16. Louise Hose


Nov 1, 2011
Outside Magazine

Four thousand feet below the surface of the earth, in a cold, dank hole that exists on no map, the chances of rescue for a stranded caver are close to zilch. Louise Hose doesn't care. "You take the risks you can handle," says the 48-year-old karst geologist, who once witnessed a partner die when he got trapped and drowned in an underground stream. "You don't allow yourself to break a femur." Her matter-of-fact tone leaves little doubt why her colleagues, working alongside her years ago in a Mexican cave, nicknamed her "Macha."

In 22 years of studying cave-forming rock, Hose has explored more than 230 underground holes, 80 of them virgin passages, and published her findings in periodicals with catchy titles like Chemical Geology: Special Geomicrobiology Issue. "Some go deeper, and some do more dangerous work or more science," says Dave Luckins, a former president of the National Speleological Society who spent ten years on the NSS's board with her, "but few combine these elements and do it with her level of skill."

Hose, a former national-level competitive cyclist, ventured into her first cave in 1970 as a freshman at California State University at Los Angeles. "I grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by people, so I really liked the isolation," she says. To feed her jones for subterranean nooks, she earned a doctorate in geology from Louisiana State University. She's currently digging into the bizarre ecology of Mexico's Cueva de Villa Luz, where a recently discovered microbial colonies live off hydrogen sulfide and fart out sulfuric acid. In addition to stinking to high heaven, the atmosphere is poisonous, so Hose wears a gas mask as she works.

In a field known for its swashbuckling one-upmanship, Hose often arrives first at a site, where she rappels down hundreds of feet of rope with a 70-pound pack and then shimmies through insanely skinny passageways. Her body has been so badly bruised that a doctor once asked her if she was a victim of domestic violence. Nope, she told him, I'm a caver.