The Matterhorn

By Michael Kane

We have finally successfully completed a trip to the elusive Matterhorn!!!!!! We once again teamed up with Captain Tim Burke of the Great Escape for a Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber benefit trip with our destination this time being the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn is a series of pinnacles that lies ~ 45 miles off San Pedro between Santa Barbara and Anacapa Islands. Given the remoteness of the site, the unpredictable weather patterns, the strong currents and the extreme depths this is a site that is not often visited, in fact, I have had several trip canceled in the last 7 years that I have been trying to dive her. We monitored the swell models throughout the week leading up to Saturday's excursion and we watched the swells creep down from a Wednesday high of 10' - 12' to Friday's prediction of 2' - 4'.

As we approach the high pinnacle at 165' we anxiously awaited as Captain Tim expertly anchored directly atop the high pinnacle. The seas are flat calm, less than 1' of swells, and it finally sinks in that we are probably going to make it this time. While Tim is navigating the boat we are pleased to see three gray whales frolicking about 50 yards off the starboard side. The whales seem just as intrigued by us as we do by them and the hang about for at least 15 minutes. By now we are anchored and are hoping to see our friends down under.

We send the first team in at 8:00 am after we allow time for preparing the breakaway deco station, rig up lines and prepare the boat for any possible emergencies. We are in the middle of nowhere so we attempt all precautions possible in the event of a problem. The first team's goal is to insure that the anchor is affixed properly and then enjoy the dive. All the best laid plans… About 9 minutes into the first teams dive the anchor breaks loose but fortunately all team members immediately recognize the problem and are close enough to the anchor to get hold and complete a drifting deco on the line. I wasn't part of the first team so I'll allow those members to provide their accounts, but no one indicated that they were ever in any sort of problem. It was simply a dive fallen short due to a slipped anchor.

After we get everyone on board its time for my dive. My team consisted of myself and John Walker with Terry May acting as support diver. Terry agreed to forego an opportunity to join us in order to increase our safety margin. Thank you Terry May!!!!

Our dive plan is 350' for 15 minutes. After several conversations with Jarrod Jablonski we agreed upon a mix of 10/70. JJ was very generous with his time as we developed contingency plan after contingency plan so I wanted to take a minute and publicly acknowledge JJ's efforts. As I noted above the site is so remote so contingency planning is of the utmost importance. One of my concerns after we anchored was that the surface visibility was somewhat limited due to a fog bank that stubbornly hung around during the day. To the extent anyone missed the anchor line search efforts may have been impaired by the limited vis.

Early reports from the first team indicated substantial visibility but a fierce current. Our plan was to descend the anchor after Captain Tim re-set it and secure the anchor and then continue down the pinnacle. The anchor was draped over the pinnacle at 165' and sat in 195'. She sat precariously at the edge of a ridge so it took a minute or so to get her adjusted safely. This, of course, ate into our preciously limited bottom time. However, as we descended the line the pinnacle came into focus at ~90' with bright red, orange, purple anemones illuminating the landscape. Our HID lights only served to further lighten up the expanse. As we continued our descent I kept awaiting for the colors to fade and the reef to thin out. Fortunately this would never come to fruition. The corals never depleted and in fact grew in size and color the deeper we went, nor did the generous supply of abundance disappoint us in any way. At ~ 250' we encountered a football field size shelf that resembled a garden patch with all sorts of different colors, the reds mixed with yellows, whites, purples sprinkled with white metridiums and scallops the size of large dinner plates. I remarked after the dive that the visual was very comparable to the wealth of life that cover's the oil rig pilings if you have ever had the opportunity to dive the rigs here in SoCal. This reef greatly resembled in scope the heavily encrusted nature of a piling. The marine life was abundant but I admit to expecting (or hoping) to see larger than normal marine life but while there was larger groups of life they were about the same size as the marine life that we normally see in other reefs in and around Southern California.

The current was screaming at various points on our dive and made for some interesting challenges. From the surface to ~ 100' the current was nearly non-existent. From ~ 100' – 225' the current was ripping and it was only when we were able to duck behind a shelf at 225' did the current subside and from here to 300' it was a pleasant, easy and enjoyable exploration of the reef. The majority of my deep exploration efforts involve wrecks and I clearly remember my thoughts when the reef came into vision. Usually as we descend we keep looking for a chunk of mangled up metal to come into focus, but on this dive, coupled with the 100' vis we enjoyed, the reef sprang upon us like a welcomed breath of air with colors and life that are clearly distinguishable from the outline of a wreck that I am usually focusing in on at these depths. The difference was clear as was the welcome freedom to explore a reef that only a handful of people have ever explored at these depths. Sadly our available bottom time had arrived upon us and it was time to begin the slow and dilatory ascent to the surface. I recorded a bottom water temp of 46 degrees with a surface temp. of 57 degrees and as noted we estimated 100' + vis with mild to strong currents. As we switched to our 190' (19/25) bottles the current was so strong that both Walker and I were like flags flying in the wind while tied off to the line. Terry had arrived at the pre-determined depth and time exactly as planned (120') and remarked later that even he was able to enjoy the pinnacle from that depth. By the time we got to our 20' stop, and had handed off all our deco bottles Walker and I were able to complete the deco absent the need for a line on the anchor. No currents, no swells and we floated under the boat and my vivid recollections were that we had just done a great dive, we were blessed with great conditions and all I could think of is when can I get here again??????

Special thanks to my buddy John Walker who is a joy to dive with at these depths, Captain Tim Burke and the expert crew of the Great Escape who instill a sense of confidence during dives of this nature and his contributions to the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber, Terry May for expertise as support diver and the entire group that helped raise much needed funds for the Chamber.

Thanks guys and girls….

Regards MHK

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