Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth

Caving is a sport that does not call to mind the type of heroics that one associates with mountain climbing, but thanks to the new book Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, armchair adventurers can get a taste of the extreme elements of the sport.

Cavers exploring the largest and deepest caves in the world deal with the same dangers that mountain climbers do: the possibility of falling, hypothermia, and getting lost – all of which can lead to death or catastrophic injury. One aspect unique to caving is that in order to go deep underground, cavers may also have to don scuba diving equipment to explore the underwater reaches of these caves. This adds another layer of risk to an already dangerous sport.

Author James M. Tabor profiles two speleologists, Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk each seeking to find and explore the world's deepest caves. These geological wonders are miles long and thousands of feet deep. Their quest, like any expedition, takes planning, funding, the right equipment and a high level of fitness. Stone’s background as engineer suited his needs as an explorer. Diving equipment is heavy and the regular diving tanks can hold a limited amount. Descending into the caves carrying the many tanks needed to do exploratory work is impractical at best. Over many years of tinkering Stone was able to devise a way to scrub out the carbon dioxide that is exhaled so that the same "air" could be used over and over.

For those who might be intrigued by caving, the library has a number of books on the subject:

The Amateur's Guide to Caves & Caving: Skill-Building Ways to Finding and Exploring the Underground Wilderness by David R. McClurg (Stackpole Books, 1973).

Cave Passages: Roaming the Underground Wilderness
by Michael Ray Taylor (Scribner, 1996).

Caves: Exploring Hidden Realms
by Michael Ray Taylor (National Geographic, 2000).

Caving: An Introductory Guide to Spelunking
by Donald Jacobson and Lee Philip Stral (Harbor House Publishers, 1986).

Caving Basics
, edited by Jerry Hassemer (National Speleological Society, 1982)

Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling through the Dark by Barbara Hurd (Houghton Mifflin, 2003).

Venturing Underground: The New Speleo's Guide by Ben Lyon (EP Pub., 1983).

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