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An Introduction to Caving for the Novice Caver

Take nothing but pictures
Leave nothing but footprints
Kill nothing but time


What is Caving Anyway?

Caving or spelunking as non-cavers call it, is many things. The reasons why people go include adventure, sport, scientific study, companionship, fun, and other things as varied as the individual cavers. It is one of the few sports in which you can go places no one has ever been before.

The most commonly asked question is probably "What do you find down there?" The answers are as varied as the caves themselves: mud; beautiful rock formations and rubble; water and dust; vast rooms and tight crawlways; awesome rivers and puddles; strange and fragile animals; deep pits and waterfalls; ice and warm water; and, of course, strange people. One finds, eventually, whatever one is looking for.

There are several different types of caves.

  • Solution Caves are the most common type. This type of cave is formed very slowly by water in limestone or gypsum. The water actually dissolves the rock. As the passages get bigger and there is a faster water flow, water erosion becomes a factor. These are formed slowly and collapse rarely. The wide variety of rock formations and passages also make this type of cave the most popular. Solution caves are scattered,. in pockets, throughout the country.

  • Talus Caves are literally piles of boulders. They tend to be very confusing and are easy to get lost in. Also, the predominance of broken rock makes them very hard on your body. They tend to occur in mountainous areas, especially near cliffs made of a very strong rock, such as granite.

  • Ice Caves are generally restricted to glacial areas. They are so cold that they could be dangerous. However, ice formations of extreme beauty and delicacy are often found.

  • Volcanic or Lava Caves can be found near some volcanoes. They are passages which formed around and finally over flowing lava. Once insulated by the surrounding rock, the lava stayed hot enough to drain out when the eruption ceased, leaving a cave. These caves tend to be extremely jagged, and they can cut your clothes to ribbons.

There are other places where people go "caving", but these are generally not advisable for one reason or another. Mines are very dangerous; they collapse a lot. Exploring large buildings or ships can be lots of fun, but could get you in trouble with the law. Subway tunnels can turn into a shocking experience. Sewers are really nasty places and are best avoided. Stick to real caves.

A commonly asked question is, "Is caving dangerous?" The answer is that caving is as safe as you want it to be and have the knowledge to make it. For this reason, caving is a sport for thinkers. Clearheaded thinking prevents accidents. Unavoidable accidents are extremely rare.

People often wonder if you can get lost easily in a cave. The answer is generally no. It is possible, but progress is generally slow enough so that experienced cavers can look around and keep their bearings. Cavers do not carry balls of string.

Who can go caving? Most people. Men or women. Age is a barrier only to the very young and very old. Persons with severe claustrophobia, fear of darkness or bats, severe physical handicaps, or other such problems are generally advised to forget it. Brute strength is generally not required. Physical agility is helpful but not required for all caves. Big people will have problems with small caves. Small people will have problems with wet caves. In short, people are expected to learn their limits and avoid caves which are beyond their abilities. The first few caves you go to should be caves which are generally recognized as easy. Always go on your first trips with experienced cavers.

Caving Safety

Caving is a potentially dangerous sport, but it can be made as safe as you want it to be. Unavoidable accidents are extremely rare; people make mistakes and they, or others, can get hurt because of those mistakes. There are many things which can cause an accident; you are expected to know about them and have sufficient foresight and use enough caution to avoid them. GO SLOWLY AND THINK. . .PANIC IS LETHAL.

The following pages describe some of the more common hazards of caving. Don't let it scare you off, though. In a certain sense caving can be compared to driving. If you had never driven a car you could get into a lot of trouble by driving out into rush hour traffic. Once you have the knowledge and experience, you can drive safely. The same is true of caving.

The General Rules of Caving Safety

NEVER go caving alone. Three people is the absolute minimum number for a trip. The reason for this is that if a person is hurt, someone must remain with the injured party while the third person goes for help. Four to six people is generally considered the optimum size party for the average caving trip. Also, other people can help you when you are having trouble (which happens a lot to varying degrees).

