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Blind Descent | book review

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiJames Tabor’s recent 2010 book entitled ‘Blind Descent’ chronicles two parallel efforts to find the deepest places on Planet Earth…recognized widely as the last terrestrial frontier – supercaves.

The book starts by showcasing some of the more significant pushes over the past several decades by Bill Stone in Mexico. Stone’s work accounts for the majority of the text, likely a fact given access to Stone and his team by Tabor here in the US. Not less interestingly however, is the latter portion of the book, which chronicles Ukranian geologist Alexander Klimchouk’s work in the Republic of Georgia.

For those who have never ventured underground, the descriptions of what takes place in supercaves is like something out of a science fiction novel. Imagine dropping through a pit several hundred feet deep through raging waterfalls, freezing cold, and all while in the dark, only to set down and ‘camp’ on the most uncomfortable terrain around. Then you wake up and do it all over again – on the long journey to the bottom of the Earth at more than 6000 feet underground. The will of both of these men and their teams is just gripping, and a testament to the fact that there remian corners of our Planet that await discovery, and are in need of those willing to break the mold and go find them.

The book emphasizes the differing personalities of Stone and Klimchouk, and how each has its own effective manners of motivating teams under tremendous physical and psychological stress to perform in superhuman ways.For the layperson, it truly is hard to fathom that on any given day, at any given time, there are people like Stone and Klimchouk out there pushing the limits of our species, right here on Earth. But the fact is that those individuals are indeed out there, and they need to be heard about, and need to be supported. While it might just seem like a hole in the ground, the implications for gaining access to environments like this have parallels in other areas of exploring extreme environments. For example, the day when humans establish a permanent colony below the oceans, on Mars or the Moon, or beyond, will all benefit from what has been learned here on Earth in equally challenging environments.

My first exposure to Stone’s work was at a daytime lecture at the Boston Sea Rovers Annual Clinic some 11 or 12 years ago. The lecture showcased the Wakulla II project, in which a team using Stone’s Cis-Lunar MkV rebreathers, dived and maps nearly 20,000 linear feet of submerged cave in Florida. The project required dives in excess of 250 feet that lasted over 5 hours, plus massive decompression requirements (considering the surface to surface profiles without commercial diving infrastructure).

On look at those bright yellow and black space-age rebreathers, and learning of what they could do of course was all it took – I was taken.

Yet here we are today, over ten years later, and while many significant achievements have been made in manned exploration, including the supercave efforts of Stone and Klimchouk, oceana incognita is still sitting there waiting.

It is clear that it takes the unique drive, ambition, and commitment of the explorer to get out there and do it, even more so than having the dream. As I’ve said before…ideas are cheap. It’s time to get out there with a new and fresh perspective, the latest technologies at our fingertips, an openness to collaboration, and a willingness to frankly ‘make it happen’.

‘Blind Descent’ is worth a read for anyone interested in pushing human endurance. Whether extreme environment exploration is for you or not, taking the journey through these pages is an eye-opener in all aspects of life.
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