Tag Archives: caving

All thirteen trapped cavers rescued alive!

Miracles happen: Cave divers today successfully rescued the last four boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.

All 12 members of a Thai youth football team and their coach have been brought safely out of the cave in northern Thailand. The final five members rescued join eight team members taken to hospital on Sunday and Monday and said to be doing well. Each person was pulled through the cave by expert divers. The last Navy Seals – three divers and a doctor – are out of the cave, the rescue chief says.

As I said, this is a miracle. The press is likely going to focus on the kids and their coach, but the real heroes are the cave divers who risked their lives, with one man dying, to save these children.

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Four more boys rescued from cave in Thailand

Link here.

Keep your fingers crossed. What I did not mention yesterday in describing the dangers of cave diving was the truly courageous work of the divers to find these boys. Caving diving is mostly done blind. The first person in can sometimes see, but very quickly the silt reduces visibility to zero. To make sure divers can find their way back, they lay a lifeline as they go.

There had not been a lifeline to the passages where the boys were found, prior to this rescue effort. To have laid out a lifeline in passages almost two-thirds of a mile long, so quickly, speaks volumes for the courage and skills of the cave divers here. It is also why I am not surprised one diver died in the effort.

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Four of thirteen trapped Thai cavers rescued

Divers yesterday have managed to rescue four boys from the Thai soccer team that have been trapped underground by rising cave waters.

The first boy rescued exited the cave 5:40 p.m. local time, followed by three of his team members shortly after, Chiang Rai provincial acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said in a Sunday night news conference. The boys traveled 0.62 miles underwater before they reached safety.

They were taken to the hospital — three by helicopter and one by ambulance — once they were out of the cave.

This is truly a heroic and miraculous rescue effort. The upper levels of the cave the boys are trapped within are likely to eventually fill with water before the rainy season ends in October. None have ever dived before, and this isn’t diving but cave diving, possibly the most dangerous sport anywhere on Earth. In fact, an Apollo astronaut on the Moon is doing something less dangerous.

That they have gotten four boys out so far is good news. We mustn’t count our chickens yet. Traveling two-thirds of a mile underwater in a cave, with likely zero visibility, is not trivial, even with two divers to guide the boy every step of the way. One rescue diver has already died in this effort. The remaining eight boys and soccer coach face a daunting challenge.

One more note: Elon Musk yesterday announced that he is sending some of his engineers to Thailand to help. Some reports indicated he was building a submersible, but I do not think those are right. This article describes how they are helping, and it mostly has to do with helping with the pumping and other ground issues related to Musk’s tunnel boring company.

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Back from Belize

Home at last! The week of caving in Belize was somewhat exhausting, which is why I only had time to post on the one day I took time off. It was a great success however. We managed to survey all of my goals for the week, which essentially covers the most important parts of the cave. We also had a number of local cave guides participate so that they could learn cave surveying and hopefully continue the survey on their own. The map will get finished much faster if the locals mapped it.

More important, it is their cave. They really are the ones that should do it.

I will be posting throughout the day, catching up.

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Day off on the Fourth of July in Belize

After three hard days of caving, I decided to take the Fourth of July off to rest, relax, sit by the pool, and catch up with the news in space and elsewhere.

The cave surveying has been going well, but we have been trying to finish the survey of the cave’s largest room, and have found it daunting. Basically we have four survey teams spread out across the room’s width, marching forward to cover the entire passage. Since the room is never less than 150 feet wide, this takes time. After three full days of work, we finally reached the far wall yesterday, though we still have significant clean-up in many places.

Nor is this the cave’s only passage. We have several other areas that need survey, many of which I hope the local cavers will do after we Americans go home on Saturday.

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Heading to Belize again

Today I am flying to Belize for a week long caving expedition. This will be the third trip there as part of a project to complete the mapping of a well known and very spectacular cave located in St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park

As I did on the previous two trips, first in May 2016 and second in February 2017, I will continue to post on Behind the Black, though my posting will generally occur in the evening when we get back from the caves. I will also do at least one Batchelor appearance from Mayan Mountain Lodge in San Ignacio, where we will be staying. The lodge has been gracious enough with each visit to let me use their office and phone.