ALWAYS have three independent sources of light. Include extra bulbs, batteries, carbide, waterproof matches, or whatever other equipment or supplies you need to keep your lights going. Your light sources must be highly water resistant and strong enough to withstand severe abuse. Being without a working light is inexcusable, even for a beginner. Should all your lights go out ("I thought you had the batteries."), it is generally not advised that you attempt to get out. Wait for help to come. This implies that someone on the outside knows you are in there and will send for help if you don't return.

Wear the proper clothing. (See the section on hypothermia below.) Your clothing should be warm, tough, and without things which can snag o the rocks. Hardhats are mandatory.

Make sure you have all your equipment and that it is in proper working order before you enter the cave. It it your responsibility to know how to use the equipment you have before the trip starts.

One thing many newcomers don't realize at first is that caving is one of the few truly non-competitive sports. No one ever makes or takes a dare. No one is ever pressured to do things which he/she is afraid to do. Daredevils are unpopular. The reason for all this is that cavers are a very safety minded lot; competition and peer pressure leads to accidents. Removing an injured person from a cave is an awful job. We go to have fun, not to fool around. Remember this.

Don't go caving if you are sick, even if you have only a mild cold. Caving is an exhausting sport, and illness compounds your problems and might lead to an accident. Don't go caving while drunk, stoned, or otherwise "under the influence". A clear head is a requirement for safe caving.

Leave all jewelry outside the cave. A crushed ring could mean the loss of a finger in an otherwise minor accident. Make sure your glasses are very secure if you wear them. Leave your sunglasses in the car. (Don't laugh. Long-time cavers have been known to wear sunglasses into a cave and then wonder why their lights were so dim!)

Start caving with experienced cavers. Learn your capabilities in easy caves. Don't exceed your limits. Get to know the abilities of your caving friends. One often hears of "high school students" who get into trouble in a cave. This is caused by inexperience and/or a "swollen head".

Follow the rules and THINK!

Hypothermia

The single worst danger faced by cavers is hypothermia, or loss of body heat. Your body must be within a narrow range of temperatures in order to function properly. Caves are generally cold and wet; their temperature is equal to the average of the local climate. AS a trip proceeds, your clothing will become damp or wet, making heat losses higher. Fortunately, most caves won't soak you, and your level of activity is generally high enough to keep you adequately warm.

Your first line of defense is the clothes you wear. It is far better to wear too much than not enough. Wear several layers. If you overheat (and it does happen) you can take some clothing off. When you cool down you can put it back on. The key point here is: if you haven't got it, you can't put it on when you are cold. Wool is best because it can still help keep you warm even when it is wet. Wool socks are highly desirable because your feet are often wet even if the rest of you is dry. Cotton is worthless when wet. Synthetics vary in their ability to insulate when wet, but are generally pretty good. As a test, wash the clothing in a washing machine. If it comes out of the spin cycle mostly dry, it's probably good for caving. A pullover hat underneath your hardhat cuts down on heat loss from the head. Your body gives your brain the highest priority for heat. It is always the warmest part of you. Put some insulation there: wear a hat.

Wet suits are required whenever you are going to be immersed in water. If you don't have a wet suit, don't go to caves where you know you will get soaked. An unpleasant but often used method of getting by short wet spots is to strip, go through keeping your clothes dry, dry off, and dress again immediately. Keep moving to warm up again. This technique should be used only after you know from experience about your heat control.

The second defense against hypothermia is to avoid becoming wet and extended contact with cold, wet surfaces. Stay out of the water when possible. Waterfalls are especially dangerous: they will soak you in a hurry and can drown you (no joke). Avoid drips when waiting for long periods. Stand, crouch, or sit on your pack, if possible, while waiting. Contact with rock or mud will cool you much faster than the air. Avoid breezes; chill factors in wet clothes are very bad. A garbage bag with a head hole is an amazingly effective shelter which is easily carried. Put your head through the hole, crouch down, and cover yourself up.

The third defense is to warm yourself up. Usually the only way to do this is to shiver on purpose, to run in place, to continue exploring, or some other heavy physical activity. You should do this whenever you start to feel cold. There can be other alternatives depending on the equipment you have: hot drinks, garbage bag tents, sleeping bags, dry clothes, etc.

