Today’s ‘extreme’ activities may be more about energy drink sponsorships than actual feats of daring, but the extreme cavers described in this New Yorker feature by Burkhard Bilger are no such pusillanimous pantywaists.
Extreme caving is as intricate as it is terrifying – the descent into Mexico’s Chevé system chronicled in the article demanded six truckloads of material be moved almost 2,000 kilometers. It is also as dangerous as it intricate, as Bill Stone, the leader of the expedition, chillingly notes: the first rule of caving is never to leave a person behind but “if they’re dead, it’s another matter”.
Aside from the ability to touch a little of their terror from a couch rather than two kilometers in the ground, another pleasure of the article is the way it touches on caving’s more existential aspects. Trying to shine a little light on the occasional inexplicability of the exploratory instinct. Why risk so much, why push oneself to such limits of misery and privation if, as another caver notes, “all you find is cave. There is nothing else down there."