|During Thanksgiving of 1962, T.R. Evans led Terry Raines, James Reddell, and Bill Russell on the first official trip to Mexico exploring new-found caves. A year later the four founded the Association for Mexican Cave Studies. The first decade yielded spectacular discoveries that forever put Mexico on the caving map. Since then, the caving scene has exploded with activity. These original cavers, from the University of Texas Speleological Society, have been joined by explorers from everywhere. The Association for Mexican Cave Studies is now an International Project, supported by cavers from around the world.
FORTY YEARS OF EXPLORATION by Terry Raines
The Association for Mexican Cave Studies is pleased to announce the completion of forty years of exploration. It has been quite an adventure, with great excitement, some sadness, and quite an archive of accomplishment.
It all began in 1962, initiated by the enthusiam of T.R. Evans. Being a member of the University of Texas Speleological Society located in Austin, Texas, he was aware that there were limestone and caves in Mexico. The border was only 4 hours from Austin and members of the Grotto had visited the cave at Bustamante, 5 hours farther into Mexico. There were reliable reports of caves farther south near Cd. Valles in the state of San Luis Potosí. When a planned trip to Europe (which was to leave from Veracruz) did not materialize, TR traveled inland to Orizaba and began taking bus rides into the surrounding mountains. Along the road near the village of Tequila he ecountered one pit after another some quite deep. That was the summer of 1962. TR returned to Austin and began organizing a Thanksgiving trip.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, TR Evans led Terry Raines, James Reddell, and Bill Russell back to the hills around Tequila in the state of Veracruz. The were armed with 600 ft of 1/2in nylon rope and new sisal prusick loops. The first pit descended was Sótano de El Crucero, which proved to be over 300 ft deep. That was three times deeper that anything they had previously descended; it made quite an impression on the young cavers. Other deep pits were explored around Tequila before they took the bus 500 kilometers northward to Xilitla, SLP for the second half of trip.
Just to the north of Xilitla, near the Indian village of Tlamaya, they descend Sótano de Huitzmolotitla. The entrance drop, 364 feet deep, was followed by a second drop and a kilometer of horizontal cave. They saw many other entrances in the beautiful karst of the area. Upon the cavers' return to Austin, excitement ran high as tales of wonderous deep pits were told to cavers eager for new exploration. From that time on, caving trips were to leave for Mexico at every opportunity, especially during holidays and school breaks, to make the initial probes into what was to become the Mother Lode of North American caving.
The first decade of Mexican cave exploration was truly golden. In 1963 the deepest cave in North America was found, Sótano de Tlamaya, at -1488 feet. The next year the deepest drop, -503 feet, was descended in Ventana Jabalí. Then, in 1967 TR Evans made the first descent of Sótano de las Golondrinas. At that same time, AMCS cavers were making the initial explorations of Sótano de San Agustín near Huautla, Oaxaca, now a part of the deepest cave system in the New World. Those monumental trips initiated interest and the subsequent exploration of many great caves and cave systems of those areas.
To keep up with all the explorations, the AMCS Newsletter was initiated in 1965 and the first AMCS Bulletin, Caves of the Inter-American Highway, was published two years later. Significant biological discoveries were made in the caves and coordinated by James Reddell, then published in the next three AMCS Bulletins. Under the guidance of Terry Raines, these AMCS publications contained some of the first color maps and photos to be found in caver literature. As the decade came to a close, El Sótano del Barro was discovered and became the deepest pit in the world at -410 meters. In the same area the greatest drop inside a cave was found in Sotanito de Ahuacatlán at 946 feet. Finally, in the mountains above Cd. Victoria, Charles Fromen first viewed the gaping maw of Infiernillo, the lower entrance to what was to become the awsome Sistema Purificación. What a pivotal decade the '60s had become in the world--the international world--of caverdom.
The decade of the '70s saw even greater accomplishments. The discovery of Cueve del Brinco and the subsequent connection between the Brinco and Infiernillo entrances in 1978 produced the Sistema Purificación and tremendous potential with literally hundreds of unchecked leads. Farther south, inside the state of Oaxaca, cave exploration was no less active. San Agustín became the first American cave to pass the 1000 meter mark. Other caves were steadily being connected into what was to become the extensive Sistema Huautla.
The third decade of Mexican cave exploration was the '80s and saw the Purificación system become the longest cave in Mexico. Huautla exploration remained equally active. In both systems it was necessary to establish remote underground camps where cavers lived for two and three weeks at a time while exploring and setting thousands of survey stations. By then, Mexico was attracting the interest of cavers from around the world. Multinational crews pushed into the high limestone just north of Huautla and added several caves to the 1000 meter list. Also, to the south of Huautla, cavers discovered Cueva Cheve and the adventure of another world-class cave began. Caving as a sport emerged among Mexicans and clubs were formed. One of the most successful, in San Luis Potosí, explored the Sierra de Alvarez with excellent results. Truly international teams of Europeans and Americans--meaning North, South, and Central Americans--began unprecedented cooperation in the exploration of Mexican caves.
The 1990s saw the 4th decade of Mexican caving and the continued exploration in the classic areas as well as a few new ones. Incredible frontiers were also pushed by a special breed of underground explorer the cave diver. In the state of Quintana Roo over 100 km of passageways were explored and surveyed and linked into a large system...all underwater.
Forty years have passed since TR's failed trip to Europe led to the serendipity that became Mexican caving. Hundreds of things have happened: hundreds of kilometers of cave passage have been explored; hundreds of kilometers of rope have been descended and climbed; hundreds of cavers from around the world have dedicated themselves to the task. Yet, despite the fact that cavers can be found exploring caves beneath all the limestone regions of Mexico nearly every week of the year, there is still much work to be done. The AMCS is proud to have been a part of Mexican caving in the past and is dedicated to being a part of it in the future.
The Association for Mexican Cave Studies is a nonprofit international project supported by cavers from many different countries. Anyone who has an interest in the caves of Mexico is a member.