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Underground explorers enter the dark mouth of a Kentucky cave. A tortuous and dangerous descent lies ahead, but spelunkers find the perils justified by the exotic scenery

Among the newer and more exciting sports is spelunking, the exploration of underground caves. For their thrills, Spelunkers Robert and Marilyn Halmi, Jim Dyer, Jacque and Bill Austin chose to explore Cathedral Cave in Kentucky.

Shortly after entering the cave, the group found itself shut off entirely from sunlight, their only means of illumination miners' lamps attached to their heads. Hour after hour in the cold, humid darkness they worked their way downward into the bowels of the earth, climbing over massive boulders, sliding down 20-foot inclines of mud, wriggling through narrow passages between the many rooms of the subsurface mansion. As the party moved along, they carefully put smoke marks from their lamps along the walls, blazing a trail which would enable them to find their way back to the surface. At last they reached their goal: a magnificent subterranean chamber filled with centuries-old, crystal-like formations of stalagmites and stalactites.

Hibernating bats hang in moist ledges of this dark, silent place. Spiderlike "cave crickets" are everywhere with orange-colored salamanders slithering about

Carbide lamp is the spelunker's greatest aid. Bill Austin helps his wife Jacque to fill hers

Crawlways are the connecting arteries between large rooms. Jim Dwyer inches into one of them. He wears rubber garden knee pads for protection

Pike River was main goal in Cathedral Cave. In its rushing waters live translucent blind fish. Source of Pike River is unknown

Huge onyx stalagmite is one of the cave's most spectacular sights. Drop by drop, it has taken thousands of years to form