September 2019

Into the Planet

By Jill Heinerth
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“When I describe the act of cave diving to most people, they think I have a death wish,” notes Jill Heinerth, who has spent over 30 years diving all over the world, often into deep, pitch-dark, narrow and, yes, highly dangerous places. She has explored, filmed and photographed remote underwater regions for National Geographic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other institutions, and she’s not only an outspoken environmental advocate but also the Explorer-in-Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

So it’s hardly a surprise that the journeys she describes in Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver make for exciting, edge-of-your-seat reading. Not only is Heinerth’s memoir thoughtfully structured and adrenaline-filled, but it also offers a fascinating account of exactly how one becomes a renowned, record-setting adventurer.

As a girl growing up in Canada, Heinerth decided she wanted to learn to dive as soon as she saw Jacques Cousteau on TV. That’s despite the fact that one of her earliest memories is of nearly drowning and that she failed her first swimming lesson—because she was, of course, so busy floating and gazing intently at the underwater world that she didn’t bother to attempt any strokes. As a young woman, she sold a successful advertising business in Toronto and bought a ticket to the Cayman Islands in hopes of becoming a diver, shocking family and friends. 

Her wild gamble paid off, and Heinerth has spent the rest of her life “swimming through the veins of Mother Earth,” as she calls it, delighting in the wonders of ice-filled caves beneath Siberia’s Ural Mountains and lava tubes inside a Spanish volcano.

Such wonders and achievements have not come without dramatic, dire sacrifices, particularly as a woman in a testosterone-heavy field. A number of close friends have perished in diving accidents; she has repeatedly helped with the heartbreaking task of body recovery. After she suffered a severe case of the bends, a doctor advised Heinerth to “never dive again,” which she ignored. She narrowly escaped death several times amid the caves and crevices of an Antarctic Circle iceberg, all while suffering a leaky glove in the icy 28–degree waters, just one-tenth of a degree away from the freezing point of salt water. After her narrow escape, she commented, “The cave tried to keep us today.” Hours later, as she and her team were preparing to dive yet again, they watched the iceberg completely collapse, which would have meant certain death had they been in the water. 

There’s never a dull moment in Into the Planet, which bursts with full-throttle exuberance for the highs, and sometimes even the lows, of being a pioneering, modern-day explorer. As Heinerth concludes, “When we transcend the fear of failure and terror of the unknown, we are all capable of great things, personally and as a society.”

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Into the Planet

Into the Planet

By Jill Heinerth
ISBN 9780062691545

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