The final defense against hypothermia is to know what it is, how it affects you, and how vulnerable you are to it. As a rule, small, thin people are the first affected. The first sign of the problem is simply that you feel cold. This is followed by increasingly severe shivering. Beyond this your body starts to lose its ability to make heat, a problem compounded by decreasing strength and mental abilities. Slurred speech and a lack of will power are signs of an advanced, dangerous case of hypothermia. Any time one of your party gets to the stage of violent shivering, it is time to get out of the cave. Everyone should leave as the affected person may need considerable help. If someone is accidentally soaked and there is no way to dry him, it is time to head out before hypothermia sets in.

Don't underestimate the problem of hypothermia. An unfortunately large number of cavers have died from it. Most of those deaths were avoidable. Dress right, stay dry, and keep moving. Only experience will tell you how best to handle it.

Falls

The next most common cause of accidents is falling. These can result in anything from a minor bruise to instant death. This type of accident is totally avoidable. Know your limits: don't try something you don't have the skill for. Don't fool around, don't show off, and DON'T JUMP. Caves have a lot of mud around. Situations which would never be a problem on the earth's surface can be dangerous simply because cave rock is often muddy and slippery. Think about your next movements before you make them.

Don't be afraid to ask for guidance or assistance. Better you should ask a stupid question than to have your friends carry you out. Watch how the more experienced cavers handle an obstacle.

Falling Objects

True solution caves almost never collapse. Worrying about it is like worrying about being hit by lightning. However, in almost any cave it is possible to find something which is loose: an unstable boulder, piles of rubble, rock held together by only mud, ice, etc. The best way to avoid this is to use your eyes. Things which look unstable very often are. Stay away from them. Most of caving's small number of unavoidable accidents are in this group, so use caution.

Stay out from underneath other people. Very often a person will dislodge something which could fall on someone else. If you do so, yell "ROCK!" no matter what it is that is falling. ROCK! is the cavers' universal signal to take cover from a falling object. A hardhat will protect you from small falling objects. ALWAYS wear a hardhat. It will also keep you from bumping your head.

Flooding

Solution caves are generally part of the drainage system in their area. In some caves the water is carried at levels far below where people can go, but in most the cavers follow the actual water routes. The best general advice is to stay out of a strange cave if you think it's going to rain or it has recently rained. Also, watch out for snow melts. Listen to the local weather report before heading into a cave.

There are some signs that a passage may flood: debris or mud stuck on the walls or ceiling; an active river, especially at lower levels; the absence of mud in a stream passage may indicate rapid and violent flooding. Dry, cracked mud is a good indication that a passage floods only under extreme conditions. As you proceed through the cave, look for these things. Remember the low spots you had to go through on the way in. Remember the high spots, too.

Caves can flood because of unexpected weather changes or long lag times after storms. In the latter case the water rise tends to be gradual giving you some time to get out. Any time a stream rises noticeably in a low, wet cave, it is time to get out or take shelter on higher ground. Use your judgment: if you can get to high ground in the cave but the way out is a long low passage and the stream is rising fast, RETREAT! Go back to high ground and wait it out. This is an obvious case, but there is so much variety in caves that there are no fixed rules in a flood except: THINK, DON'T PANIC.

Bats and Other Cave Critters

Bats simply are not dangerous. They may startle you but they won't bite or fly into you. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. In fact, bats are so fragile that your very presence in the cave can kill them. During the winter, repeatedly waking a bat will cause it to burn fat too fast and it will literally starve to death before spring! Avoid caves known to be bat colonies during the winter. Cave animals in general are very fragile. You should leave them alone.

Disease

Don't drink cave water unless you are DESPERATELY thirsty. Most cave water comes relatively quickly from the surface and, depending where you are, can contain all sorts of germs, sewage, and/or household or industrial pollutants. You can't tell if the water is good, so bring your own along to drink.

Some people go caving where there are large numbers (millions) of bats. While bats won't bother you directly, when there are so many of them around you risk picking up something indirectly; histoplasmosis is a fungal lung disease found in bat guano which is unpleasant but generally not fatal; bats have fleas, and large numbers of bats drop large numbers of fleas with all their associated diseases; rabies may be caught, but this is unproven and certainly very rare. This type of caving is strictly at your own risk.

