A few months back the world was transfixed by the story of a young soccer team in Thailand that became stranded in a cave when rising water closed off their only means of escape. If you thought that was a harrowing experience however, then wait until you read an article that was posted to the National Geographic website yesterday. It shares the details of a team of cave explorers who were in a true race against time as flood waters poured into the subterranean chambers that they were mapping.
The actual event took place in a place called Veryovkina, which holds the distinction of being the deepest cave system that we know of so far. Located in the Eastern European country of Georgia, the cave has been explored and mapped for more than 50 years. So far, we know that it is at least 2212 meters (7257 ft) deep, with more passages and chambers to be explored yet.
Back in September, a team of spelunkers dropped into Veryovkina to continue the slow process of discovering its hidden depth and what awaits there. It takes expert climbers four days to drop to the cave’s lowest point, using ropes and harnesses to rappel down vertical shafts, while also wandering through horizontal tunnels and chambers too.
One morning, a week into the expedition, while the team was having breakfast they heard a rumble, followed by a massive roar. A couple of their teammates who were returning to the surface had sent them a message that a flood pulse could be on the way, but now it was actually happening. A massive rush of water was heading their way, and they had only moments to spare. As one member of the caving team described, “All hell broke loose.”
What followed was quite a story of the dangers that come with extreme exploration in some of the most challenging and difficult places on our planet. Worse yet, there was more than a mile of vertical rope for the team to climb to truly reach safety. Rising water was rushing into the cave and if they didn’t move quickly, they could all find themselves swept away while still 2000 meters beneath the surface of the Earth.
If you’re looking for some insight into what cave explorers go through on their expeditions, this story will certainly give you plenty to think about. In many ways, these are not unlike mountaineering expeditions, but rather than going up in altitude, they are dropping down into the Earth instead. It is some truly fascinating stuff and I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to find yourself caught in a similar situation.