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Photo: Bill Stone
Photo: Bill Stone, Expedition leader, Cheve Cave, Mexico
Graphic: Globe
Cheve Cave, Mexico

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

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. April 5, 2004: Heading Home
2. April 6, 2004: Signing Off

  April 5, 2004: Heading Home
Photo: Sugarcane
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The long trek northward continued today, with a brief diversion to a deep spring at Mante, where Sheck Exley had originally begun setting cave-diving depth records in Mexico. On the final push there in 1989 Exley had reached a phenomenal depth of 865 feet (264 meters) with the underwater shaft still continuing downward. Jim Brown and I (both veteran cave divers who had trained with Exley) took novices Andi Hunter, John Kerr, and Ryan Tietz in succession up to the lip of the underwater shaft. It's an amazing place, where the warm river forces its way up through that deep fissure to the surface. You have to dive some 130 feet (40 meters) into the mountain in the same canyon before the floor drops away into the abyss. Looking into that and knowing its depth is a powerful experience. Everyone came away with a full measure of respect and awe. By midnight we had reached San Fernando and were within two hours of Texas.
This is a good point to backtrack just a bit and expose some of the balderdash surrounding the British Cuetzalán incident. The British military has had a long tradition of encouraging its members to participate in expeditionary projects in peacetime, largely for the purposes of building team spirit and camaraderie. These have nothing to do with spying or any sort of military operation. The most well known of these expeditions was the 1953 Everest expedition led by Col. John Hunt in which Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit the world's tallest peak. In a 1994 caving expedition I did to Huautla, Sgt. Ian Rolland, RAF, also participated. So it's not that surprising that a British expedition in Cuetzalán had a few members on leave from the British military.
The point of contention that periodically arises in Mexico City, as it has now, is the failure of the government to recognize that caving expeditions are in fact adventure tourism, not scientific projects. Teams from around the world, including Mexican teams, are in Mexico for the same reasons that mountaineers come to this country. The main difference between the two is that to show where a cave goes, cavers have to survey and produce a map that can be verified by others. Mexican authorities have incorrectly interpreted this as a scientific undertaking. It's simply bookkeeping. The maps are undeniably useful to the local officials, particularly if ecotourism is a government objective for improving rural Mexico, as I believe it should be. And such maps would be essential to anyone conducting true scientific research in the caves of Mexico. But to declare such sporting endeavors scientific research is an unfortunate misinterpretation of reality.
As one astute Canadian explorer once put it several decades ago, Mexico is an ideal venue for expedition caving.  Several score such expeditions enter Mexico each year for fun, adventure, curiosity, and competition. They add millions to the economy, just as other tourists do. And in the case of those doing original exploration, they add to the geographic knowledge of the country. More importantly, because such endeavors are volunteer, the information (maps, survey data, etc.), has to my knowledge, from caving in Mexico for 33 years, been made freely available to local authorities. Over the coming months many of us will work to educate the federal officials of these simple facts.
—Bill Stone

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April 6, 2004: Signing Off
Photo: Sign
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Photo: Core team
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Photo: Hanging out gear
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We were on the road from San Fernando shortly after dawn. By noon we had completed a hassle-free re-entry into the United States and rapidly made our way up the east Texas coast and northwest toward Austin. Following more than a day of cleanup, we'll all be making the tougher re-entry into our diverse professional occupations. Everyone involved has come away with an amazing sense of camaraderie and team spirit. The fact that this sense of team has been so pervasive, particularly considering that the 40-person crew came from nine countries, gives me a sense of hope for the human race.
The results of our expedition have been all that we'd hoped for in a recon mission. We left the mountain with a major continuing cave (Sistema J2 [Osto Faustino, Tetris]) that's a likely contender for the back door to Cheve; more than tripled the length of the Aguacate River Sink and found several promising leads remaining in it; and mapped scores of smaller caves and pits. In total the expedition discovered and mapped more than 3.3 miles (five kilometers) of new caves, including over one mile (two kilometers) of vertical descent. We look forward to sharing this information with the Mexican government and organizing follow-up expeditions, so that we can one day prove that the Cheve Cave system is the deepest on the planet. Signing off for the 2004 Cheve expedition. Below are the results.
—Bill Stone

2004 Cheve Expedition Discoveries
Sistema J2
Depth: 1,283 feet (391 meters)
Length: 2,110 feet (643 meters)
(Surveyed length and depth only. The team reached a final depth of approximately 1,500 feet [450 meters] before being stopped at a waterfall some 1,300 feet [400 meters] beyond the last piece of rope.)
Other caves and pits
Depth: 1,000 feet (300 meters)
Length: 2,000 feet (600 meters)
Tetris Cave
Depth: 899 feet (274 meters)
Length: 2,021 feet (616 meters)
Aguacate River Sink
Depth: 709 feet (216 meters)
Length: 7,123 feet (2,171 meters)
(Total length 10,581 feet [3,225 meters], including 1994 data)
Star Gorge River Sink
Depth: 194 feet (59 meters)
Length: 673 feet (205 meters)
Pit 25
Depth: 660 feet (200 meters)
Length: 1,600 feet (500 meters)
Osto de Cerro Voludo #2
Depth: 548 feet (167 meters)
Length: 804 feet (245 meters)
Osto de Palo Elite
Depth: 302 feet (92 meters)
Length: 548 feet (167 meters)
Star Gorge Cave
Depth: 272 feet (83 meters)
Length: 151 feet (46 meters)
Osto de Cerro Monte Flor
Depth: 160 feet (50 meters)
Length: 660 feet (200 meters) 

Cueva de las Moscas
Depth: 135 feet (41 meters)
Length: 180 feet (55 meters)

Sotano de Todos Santos
Depth: 100 feet (30 meters)
Length: 135 feet (41 meters)

Javali Cave
Depth: 217 feet (66 meters)
Length: 1,122 feet (342 meters)

Depth: 6,460 feet (1,969 meters)
Length: 19,131 feet (5,831 meters)

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