Imagine descending far below the surface of the earth, past limestone cliffs and through narrow crevices into hidden underground worlds. As sunlight fades into complete darkness, a maze of twisting passageways and echoing chambers beckons you deeper. This is the allure of superdeep caves – the ultimate frontier for expert cavers to conquer.
Formed over eons by the slow dripping of water and shifting of tectonic plates, caves extend to unfathomable depths. The deepest ones plunge far below sea level, carved into soluble rock through the erosion of sulfuric acid and flowing subterranean rivers. They tempt adventuresome explorers with the promise of undiscovered realms and record depths.
Reaching the bottom of the world’s deepest caves is an exercise in extreme caving techniques. Specialized equipment for ropes, anchoring, climbing, and diving allows passage down steep abysses and underwater tunnels. Physical fitness and mental toughness are mandatory to withstand the complete darkness, bitter cold, lung-crushing pressure, and claustrophobic passages. Only a select few cavers are up for the challenge.
Here we’ll spelunk into the top 10 deepest caves on the planet as of 2023 and what makes them so extreme:
1. Veryovkina Cave – 2,212 m (7,257 ft) Deep
Location: Abkhazia region, Georgia
Currently ranked as the deepest known cave on Earth, Veryovkina Cave plunges 2,212 meters (7,257 feet) below ground at its lowest explored point. This natural wonder was carved by the underground Cave River into the karstic limestone of Georgia’s Arabika Massif.
Discovered in 1968, Veryovkina’s full depth potential wasn’t revealed until an expedition in 2018 pushed divers beyond a flooded sump called Dead Lake, breaking the world record. Across 14 mammoth tiers, the cave spans 16 kilometers of passageways and colossal chambers so far.
Reaching Veryovkina’s deepest recesses requires mastering both advanced diving and vertical rope work. Raising camps across different levels, cavers rig lines down sheer drops like the “Well to Hell” – a 165-meter abyss. With many areas left unmapped, this cave’s title as deepest on Earth seems likely to stand.
Pro Tip: Join an experienced caving group when attempting Veryovkina. The logistics of camping/rigging across 14 levels in total darkness are extremely complex.
2. Krubera Cave (Voronja Cave) – 2,197 m (7,208 ft) Deep
Location: Gagra Range, Abkhazia, Georgia
Nested in the Gagra mountains of Georgia, Krubera Cave (also known as Voronja Cave) was first documented in 1960 by geographer Alexander Kruber. But its tremendous vertical extent wasn’t revealed until the last 20 years. At 2,197 meters (7,208 feet) deep, it’s the world’s second deepest cave currently known.
Formed in the Arabika Massif’s limestone, Krubera consists mainly of a series of nightmarishly tight shafts and pits. This includes the massive “Gouffre Berger” – one of the world’s deepest vertical drops at over 1,100 meters. Reaching the bottom demands great mountaineering skills to safely descend waterfalls and overhangs.
Ukranian caver Alexander Klimchouk led expeditions that ultimately bottomed out Krubera in 2012 using inflatable rafts to cross its underground lakes. With large unexplored areas remaining, Krubera may reclaim the “deepest cave” title soon.
Pro Tip: Test all equipment thoroughly before entering Krubera. Failures of lights, breathing gear, or ropes in its extreme depths become life-threatening emergencies.
3. Sarma – 1,753 m (5,751 ft) Deep
Location: Gagashi Range, Georgia
The third deepest cave in the world, Sarma plunges to unfathomable depths in Georgia’s Gagashi mountains. Since first being discovered in 1983, Sarma’s 16+ kilometers of galleries, fossil tunnels, and water-carved caverns have been mapped across four different entrances.
In 2018, cavers finally smashed through tight passages thought previously impenetrable using jackhammer and explosives to connect Sarma into one mega-system reaching 1,753 meters (5,751 feet) deep. 14 monumental vertical pitches must be descended, including the 198-meter “Abyss.”
