Words by Mark Synnott - We arrived on a grassy ridgetop where twenty donkeys and a few local men were waiting for us. Hodja Gur Gur Ata, the 21-mile-long cliff that is home to Dark Star, loomed in the hazy sky two days walk to the north. Several of the team vaulted over the truck’s wooden sideboards to greet a middle-aged Tajik named Zhuraev “Sadik” Miraminu, chief of a nearby village called Dehibolo. Zhenya, our expedition’s elder statesman, embraced Sadik warmly—it was obvious they are old friends. In 1987, two Russians were exploring a massive cave system called Boy-Bulok, that lies within a cliff several kilometers to the south of Hodja Gur Gur Ata. Not far from the entrance to the cave, but past a vertical drop that can only be passed with a rope, the cavers found a skeleton. Based on the tattered clothing draped over the old bones, and the home made lamp lying nearby, the Russians assumed they had found the remains of a villager who had fallen into the cave. So they packed up the bones and carried them out of the cave. When they emerged they were engulfed in a raging blizzard. Frozen, staggering through the dark, the Russians found their way to Dehibolo, where fate led them to the home of Sadik’s family. Sadik was a teenage boy at the time, and he was sitting on the floor when the Russian’s pulled the bones and the battered lamp from their caving rucksacks. Sadik’s father, realizing these were the remains of an old friend who had gone missing 16 years ago, was deeply moved. Ever since, the Russians have remained close with Sadik’s family, and Sadik has provided logistical support for their expeditions. Pictured here and perched on the only semi-flat sloping ground for miles, is the teams base camp. All trips underground inside Dark Star began from this camp.