I very much want to finish the map this trip. The local cave guides, who depend on keeping the caves in pristine condition so that they can show off their beauty to tourists, need the map to help protect the cave. They will be helping with the survey, as they have previously. As I noted after my first trip in 2016,

Because Belize’s law puts the ownership of all caves under the jurisdiction of the Institute of Archaeology, which generally lacks the resources to protect them all, this work by the tour guides is essential. For example, Barton Creek Cave is a major tourist river cave that requires a canoe to see. Though the property surrounding the entrance is privately owned, the landowner, Mike Bogart, cannot prevent access to the cave to others. He offers tours, using the canoes he provides, but others can do the same and access the cave by canoeing up the river past his property. They need only get a government permit.

Thus, under this socialized system, with no single owner responsible for each cave, the only way the caves can be protected is for the tour guides and operators to band together to protect the caves themselves. In fact, their effort to flag the trails these past few weeks was begun expressly because they all saw the damage that uncontrolled visitation was causing, and wanted to stop it

Hopefully, their effort will bear fruit, and the caves and their guides’ livelihoods will prosper for years to come. And if the cave maps we Americans produce can help contribute to that success, then my short trip to Belize will have accomplished a lot more than provide me a few days of vacation pleasure.

On to Belize! The image below, of one of the many caves there, will give you a taste of their beauty.

Small side passage

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How I spent my Saturday: Removing graffiti in a cave

Yesterday was another of my many cave adventures, but different than most. Instead of exploring and mapping newly discovered or out-of-the-way remote cave passages, I participated in a project of the Central Arizona Grotto (a chapter of the National Speleological Society and located in Phoenix) to remove years of graffiti from Peppersauce Cave. You can see pictures of yesterday’s effort here, published by the Arizona Star.

You won’t see any pictures of me. The younger cavers were far more photogenic.

Peppersauce has become what cavers call a “sacrificial cave.” It is open and ungated, relatively easy to traverse, and very well known throughout the state. Thus, many inexperienced people go there to see it, most of whom know little about caving, the ethics of protecting them, or the proper techniques for caving safely. Yesterday, while we were working to either sand-blast, chemically remove, or grind away old spray-paint (some of which was sadly obscene), I must have seen between 150 to 200 people go by. At least two thirds of them were not wearing helmets. Many clearly had never been in a cave before. Some were not wearing headlamps, carrying flashlights instead (which makes climbing harder because you don’t have use of both hands and can easily lose your light). A few even came in with no lights, depending instead on the lights their companions carried.

Because of this heavy traffic, Peppersauce has been badly trashed. On visits by experienced cavers we routinely carry out bags of trash, only to find that trash reappearing, sometime in mere hours. The walls of the cave had been covered with graffiti, some many layers deep.

Ray Keeler of Central Arizona Grotto (CAG) has organized several projects in the past to remove this graffitti over the past two decades. The effort he is leading this year is the third, and has the help of cavers from grottos throughout the state. This was the fourth clean-up weekend, and the first that I was able to attend (having missed the first three due to scheduling conflicts).

I’ve done similar things before, but never on this scale. It was quite educational using the solvent to remove some graffiti, but unfortunately many types of paint are completely resistant to removal by either sand-blasting or solvent. After awhile I got discouraged doing solvent work. Too often nothing got removed. In the afternoon I switched to our last technique, grinding, and was far more gratified with the results. The grinder, which we do not use on formations, removes only the slightest layer of material, and thus does little damage. It however is very effective in removing all paint, no matter how resistant.

The cave is now about two thirds cleaned. We are racing to finish the rest before the summer, because a typically insane reason forced upon us by the government. You see, according to a law passed by Congress, graffiti that is more than fifty years old is considered historical, and cannot be removed without a great deal of paperwork and complex bureaucracy. Spray paint was invented in the late 1960s (about fifty years ago), and so some of this ugly graffiti, no matter how obscene, is going to be protected by our government beginning later this year. Our goal is to get it removed beforehand, so that the cave can be returned to a more natural state, for future visitors to experience.

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Off to Belize

Today, Wednesday, I head to the airport to return to the western regions of Belize for a week of cave exploration and mapping. Last time I was there in May we began a cave survey. I am now the cartographer for this project, and this time I hope we can finish it.

I intend to post while in Belize, though it will likely have to wait until each evening when we get back from the caves. I also intend to do my Batchelor appearances, but this time live from Mayan Mountain Lodge in San Ignacio, where we will be staying. The lodge was gracious enough in May to let me use their office and phone, and I expect they will be agreeable again this time.

Anyway, off for more adventure. The world is much too fascinating a place to see it just from my desk by way of the internet. You have to get out and see it for real whenever you can!