Formed by sulfuric acid eroding its limestone bedrock, Sarma also features extensive underwater sections only crossed by cave diving through sumps. With many areas left unexplored, this cave’s ultimate depth remains unknown. The lure of undiscovered passages tempts daring explorers.
Pro Tip: Carefully calculate your air supply when cave diving in Sarma. Unexpected blockages can force longer exit routes, increasing the risk of running out of breathing gas.
4. Lamprechtsofen Vogelschacht Weg Schacht – 1,632 m (5,354 ft) Deep
Location: Salzburg, Austria
Beneath Austria’s Tennengebirge mountains lies the abyss known as Lamprechtsofen Vogelschacht Weg Schacht. Reaching 1,632 meters (5,354 feet) deep, it’s the deepest cave on Earth outside of Georgia. Mapped by explorers over a century of expeditions, its lowest areas weren’t reached until the 1960s.
Lamprechtsofen’s Limestone karst maze includes the dramatic Leaning Tower and White Wedding sections. Cavers use fixed ropes to rappel down its vertical shafts, including the terrifying 316-meter “Big Shaft.” At higher elevations, proper acclimatization prevents altitude sickness.
First documented in 1910, Lamprechtsofen sees regular activity by Austria’s cave exploration clubs. Its many underwater sections still leave potential for future diving expeditions to reveal its true lowest depth.
Pro Tip: Check weather forecasts closely before entering Lamprechtsofen. Melting snow or heavy rains can cause flash flooding in passages.
5. Lukina Jama – Trojama Cave System – 1,431 m (4,698 ft) Deep
Location: Velebit Mountains, Croatia
The depths of Lukina Jama in Croatia’s Velebit mountains were unknown until explorer Radovan Jamačić descended halfway down its misty vertical shaft in 1992. Years later, cavers finally reached the bottom at 1,431 meters (4,698 feet) after connecting it to the nearby Trojama system.
This natural limestone wonder features unique cave fauna like the human fish (Proteus anguinus), leeches, and spiders found only in its depths. Plunging straight down 700 meters, the main shaft demands expert single rope technique rigging. Camps must be set up on ledges across sections.
At the bottom lies the underground world of Lukina Jama Middle World, with rare carbonate formations like cave pearls, pillars, and ice plugs. Two sumps block further exploration, but diving may someday reveal connections to even deeper cave levels.
Pro Tip: Rig safety lines when hiking down steeply angled passages toward Lukina Jama’s entrance. Falling would mean tumbling uncontrollably down the entire 1,431-meter shaft.
6. Sistema Del Trave – 1,330 m (4,364 ft) Deep
Location: Picos de Europa, Spain
Nestled high in the mountains of Spain’s Picos de Europa range, Sistema del Trave currently ranks as the country’s deepest mapped cave system. Formed by water eroding its limestone, it took over 30 years for cavers to connect Trave’s scattered sinkholes and shafts into one continuous 1,330 meter deep (4,364 feet) descent.
Following the ancient Rio San Leon through huge caverns, traversing the “Titan Shaft” abyss, and diving underwater lakes, explorers reached the lowest known point – an area called Rock Colander. Strict ropework skills are required to safely rig Trave’s 14 major vertical pitches.
First discovered in 1974, Trave’s ends remain blocked by difficult geology. But robotic drones may one day unlock its secrets and hidden depths further, cementing its status as one of Earth’s deepest caves.
Pro Tip: Carefully Memorize the maze of Trave’s complex passages. Becoming lost is easy, and survival depends on exiting before your lights fail.
7. Illuzia-Illuziya-Sarma – 1,220 m (4,000 ft) Deep
Location: Gagashi Range, Georgia
This triple-cave system of Illuzia, Illuziya, and Sarma forms a natural wonder over 1,220 meters (4,000 feet) deep in Georgia’s Gagashi mountains. Formed from eroded limestone bedrock, cavers have connected them over decades of effort into one of the deepest complexes on Earth.
Illuzia and Illuziya were first joined as a two-cave system in the late 1950s and ’60s. But expeditions in 2018 finally opened blocked underwater and vertical passages to connect Sarma as well. Features like the 101-meter “Titanic” abyss test advanced vertical caving skills.
