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Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earthby James M. Tabor
Synopses & Reviews
We have a fatality.
BILL STONE, HALF A MILE DEEP and three miles from the entrance in a Mexican supercave called Cheve, did stop. Red-and-white plastic survey tape hung across the narrow passage he had been ascending. The message, scrawled on notebook paper, was affixed to the tape at chest level, where it could not be missed. Afloat in the cave's absolute darkness, the white paper burned so brightly in the beam of Stone's headlamp that it almost hurt his eyes. The time was shortly before midnight on Friday, March 1, 1991, though that made no particular difference--it was always midnight in a cave.
Stone, a hard-driving man with a doctorate in structural engineering, stood six feet, four inches tall and weighed two hundred hard-muscled pounds. He was one of the leaders (two veteran cavers, Matt Oliphant and Don Coons, were the others) of an expedition trying to make the last great terrestrial discovery by proving that Cheve (pronounced CHAY-vay) was the deepest cave on earth. He had brown hair, a long hatchet face, a strong neck, intense blue eyes, and a prow of a nose angling out between them. Stone was not classically handsome, but it was a striking, unsubtle face men and women alike looked at twice.
Not just now, though. Having been underground for almost a week nonstop, he was gaunt, haggard, and hollow-eyed, his cheeks rough with scraggly beard, and he resembled somewhat the Jesus of popular imagination. A week underground was long, but not extremely so by supercaving standards, where stays of three weeks or more in the vast underground labyrinths were not unusual.
With three companions, he was halfway through the grueling, two-day climb back to the surface from the cave's deepest known point, something like 4,000 vertical feet and 7 miles from the entrance. The note and tape had been strung just before the expedition's Camp 2, where four others were staying. They explained to Stone what had happened. At about 1:30 p.m. that day, a caver from Indiana named Chris Yeager, twenty-five years old, had entered the cave with an older, more experienced man from New York, Peter Haberland. Yeager had been caving for just two years, and going into Cheve was,
for him, like a climber who had been on only small Vermont mountains suddenly tackling Everest. This is not a specious comparison. Experts affirm that exploring a supercave such as Cheve is like climbing Mount Everest--in reverse.
Not long after he arrived in camp, more experienced cavers nicknamed Yeager the Kid. Seriously concerned about the younger man's safety, a veteran, elite cave explorer named Jim Smith sat Yeager down for what should have been a sobering, thirty-minute lecture: don't go into the cave without a guide, carry only a light daypack at first, learn the route in segments, get acclimatized to the underground world before going in for a long stay. The warnings fell on deaf ears. Yeager started his first trip with a fifty-five-pound pack, planning on a seven-day stay.
Yeager's problems began soon. Just three hours into the cave, he did not properly secure his rappel rack (a specialized metal device resembling a big paper clip with transverse bars, built for sliding down long, wet ropes with heavy loads in caves) to his climbing harness. As a result, he dropped it. The rappel rack is a critica
This is the story of the men and women who risked everything to find the deepest cave on Earth, earning their place in history beside the likes of Peary, Amundsen, Hillary, and Armstrong. Tabor focuses particularly on the heroic efforts of Bill Stone in the vast Cheve Cave of southern Mexico and Alexander Klimchouk in the supercave Krubera of the Republic of Georgia.
A former writer and host for PBS's The Great Outdoors documents the 2004 race between American and Russian scientists to dive to the planet's deepest spot, profiling each nation's team and expedition leaders while explaining how both sides were ultimately victorious.
About the Author
\James M. Tabor’s last book was the international award-winning Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters. The writer and on-camera host of the acclaimed national PBS series The Great Outdoors, Tabor was also co-creator and executive producer for the 2007 History Channel special Journey to the Center of the World. Tabor is a former contributing editor to Outside magazine and Ski Magazine; his writing has also appeared in Time, Smithsonian, Barron’s, U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and many other national publications.
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