Those of us who grew up in the mountains of Appalachia know a thing or two about digging deep holes. Digging was almost a right of passage for male children from my generation in the hills and hollers of home.
I can still hear my grandfather cursing, mad, but proud, when he discovered that over the course of an entire summer, I had secretly dug beneath the foundation of his West Virginia house (thanks to the concealment of some well placed shrubbery) with a simple spoon and some Tonka toys — what little anger he did have quickly vanished when I explained in my childlike innocence that I was “mining for coal.”
As I grew older, I would often hear the expression, “Digging to China,” which basically meant that a hole was so big the digger would almost certainly reach the other side of the planet. Admittedly, the concept of what would happen under such a scenario, were it possible, still puzzles me — at what point would a person stop digging down and start digging up?
Being impressed with deep holes, I recently found myself researching the deepest hole ever dug.
Far removed from the Appalachian Mountains of America’s coalfield counties, the deepest hole ever dug by humans was actually dug by the Soviets in a secluded corner of Russia’s northwestern region.
After Ohioan Neil Armstrong beat the Russians to the moon, the Soviet Union turned its attention toward the ground, in what they hoped would be a rematch; a race to the center of the earth — or as close to the center as possible.
On May 24, 1970, almost ten months exactly after losing the space race, drilling began on the Kola Peninsula to drill as deep as possible into the Earth’s crust.
The site became known as the Kola Superdeep Borehole, thanks in large part because the 9-inch diameter hole was super deep — ultimately reaching deeper into the surface of the earth than airliners fly above the planet.
Ultimately, the borehole reached 40,230 ft. deep, 7.619 miles. To put this into perspective, that’s the equivalent of stacking the World Trade Center towers end to end roughly 29.5 times.
Soon, urban legends developed that workers dropped a microphone into the hole and the cries of suffering and damned souls in hell could be heard — causing many of the workers to flee the project site never to return.
These reports have been found to be unsubstantiated, however, upon reaching the extreme depth, many interesting geological anomalies were found.
Ultimately, with the Cold War thawed, and needed money in order to rebuild a scarred country growing increasingly scarce and the 356° F temperatures some 7.6 miles beneath their feet, drilling ceased in 1989 and the Russians made the decision to officially kill the project in 2006.
Today, the site is about as unceremonious as one would imagine a place known as “The Gateway to Hell” being. Far from being the site of a nationally treasured museum or scientific research center, the deepest hole ever dug is sealed by an unmarked rusted metal lid in a garbage heap.
Perhaps a fitting monument to a project that literally threw money into a deep hole.
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