On his thirteenth day underground, when he’d come to the edge of the known world and was preparing to pass beyond it, Marcin Gala placed a call to the surface. He’d travelled more than three miles through the earth by then, over stalagmites and boulder fields, cave-ins and vaulting galleries. He’d spidered down waterfalls, inched along crumbling ledges, and bellied through tunnels so tight that his back touched the roof with every breath. Now he stood at the shore of a small, dark pool under a dome of sulfurous flowstone. He felt the weight of the mountain above him—a mile of solid rock—and wondered if he’d ever find his way back again. It was his last chance to hear his wife and daughter’s voices before the cave swallowed him up.
“Base camp, base camp, base camp,” he said. “This is Camp Four. Over.” His voice travelled from the handset to a Teflon-coated wire that he had strung along the wall. It wound its way through sump and tunnel, up the stair-step passages of the Chevé system to a ragged cleft in a hillside seven thousand feet above sea level. There, in a cloud forest in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, lay the staging area for an attempt to map the deepest cave in the world—a kind of Everest expedition turned upside down. Gala’s voice fell soft and muffled in the mountain’s belly, husky with fatigue. He asked his seven-year-old, Zuzia, how she liked the Pippi Longstocking book she’d been reading, and wondered what the weather was like on the surface. Then the voice of Bill Stone, the leader of the expedition, broke over the line. “We’re counting on you guys,” he said. “This is a big day. Do your best, but don’t do anything radical. Be brave, but not too brave.”
Gala had been this deep in the cave once before, in 2009, but never beyond the pool…
Read more:In Deep – The New Yorker.