Sure, mountains are great: challenging to climb, fun to photograph, perfect for all sorts of life metaphors, visible from long distances. Everybody can name a few mountains. But holes can be pretty interesting, too. Some are huge, some are iconic, some are environmental disasters. Some have had fires coming out of them for 43 years. Here are 10 of the most famous ones on earth.
1. Delicate Arch, Utah
It’s famous for being on Utah’s license plates, as well as being the catalyst for a lot of people not liking Dean Potter after he climbed it and controversy erupted and Patagonia dropped him as an ambassador. At one point, the National Park Service considered spraying it in a clear plastic coating to preserve it from erosion- which is kind of funny, when you consider it’s an eroded hole in a sandstone fin.
2. Es Pontas, Mallorca, Spain
Big UP Productions’ 2007 film King Lines introduced much of the world to deep-water soloing – free solo climbing above bodies of water – with Chris Sharma’s repeated attempts to climb a line on Es Pontas, an arch off the coast of the Spanish island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea. Sharma repeatedly fell off the climb but eventually sent it. It’s been speculated that the route is as difficult as 5.15b, although it hasn’t seen a second ascent yet.
3. Krubera Cave, Republic of Georgia
The 14 8,000-meter peaks are famous, glamorous, beautiful, and sought-after by mountain climbers. The world’s only 2,000-meter cave, Krubera Cave, goes 2,197 meters (7,208 feet) below the surface from its entrance. Until 1999, it had only been explored to 340 meters, but a series of expeditions in the 2000s pushed the cave deeper, in 2001 to 1,710 meters, making it the deepest cave in the world. In 2004, cavers went deeper and made it the only 2,000-meter hole, and in 2012 Ukrainian diver Gennadiy Samokhin dived 52 meters into the terminal sump to the 2,197-meter mark.
4. Tianmen Cave, China
To get to the 431-foot-high, 100-foot-wide “cave” in Tianmen Mountain, you drive a seven-mile road up 3,600 feet over 99 switchbacks and then climb the 999 stairs. Or, as aerialist Jeb Corliss did in 2011, you can put on a wingsuit, jump out of a helicopter and fly through it. Either way, it will be memorable-but your odds of surviving the stairs are probably a little better.
5. Corona Arch, Utah
Perhaps you were one of the 35 million views of the 2012 YouTube video World’s Largest Rope Swing? So, that rope swing was set up on Corona Arch, an arch on BLM land west of Moab. A year after the video went viral, a 22-year-old man miscalculated the amount of rope needed and died trying to replicate the swing. As of June 2014, federal officials have considered banning swinging from the arch.
6. The Berkeley Pit, Montana
Butte, Montana, was at one time home to “the richest hill on earth,” pocked with copper mines that produced tens of thousands of tons of copper. From 1955 to 1982, Arco operated the Berkeley Pit, a 1,780-foot deep open pit mine that swallowed several other mines. In 1982, Arco shut off the water pumps that kept the mines dry, and groundwater started to run into the pit. Currently, the pit contains 40 billion gallons of acidic water, some of which is so polluted with heavy metals that it’s able to be “mined” for copper. It is now one of the largest EPA Superfund sites in America. Which you can view from the Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand for just $2.
7. Meteor Crater, Arizona
Arizona’s privately owned Meteor Crater is not the largest crater in the world, but it is one of the best preserved – some others that are larger are underwater or have become eroded to the point that scientists argue about their size. It’s 570 feet deep, 4,000 feet wide, and can be seen from space, or for $18 if you happen to be driving by on I-40.
8. The Great Blue Hole, Belize
The Great Blue Hole is a massive submarine sinkhole in an atoll off the coast of Belize – 300 feet wide, 400 feet deep, and one of Jacques Cousteau’s top 10 scuba diving sites. It’s not the deepest or widest blue hole in the world (several others formed in coastal regions during past ice ages), but it’s the most famous. British diver Steve Middleton named it, inspired by the Great Barrier Reef, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
9. Grand Canyon, Arizona
To some, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. To others, it is the Big Ditch. It’s a mile deep, 280 miles long, and exposes almost two billion years of geologic history. The first explorers to see it thought the river below was merely a stream, which turned out not to be true at all, as anyone who’s run the rowdy Colorado can tell you.
10. Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan
In 1971, Soviet petrochemical engineers found a natural gas field in northern Turkmenistan and set up a drilling rig. Shortly after they began drilling, the ground underneath the rig collapsed, taking the rig and the camp with it. Massive amounts of methane began to come out of the hole, so the scientists thought the safest thing to do would be to burn it off. So they lit it on fire. More than 40 years later, the gas in the 230-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep “Door to Hell” is still on fire. So, you know, oops.
Photo by S.R. Jacobson