Getting Lost

As you go through a cave, look around to familiarize yourself with the surroundings. The best way to solve the problem is to backtrack and look carefully at things. When you emerge from a small hole into a large area, study the hole before moving on. When you come to an intersection and must make a choice as to direction, proceed a short distance, turn around and remember the way you came. Taking these steps is generally enough to make you recall your path when you are backtracking or exiting the cave. The sight of something you have seen before is generally enough to make you remember. Also, giving names to landmarks is a good way to remember them.

Stay within earshot of your buddy. A caving group should never break up into individuals. Sometimes a person will go down a hole to "take a look". In this case, someone else should remain by the hole and an agreed upon time limit should be set for the explorer's return. This should never be more than a few minutes. When travelling in a large group, it is important that the leaders go slowly enough so that the people on the end don't become separated. Each person must stay within earshot of the persons ahead and behind.

Finally, if you do get lost and backtracking doesn't help, STAY PUT. Try to make yourself comfortable and stay warm and dry. Wait for someone to find you. It is important that someone outside the cave or at home know where you are and about when you are to return. That person is your final safeguard.

When you come out of a cave make sure everyone in your group is accounted for. At your earliest convenience, call home and tell them that everyone is out and safe.

Getting Stuck

Caves often contain tight and/or excessively twisty passages in which it is easy to become stuck. This is a major reason why we don't go caving alone. If a friend is nearby he can pull you out. Sometimes when caught between a rock and a hard place, a reassuring voice is all that's needed to get you through. Claustrophobia isn't a problem, although we all feel uncomfortable when we get stuck. Again, the voice of a friend will help you keep your head screwed on straight.

There are several things to remember when dealing with a pinch:

  • Send a large, experienced caver first. If he can make it, then everyone else can. If he can't, he will know it and have the know-how to get back. If he gets stuck anyway, then there is still a smaller person available who can get to him to provide assistance.

  • Be especially wary of vertical "pinches". Gravity will push you into them, and it is far more difficult to get back up.

  • Watch out for wet pinches. Getting stuck in a pool or waterfall is a VERY serious problem due to hypothermia.

  • Be wary of tight places in which there is no noticeable airflow.

  • Finally, if you're a large person, avoid small caves.

Accidents

Accidents themselves can cause accidents. The extreme psychological pressure of trying to help an injured friend can cause people to get careless, which may result (and has resulted) in yet another accident. SLOW DOWN AND THINK. One accident got you into this mess. Another one will only get you in deeper.

Anyone seriously into caving should take basic Red Cross First Aid. PROMPT and PROPER action can save a life and/or prevent permanent injury. The Red Cross sponsors first aid courses nationwide for a small fee. Consider taking one and regular refresher courses. You might save a life someday, in or out of a cave. (At the very least, use your travel time to read and reread a good first aid pamphlet.) Also consider taking at least an introductory cave rescue class.

Serious caving accidents are generally in the category of hypothermia, falls, or falling objects. Learn especially the signs of head or spinal injuries. Trying to move a person with a broken back could kill him. Remember also that an immobilized victim MUST be kept warm by any means which do not aggravate the injury.

Whenever you are doing some serious caving, it is highly advisable that you know how to get in touch with the local cave rescue group. This information can be obtained from the local NSS grotto (see section about the NSS at the end). Do it.

It is highly advised that you leave your car keys outside the cave, hidden near the car. All the people in your car and others in the group should know where they are hidden.

Air in the Cave

There is usually sufficient air circulation so that there is no danger of running out of oxygen. The smallest noticeable breeze means you will not have any trouble with air. Watch out for small, dead-end passages. If you notice that you are breathing harder than you think you should be, leave immediately.

Large amounts of organic matter, such as dead animals rotting in the cave will make the air unpleasant but not usually dangerous. Let your nose be your guide.

Surface Hazards

Often, caves are located in hilly or mountainous country where you will have to travel over steep trails and climb rocks. Proper caution should be exercised in these cases. Also remember that surface rock is exposed to the weather and is much ``looser'' than cave rock.

