Blind Descent

Bookshelf: Blind Descent

Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth – James Tabor

Blind Descent
Blind Descent

In Blind Descent, James Tabor has written a rip-roaring account of the race to find the deepest cave on earth. Two “supercaves” (Chevé in Mexico and Krubera in the Georgian Republic) were in contention for the world’s deepest cave. The “deepest” measurement is one of vertical depth. Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk led multiple expeditions, over a period of years, to Chevé and Krubera respectively, striving to extend the deepest known point of each cave.

One of the two men Tabor profiles in this book, Bill Stone, sounds like a real-life Clive Cussler character (I do not say this with unalloyed admiration). Among other impressive accomplishments, Stone invented a type of rebreather (later acquired by Poseidon) that he tested and refined during his cave explorations. (Stone has subsequently turned his attention to space exploration and mining. It turns out I read an article about him from 2004, some time back – it’s a cracking good read and gives you a sense of the man.)

There are many ways to die in a cave – for example by falling, contracting an infection, drowning, getting lost or trapped – a litany of horrors. An array of specialised skills is required to explore supercaves. Cavers spend weeks underground, often in damp, unstable conditions.

An integral part of any team doing caving of this nature, are cave divers. Their role is typically to explore sumps – passages submerged underwater. Visibility may be poor, the water may be in motion, and it is usually unclear whether the sump has an exit at the other end. Squeezing through confined spaces, after doffing dive gear, is not unusual. They also have to get themselves and their dive gear into the cave, rappelling down vertical cliffs, crawling through tunnels, or whatever is required.

Having grown up (as a diver) believing that cave diving is one of the ultimate technical and mental challenges, and certainly one of the pinnacles of diving accomplishment, I was mildly amused and puzzled that Tabor did not make more of these individuals in Blind Descent, and glossed over many of the aspects of cave diving that make it so ridiculously challenging. At certain points he actually makes it seem like something someone who qualified as an recreational scuba diver a year or so ago can do, if they just get shown how the controls on a rebreather work. Right. (If you are brave, watch Sanctum for some dramatised spelunking and cave diving.)

This is definitely not a book about cave diving, but there is some of it in here and it gets overshadowed by other feats of strength and endurance. Blind Descent is, however, a gripping read and I do recommend it.

Read a review of Blind Descent here and an interview with Bill Stone here. Get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.

Published by


Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *