Sistema Huautla Cave
June 11, 2018 7:16 AM   Subscribe

One of the Deepest Caves in the World is Even Bigger Than We Thought Sistema Huautla is now known to be 53 miles long and has 25 distinct entrances. With a depth measurement of 5,118 feet (1,560 meters) from its highest known entrance to its lowest reached point, System Huautla is the deepest cave in the Western Hemisphere and the ninth deepest cave in the world.

For reference, most major caves have only one or maybe two entrances—and therefore only one or two routes through the cave system. For example, Veryovkina, in the country of Georgia, is the world’s deepest cave, at 7,231 feet (2,204 meters), but it’s a mere 7.9 miles long and has just one entrance.

“Carlsbad Caverns is known for one very big chamber called the Big Room,” says Steele. “We've got at least 12 of them in this cave area. One of them is twice the size of the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.”
posted by MovableBookLady (34 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are maps. It's big!
posted by chavenet at 7:25 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]


That article is just so casual about being trapped deep in a cave system that's flooding. Without food. "Well we decided to just explore anyway, and do some strenuous climbs, then one of us had a flight to catch so she swam through the black water and managed to find enough air pockets to wriggle her way out."
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on June 11 [35 favorites]


That map is wild! If I'm reading it right, some of the rooms in the cave are larger than some of the villages it passes under!
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:44 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Cool article! But I'm missing something... what's the explanation for the TAG room in that photo caption? The cave doesn't actually connect Mexico to the deep South, so what are they talking about?
posted by saladin at 7:50 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I am not claustrophobic. I generally enjoy being in very confined spaces. It is comforting to me.

A few paragraphs into this article made me FEEL claustrophobic and I'm sitting at my very large desk, out in the open.

Still, this is an awesome read and the pictures are gorgeous (and terrifying).
posted by Twain Device at 7:52 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Muahhaha *populates map with otyughs and carrion crawlers for Saturday's game*
posted by The otter lady at 8:04 AM on June 11 [20 favorites]


*populates map with otyughs and carrion crawlers for Saturday's game*

We're gonna need a bigger one-inch-grid map, chief.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:40 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Gets out DMG and paper, starts adding traps and monsters...
posted by YoungStencil at 9:57 AM on June 11


Muahhaha *populates map with otyughs and carrion crawlers for Saturday's game*

Well, after reading the link, I came here to say "Oh, hello nightmare fuel." but now I just want to run away.

That was a great read, and I can't tell if I would be able to handle caving at that level or not. I'm thinking not. I've done a little bit of smaller caving, some climbing and rope/belay work and even some caving-like urban exploration, and I don't think I have the drive to really want to be there. Which is super important.

And I've never done all of the above at the same time, which is what high level caving is. And each one of those things has it's own fear and danger factor enough to get the adrenaline really going.

Caving is intensely dangerous. You're dealing with basically all of the human threats to life except for fire, and, well, you even probably get some fire danger from using camp stoves in enclosed cave space.

So you get the threats of: Flooding/drowning, running out of air, being crushed by falling rocks, getting lost and starving/dehydrating slowly, falling from great heights, grievous injuries from any number of sharp rock formations - and even just sheer psychological panic from claustrophobia.

The terrain also is pretty much the worst in the world short of an active lava field. Thanks to being sheltered from erosion from wind and rain in places, the rocks and formations are frequently razor sharp and will chew up clothes, boots and cut ropes. Everything is wet, gritty, sandy, muddy or dirty. Nothing is flat or easy to navigate, you're basically climbing through and camping and living on a fractal sponge of rock and rubble.
posted by loquacious at 10:05 AM on June 11 [7 favorites]


what's the explanation for the TAG room in that photo caption? The cave doesn't actually connect Mexico to the deep South, so what are they talking about?

I'm guessing it's because it's where a lot of surface entrances meet up? A tongue in cheek reference to an intersection like this.

Muahhaha *populates map with otyughs and carrion crawlers for Saturday's game*

Don't forget some hook horrors, slimes, and maybe a troglodyte or two.
posted by nubs at 10:12 AM on June 11


With her nose and mouth pressed to the slimy limestone roof, she calmly inhaled and made a deliberate effort to move forward slowly so as not to create any waves that would disrupt the bell jar of air surrounding her face. When the air pocket ran out, Graham used her legs as antennae, probing her feet around the pitch-black sump to feel for the next pocket of buoyancy ahead of her. Upon locating one, she’d dive under, swim forward, and again come up face first, her head tilted back.

Nope nope nope nopeity nope. Nope.
posted by rtha at 10:41 AM on June 11 [15 favorites]


I ain't going.
posted by MovableBookLady at 11:28 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


... legs as antennae, probing her feet around the pitch-black sump to feel for the next pocket... again come up face first, her head tilted back....nopeity, etc.

This description is excellent, but too little is left to my imagination! So...you are wearing an open-toed sandal (pictured), reaching your feet into a tunnel that is flooded to the roof, hoping to feel an air pocket out of sight. Don't forget the blind, swimming scorpions (mentioned later on) that also need those air pockets. The open toes are important so that you can feel the difference between water and the air pocket you hope to find. Then you dive under and try to surface into the air pocket. Since that pocket might only be an inch or so, coming up oriented in the face down position might just result in banging your head on the rock before your face is out of the water, while remembering not to gasp. Therefore face first...but try to ignore the water going down your nose and the potential scorpions. Repeat three times before deciding "not ok, better backtrack."
posted by TreeRooster at 11:59 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


(ok, maybe you can feel the air pocket with closed-toed mesh shoes, but still the process of turning face-up before hitting the rock would be tough. And blind scorpions.)
posted by TreeRooster at 12:07 PM on June 11


One of the Deepest Caves in the World is Even Bigger Than We Thought

You don't know what I think, National Geographic.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:23 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


> Therefore face first...but try to ignore the water going down your nose and the potential scorpions

STOP TALKING!!!
posted by rtha at 1:09 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


I think the scorpions would be more scared of us. They spend their whole life without ever encountering anything the size of a human.
posted by Vesihiisi at 1:18 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


So you get the threats of: Flooding/drowning, running out of air, being crushed by falling rocks, getting lost and starving/dehydrating slowly, falling from great heights, grievous injuries from any number of sharp rock formations - and even just sheer psychological panic from claustrophobia.

You forgot the scorpions:

"The degree to which the scorpion is poisonous is unknown."

nopenopenopenope
posted by slipthought at 1:25 PM on June 11


No.
posted by double bubble at 1:45 PM on June 11


I love caves. I love that they exist, I love pictures of them. I love thinking about the roots of the world being gnawed by nameless things. A massive cavern, deep underground, awakens a sense of wonder in me that makes me feel like a child again. It's a bit like looking at the Hubble Deep Field pictures, only on Earth! Underground!

But. Words can't really describe just how intensely I'll never do the activities related in this article.
posted by curiousgene at 1:52 PM on June 11 [10 favorites]


I would go to space in a washing machine before I explored a dark wet cold airless scorpion nopeness, and I sure a fuck ain’t going to space.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:00 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]


I was asked throw the turkey down into a 200-foot pit

As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:05 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


wow... i uh... have the opposite reaction to many of you. i'm actively wishing i was fit and healthy enough to somehow join that expedition. it sounds amazing.
posted by numaner at 2:21 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


There was another caving fpp a while back that had these gorgeous photos of cavers swimming across a lake, and the bottom of the lake is covered with enormous boulders. It's otherworldly and beautiful and terrifying, like all caving photographs.
posted by rtha at 2:32 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]




I know some folks who’ve done caving and even someone whose done cave diving, which is its own boss level of beautiful danger. I am torn between wishing I could because beautiful unique ecosystems and staggering claustrophobia at some of the spaces cavers go through.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:09 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Never bond with the turkey.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:14 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I would be ok with most of what they describe, except for the swimming through flooded passageways part. Nope. Nopenopenope.

Nor is the opportunity to be a test subject for scorpion lethality very tempting:

According to Dr. Oscar Franke, the scientist in Mexico City who is working with PESH on this scorpion, the best way to learn about the lethality of the scorpion is to either collect a living sample, or be stung firsthand.

“We’ve been told that if someone gets stung, to keep notes,” says Steele. “But that hasn’t happened yet.”

posted by Dip Flash at 5:18 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I've done three caving trips in Mexico. They were fantastic.

One was a walk/float down a river in Las Grutas de Cacahuamilpa. I enjoyed that rare luminescence provided by a group of headlamps engulfed by the darkness of an enormous, pitch-black cavern... while leisurely floating down a river (not the pictured whitewater!!) in my life-vest.

Another was a ~2 hour in-and-out trip in a tight tunnel that ended at the mouth of a huge vertical shaft, where we gaped at the abyss below us. One pinch required us to take off our packs and slide through; otherwise it was single-file tight, shoulders up to the walls, for about an hour -- a sort of 'slow-drip' claustrophobia.

The final trip was the longest I've ever been underground: an ~8 hour hike/swim up a subterranean river. Towards the end of the journey inward, the underground riverbanks gradually shrank and we had to do more wading, and deeper wading, until we got to our stopping point and the river formed a final pool above us. I remember exploring the edges of this terminal pool, dunking my head underwater and timidly swimming two or three feet under rock overhangs at the back of the pool to see if I could feel a rock wall at the back of these coves... or to psych myself out with the sense that the cave, the blackness, the depths just kept going.

I did fail to feel solid rock in the back of that pool -- mostly due to lack of trying. After about 5 seconds underwater, 4 hours from daylight, I splashed myself right back up to the surface in the main pool to breath deep breaths of stuffy cave air and relish in having 360 degrees of movement for my head and neck. I know there's a psychological profile for someone able to approach that limit and keep going. It's not me.

Ok, a bonus fourth Mexico cave experience: filled with hot springs, bright sunshine, and during my visit, bright blooms of Noche Buena flowers everywhere (aka Poinsettias): Las Grutas de Tolantongo.

(To say nothing of Mexico's crystal caves, cenotes, and sotanos.)
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 5:40 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


i'm actively wishing i was fit and healthy enough to somehow join that expedition

Being fit and healthy enough sounds fab; joining, no thanks
posted by thelonius at 6:10 PM on June 11


what's the explanation for the TAG room in that photo caption? The cave doesn't actually connect Mexico to the deep South, so what are they talking about?

TAG, or Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, is a famous caving region in the US roughly encompassing the area where those 3 state lines intersect, & is world-renowned for its deep pits, like Fantastic Pit In Ellison’s Cave.

I figure the name of that pit in Sistema Huautla is mostly just a reference to the TAG region in general, because of their mutual greatness in the minds of cavers.

I wish I could take an April off & go on one of these trips, but I’ve never had the opportunity to be away from home/work long enough to pull it off. Steele is a good guy, & between him & Bill Stone who runs the sump diving expeditions down there (& also plays a mean blues guitar) some really solid exploration is getting done down there again, after an almost decade-long layoff in the late 90’s, early aughties. I’ve met the guy who originally “discovered” (The Mazatecs had known about it a long time) in the 60’s, & although they knew the region had great potential, I guess we’ve all been shocked a bit by how it just goes on and on and on. Stone co-wrote a book with his diving partner Barbara am Ende called Beyond TheDeep about their huge sump-diving discovery in 1994 that is one of the best caving narratives I’ve read.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:58 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


I was just in Shenandoah Caverns this past weekend. Virginia's only cave with elevator service. Love caves, but as a tall guy, it's really tiring after a bit.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:53 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I cannot express the glee I felt when I saw this was a NatGeo article, because I knew the photos were going to be exactly what I wanted from an article like this; was not disappointed in the least. And honestly, I would pay real-world money to see a full-length IMAX documentary of cave exploration.
posted by lesser weasel at 10:40 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Katie Graham is indeed a hardcore person, but also a friend of mine. Being a caver myself, I can appreciate just how hardcore the experiences that are being written about in this article are. I am familiar with the incomprehension of people about why we might choose to go underground willingly but for me it is about the explorations and mystery. I generally feel comfortable in caves and yet, I hear about expeditions like Huautla and I am not sure if I would be so keen to go there.

In the summer of 2010 Katie and a team made a connection between two large caves to establish the deepest cave system in Canada. Early this year she broke that record by being the first to dive a flooded passage at the bottom of another cave and establish that as the new deepest Canadian cave. The team received a lot of news coverage at the time.
posted by snoboy at 12:45 AM on June 12 [9 favorites]


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