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Drone Captures Stunning Images Inside One of the World's Largest River Caves

Tucked away in the Khammouane province of Laos is a tourist attraction called the Tham Khoun Xe, or Khoun Xe cave. The 4-mile-long river cave is one of the largest in the world, featuring passage walls that are an average of 249 feet wide and 184 feet tall. While its massive and beautiful tunnels are open to the public, the site's remote geographic location makes it hard for most people to access. But you can still get to a small glimpse of the cave, thanks to drone footage from Beijing-based photographer Ryan Deboodt.

In an interview with Smithsonian.com, Deboodt spoke about the experience of kayaking into the cave for two days and flying his DJI Phantom Three drone through the darkness. Tourists are typically allowed to go around 300 meters (984 feet) into Khoun Xe, but the photographer and his crew got to see it all, by invitation from the national park that oversees the site.

"It’s very empty, but then you look up in the distance and see these huge stalagmites," Deboodt said. "It’s a very strange feeling—it’s so empty and yet there’s so much big stuff on the sides."

Still, capturing the experience wasn't easy. While some people might assume that caves like Khoun Xe are pre-lit, the video shows that's not the case at all. In fact, the only light sources are from the outside (like, Deboodt's flashlights) and glowing lights on the kayaks.

Deboodt chose to shoot the video with a drone instead of relying solely on still photography because it "just creates a new perspective for me on the caves and a new challenge," he said. "Cave photography is already really difficult, and filming is another step up. You have to deal with all the movements, and it’s quite a bit harder. I like the challenge involved with it."

But not all of the Deboodt's sightings made it into the footage. For instance, the team witnessed evidence that massive spiders made their home in the cave. "In some parts of cave, you can find their legs," he said. "We saw these things that looked kind of like sticks, but it turned out they were big spider legs … It’s not something that you really care to run into in the dark."

Check out the video above for more on the hidden treasure.

Images via Vimeo

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Spelunkers Discover New Caverns in Montréal's Ancient Cave Network
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iStock

An ancient cave system beneath a Montréal park is much more vast than experts believed, the National Post reports.

In 1812, a farmer discovered a cave underneath his property in Montréal’s present-day Saint-Léonard borough. Once used to stockpile ammunition and conceal soldiers during the Rebellions of 1837, the Saint-Léonard cave system in Parc Pie XII is today a tourist attraction and historical landmark. But some speleologists (cave experts) suspected there was more to the natural wonder than met the eye.

Beginning in 2014, two amateur explorers named Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc began searching for undiscovered passages in the Saint-Léonard caverns, according to National Geographic. By 2015 they had some leads; in October 2017, they used drills and hammers to break down a cave’s wall to reveal a new cavern.

The stalactite-filled chamber has soaring 20-foot ceilings, and it's connected to a serpentine network of underground tunnels. These passages formed during the Ice Age around 15,000 years ago, when glacier pressure splintered underground rock.

So far, Caron and Le Blanc have explored between 820 to 1640 feet of virgin cave passage, and expect to find even more. They believe the vast network sits atop an aquifer, and ultimately leads to the Montréal water table.

Spelunking the Saint-Léonard cave system is challenging—some passages are filled with water or require special climbing or rock-breaking equipment. The explorers hope that the caves will be easier to investigate during the dry season, and that the receding waters will allow them to reach new depths below Montréal’s surface.

[h/t National Post]

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Watch: Inside the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia (TAG) Caves
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Getty Images

In the southern United States, a tri-state region is home to an incredible density of caves. Known as "TAG" (for Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia), this is a hidden world explored by secretive cavers, for good reason—the more traffic these caves receive, the faster they're destroyed.

In the short film below entitled Sharing the Secrets, director/cinematographer Drew Perlmutter brings us inside these caves, with perspectives from cavers on why these landscapes are so significant and fragile.

If you're interesting in getting started with caving, check out this FAQ.

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