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January 02, 1956
New explores prove an old cave is the world's longest
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January 02, 1956

Report From Underground

New explores prove an old cave is the world's longest

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This week at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science in Atlanta, Ga. a handful of the country's best cave explorers delivered some big news. In Kentucky, in the far reaches of Crystal Cave, they had connected with two adjacent caves, and this whole cave system now proved longer than any known. This announcement came after two years of hard and grimy work, as cavers like Roger Brucker and David Jones (opposite) pushed cautiously farther into the labyrinth. Though in two years they have worked through 32 miles of crisscrossing tunnels, tight ratholes, cracks, pits and mile-long canyons, along the tangled routes there are still more than 100 unexplored holes leading somewhere. Few scientists even can appreciate the effort of hard caving, or the adventure of it, but in the minds of many this news of Crystal Cave would surely stir up an old memory of Floyd Collins, who found the first mile of this labyrinth and died trying to find more.

Three miles inside the cave the explorers squirm for 60 feet through a hole 10 inches high. At the far end of this "fishhook"—so called because it is lined with cave-onyx nubs that tear at the skin and clothing—each caver (above) must grasp a sharp protrusion and swing himself 12 feet down the sheer, mud-slick wall of an onyx pit.

On the main route a floor crack suddenly widens into a black void. Roger Brucker (below) leads a party to a near-dead end on a ledge 90 feet above the bottom of this "bottomless" pit. To go on, the cavers lean across this void, press their hands against the opposite wall (below, right) and inch sideways until the chasm narrows again.

Crossing a mud bridge four miles inside the cave, Roger Brucker slips and falls into an underground river. After struggling for 10 seconds under a ledge, Brucker finally finds the opening again and hangs on. As Caver Bill Austin leans over to assist him, a cloud of steam condensing from warmth of their bodies hangs in the dank cave air.