Huautla Book Reviews & Author Information


By C. William Steele (2009)

Huautla: Thirty Years In One Of The World’s Deepest Caves is a story told by a caver who participated in one of the great adventures in the world of speleology, a caver who is an explorer in the grand sense of that word and who seems to never falter or take a step backward unless he can gain ten steps forward. The book begins with the story of an incident that speaks of endurance and overcoming great odds to achieve a goal which sets the tone for the rest of the book-endurance in the face of almost overwhelming odds.
In the first paragraph author Bill Steele, a member of the venerable New York Explorers Club, wants you to know that the members of the team exploring the Huautla Cave System, (at the time of this writing, at -4,838 feet (1475 meters) the second deepest cave in the western hemisphere) had disagreements that were not always easily resolved. When faced with the reality of being trapped hundreds of feet down in an unforgiving environment with seemingly no hope of assistance, the first order of business was to put aside differences, take inventory, and formulate a plan of attack to resolve their predicament.
This is a tale of people who are not spectators in life but who are caught squarely in the grip of demon adventure. Much the same as there are caves referred to as “caver’s caves”, as you read Bill Steele’s new book you will recognize in its pages a real “caver’s book”. He does not give you time to rest between descriptions of the series of trips that pushed the Huautla system to limits that resulted in its becoming known not only as a world class deep cave but also as one of the world’s truly great caves.
Huautla is both a tale of adventure and Bill Steele's autobiography. It is a story of missed opportunities, personal loss, surprising discoveries, and the sometime debilitating clashes of overextended egos. It is also a story of people who are driven to succeed with no quarter given or asked. The narrative is as indefatigable as the explorations it describes, and when expedition members fall behind, you know that eventually Bill will return to help them --and you-- through the rough spots.
Even though the story of the exploration of the Huautla System has been told by others, this telling of the story is more than worth your time to read. The author relates his version of the explorations in a very personal style that pulls no punches and with the same almost overwhelming passions and obsessions that kept him and others returning to the cave year after year. At one point he says: “Making caving history was worth the price we might be paying in our personal lives and the day-to-day risk of being inside these remote mountains. This was the most important goal in our lives.” He never fails to give credit where credit is due or to point out failures when they occurred.
Many black and white and color photographs are interspersed throughout the text and they seem to be printed as they were taken, in the midst of something greater than a mere caving “photo trip”. There is little doubt that the photos were taken in the cave by the explorers while they were exploring and not by setting up elaborate photo “ops”. The photos together with the many maps illustrating the progression of the explorations help immensely to understanding of the many years of effort that led to the present knowledge that there is still more to explore. Do not look for a list of illustrations, there is none, which adds to the fun of discovering the cave through the book as the cavers did, wondering what you will see next.
The text is refreshingly free of typos, the story is told in an easy to follow time line, and the size of the book makes it easy to hold and read in an age of sometimes over-sized books stuffed with filler to make you think you are getting more than you really are. As they did with “Yochib: The River Cave”, Bill Steele and Cave Books have collaborated on a book that should be on the shelf of every person who enjoys tales of high adventure, a book that will one day take its place among the works of other great explorers and speleologists of the world. We can only hope that there will be another tale of high adventure caving coming from Bill sometime in the future. “--and the road leads ever on.”
Ronal C. Kerbo
NSS 11539 (HM, FE)



Richard A. Watson

It is a tremendous read for cavers, and a very important book documenting American caving, which has so little documentation in books, which is the only documentation that counts beyond the caving community.

Bill Stone

In the end it was a sense of accomplishment achieved with a few individuals bold and brave and intelligent and crazy enough to be there with you on a true frontier and make something unusual happen.  That's what came through in reading your book, at least subliminally to me in certain places. It seems to make life have meaning, despite all the senseless work stress and other unhappy distractions we all bear.  So... thanks for capturing a lot of the things that happened during those years.

Mark Minton

I like the book and found it to be fast reading.  I too look forward to Steele's next book

Bill Mixon

…this is an important and valuable book. Way too few first-person accounts of exploration by American cavers have been commercially published.

Art and Peggy Palmer

We resisted the temptation to read it all at one sitting, and instead Peg is reading it to me (Art) while I work on cabinets for our new van. This gives us a chance to draw it out a long time and to laugh/cry/cheer at all the events.

Herman Miller

It was a great book and I really enjoyed reading it.

George Dasher, author of On Station

I read your Huautla book last week. It was very good, and I enjoyed it. You were lucky you got such sound medical advice in that underground camp when the gasoline stove blew up.

Bill Bentley

I like it, especially the parts where you tell it like it is when someone does something stupid, or even at the time perceived as stupid and dangerous and how being scooped and how you all felt. I finished your book while sitting in my tent in the cool pines of Southeastern New Mexico last night. I used my Locklear approved flashlight to read by.  I was intrigued. While I would have never gone/go to Mexico. I envy those who do. Sounds like fun. The book left me wishing there was more...

James Jasek

I was right about the book. It is way to short. A good 500 pages would have been better as I didn't want it to end. What an amazing adventure it has been for you. Best book I have read in years. Mostly I read technical books and history of WWI.

Then, after a 2nd reading: The best thing is how the wording and the story flowed so perfectly.I really didn't want to end, but it ended perfectly.

James Wells

I am reading your book right now. It is the best book I have that I have not yet read, so there you go. What is speaking to me besides the caving is the personal choices. I remember in the early 1980's I was on the edge of the ability to take on real world class expedition caving. I chose the weekend warrior route, and it worked for me although I did lose one wife to the cave. I totally understand the size of the decision because I was facing it squarely and was very conscious of it. So now I have 30 years of 24-hour triumphs and one Mammoth connection rather than a Sistema Huautla, I guess it's a decent trade. Anyway your description of your first marriage and the similar choices facing the various cavers made me think about that history.

Kasia Biernacka, Poland   

I'm reading your book about Huautla now and I do it with pleasure - very interesting book!

Ron Kerbo

If you were not already a caver this book would make you want to be one much as Jacques Cousteau's book "The Silent World" led many of use to become divers back in the 1950s and even to become a cave divers in later years ”---and the road goes ever on."

Charles Goldsmith

I hope Bill Steele writes another, I have both of his books and they are great to read.

Emily Davis

I loved the book. It drew me in and I had to read it through in a week.

Jay Arnold

I've been forgetting to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book. It was fun revisiting all those old Huautla cavers _ the Canadians, Zeman-Lowery, Broussard, Kaliman, et al. _ and reliving all those adventures, discoveries, tragedies -- and in the process learning a lot I didn't know about your history-making explorations there. Excellent. The chapter on the Scorpion Sump dive was especially nice.

Preston Forsythe
  What a great adventure read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rev. 2-21-2010