By Bill Steele
Sistema Huautla is the deepest cave in the Western Hemisphere, tied to the meter with a cave in Austria as the world’s ninth deepest cave, and is the 28th longest cave in the world as they are now known. It is 5,517 feet (1,560 m) deep, 55 miles (89 km) long, and has 29 entrances. The Proyecto Espeleologico Sistema Huautla (PESH) is an official project of the NSS.
NSS cavers first descended into a pit entrance to what is now a vast cave system in 1966. In the ensuing years there have been many expeditions with the participation of cavers and speleologists from several nations. Numerous articles have appeared in the NSS News and AMCS publications and in mainstream media such as Outside and National Geographic. Two books have been published about the caving: Beyond the Deep and Huautla: Thirty Years in One of the World’s Deepest Caves.
PESH was organized in 2014 as project with goals to conduct annual month-long expeditions to the caves of the Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, Mexico, area for a decade, to support Mexican cave scientists in their field research, to conduct research into all the scientific disciplines of speleology, to test and help develop caving gear, and publish.
As of 2020, six successful PESH expeditions have taken place, from 2014 to 2019. The 2020 expedition was canceled only 2 weeks before it was scheduled to begin due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plans are to resume in 2021.