Expedition Seeks World's Deepest Cave Record

March 4, 2004

Bill Stone's got one thing on his mind these days—going where no one has gone before. For the past four weeks, he and 39 international teammates have been rappelling, hiking, and digging day in and day out in hopes of breaking into Cheve Cave. The cave, which lies deep in Mexico's Sierra de Juárez region, has a main system that may have tunnels deeper than 6,500 feet (2,000 meters).

"The mood here has been swinging wildly," Stone said in a dispatch to National Geographic magazine online, which is updating its site weekly with photos and reports from the field. "This is the nature of real exploration—95 percent drudgery, boredom, and routine followed by 5 percent of uncontrollable excitement."

If the expedition succeeds, Stone and his team will have established Cheve as the world's deepest known cave, bypassing Krubera Cave in the republic of Georgia. It currently holds the record at 5,610 feet (1,710 meters).

But it wouldn't be the first time Stone has broken records. His 2003 expedition to Cheve established its current depth of 4,869 feet (1,484 meters), making it the deepest known cave in the Americas and the ninth deepest in the world. After diving through two underwater tunnels, the only thing that stopped the team from descending farther was a "pile of truck-sized boulders, packed so tightly that no human was going to make it through," says Stone, who's been exploring for 33 years.

The expedition returned home shortly after. But Stone, convinced that they had not reached Cheve's limits, immediately began making plans for his seventh expedition to the region for another shot.

"It's not an adrenaline game, it's something else—a full challenge to the human spirit," Stone says.

As these daredevil explorers continue their quest for what Stone calls the "holy grail" of deep cave exploration, get updates on their progress.

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