Caving is an exhausting sport. Be careful on the drive home. If you get tired, swap drivers or pull over and get some sleep. Also, before you go into the cave, hide your valuables in the car (there is usually plenty of caving junk available with which to hide things), and lock the car. It is rare, but cavers' cars have been robbed.

Cave entrances are often in grazing land. Be wary around large farm animals. Watch out especially for bulls. Cave entrances are often in the woods, too. Be alert for hunters, especially if you go caving during the Thanksgiving vacation as it overlaps the deer season. The best protection against hunters is to make a lot of noise while walking through the woods.

Hanging ice blocks at cave entrances can cause (and have caused) serious injury and death if they fall. They are especially dangerous in the spring. They can sometimes be covered with leaves and difficult to see. Look around for them before approaching the cave.

A Final Note on Caving Dangers and Safety

If all of the above scares you or puts you off from caving, don't let it. Do let it make you think about safety. Caving can be a lot of fun. With a little foresight, thought, and care, it can be very safe fun. Enjoy.

Basic Caving Equipment Checklist

Caving will do awful things to your equipment. Everything usually gets covered with mud to some degree. You and your equipment will get wet, bashed about, scratched, torn, dropped, and other such pleasant things. And, oh yes, this is all on a normal trip where everything goes well. Tough trips are REALLY brutal. Plan your equipment accordingly. It should be tough and well made. It should contain nothing which is near and dear to you.

The following checklist is appropriate for a first time caver going to a "Beginner's Cave."

Lighting

  • A helmet mounted headlight of some kind, either carbide or battery powered.
  • Two heavily constructed, water-proof flashlights.
  • Alkaline or lithium batteries and spares for each flashlight, and your headlight, if electric (otherwise, spare carbide and a ziploc for spent carbide).
  • An extra bulb for each light (a repair kit with tip reamer if using carbide).
  • Short pieces of nylon cord for flashlight wrist loops.
  • A thick candle and waterproof matches or cyalume light stick.

For Your Head

  • A knitted pull-over type hat.
  • A hardhat.
  • Something to tie up your hair if it's long.

Clothing

  • Multiple thin layers of clothing are best. If you have a wool shirt, sweater, and/or longjohns, wear them. Polypropylene longjohns are best. Wool isn't generally good as an outer layer, but you can cover it with something else. Remember, it is better to wear too much than too little. Down clothing and cotton are useless in a cave. As soon as they get wet, they lose their insulating ability. Wool still insulates some even when wet.
  • Two pairs of pants, worn one over the other. Coveralls are great as an outer layer.
  • Cheap gloves. The heavy duty dishwashing gloves work well.
  • Have a complete change of dry clothes appropriate for the surface weather. Pack them in a large garbage bag or two to keep them dry. The bag is also to carry your "muddies" on your way home. These dry clothes are essential for coming out of a cave in the winter. They can be left in the car, if nearby, or just inside the cave.

Footwear

  • Sneakers are marginally acceptable. Hiking, climbing, or combat boots are much better.
  • Heavy socks. Wool is best.

Miscellaneous

  • A plastic garbage bag neatly rolled up.
  • A lock-blade knife.
  • A liter or more of water in a tough container.
  • Food. Raisins, peanut M & M's, or other such easily consumed, physically tough foods are OK. A tuna salad sandwich on soft bread will come out as tuna salad mush. You have been warned!
  • A small pack to carry your junk. A strong cloth laundry bag will do. In practice, you can put stuff in your pockets, but you will regret doing so in a pinch.

Optional Equipment

  • Camera equipment. This is a "strictly at your own risk" option. Cameras are best carried in steel ammo boxes heavily padded with foam rubber. Good luck. Disposable cameras with a flash work pretty well. Pack them inside a ziploc.
  • Knee pads are especially nice for crawling caves.

Remember that everything you take into a cave you must also take back out. You cannot leave ANY junk in the cave.

