Tales of endless passages honey-combing the Mojave Desert mountains near his childhood home inspired Frank Binney from the time he first learned to crawl. At age 5, he followed his dad into an abandoned mine, took a wrong turn and fell into his first pit. Banned from further mine exploration, Frank directed his subterranean curiosity to the sea caves beneath his grandparents’ cliffside home in Laguna Beach. He squeezed to the back of every enterable fissure he could find and corralled other young kids for digging projects to remove the sand and cobbles blocking access to the vast chambers that surely lay beyond.
Then the big breakthrough – Frank discovered karst! Dragged kicking and screaming to Missouri at age 10 when his dad took a new job, Frank found salvation in Ozark limestone. An NSS member Boy Scout leader introduced him to “real caving” at age 12 and a local science teacher taught him how to survey. Soon he was spending every weekend and holiday underground. By his mid-teens he was president of his high school caving club and making pilgrimages to Central Kentucky and TAG Country.
Then the next big breakthrough – Frank discovered Mexican karst! At 17, a volunteer gig showing AMCS geologist John Fish some Ozark caves led to an invitation to camp with “the Texans” at the 1968 NSS Convention. Frank’s life changed forever. Before leaving high school he yo-yo’ed Golondrinas and bottomed other significant Mexican vertical caves. He began dividing his caving time between Mexico, Texas, the Ozarks, and Southern California. At 21, he moved to Austin, Texas where he founded the Kirkwood Cavers house and became one of the AMCS “pit hippies”. He participated in numerous first descents – including El Sotano del Barro – launched Inside Earth, a short-lived glossy caving magazine sold only to cavers, and accompanied Bill Stone on his first trip to Huautla. Other highlights in Frank’s “coming of age as a caver” include a CFF expedition to Costa Rica, and assisting British speleo filmmaker Sid Perou on Castleguard: Challenge Under the Glacier and on the documentary of a 6-month expedition searching for the World’s Deepest Cave in Papua New Guinea.