Despite exhausting travel through tight “Washing Machine” squeezes and frigid underground lakes, cavers are lured to keep pushing the Illuzia-Illuziya-Sarma tri-system deeper in search of undiscovered recesses. Its full depth may never be found.
Pro Tip: Carefully monitor your breathing apparatus gauges when sump diving here. Unexpected blockages can force re-routing, causing air supplies to run perilously low.
8. Sistema Huautla – 1,215 m (3,986 ft) Deep
Location: Santa Maria Huautla, Mexico
The expansive Sistema Huautla cave network beneath Mexico’s Sierra Mazateca contains some of the most spectacular caverns in the Western Hemisphere. Accidentally discovered in 1966, over 50 years of exploration has revealed over 80 kilometers of passages across multiple layers plunging to 1,215 meters (3,986 feet) deep.
Huautla’s pristine underground world features towering karst formations, sparkling pools, and rare cave fauna. Through narrow fissures and flooded tunnels, cavers connect vast caverns with names like Camp I and The Lake of the Moon. Rappelling11 sheer drops tests expertise in vertical caving.
Dedicated explorers steadily push Huautla’s known depths deeper each decade. But its immensity means its true lowest point may lie beyond human reach. Huautla remains a captivating mystifying labyrinth for experienced cavers.
Pro Tip: Obtain permission before entering Huautla’s depths. Many areas hold archaeological or cultural significance for indigenous peoples.
9. Réseau Jean Bernard – 1,602 m (5,256 ft) Deep
Location: French Alps
Below the towering Dent de Crolles karst in France’s Alps lies the labyrinth called Réseau Jean Bernard. At over 55 kilometers long with a lowest depth of 1,602 meters (5,256 feet) deep, it’s among France’s most extensive mapped cave systems.
First explored in 1935, generations of French cavers have gradually extended Jean Bernard’s known passages. Following the subterranean Crolles River brings explorers through the legendary “Walls of Black Marble” into its deepest levels. Strict pit rigging precautions are mandatory.
Jean Bernard’s prisitine crystalline pools and soaring columns resemble underground cathedrals in their beauty. With many areas still left underwater and unexplored, this cave’s true bottom depth remains unknown. Diving may someday reveal connections to deeper recesses.
Pro Tip: Check weather forecasts closely before entering Jean Bernard. Heavy rain or snowmelt causes rapid flooding in its caverns.
10. Sistema Cheve – 1,484 m (4,873 ft) Deep
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Last on the list, Sistema Cheve’s vast maze of passages under Mexico’s Sierra Juárez mountains contains some of the most technical caving challenges in the hemisphere. Since the 1980s, over 37 kilometers have been mapped across multiple layers reaching 1,484 meters (4,873 feet) deep.
After annelid fossil discoveries proved Cheve’s great vertical extent, cavers used jackhammers and explosives to open tight tunnels leading to “Base Camp” at the bottom. Camps must be meticulously placed for safety across huge vertical pits and underwater passages.
Cheve’s dangers are notorious, including collapsed tunnels and close calls with flash floods. But its pristine beauty and geological complexity keeps daring explorers returning, determined to push its known depth beyond the -1,500 meter mark.
Pro Tip: Rig safety lines across slippery formations. Cheve’s fractured flowstones and waterfall spray-soaked passages make falls extremely likely.
These 10 incredible superdeep caves represent the pinnacle of the world’s most extreme underground environments accessible to humans. They lurk far below the surface, challenging our limits of technical caving, physical endurance, and mental willpower.
Yet for all their dangers, these mysterious underground realms also offer profound experiences of adventure and natural wonder. Descending through the planet’s forgotten depths brings unmatched sensations of leaving the surface world behind to discover places never before witnessed.
As cavers continue to push their boundaries, the true lowest depths of the Earth still await revelation. What geological marvels, rare formations, or evolutionary secrets lie buried in their uncharted darkness? There’s only one way to find out – grab your helmet, ropes, and headlamp then descend if you dare!