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Readers note: This is an excerpt from the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015. This content was written as a brief biography on why this person was included in the exhibition.

Explorer, technical writer, conservationist and pioneer of both new routes and techniques, Alan Warild is undoubtedly one of the world’s finest cavers. He’s set multiple records while exploring the world’s deepest caves (often solo), and has literally written the book on caving and underground rescue.

Born 2 April 1955, Warild grew up in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney and “always loved the outdoors”. He first went caving in 1958 on a school excursion to Wee Jasper and was captivated by the spectacular limestone formations.

Alan Warild

Alan Warild caving

Image: Alan Warild
© Alan Warild

Over the next five years, Warild explored cave systems close to Sydney, including Bungonia and Yarrangobilly. In 1975, he travelled to Tasmania to film Kubla Khan in Mole Creek, and learned single rope techniques (SRT). Also known as alpine style, SRT uses minimal equipment and has less impact on the environment than traditional techniques.

In 1976–77, Warild discovered his first major cave, the 220-metre-deep Tralfamadore, Mount Owen, New Zealand. Nearly every year since, he’s taken time off from his job writing technical manuals for engineers, to participate in expeditions, solo or not, around the world.

In 1978, he discovered and explored Agua de La Carizzo, Huatla, Mexico to 778 metres. The following year he made the first solo descent of Australia’s deepest cave, Khazad Dum, to 322 metres. But Warild’s sights were set much deeper. Within a year he was establishing new routes in Li Nita, Mexico, his first 1000-metre cave.

In the mid-1980s, Warild visited Europe, developing sport-caving techniques that allowed him to solo Reseau Jean Bernard, to 1535 metres, then the world's deepest cave.

In the 1990s Warild explored and pushed new routes in Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Spain, Slovenia, Chile and Vietnam. In 2004 he visited Veronia, Abkhazia, using scuba and all his experience to explore from 1720 to 1830 metres and set a new world depth record. In 2011 he returned to help push it to 2140 metres.

Alan Warild’s book, Vertical, is considered the caver’s bible. It highlights his philosophy of travelling light, fast, safely and with minimum impact to the cave. He abhors the concept that ‘caves are to be conquered no matter what the cost’. In 2008, the Australian Geographic Society honoured Warild with its Lifetime of Adventure Award.

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