I admit to being nervous about diving in Bonne Terre Mine's 2013 Treasure Hunt. Not so much about diving in the event itself, but more about diving in the mine. This was my first trip to Bonne Terre and I didn't know what to expect.
What was I afraid of?
Well, let's see – I'd be diving in an underground mine that was flooded when the mining operation ceased. This place is HUGE. It's a one billion gallon lake with 17 miles of shoreline. It seemed like an intimidating space. I worried about getting lost and swimming into a tunnel, never to be seen again. I worried that I would not find any chips. I worried that I worried too much.
My fears were unfounded.
The mine is very well lit. Industrial lighting running above the water is more than adequate illumination in the perfectly clear spring water that fills the mine. Bonne Terre's website boasts 100ft visibility year round. This is not idle bragging, it is the truth. By far, this is the best visibility for diving in Missouri (and probably the Midwest). Be aware – the water is cold at approximately 57 degrees. I'd recommend a dry suit for tour dives, but I found it to be a hindrance when trying to descend quickly for the hunt. You may want to consider layering a Farmer John wetsuit as an alternative.
Yes, the mine is massive. The hunt was setup so that groups of divers descended into quadrants designated for the event. We were watched by kayak-riding supporters on the surface and guided underwater by Bonne Terre instructors. The search sites were CLEARLY marked. It was nearly impossible to get lost. Once I saw the scope of the operation, my fears of being lost in a mine shaft quickly disappeared.
I did find many chips. While my total winnings for the day fell short compared to those of more experienced treasure hunters, I was pleased with my first year plunder. The auction Saturday evening was very active – divers offered their winnings to acquire trips, gear and gift certificates. A friend of mine won a trip (his third in three years) and my dive buddy won a CO analyzer. Those of us who had smaller winnings were still rewarded with raffle prizes, a BBQ dinner and great company.
By the time my group our ready to drive back to Kansas City on Sunday, we had found new dive friends, discovered a new location for year-round diving and decided that we were definitely coming back in 2014. No worries there.
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