Imagine a crystalline mountain. A secret underground world made of some of the most delicate and intricate natural formations ever viewed by man. A sprawling network of subterranean tunnels and shafts that seem to extend forever. That place is a reality – The Malham Salt Cave of Mount Sodom.
Extending more than 10 entire kilometers underground, recent surveys have confirmed that the Malham Salt cave is the largest salt cave of its kind in the world. While the cave has been a center of interest for geologists and cave explorers for years, it is only thanks to modern technology and an international alliance of brave spelunkers that we now know exactly how impressive they really are.
It’s taken a long time to get here. Malham was discovered by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Cave Research Center in the 1980s. At this point, exploration was limited, even rudimentary. Researchers mapped the caves using tape measures and compasses, hand tools and old school techniques. It was a valiant effort made under difficult conditions, but the caves went mostly unmapped and unknown.
Flash forward to 2019, and things are much different. The CRCenter joined with the Israel Cave Explorers Club to finally tackle the unimaginably huge task of mapping and fully exploring the Malham Salt Cave. Soon they were joined by the Sofia Speleo Club of cave mappers from Bulgaria and over 80 individual spelunking volunteers from across the world including the UK, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Armed with the latest in technological tools - including laser measurements, ruggedized laptops to survive the conditions, and the latest in climbing and safety gear.
Even with these advantages the work is slow and dangerous. Over the 10-day expedition in 2019, cavers crawled through 10-hour and longer days, slowly making their way over sharp rock formations, under salt stalactites, across icy channels, and through tight squeezes. All of this in a labyrinth of layered passages, tunnels, and plateaus that crisscross and overlap each other. A maze of salt, sheer falls, and narrow chokepoints that would send a chill up even the most experienced cavers spine.
Salt caves are totally unique phenomenon. They are rare geological miracles that only exist in the few places in the world that can support them. They need dry and arid locations with a low sea level. Of course, that makes the area around the Dead Sea practically an ideal spot. Most salt caves are tiny, there are only a handful which can boast more than half a mile in length. Size is what makes Malham such an incredible marvel. It’s not just the biggest in the world, it’s the biggest by an order of magnitude.
Visitors to the cave are greeted by a large salt pillar near the opening affectionately referred to as "Lot’s Wife.” A large portion of the interior of the cave is covered in a fine layer of dust and sand that wafts in from the desert and settles over every surface. Deeper in though, the amber color recedes, and a pure crystalline white becomes dominant.
Slabs of salt jut out at incredible angles within the deepest regions of the cave system. Stalactites and pillars made of razor-sharp crystals dangle from the ceiling and burst from the ground in unpredictable and beautiful ways. One area that is particularly dense with hanging white crystals has been nicknamed "the wedding hall” by cavers, a sort of naturally forming gala room fit for the most regal of ceremonies.
Exploring the deepest recesses of the caves is a task for only serious professionals. However, the ICEC does run guided tours through the opening areas of the cave system that are still incredibly majestic. The Malham Salt Caves are a natural wonder that needs to be seen to be believed!