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Leaving Belize tomorrow

After a week of intense and amazing caving, I will be leaving Belize tomorrow. I will not get home until Saturday, however, as my flight ends in El Paso at about 11 pm. I will drive home on Saturday.

I intend to post several essays about my trip, one describing the caving and why it is happening, one describing the ruins and my impressions (with photos), and maybe a third with my overall thoughts about the experience. Since I have a lot of other work that needs to be done, some with deadlines, it might take a few days to pump all this out. Stay tuned.

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Off to Belize

This Friday morning I am leaving for Belize for a week long cave expedition. I do not know if I will have the time or internet access to post as normal. Moreover, the days will be spent underground surveying and pushing new cave passages, so if I do any posting it will be in the evenings. In addition, some of us will also be heading to Guatemala for a day to visit the ruins at Tikal.

I have never been to Belize before. If I can’t post there I will definitely post my impressions of my travels upon my return.

Posted from El Paso, Texas.

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Back from a weekend underground

Bob Zimmerman underground

The picture on the right will explain why I have been silent posting since Friday. I have just returned with five friends from three days of caving in New Mexico, doing some wild caving plus my first visit to Carlsbad Caverns since 1992, guided by a local caver who has been helping me with my cave survey project in Arizona.

New Mexico probably has the largest concentration of truly large and spectacularly decorated caves in the entire world. I’ve caved there previously, but this was my first trip driving from Arizona. We went to two wild caves, one of which I had never visited before and a second that I had seen during my 1992 trip. The picture shows me in the latter, standing above a large clear pool near the back of the cave with some giant flowstone speleothems all around me.

The new cave contained a room dubbed Speleogasm, because every formation there, of which there are too many to count, is completely festooned with helectites and sodastraws in a mad protrusion that no geologist can as yet explain. Nor is there any way to describe it adequately or photograph it successfully. To witness it you need to go, requiring the specialized caving skills that include the techniques and equipment required to rappel and climb a 40 foot rope.

As always, the advantages of learning how to do this successfully is the reward of seeing things that few ever see. It is why engineers and scientists strive so hard to get planetary probes to distant planets. And why humans want to travel to the planets. For me, getting inside a remote and beautifully decorated cave will just have to do.

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New human species found?

The uncertainty of science: Scientists in South Africa think they have found fossils of a new human species.

In the end, the work of more than 60 researchers yielded a picture of “a relatively tall, skinny hominid with long legs, humanlike feet, with a core and shoulder that is primitive,” Berger says. Some body parts have come into sharper focus than others. In an analysis of the remarkably complete hands, paleoanthropologist Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom found that bones in the wrist were shaped like those in modern humans, suggesting that the palm at the base of the thumb was quite stiff. That would allow forces to dissipate over a larger area of the hand than in more primitive humans—a trait associated with tool use. At the same time, H. naledi had a weird thumb and long, curving fingers, as if it still spent a lot of time climbing.

The story of the discovery is interesting in that the fossils were found in a cave in a room that is very difficult to access, so difficult that the scientists themselves have never seen the site. Instead, they have sent very small cavers inside to do the fossil gathering.

There are many caveats to this story. The 15 skeletons appear different than humans, but to then create a whole human species from this single location is a bit risky.

I think the biggest mystery about this find involves its location. How the heck did these 15 individuals get trapped in this room at the back of a cave that requires you to squeeze down a vertical 100-foot chute only about 8 inches wide to enter?

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Been underground

I just got back from a cave project weekend in the mountains of southeastern Arizona, which is why I have not posted this past weekend. The project involves surveying and mapping one of the more significant caves in Arizona, and has been on-going now for almost three years. We hope to finish sometime next year. I am the cartographer and project leader.

Posting to resume shortly. Stay tuned.

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There is an ongoing rescue of a caver in one of Europe’s deepest cave.

Breaking: There is an ongoing rescue of a caver in one of Europe’s deepest cave.

A team is trying to rescue a 52-year-old man injured in a rock fall in a 1,000m-deep (3,280ft) cave in Germany, in an operation that could take days. The Riesending cave is Germany’s deepest and it took one of the man’s companions up to 12 hours to return to the surface to raise the alarm. Some 200 people are involved in the operation, near Berchtesgaden in southern Germany. The first rescuers reached the man in the vertical cave on Monday.

