A compelling look at the people and perils involved in conquering the world’s most treacherous supercaves.
Veteran journalist and PBS’s Great Outdoors host Tabor (Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters, 2007) wastes no time setting up the race to find the world’s deepest cave as the most important exploratory challenge since the discovery of the South Pole. Whether or not this comparison is significant is irrelevant. What counts is Tabor’s knack for maximizing dramatic potential, while also managing to be informative and attentive to the major personalities associated with the most important cave explorations of the last two decades. The author examines the two polar opposites at the head of each of two major cave-diving expeditions: the win-at-all-costs, classic alpha-male, American Bill Stone, who led Mexican cave dives in Cheve and Huatula; and mild-mannered organization man, Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk, who spearheaded the exploration of his country’s notorious Krubera cave. Only one of these men came away with the distinction of having descended deeper into the earth’s core than anyone else. Tabor expertly fashions a fly-on-the-wall narrative from the firsthand accounts of Stone, Klimchouk and their supporting casts of death-defying followers. Even the most well-prepared and experienced spelunkers weren’t ready for the exotic dangers presented by these particular cave dives. Tabor leaves little to the reader’s imagination, covering the many ways a caver can die—panic attacks, frequent equipment failure, drowning, disease and starvation, to name just a few. Although the author maintains an objective balance while weighing the different methods of Stone and his rival Klimchouk, the surprising success of the more humble and methodical Ukrainian serves as a mild dig on the megalomaniacal Stone’s less impressive accomplishments.
A fascinating and informative introduction to the sport of cave diving, as well as a dramatic portrayal of a significant man-vs.-nature conflict.