Blind Descent

The Book of the Week is “Blind Descent” by James M. Tabor, published in 2010.  This book describes various expeditions in the 1990’s and later, of supercavers in their quest to find the world’s deepest cave.  Passionate expedition leaders have included Bill Stone, Alexander Klimchouk and Yury Kasjan.  The months-long trips must be meticulously planned in advance, funding secured by dozens of sponsors such as National Geographic, permission obtained by the political entity governing the cave being explored, and supplies collected and hauled into the location.

The supercavers must be very physically fit and not the least bit squeamish, as they wear backpacks weighing upwards of thirty pounds while tolerating squalid living conditions– camping for days exploring dark, narrow, muddy, wet passages hundreds, if not thousands of feet underground. They might encounter bats or spiders, and eat freeze-dried food.

The skills required for supercaving are the same as those required for mountaineering, rock climbing, space exploration and SCUBA diving. The aforementioned Stone constructed a device for SCUBA diving, called a rebreather, that allows a diver to stay underwater for hours longer than was ever possible before. Nevertheless, people have died due to the extreme nature of supercaving.

Rescuers take hours or days to arrive when an underground explorer’s life is endangered, and wireless communications are inoperable underground. There are numerous dangers, including falling off of a steep ledge, getting a slight injury that develops an infection from any of many underground microbes, getting a case of “the bends,” not to mention drowning in a flood or being buried in an avalanche. Meanwhile, the rescuers are endangering their own lives.

This book contains the suspenseful stories of risk-takers surveying the last few places on earth that have yet to be explored.

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