Down Below

Virgin Passageway
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At the rear of the primary passageway was a small opening in the wall that seemed to lead to more passageway. The air in the opening had slight movement to it, a sign that the cave continues on. It is the dream of virtually all avid cavers to discover virgin passageway — that is, parts of a cave where no one has gone before. Caving lore is filled with stories of people wriggling through incredible squeezes, or moving aside a few boulders, or digging through a mud plug and stumbling upon miles of untrammeled passageway.

One of the secrets of caving is that virgin passageway is not particularly difficult to find. For a person, like myself, who is tantalized by the notion of becoming the very first human to venture into a place, caving has an undeniable lure. There are no unmapped areas on earth's surface; sea and space exploration are prohibitively expensive. But with caving, a person can become the Edmund Hillary of a particular passageway with almost no expenditure and very little time. In the U.S. alone there are tens of thousands of caves, spread across every state in the union, and only a small population of cavers. New caves are discovered every year. Even in Montana, which is not one of the country's prime caving areas, the Caves of Montana book lists 302 caves. The notes to these caves are enticingly incomplete: "This cave has been seen from the air but never explored." "This cave has probably never been entered." "Few people have reached the bottom, and it is not known whether the cave continues." "The cave is said to be large, but other details are unavailable."

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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