Exploring deep caves is an activity that brings its own set of challenges not unlike scaling a high mountain. Sure, you don't have to worry about acclimatizing per se, but thin air can be an issue and carrying supplies and gear into vast underground chambers is not unlike establishing camps as you ascend a Himalayan peak. Add to the fact that you are always surrounded by darkness, and you start to get an idea of just how unique these experiences can be. Now, imagine you're exploring a cave system that may be the deepest on the planet, with a bottom that has yet to be discovered.

In a new article posted on the National Geographic website, we plumb the depths of just such a place. Dubbed "Dark Star," the cave is located in a remote region of Uzbekistan and has been dubbed the "Underground Everest." That's because eight expeditions have delved into its depths – mapping over 11 miles of passageways, caverns, and chambers – but have yet to find an end to the massive subterranean realm. So far, the deepest they have gone is 3000 feet (914 meters) below the surface, but the feeling is that Dark Star runs deeper. Much deeper.

The current record for the deepest cavern known to man is the Krubera Cave, located in the Eastern European country of Georgia. That cave drops an unbelievable 7208 feet (2196 meters), so Dark Star has a long way to go before it breaks that record. But after more than 20 years of mapping and exploration, there doesn't seem to be an end to be had just yet, and there are some indications that it goes far deeper than Krubera, its just that no one has gone down that far just yet.

The cave was first discovered back in 1984 by a team of Russians, but it wasn't explored at all until the 1990's when a group of British cavers first passed through its outer entryways. Most of Dark Star's mysteries have yet to be found, as most of the teams that have gone inside have ended up running out of rope before they've made much in the way of significant progress. Yet expeditions continue to come when they can, which isn't as often as serious cavers would like considering the remote nature of the entrance and the unstable political conditions of the surrounding region.

The Nat Geo story is a fascinating one, especially for those of us who don't know a lot about cave exploration. Author Mark Synnott takes us deep inside Dark Star, where a dedicated team of scientists, researchers, and explorers is examining the site, pushing deeper into its depths, and learning more about the underground spaces of our planet. It is an intriguing read that reminds us that not all of our adventures need to go up, nor remain on the surface of the Earth at all.

Check out the full story here or in the March issue of National Geographic magazine.
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