You never know where you’ll find Rand. He could be in a plane at 13,000 feet about to skydive. Or at 19,300 on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Rainier or Whitney. He could be somewhere on the seven seas on Golden Glow. Or he could be 1,000+ feet underground, in the deepest cave in the United States, Lechuguilla. Which happens to be where he is right now, during our one-month back on land…or in his case, under it.
Here are some photos and videos of Lechuguilla so you can get a sense of its majestic beauty.
Rand discovered Lechuguilla as a young man when he saw pictures of its magical caverns. Its mystery and beauty inspired him to teach himself to become a spelunker (caver) and to learn the skill of cartography, so he could be one of the select few allowed into this cave each year.
Lechugilla is not open to the public. The US Government recognized its importance and fragility, and locked the cave years ago, allowing in only scientists and others who could contribute to our understanding of the cave. One specialized skill needed was cartography – the ability to map the cave. The mission of every expedition into Lechuguilla is to explore and survey the cave, to produce an updated, detailed map. With his engineering, software and mathematical background, Rand taught himself cartography and became extremely good at it, and that gained him admission to this most miraculous cave that allows in so few people each year.
On top of that, the cavers had to be expert in rope climbing as the only way to travel around much of the cave is by climbing up and down the equivalent of many mountains a day to navigate the circuitous passages underground.
Only three groups were allowed into Lechuguilla in all of 2014 and Rand is part of one of those super-select groups. Rand’s 2014 expedition is his third inside Lechuguilla; he was also there in 1993 and 1998. The person who organized his expedition has been trying to get permission for ten years!
Since Rand is going deeper and further into sections of the cave to map them for the first time, he is probably seeing places on the earth unseen by human eyes ever before. Once he and his team explore and chart these new sections of Lechuguilla, they will be closed and most likely no other humans will see them, perhaps for centuries.
The park service has put out a DVD virtual tour of Lechuguilla if that interests you. Plus, PBS’ Nova’s Program, The Mysterious Life of Caves, dedicated a whole segment to Lechuguilla.