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James M. Chester FN’00


James Chester was born in Lusk, Wyoming on May 25, 1944.  Although Lusk is a community of only 1500 people, Jim is one of two members of The Explorers Club with roots there. The real adventure in Jim’s life started after a move to Crosby, N.D., where Jim lived for about 10 years. While Jim’s calling is in cave explorations, he has experience climbing, diving, skiing, and white water rafting and sea kayaking, including a 1000 mile mostly solo ocean paddle.

Jim credits The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Peter Freuchen’s Book of The Seven Seas for inspiring him to explore.  In addition to his love for books, currently owning 2300 volumes, Jim also writes. He has contributed in many publications ranging from a ghosted project for the Boy Scouts of America to a 400 page unpublished novel of cave exploration. Jim also edits the chapters for The Explorers Log and has co-edited Alpine Karst for a while.  I’ve been in a book or two myself and even been parodied in a magazine by no Tim Cahill.

Jim joined The National Speleological Society (NSS) in 1963, during his first year at Montana State University in Bozeman. 
He graduated in 1966, with an invite to enter The University of Montana Law School, a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army and a wife. Jim went with the military first to Germany for two years, then to Viet Nam for a year, followed by a final one in Detroit USA and then, resigned the commission in 1970. Jim earned an Army Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Service.  While in Europe, Jim explored some of the longest and deepest caves of the world and continued that upon his return to the U.S. 

In 1970 Jim joined the Caves of Montana book project and worked on that endeavor for several summers of hiking, camping and caving.  During this time, he also pursued and attained a 2nd bachelors and then a Masters Degree in Wildlife Biology.  Despite his multiple degrees, Jim eventually spent 28 years as a Rural Mail Carrier for The U.S. Postal Service.

In the decades of the 70s and 80s, Jim, along with other explorers, ventured into a largely untouched area in Montana consisting of at least three million acres in the four wilderness regions of Montana that held vast amounts of potential caves.  Exploring this area led to new depth records, discoveries of long caves. 

To date, Jim has gone on over 70 excursions into Montana’s wilderness area.  In 1977 he was elected a Fellow in The National Speleological Society, in 2000 a Fellow of The Explorers Club, and in 2003 was honored again by the NSS by receipt of The Lew Bicking Award sustained focus on the wilderness cave project.  The latter is given to only one person or couple out of our 13,000 membership each year.  That year Jim Chester was dubbed “the Maestro of Montana Caving.”

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste