SAN ANTONIO – Explorers recently made their biggest discovery at Natural Bridge Caverns in more than half a century.
Last week, a team of cave explorers, led by Natural Bridge Caverns owners and operators Brad and Travis Wuest, made their way through an undeveloped, difficult-to-reach section of the cave.
What they found was a passage that’s equivalent to the length of a 60-story building lying on its side.
“One particular place where we always wanted to go, where we’ve never been able to get to, is a passage at the top of a large room called the 'Dome Pit,'" said Travis Wuest. “Just this past Wednesday, a team of cavers came in. Myself and my brother joined them. We were actually able to access this passage for the first time and set foot where no one had ever stepped.”
The team had to first get past the "Dome Pit," which is about 120 feet high.
A professional dome climber was hired to scale the entire 120 feet before lowering a rope for the rest of the team to climb up.
“Once we got up there and realized it did continue on, the excitement and the adrenaline that every step we took — ‘Does it go? Does it not go?’” Wuest said. "You would go down a little further and could see it kept going, and I can’t describe how exciting it was to be there and see that.”
Wuest said the team found crystalline pools of water and a bat roost, where they collected guano samples for testing.
The entire expedition out and back totaled 13 hours.
Wuest said the team is planning to go back out past the "Dome Pit" again to explore sometime soon.
“We actually had to turn around at the point where the passage made a T-intersection and we can see the passage continuing to the left and to the right," Wuest said. "But we had run out of time for this expedition. We really needed to keep to a strict timeline, and so we came out of the cave and we’re going to have to go back in and see how far it leads.”
The discovery is not accessible to the public at this time. Even before reaching the 120-foot "Dome Pit," Wuest said, there are a lot of tight crawl spaces, chutes and pit passages as well as a drop to the lower section of the cave.
Lee White climbs Dome Pit while Greg Passmore's team records this first-ever ascent with drones. Photo Credit: Bennett Lee Photography/Natural Bridge Caverns