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Photo: Bill Stone
Graphic: Bill Stone, Expedition Leader, Cheve Cave, Mexico
Graphic: Globe
  Place:
Cheve Cave, Mexico

Team:
39 cavers from Poland, the Netherlands, Mexico, Australia, Spain, and the United States

Goal:
Establishing Cheve Cave as the world's deepest cave

Last Attempt:
In 2003 Stone led an expedition that put Cheve at its current depth, (4,869 feet [1,484 meters]), making it the deepest known cave in the Americas and the ninth deepest in the world.

The Challenge:
"To go all the way will be a 30-plus day journey in total darkness, beyond all hope of rescue. That call of the raw unknown has a certain subliminal beckoning to a rare few true explorers."

These dispatches are edited versions of e-mail reports sent from the field. They have not been researched and represent the viewpoints and writings of individual expedition members.

 
 
Zoom in on photos from Stone's 2003 expedition to Cheve Cave.

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Field Dispatch

Bill Stone's got one thing on his mind these days—going where no one has gone before. Until April, Stone and 40 international teammates will dive, rappel, hike, and dodge razor-sharp karst in hopes of breaking into Cheve Cave, deep in Mexico's Sierra de Juárez region. Its main system may have tunnels deeper than 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). If the team breaks into them, they could establish Cheve as the world's deepest known cave, bypassing Krubera Cave, in the Republic of Georgia. It currently holds the world record at 5,610 feet (1,710 meters). Check on the team's progress every week for the next eight weeks through dispatches and photographs (below) from the field. Then find out what Stone has to say about his seventh expedition to Cheve in a Question & Answer session.

MultimediaHear why Stone wants to go deeper than anyone before.

Photo: Caver

Photographs by Bill Stone E-mail this page to a friend


Click here to review weekly postings.
Week 1   Week 2   Week 3   Week 4   Week 5   Week 6   Week 7   Week 8   Week 9
  This Week's Dispatch. Click on a date to read expedition reports and view photos.
1. February 11, 2004: Packing Up
2. February 12, 2004: Dangerous Roads
3. February 13, 2004: On the Road Again
4. February 14, 2004: Securing Permission

 
  February 11, 2004: Packing Up
Photo: Packing Food
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Photo: Lead Team
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Early today we set about the substantial task of organizing our gear at a ranch in south Austin, Texas. Andi Hunter, an environmental consultant from Fairbanks, Alaska, took charge of condensing food for two months into the smallest possible containers. John Kerr, from Indiana, was busy with the winches, shackles, cables, and rock bolts that will help us into Star Gorge River Sink. This is our first target. Meanwhile, cave diver James Brown, from Gainesville, Florida, worked on assembling the carbon dioxide and life support cycling system. We designed these to allow us to farther explore Star Gorge Cave, which has high carbon dioxide levels and low oxygen levels. Local hunters near the village of Santa Ana Cuauhtémoc on the northern rim of the gorge showed this cave to me and others in March 2001. Its end was blocked by sand and cobbles a half kilometer (0.3 mile) from the entrance. The debris was undoubtedly placed there by a record flood several thousands or tens of thousands of years ago.
 
Late this evening three more team members joined us in Austin. Gregg Clemmer, a Civil War historian from Darnestown, Maryland, and David Kohuth, an engineer from Pennsylvania, drove several days across the country to get here. Clemmer and Kohuth frequently work in some of West Virginia's most difficult new caves and are experts at "digging" in caves. This is a politely euphemistic way of saying that they have an extraordinary record of detecting sinkholes that connect to unexplored caves and then making new entrances into them. Their expertise will be put to good use at Star Gorge. The youngest member of the team, Ryan Tietz, 22, of College Station, Texas (he just graduated as an Aggie in December), is also here with us and will be getting his first expeditionary experience.
 
Our trucks are packed, and hopefully we'll get an early morning start, heading south to the Brownsville-McAllen area and crossing into Mexico.

—Bill Stone


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February 12, 2004: Dangerous Roads
Photo: The back of a truck
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The rain continued coming down by the bucketful as it did yesterday, which made packing the insurmountable quantities of gear into the three expedition vehicles a chilly task. "Big Red," Stone's one-ton (one-metric ton) Ford 350, was so heavily loaded that the headlights were tilting up, and we filled Dave Kohuth's Jeep Grand Cherokee to the ceiling. But it still looked like a baby compared to Big Red.
 
Seven of us drove down together from Austin, Texas, and we dispersed between our three trucks, so we could take turns driving and catching up on sleep. A fairly uneventful 500-mile (800-kilometer) drive took us across the border to San Fernando, Mexico, where we stopped to eat some "mystery meat" tacos. Group consensus was to stop for the night at a local hotel given the poor road conditions and hazards of night driving. The narrow two-lane highways had steep embankments on both sides and the local drivers and buses nearly ran us off the road on every pass. So far the most dangerous part of the expedition has not been cave diving or vertical rope work, but driving.

—Andi Hunter

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February 13, 2004: On the Road Again
Photo: Roadside market
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Photo: Locals Waving
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The tiled floor in our hotel room was chilly on our feet when we woke up at 4:30 a.m., after only six hours of sleep. We got on the hazardous road and once again braved a couple close encounters with buses. We drove for several hours along a coastal road, passing overloaded sugarcane trucks and fruit stands rich with oranges and tangerines. Each time the trucks passed under a low-clearance bridge, they would dump part of their load, leaving an already bumpy road laden with sugarcane. This was an additional obstacle for the weary traveler. 
 
Our stomachs soon demanded attention, and we made a pit stop in Poza Rica to load up on additional supplies and satisfy our tummy grumblings with fresh breads, pastries, and other sweets. After passing another slew of small towns, we grabbed a nice dinner at a coastal restaurant, where the team enjoyed one last luxury meal of shrimp and bottled soda followed by a couple spins on the dance floor to some local salsa and cumbia dance tunes.

After another five hours of driving, we got lost on some back roads at 2 a.m. We decided to pull off on a dirt road outside of Coxcatlán where we set up camp.

—Andi Hunter

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February 14, 2004: Securing Permission
Photo: Camping
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We managed to crawl into our sleeping bags at nearly 3 a.m., and slept in until 8:30 a.m. when the hot sun began rising above the cactus. In the distance I could see smoke rising from the stack at the sugar mill in Coxcatlán, which permeated the valley with the smell of molasses. 
 
Within two hours we arrived in Cuicatlán. It's the district authority for the Cuicatec indigenous area that extends some 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the east and includes the known extents of Sistema Cheve. From there, we split up to tackle several tasks: renting a pair of large propane tanks; securing permission to be on the mountain from the district office for the expedition; and rounding up durable vegetables for base camp. John Kerr and Jim Brown went after the propane. Andi Hunter and I met with the presidential secretary and discussed our progress in 2003 and our plans for this year's expedition. They wished us well and were very cognizant, as are most on the mountain, about the fact that Sistema Cheve is something special and well known beyond the confines of their district.
 
We drove on through the fog into Santa Ana, and I met with Inmer Martinez Playas, the town's treasurer. This was our second to last stop on the diplomatic chain before we could begin the expedition. Inmer reviewed our past progress on the mountain and helped us hire ten mules to pack our gear for the next day.

—Bill Stone

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