Basic Caving Technique

People move through caves in diverse manners. No two cavers handle a given obstacle in exactly the same way. For this reason, it is impossible to give an "optimum" set of suggestions as to how to cave. Often, when cavers are standing around watching others take on an obstacle, the comment is heard, ``You can't argue with success.'' Let experience be your guide. As you progress to more difficult caves, you will begin to know what your limits are and come to have confidence in your abilities within your limits. Confidence is important for safety, but like so many other things it is a matter of degree; gross overconfidence is deadly, so don't get cocky.

There are a few general rules which a novice caver should follow, however. Some can be safely bent or broken depending upon circumstance, but there is one rule which you must always follow: THINK.

  • Proceed cautiously when you are in an exposed position. (The term "exposed position", or "exposure":, is used by cavers to mean how great the potential for falling is.) Many caves are known as "vertical", i.e. they have lethally deep drops around which must be negotiated with special equipment and technique. However, even beginner's caves can have exposure in them, so watch yourself.

  • When climbing on rock, move only one limb at a time. It is sometimes possible, if both your feet are secure, to move both your arms, and vice versa. Look at your next move and think about it before you do it.

  • Don't jump in a cave.

  • Much climbing is done "in opposition", i.e. you are in a relatively small spot and you are pushing in opposite directions against the rock. This opposing pressure can keep you from slipping off something which would otherwise be impossible to simply stand on or grip.

  • Often you can take advantage of friction as a hold. Cavers will wedge portions of their bodies into small spots to provide a hold. For example, if a crevasse is the same width as your shoulders, it is easy to "expand" your shoulders to the point where you simply cannot fall. This is also an example of "opposition".

  • When freely standing on a sloping surface, it is best to stand straight up. This gives maximum friction. The more parallel you are to the surface, the more pressure there is which would make your feet slip, and the less friction there is. Moral: stand up.

  • It is generally easier to climb up than down, so be more careful when going down.

  • Be ready to assist your friends at all times. This can make things a lot safer and easier. It is often helpful to point your light at handholds and footholds so that the climber can see them better. You can offer advice, but if the climber tells you to shut up, then do so.

  • Be careful not to aim your light at other people's eyes. This can cause an afterimage which can last for several minutes in the darkness of a cave.

  • Crawls are always a pain. How you get through them depends upon their shape, orientation, and size relative to you. There are belly crawls, hands-and-knees crawls, stoopways, and things in between. Duckwalking is often possible. Use it when you can as it is faster than hands-and-knees. Low, wide, and dry crawls can often be done quickly by rolling yourself along much as one would roll a log.

  • Whenever you are in any kind of low place, look at the ceiling to make sure there aren't any bats or fragile rock formations there which you might accidentally crush. Be quiet around bats to minimize disturbing them.

  • Pinches are always a problem. There are a few things you can do to help, though. Always try to go through by yourself. Should you get stuck, it will still be possible for your friends to get you out. Exhaling before pushing is very helpful. Make sure all of your clothing is tucked in and secure. Don't wear belts with large buckles. Remove things from your pockets. Shed some layers of clothing. Look at the pinch and try to go through in a manner that will not force you to bend in impossible directions. Try to remove any pebbles from the floor of a pinch; they can be very painful if you don't get rid of them. Widening a pinch is possible if the floor is mud.

  • Stay out of the water as much as possible. If you are walking in a stream, step cautiously, as there are "potholes" in many caves. Falling into one of them can result in a dunking which may very well put an end to a caving trip.

While techniques and cautions listed above are applicable to any type of caving, they are specifically aimed at "horizontal caves". A Beginner's Cave is a horizontal cave which lacks other problems such as a high flooding potential or tricky obstacles.

Other Types of Caving

Vertical Caving

Vertical Caving is another matter altogether, adding the UP and DOWN dimension to caving and opening up many, many caves to a caver. This introduction to caving won't discuss "vertical work" other than to state a few simple things which should be obvious, but which are tragically ignored all too often:

  • Vertical work takes more strength, endurance, and agility than horizontal work. Nevertheless, it is still within the realm of the average caver.

  • Vertical work requires special equipment and technique. It is mandatory that each caver have his own equipment and know how to use it before going to a vertical cave. Practice is done on cliffs, trees, and the like, never in a cave.

