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11 Fascinating Facts About Extreme Spelunking

Updated September 23, 2021 19.7k views11 items

There's nothing more thrilling than the mystery of the unknown. Extreme spelunking combines the desire to discover a world unseen by most and the thrill of conquering a physical feat. Also known as caving, extreme spelunkers specialize in cave exploration. Extreme caving can unearth so many interesting things. Perhaps it’s the buried treasure of an ancient civilization. Perhaps it’s a brand new animal species never before seen on Earth. Perhaps its a newly discovered cave system that spans miles. 

Caving was established by Edouard-Alfred Martel, a Frenchman who explored the Gouffre de Padirac in France in the late 1880s. In 1941, a group of explorers created the National Speleological Society and coined the phrase spelunking. During this era, the sport gained a good deal of notoriety despite the fact that so many spelunkers lost their lives on wild expeditions.

But just like other extreme explorative sports - free diving, scuba diving, and mountain climbing - it can be dangerous.  Spelunking horror stories will chill you to the bone - serious injury, hypothermia, even death can happen while caving if you're not careful, or just unlucky. 

  • Cave Diving Spelunkers Sometimes Swim with the Dead

    Photo: Public Domain / Pixabay

    While death is a natural part of life, cave diving spelunkers come face to face with it almost every time they venture out on expeditions. There are several reasons for this unusual aspect of the adventure. Many ancient civilizations either dwelled in caves or they buried their dead in caves - sometimes both. Because of that it’s nothing for a pro spelunker to stumble upon a floating human skeleton.

    The other reason for encountering a dead body is a lot sadder: as spelunking grew in popularity, so did the number of people who died on expeditions. Their bodies are often encountered in full cave diving equipment, serving as eerie reminders of what could be next for the passing spelunker enroute.

  • Sometimes Amateur Spelunkers Make Amazing Discoveries

    Photo: Public Domain / Pixabay

    Spelunking does not require a license in most locations, which means everyone daring enough can join in on the fun. While it’s true that sometimes amateurs fall victim to horrible tragedies, often amateurs uncover something awesome. While exploring the caves of northern Israel, a group of caving club members uncovered riches of Alexander the Great believed to be more than 2,000 years old. The cave wound up being a gold mine - quite literally. Experts later followed their footsteps and discovered even more treasures. Some of the items discovered date way back into the past - approximately 6,000 years.

  • Relics Uncovered by Spelunkers Are Well Preserved

    Relics uncovered while spelunking are often extremely well preserved. This is because caves themselves maintain idiosyncratic preservation powers. For example, the blue hole caves in the Bahamas are sometimes referred to as time capsules because the oxygen inside them is sealed off, meaning anything found between the walls of those caves doesn't decompose. Similar effects happen in other caves, which result in perfect fossils and skeletal remains. 

  • An Average of 20 Professional Spelunkers Die Every Year

    Photo: Pecinski Grabovaca / Wikimedia Commons

    This astonishing number accounts for only the known deaths of spelunkers. With hobbyist fatalities that number would probably significantly higher. Professionals are fully aware of the ever pending threats surrounding them every time they lay a line, shimmy through a shaft, climb through an unspeakably tiny tunnel, or cross a chemical barrier. During an interview with the NOVA National Geographic camera crew, one spelunker admitted to reflecting on memories of deceased friends and coworkers every time she geared up for an expedition.