National Geographic : 1953 Mar
tossed it ahead of her into the abyss. To our amazement, followed by an understand able shock, we heard this projectile fall straight down and break into bits as it stirred echoing roars which indicated a huge, deep cavern. This treacherously dangerous passage, which we had not noticed in 1926 and in which Maud had so narrowly missed death, now put our gymnastic skill to a thrilling and novel test: the descent, by lightweight metal ladder, of a vertical wall of ice, smooth as glass, nearly 70 feet high and 170 feet wide. We named this the "Frozen Niagara." Beyond it lay important and unsuspected extensions of the Casteret Grotto. Next morning, having climbed even higher along the steep terraces of Marbore, we dis covered several other hitherto unknown ice caverns of fairylike beauty. Here hardened snow was compressed into hidden glaciers, forming seven-league stair cases under giant domes, which necessitated difficult scrambling over slippery ice. We hacked our way past frozen waterfalls and sought toeholds where our path disappeared in ice-sheathed depths. Such is the life to which, for long periods away from the light and air of day, a cave explorer dedicates him self. With entrances 9,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level, even higher than the Casteret Grotto, these caves are the site of the highest speleo logical research we know of anywhere. It would take a volume to describe the splendor of this world of crystals now dis played before our eyes. Here, in the heart of great mountain peaks, where a vague sense of wonder permeates the scene, all is congealed in unbroken silence. All that breaks the spell is an icy breeze moaning through the caverns. No one has ever followed these dark aisles to the end. No man dares linger there too long lest, at the end of this icy underworld trail, he find death. 395 Maud Casteret Descends a Frozen Niagara on a Wire Ladder With his late wife Elisabeth the author discovered Casteret Grotto in 1926. In 1950 he returned, ac companied by daughters Maud and Gilberte, and found five more caves deep in the frozen earth. "The caverns are like some gnome land from Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King," says Mr. Casteret. "Weird ice statues form a maze of pillars. At their base is a frozen river, silent and dead. Vertical wells perforate the ice floor. An icicle dropped into these voids is dashed to bits far below." Maud nearly met death in Casteret Grotto while poised on the brink of an unsuspected icefall 70 feet high and 170 feet wide (page 399). Father and daughters named it the "Frozen Niagara." At its base lay unsuspected extensions of Casteret Grotto. - Maud Backs Down a Lesser Cataract Clutching a slender life line, Miss Casteret steps in shallow footholds hacked in the ice. Her rope is tied to an iron spike driven into rock.