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Deepest Cave
MAY 2005
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Steven L. Alvarez

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    After finding our descent blocked by a sump at 5,823 feet (1,775 meters), team member Gennadiy Samokhin attempted to dive the sump in search of another way through. He didn't look happy on his emergence. "It goes 33 feet (10 meters) almost vertically, then squeezes abruptly," he said. "No chance to get through, at least this time." His dive alone set a new record; no one had submerged into sumps this deep in caves before. But that wasn't the result we were dreaming about. We were hoping for an extensive and deep continuation stretching toward the seashore. The only chance to go further was to thoroughly investigate all side openings in the hope of bypassing the sump. Denis Kurta and Dmitry Fedotov found it in one offshoot above the sump, a long nasty crawl that broke into another branch that steeply went to depth. Everyone in the other camps and on the surface broke into celebration when Yuliya Timoshevskaja called in the news.
    A siphon at 4,724 feet (1,440 meters) presented logistical and safety problems. We decided to open it—a 13-foot (4-meter) long, water-filled section of narrow passageway—by lowering the water and destroying a ceiling pendant enough to keep the passage open when the water rose again to its normal level. Our engineering would also allow us to continue through the section without diving.
    Over several days Nicolaj Solovjev's group built a 66-foot-long (20-meter-long) line from segments of plastic tubing to drain the water from the siphon. After some unsuccessful attempts, the system kicked in with a sudden pulse flood to the cave below, where another team was working.
    Flash floods are a danger to cavers, so we're very vigilant about looking for any changes in the water. The alarming sound of the pulse flood from the drainage system caused a big scare among the team below. Gennadiy Samokhin said he'd never forget Bernard Tourte's face when he heard the threatening noise of the approaching rush of water. Fortunately, we were all able to laugh later when the real reason for the flood was revealed.
    In the middle of the expedition, a group of three women—well trained but not highly experienced cavers—was sent to transport supplies to the unoccupied camp at 2,297 feet (700 meters). They reached the camp and had some sleep. Then they reported to the surface that they were starting their ascent to the surface, which would take six to eight hours. They were expected to make another report from the 1,640-meter (500-meter) telephone checkpoint.
    After hearing nothing from them after a few hours, we started to worry. When eight hours had passed since their initial communication, we got seriously concerned and sent a team led by Yuliya Timoshevskaja to assess the situation and start rescue operations if necessary. In a couple of hours Yuliya reached the camp and found the girls. They were sleeping peacefully in the camp.
    Shortly after their first communication, they changed their plans and decided to get some more sleep. It was after midnight, and they didn't want to bother the person on duty with another call. Then they fell into a deep sleep, at least until Yuliya woke them up with a few choice words.

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