  • Vertical work on ropes requires special cams and friction devices for going up and down the rope, respectively. Cavers do not go "hand over hand" up or down a pit. Climbing a rope hand over hand is DEADLY. Every so often one hears of "a high school student" who is killed or injured because he was foolish enough to try this.

  • Rope for caving is of a very special, strong, low stretch nylon (static rope). "clothes line" is sometimes used by inexperienced people with tragic results. Clothes line is NOT for any type of climbing, in or out of a cave. Note also that caving rope is no good for rock climbing because of its low stretch.

  • If you want to get into vertical caving, it is important that you do so with the help of an experienced vertical caver. Don't try it by yourself.

Cave Diving

Cave Diving is the other major type of caving. This is THE MOST DANGEROUS form of caving. It requires a great deal of specialized knowledge and technique, not to mention mountains of very expensive, often custom made scuba gear. Each trip may also require substantial support from non-diving cavers to carry gear in to the point of the dive.

Cave diving is something which can be done safely only by the best and most experienced cavers. If you try it without getting extensive training from a long time cave diver, then you are asking to get yourself killed.

Caving Etiquette

There are certain rules which cavers abide by, not for reasons of safety, but simply because they make life easier and the caving better. These are broadly grouped under the heading of caving etiquette.

Landowner Relations

Landowner relations is a topic of extreme importance to cavers. To get to a cave, we must cross other people's land. When we are caving we are doing so on other people's land. It is crucial that you treat the owners with respect and do what they say. A single bad incident with a landowner can shut the cave to the entire caving community for tens of years. Most of this is common sense and courtesy, but some specific items are:

  • Find out who owns a cave, and then get permission before you go in. If you have no idea where to ask, try the neighbors. Most of them think cavers are kind of funny and are happy to talk to us. If the owner refuses entrance, don't badger him. Be respectful of his rights and just leave.

  • If the owner asks a favor of you, try to satisfy it. Sometimes they ask that you pick up beer cans near the cave, or that you notify them when you get out. These are simple things. Doing them will make the owner happy to let future cavers visit his cave.

  • Make sure that you close farmland gates after passing through them. There is nothing that makes a farmer madder than having to round up his animals because some jerk caver left a gate open.

  • Be respectful of the owner's land. Don't break anything, and don't litter.

  • Be respectful of the owner's sensibilities. Many owners do not want to see a carload of people stripping and changing clothes in their front yard or on the road. Try to do so out of sight.

Conservation.

It takes hundreds of thousands or millions of years to make a cave. Damage done to a cave won't be fixed in a hundred lifetimes. Because of this, cavers are a very conservation minded group. If you should run across a cave vandal or rock collector, try to find out who he is, then turn him over to the authorities. If you yourself are a rock hound, leave your hammer at home.

Typically, beginner's caves are well known to the local population. They have generally been heavily vandalized, at least in the areas near the entrance. Look around when you go in and see how ugly the scars are that the vandals have left behind.

When moving through a cave, stick to the beaten path. Don't get your muddy feet or body all over the formations. Watch out for delicate formations overhead which you might accidentally smash with your head.

Bats are widely misunderstood creatures subject to a lot of irrational fear. Learn about them and stick up for them. Caves are sometimes closed part of the year in order to protect the bats. Don't go in when they are closed.

For reasons of conservation and safety, never give the location of a cave to people you don't know. Instead, point them at the local grotto of the NSS.

If you should stumble across some rank amateurs already in a cave who obviously don't know what they are doing, attempt to straighten them out. Don't come on too strong, though, or you will turn them off to safe caving technique. Point them at the NSS so they can get in with a group of established cavers.

Never leave any of your junk in a cave. Just before you go into a cave, it is advised that you find the nearest bush and relieve yourself. You are expected to "hold your water" on all short trips of 6 hours or less. Minimize the amount you drink in the cave. Smoking in the cave, tobacco or otherwise, is frowned upon because it stinks up the cave.

It is often absolutely necessary to change out of wet clothes when exiting a cave, sometimes in circumstances which are less than private. Do make an attempt at respecting the privacy of your fellows, even if there isn't really a good way to do so. Also, try not to put on a nudie show which might upset the locals or cause traffic accidents.


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