Words by Mark Synnott - The Russians haven’t been the only ones exploring Dark Star. @laventaexploringteam a group of hardcore cavers from Italy, have been involved since the beginning. British cavers have also made significant contributions, and were the ones who named Dark Star after a satirical sci-fi movie of the 1970s. But exploration of Dark Star has been sporadic; it’s remote, the region is politically unstable, and the cave is vast and highly technical. Many expeditions have simply run out of rope. As soon as I entered the cave, I understood why. After a short scramble down a frost-covered slope, we arrived at the first crux, pictured here—a 100-foot rappel into a pit, followed by a steep climb up a rope fastened to the other side of this shaft. This in turn led us into a vertical three foot wide slot in which we pulled ourselves sideways on mud caked ropes between walls covered in ice. Had I known, as I sat in the mud panting beside the rathole through which these ropes had led me, that all this groveling had only gained about 300 feet—in a cave that has 11 miles of such passageways—I probably would have turned back right then.