Monday, March 07, 2011

How deep DOES the rabbit hole go?

Title: Blind Descent
Author: James M. Tabor

Everest is old hat. It's a tourist site. All you need is a big pile of money, and two months off work, and you can hire someone to guide your sorry keister to the summit, assuming you are also physically capable (but pretty much everyone uses bottled oxygen). Some explorers decided to go the opposite direction; they sought the deepest cave on earth.

Problem is, you can look at mountains and tell they're really big, and even get a good idea of which one is biggest (although some clever trigonometry settled it in the case of Everest), but you can't tell how deep a cave is--or even which caves might be promising--without trying to find the bottom and measuring. And finding the bottom of caves that big is a royal bitch. People die.

In Mexico, Bill Stone believes the Cheve cave system will win the title of World's Deepest Cave; in the Republic of Georgia, Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk believes Krubera will prove deeper. Both caves offer unique challenges; both men have very different styles of leadership and caving. The book covers both, and I'm a little torn on how I feel about it. The story is fascinating, but the writing was a little disappointing. Tabor spends a lot of time stressing how dangerous caving can be, but it feels a little like he's trying to crank up tension to drive the book, and the effort seems forced. If you're submerged in 40 degree water, belly-crawling in the dark, nearly a mile underground, you don't need anyone to tell you it's dangerous. At the same time, very little explanation is given to topics that need it--and that's coming from someone who's spent a lot of time dangling from climbing ropes. If I can't figure out what's going on, people who have never climbed or caved will be completely lost. There's a lot of good information, but it feels poorly organized.

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posted by reyn at 1:59 PM


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