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At a cave rescue course

Posting this weekend is light because I am attending a class here in Tucson on cave rescue. Today, Saturday, was a mostly in class session going over the basics, most of which I am very familiar with from many years of experience. We did spend ninety minutes learning how to carry people around in a sked or sled, two different types of equipment used to carry a patient through difficult cave passage. In this case the terrain was simulated by going up, over, under, and around scaffolding and vehicles inside a garage. Lots of fun.

On Sunday we will be doing a mock rescue, whereby we will arrive at a cave entrance where we will have to locate the patient in the cave and get that person out of the cave safely. Should be most interesting.

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Hang Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) in Vietnam

An evening pause: As I have been out today doing survey work for a cave project of which I am the cartographer, I thought this video of Hang Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) would be appropriate.

Note that this cave is definitely not the largest in the world, as is often claimed. It appears to have the largest single room of any known cave, but the cave itself is relatively small at about four miles, compared for example to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which is the world’s longest cave at 400 miles.

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Mammoth Cave is now officially longer than 400 miles.

Mammoth Cave is now officially longer than 400 miles.

This official announcement is a bit old, as the survey work that brought Mammoth over 400 miles was probably done during the October or December 2012 expeditions.

Update: I contacted some of my caving friends who survey in Mammoth regularly, and they have confirmed that the survey reached 400 miles during the October 2012 expedition.

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Cave exploration the astronaut way

How not to go cave exploring:

An international crew of six astronauts will start training for a caving adventure designed to prepare them for spaceflight. CAVES, an abbreviation of Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills, prepares astronauts to work safely and effectively and solve problems as a multicultural team while exploring uncharted areas using space procedures.

Or to put it more bluntly, overly complicated, bureaucratically organized, and not very efficient. For example:
» Read more

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Cave exploration in the western mountains

scree slope
Anthony Smith struggling up a scree mountain slope.

I have only visited Nevada twice before, and those visits had been limited to the area around Las Vegas. Thus, my impression of the state had been similar to what most other people assume: a big ostentatious urban city surrounded by boring flat deserts.

Instead what I found is that Nevada is probably one of the most beautiful states in the nation. It has many mountain ranges, interspersed with wide flat valleys, a number of which have lakes or swampy areas because the water is trapped there, draining neither to the Pacific or Atlantic.

Yet, it is desert country. The limited amount of water means that the state is lightly populated, and the few farms or ranches that you pass actually act to amplify the feeling of emptiness. This is further enhanced by the frequent mountain ranges. Every time you cross over a range, you find yourself high in the air with a spectacular view of the vast valleys below.

The Forest Service job that I was part of this past week was focused on inventorying and surveying a number of known caves covering a large area in northeastern Nevada. The work had actually started several years earlier, so that this particular week was the final wrap up, mapping the last few known caves on the list while also ridge-walking several different canyons in an effort to find some new discoveries.
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Caving in Nevada

I finally have an hour free here in Nevada.

For the past three days we have been intensely hiking up mountains over a vast area of Nevada. The goal has been to locate and map caves for the Forest Service in some of the most remote areas of the state. So far we have focused on mapping known caves, putting the possible discoveries aside for later work.
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First day caving in Nevada

It is late and I have to up at 5 am to head to another cave tomorrow, so there is no time to give a detailed update of what happened today

However, here is a quick summary. Our goal was to find and map a rarely visited and difficult to find cave. After four miles of hiking and a lot of wandering across some pretty spectacular mountainsides, we failed to find the cave. However, we did locate two other small caves, which we surveyed, and then, on the way back to the vehicles, discovered a previously unknown cave of some size with significant formations. This was quite exciting, as the cave was clearly virgin, never seen by humans before.

We hope to return to explore and map it later in the week. Once again, I will get to go where no one has ever gone before!

Tomorrow will probably be as long a day as today, so I probably will not be able to post a more detailed report until Saturday. Stay tuned.

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Off to Nevada

Nevada

For the next seven days my daytime posting is going to be spotty, as I will be in some remote areas of Nevada working on an on-going Forest Service project to inventory and survey caves in an area in the northeastern area of the state. The project is mostly over, but as I have surveyed, sketched, and done the cartography for many eastern U.S. caves, the guy running the project asked if I would be interested in participating. Interested? I was thrilled.

Though we will be in a somewhat remote area, I still hope to post periodically during the week, not only about the usual topics but also about some of the caves we will have surveyed, some of which are rarely visited. I will also try to post some pictures of the spectacular country we expect to visit. (The photo on the right was provided to me by Tom Gilleland, who is running the project.) Stay tuned.

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