Minnesota Historical Society

Opening Goliath: Danger and Discovery in Caving

$ 27.95

Adventure writer Cary Griffith recounts riveting and life-threatening tales of exploration in the limestone caves of southwestern Minnesota and the man-made caves of St. Paul. 

“Writing in a style that reads like fiction, Griffith takes readers into heart-stopping action alongside caver John Ackerman, who found unexplored Goliath Cave in southeastern Minnesota.” St. Paul Pioneer Press

Narrow passages, twisting upward or dropping precipitously. Huge vaults filled with fantastic shapes. Tunnels twined in tangled mazes. Over centuries, underground rivers can carve holes and rooms in solid rock; drips of water build walls of stone. Natural caves shape another world beneath our feet. Dangerous and beautiful, these places remain unknown—until someone decides to investigate.

In 2004, businessman and caver John Ackerman drilled an entryway into Goliath Cave, a huge and unexplored complex in the karst region of southeastern Minnesota. Squeezing through tiny openings, scuba diving through silt-filled waters, scaling walls, and traversing crevasses, he and his fellow cavers painstakingly mapped ever-further reaches of the complex in an exploration that continues to this day.

But man-made caves that do not breathe can be even more dangerous than their natural cousins. In St. Paul, also in 2004, five teenagers entered an area where intermittent fires robbed the air of oxygen. Only two emerged alive.


  • By: Cary J. Griffith
  • Format: cloth, 288 pages, 5.5x8.5, 24 B&W photos
  • Publisher: MNHS Press
  • Product ##: 978-0873516495

Cary Griffith, author of the acclaimed Lost in the Wild, intertwines these two incidents, showing the dangers experienced by both groups—one highly prepared and experienced and the other tragically ill equipped. With equal parts of suspense and caution, Opening Goliath never leaves readers alone in the dark.

Praise for Opening Goliath

"For the great silent majority who prefer to cheat death by staying aboveground--in other words, for those who don't suffer from that peculiar mental affliction called caving--Griffith provides a safe and sane way of exploring the underground realm." Natural History Magazine

“In nonfiction that reads like a fast-paced thriller, Cary J. Griffith explores the incredible beauty and danger of Minnesota’s caves, along with the personalities of those driven to enter the unknown, whatever the risks. But beyond the drama of exploration, Griffith presents the very human conflict that results when a newfound cave system becomes a public trust—and a political football, bounced between bureaucracies, well-meaning experts, and the recreational cavers who discovered the labyrinthine passages, all of whom claim to know the ‘best’ way to protect fragile underground wilderness. A great read and an insightful look at the politics of conservation, Opening Goliath is destined to become a classic among cavers and noncavers alike.” Michael Ray Taylor, author of Cave Passages: Roaming the Underground Wilderness and Caves: Exploring Hidden Realms


“In Opening Goliath, Cary Griffith throws light on the hitherto dark world of Minnesota caving and the politics behind it. This fascinating story features danger, adventure, and an intriguing glimpse at the conflicts and personalities involved in discovering the big caves of Minnesota.” Gregory Brick, author of Subterranean Twin Cities

“As captivating as it is informative, Opening Goliath leads the reader to and through a largely unknown world just beneath our feet, illuminating not only crawlways through the rock but a very human drama created by our reactions to the forces of geology.” Jeffrey A. Dorale, Assistant Professor, Department of Geoscience, University of Iowa

Cary J. Griffith, a freelance writer who specializes in writing about the outdoors, is the author of Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods.

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