National Geographic : 2011 Jan
• Jonathan Sims catches up with me. Between us and the sunlit passage ahead stands a stalag- mite that in pro le resembles the paw of a dog. " e Hand of God would be just too corny," he says, pointing at the formation. "But the Hand of Dog does nicely, don't you think?" He clicks o his headlamp and unweights his gimpy ankle. "When we rst got to the collapsed doline, that skylight up there, I was with another caver and we both had four-year-old sons, so we were experts on dinosaurs, and the whole scene re- minded us of something right out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel e Lost World," he says. "When my partner went exploring forward into the sunlight, I told him to 'watch out for dino- saurs,' and the name stuck." Two decades ago, the leaders of this expedi- tion, Howard Limbert and his wife, Deb, became Doong. e passage is perhaps 300 feet wide, the ceiling nearly 800 feet tall: room enough for an entire New York City block of 40-story buildings. ere are actually wispy clouds up near the ceiling. e light beaming from above reveals a tower of calcite on the cave oor that is more than 200 feet tall, smothered by ferns, palms, and other jungle plants. Stalactites hang around the edges of the massive skylight like petrified icicles. Vines dangle hundreds of feet from the surface; swi s are diving and cutting in the brilliant col- umn of sunshine. e tableau could have been created by an artist imagining how the world looked millions of years ago. Moss-slick boulders and a 30-foot drop test author Mark Jenkins at the forest-shrouded entrance to Hang Son Doong. "Even though these caves are huge, they're practically invisible until you're right in front of them," Jenkins says. Hunters have found caves by spotting winds gusting from underground openings. Mark Jenkins is a contributing writer for the mag- azine. Carsten Peter last photographed Mexico's Cave of Crystals for our November 2008 issue.