when we gather around the dinner table or in the sauna in the evening, I can feel a powerful bond between us in the team.

What are these expeditions like?

I usually humoristically call these expeditions a labor camp. We stay in an old school building, but the diving location is far into the mountains. We get up at seven, ready to leave around eight, and not back until 12 hours later.

During the first few days, we set up base camp in the mountains with big tents, compressors, and other equipment. One of our principal risks is hypothermia. We must always keep warm any injured person or a diver facing a dry suit leakage. We also bring all dive gear there, most of which will stay at the mountain during the expedition. The exception is drysuits, which are nice to have dry for the next day. Also, torches and other battery-driven gadgets need charging.

On a typical day, we eat breakfast together before we gather outside and pack whatever is needed to bring to the mountains that day. Then we drive for about 20 minutes by car to get to where the road ends and where our snowmobiles are parked for the night. Here we need to ensure that the right people and materials end up in the right snowmobile sleigh heading for the right base camp. Nowadays we usually have two main camps. When we reach the camp, we make sure that the petrol-powered electricity generators and the diesel heaters work as expected after a night in the cold. A fun fact is that we bring kettles and microwaves to make sure that we can get a warm meal or two during the day! Some team members run the compressors while others prepare for a dive. When we return to our cars in the evening, we have to make sure that all snowmobiles get fuel and oil, and that someone gets to the store before closing time to buy more food, if needed. In the evening, we get a bit spoiled by eating dinner at a local restaurant Ripan (the food, by the way, is amazing). The few hours left before bedtime are used for fixing and servicing gear, collecting survey data, making social media updates, and running a joint meeting to discuss today's day and plan for the upcoming day.

One evening during our expedition week, we also give a presentation about our project's latest findings to the local community. We are fortunate to have many locals with valuable knowledge helping us during the expedition, and giving something back to the community feels meaningful.

What outcomes have been achieved by the expeditionary project throughout the past years?

The Bjurälven area contains many different smaller or larger caves. During the first years of the expedition, the main focus was at the Dolinsjö cave, where we got through several sumps and made discoveries every year. The official mapped length of the Dolinsjö cave is now 2 432 meters, making it the longest waterfilled cave in Sweden. Due to its many sumps, a dive to the end of the line and back can take 8 hours.

We have also mapped several other caves and been able to put them into a system showing where the invisible river underground is located.

How do you envision the future of the Expedition Bjuralven project?

I hope we can find more passages in the caves we currently explore. It would be great to connect some of them, but we might run into collapses stopping further exploration in that direction. However, I expect us always to be a great team, driven by our passion for exploring caves and having fun while doing it!

↓ Bjurälven Caves
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↓ Bjurälven Caves
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↓ Bjurälven Caves
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