Explorers return to mapping Jewel Cave after two-year hiatus

JEWEL CAVE NATIONAL MONUMENT, S.D. — After two years, cavers have returned to mapping new sections of Jewel Cave – a process that requires them to spend multiple days underground.

Stalactites On Crystals

Stalactites on calcite crystal (also called calcite spar). The calcite crystals are the “jewels” of Jewel Cave.

Using trigonometry, volunteers connect the dots from survey point to survey point – adding map length to the cave. While they’re taking measurements at each point, the cavers also draw a rough sketch of each section.

The group that went out at the end of October added nearly half a mile of new section to the cave, bringing the total known-length of Jewel Cave to just over 209 miles.

Mike Wiles, Chief of Resource Management at Jewel Cave, has over hours of exploration into Jewel Cave in his career. He says it’s really an experience like no other.

“It was…weird. It’s completely dark – and you wake up and there’s no light – no star light even coming in through your windows. So you have to have your hardhat with the light on the hardhat right next to you,” Wiles says.

Jewel Cave is the second longest cave in the United States and third longest in the world, so mapping is a pretty big deal.

And they’re already back at it – Wiles says a group of cavers went in Friday morning and will come back to the surface sometime Monday evening.

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