By Arthur W.
The deepest cave known on Earth today is situated on the edge of the Black Sea in Abkhazia, Georgia and has been explored to a staggering depth of 2,197 meters (close to six times the Empire State Building). It goes by the name Krubera Cave, after Russian geographer and professor Alexander Kruber, although is often also referred to as Voronya Cave (meaning ‘Crows’ Cave’ in Russian, crows were said to be nestling in the entrance pit and so the name casually appeared). In 2011 it became the worlds-deepest cave when an a team of Ukrainian speleologist (those who study caves) led an expedition down to a depth of 1,710 meters, and it became the first cave to be explored deeper than 2,000 meters three years later. Its deepest explored point is currently 2,197 meters, but this is most likely not the end of it. The cave is currently known to end in a terminal sump (passage of cave submerged under water), in fact, reaching the currently deepest explored point was achieved by diving 52 meters down into this sump. A descent more than two kilometers down into the Earth’s crust is fascinating on its own, but even more so considering the journey. The trip down isn’t entirely vertical; it may be at parts, but certainly isn’t all the time. The cave is almost 13.5 kilometers of difficult terrain in length to its deepest known point and therefore requires skill, courage, and weeks to venture through.
Let us begin at its narrow entrance, hidden deep in the remote Arabika Massif mountain region. Almost unapparent, it’s nothing more than a rocky hole in a field of green. Physically. The idea behind it, the thought of such a small hole in the middle of nowhere capable of leading you deeper into the Earth than anywhere else, is astounding and somewhat disturbing. Once in, sunlight waves goodbye and the trip down starts. Equipped with gear and equipment similar to that required for climbing a mountain, in addition to tents, helmets, an array measuring devices, and plenty of light, groups of explorers carry many kilos of material with them, all of which will come to use throughout the two week expedition. Regarded as ‘an awe-inspiring labyrinth of countless pits and chasms descending deep into the darkness’, Krubera Cave is no easy place to navigate and maneuver through. It consists of deep, vertical wells interconnected by narrow passages, freezing waterfalls, areas filled entirely with water, and countless pits, abysses, and cascades. Some of these pits are more than 100 meters deep, vertically down, ranging from extremely wide to incredibly narrow. One of these channels, named ‘Way to the Dream’ (although its far from a dream to those suffering from claustrophobia) is barely wide enough to squeeze through and 100 meters long. Along the way, basecamp is set up regularly, so that the explorers can rest and eat. It must be strange to wake up in such an extraordinary, isolated environment, realizing where you are with nothing but your gear, some artificial light, a couple of others, and the occasional beetle. Life is far from abundant in Krubera Cave but it is home to several species of arthropods (beetles, spiders, scorpions, crustaceans), including Plutomurus ortobalaganensis, the deepest terrestrial animal ever found on Earth (living at a depth of 1,980 meters from the cave entrance, it has never seen sunlight). Hopefully explorers find some comfort in knowing they are not entirely alone.
All in all, Krubera Cave is a natural beauty that man has dreamed of exploring deeper and deeper ever since it was discovered. It is the only known cave on Earth deeper than 2,000 meters, and has attracted explorers to challenged and push themselves like never before into living a real-life Journey to the Center of the Earth.