National Geographic : 2005 May
C utting a jagged path through the limestone of the Arabika massif on the edge of the Black Sea, the "trail" into Krubera Cave drops down a chain of pitches, cas cades, and pits-some more than 100 meters deep-connected by narrow rift passages called meanders. The cave, located in the separatist region of Abkhazia, was named after Russian geologist Alexander Kruber. In 1960 researchers from the Republic of Geor gia explored it to a depth of 90 meters (295 feet). Two decades later, I organized a series of expeditions to investigate new deep caves, using dye traces in cave streams to probe Arabika's potential depth. In 2001 a team led by Ukrainian Yuri Kasjan set a world record in the cave of 1,710 meters (5,610 feet). Last July a Moscow-based team extended that to 1,775 meters. Our hope was to find a path past 2,000 meters. At the start of the expedition, Alexander Karpechenko (top right), whose nickname is "Brick," exulted in getting his hands on a brand new gasoline-powered hammer drill that he planned to use to bore holes for explosives to free up tight passages. Team members in nearby Snow Cave (right) cleared blasted rubble from a passage that had been blocked by a "boulder choke." Like mountaineers scaling a Himalaya peak, our expedition of 56 cavers from seven countries established a series of campsites, at depths of 700, 1,215, 1,410, and 1,640 meters. There team members cooked meals, slept five and six to a tent, huddled for warmth, and worked for up to 20 hours at a stretch. LATEST NEWS Follow the progress of explorers as they return to Krubera Cave-and check out an interactive map and more photos at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/0505.