Caving is one of the few ways we can still explore places previously unknown or go where few others have been. You can discover natural formations that have taken hundreds of thousands of years to form. There are a variety of cavern types, each with their own unique features. Exploring caves can be an exciting adventure, but before you begin, there are a few essentials and safety tips you should know.
Conservation & Environmental Factors
The cavers’ motto is “Take Nothing but Pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.” Cavers take cave conservation seriously. Many caves are home to rare and endangered species of plants and animals and offer irreplaceable habitat. One careless visitor or caver can cause serious damage that could take thousands of years to repair if repair is even possible. Most drinking water passes through caves on its way to our wells, springs, and aquifers. They serve as links to our past and often preserve delicate prehistoric relics. Caves are fragile, and in many states, it is illegal to damage or remove anything from caves, including animals and formations.
Caves are often home to bats, but in recent years throughout the U.S., the bat population has suffered from White Nose Syndrome (WNS). This disease is a fungal infection that has also been found in Europe and China. It causes bats to wake up frequently during their hibernation, which depletes their fat reserves, causing them to be unable to make it through the winter. The fungus can be spread by human contact; thus, the National Speleological Society asks that caving gear used in affected areas not be used outside those areas and that cavers decontaminate their equipment after each use.
Exploring caves involves physical exertion. The more physically fit you are, the more you are likely to enjoy caving. It is critical to know your limits. Avoid overexerting yourself, and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you’re claustrophobic, afraid of bugs, darkness, or heights, caving may not be for you.
Caves are fascinating to explore, but caves to present a certain amount of risk. Poor judgment and inexperience account for the majority of caving accidents. It’s vital that you know and take common safety measures when exploring caves. The number one rule is never going alone. Go with at least two other individuals. In the event of injury, one can stay with the injured person while the other goes for help. Make sure you start with experienced individuals so you can learn from them.
The most frequent types of accidents involve falling objects, falls, and hypothermia.
Wearing a helmet and avoiding the base of climbs and drops is the best way to prevent injury due to falling objects, whether that be rocks or other group member’s equipment. Helmets also protect your head from low hanging formations you may encounter. Always ensure you have securely fastened your gear.
To prevent falling accidents, wear proper footwear, and inspect worn vertical equipment. It is best to avoid uncontrolled sliding and jumping. Maintain three points of contact when moving through challenging areas – that is, three points of your body supported on immobile objects to provide stability.
Know the signs of hypothermia: fatigue, drowsiness, exhaustion, unwillingness to go on, feeling cold, poor coordination, and stumbling. Caves can be cold and wet, dress appropriately for the conditions of the cave you’re exploring. Make sure to wear multiple thin layers and pack an extra set of dry clothes to leave in the car for when you return. It’s best to stay out of water as much as you can.
People do get lost or become stuck while caving. This is why it is essential to let someone outside know where you are headed and, if possible, the route you intend to take. Cell service underground is virtually non-existent and cannot be counted on in a pinch.
Besides a helmet, one other essential piece of equipment is a proper light source. A headlamp and extra batteries are a must. It is recommended that you carry a spare headlamp in your backpack and a third light source like a flashlight in an interior pocket or on a lanyard.
Beyond proper clothing, a helmet, and headlamp, you should carry with you food, water, a first aid kit. Make sure your pack has shoulder straps so you can carry it hands-free and that you can easily remove it and access items inside.