The first time I went caving was a family trip led by my dad. During a holiday in the 1970’s, he took us down Swildon’s Hole in the Mendip Hills of England. I didn’t know before that day that he was a pioneering cave diver, and had been the first person to dive through Sumps 4 and 5 in Swildon’s, discovering air-filled passage beyond each one.
After that introduction, I lived for the next cave trip. When I was seventeen, I was able to get a prized spot on a trip into Roppel Cave, Kentucky, by vastly inflating my caving resume. I remember informing the crew some time after midnight that it was my longest caving trip ever. They were incredulous, and deeply concerned that I would melt away at any moment. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it had been my longest trip for the previous seven hours.
By the way, don’t do that. It’s much smarter to work up through trips of increasing difficulty. But what did I know? I was seventeen.
There was no looking back. Soon enough I was leading trips deep into Roppel Cave, which was connected in 1983 to become part of the Mammoth Cave system, the longest cave in the world. I treasure memories such as leading across the Skywalker Traverse, 130 feet above the floor of Green Eggs Dome, to discover the Dixie complex of passages, which we pursued up a series of aid climbs to the very highest point in the Mammoth system.
The very best of these discoveries was Hoover Cave. In the fall of 2003 I made plans for a swan song trip, the last one before I would be staying close to home with Sara to take care of our expected new daughter. My friend Alan Canon and I dug into a sinkhole and found a going passage with a tremendously strong breeze, which screamed out to us that it was an entrance to Mammoth Cave. The following trip led us for half a mile of difficult passage to a walking crystal palace that went in two directions. Over the next few weeks we mapped Katie Jane Way for more than a mile of wonder. Finally, in 2005 we found the elusive connection to Mammoth Cave, adding the 26th entrance to the system.
For the past few years, I have had the incredible privilege of joining expeditions to explore and map Lechuguilla Cave, New Mexico, the most beautiful cave in the world. Here are some thoughts that arose from the 2012 expedition. This cave, in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, is a treasure that is carefully protected by the National Park Service,
If you want to learn more about caving safely and respectfully, the National Speleological Society (www.caves.org ) almost certainly has a chapter near your home.
For some of the most excellent cave photographs anywhere, check out www.cavepics.com, featuring images by Peter and Ann Bosted, with contributions by others including Daniel Chailloux.
The first three images on this page are copyright Peter and Ann Bosted, while the last is copyright Jeff Bartlett, images used by permission,
For more about going to Lechuguilla Cave, read the Lechuguilla Cave Preparation Guide.