Explorers have added to the official length of Jewel Cave, moving it to second place on the list of the world's longest known caves.
A recent four-day trip past cave landmarks like the Miseries and the End pushed the known length of the cave in southwest South Dakota to 135 miles and 10 feet.
The official length of a cave is not the distance between points, but rather the cumulative distance of all explored and mapped passages, said Todd Suess, superintendent of Jewel Cave National Monument.
On the longer multi-day explorations, cavers may spend six to eight hours traveling from the entrance to a main camp deep inside the cave. Then it's another three hours to the unexplored areas, where they'll work for six to eight hours, and then return to the main camp, the National Park Service said.
Other cave explorations are single-day trips, but they also can be productive.
"The longer trips push the far edge of the cave," Suess said Wednesday. "The one-day trips will go to areas closer in ... but they might break into a whole different section of the cave that's in a completely different direction than thought."
A National Park Service cave specialist from New Mexico joined three Black Hills area cavers on the most recent extended exploration.
"You get to see places no one has ever gone before," said Larry Schaffer, a cave volunteer from Hill City. "When you get there, it's like Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon."
Cavers take only critical equipment, like headlamps and food, protein bars and special equipment into the constant (??) 49-degree temperature in the cave.
"It took us an hour and 40 minutes to get through the Miseries," said Stan Allison, from Carlsbad, N.M. "It's a thousand feet of belly crawling ... it's such a long way."
Mapping boundaries of the cave is important in order to protect it from aboveground activities like pesticide use or drilling that can affect the ecological balance in the cave, said Suess.
Article from: Aberdeennews