Gigantic River Cave Revealed in Laos
A cave explorer stands before an imposing stalagmite made of mineral deposits near an entrance to the Xe Bang Fai River cave in central Laos.
An expedition in February 2008, co-led by veteran caver John Pollack, comprehensively mapped and photographed the 5.9-mile (9.5-kilometer) length of the little-known cavern for the first time.
The explorers encountered some of the largest rooms and most impressive structures of any river cave on Earth, Pollack said.
A river cave is any cave with an active water source flowing through it.
Everything about the cave is big-from its towering entrances to its phobia-inducing spiders, which can be 10 inches (25 centimeters) across, Pollack added.
"It's also extremely well decorated with spectacular formations," Pollack said.
The Xe Bang Fai River cave's gaping downstream entrance was used as a daily staging point for the February 2008 trip, funded by the National Geographic Society's Expeditions Council.
The cave has two known entrances one upstream and one downstream.
The exploration team spent ten days surveying and photographing the cave, communicating in the darkness by walkie-talkie, and traveling by lightweight, inflatable kayaks.
The adventurers' longest day in the cave lasted 17 hours.
Expedition co-leader Bob Osburn is producing a highly detailed map of the cavern, and Pollack expects an article on the team's work and map to appear in the journal of the National Speleological Society in 2009.
He hopes to return to the cave in 2010.