Introduction to Caving

By Kurt Waldron

The mere fact that you are interested in caving implies that you are a risk taker and are comfortable with the unknown. These are good things, but a person preparing for a cave trip considers the risks, tries to anticipate the problems and thinks about the unknowns. No one wants to have a problem while we are underground, and we all should never go into the cave without imagining the things that could go wrong.

As you plan to go on a cave trip, there are several things you should include in your pre-trip planning. Proper preparation will help you have a successful trip and will give some protection against the many dangers of a cave environment. Use the following tips ensure a safe, pleasant cave trip.

Before You Get to the Cave

       — NEVER CAVE ALONE. This is dangerous, fool hardy and is a sure recipe for a disaster. The smallest size group recommend is three people. With this number, if there is an injury, one can stay and tend the injured, while the other exits the cave to go get help.
       — Decide on the maximum size of your group. How many people are going and how experienced are they? How difficult is the cave and what speed will your group be going through it. There will be times when you will want to limit the size of the group going on your trip.

Cave Access

       — Make sure that the cave that you are planning on visiting is actually open. If you need to contact the land owner or the organization which controls access, do it and be sure to get the required permission beforehand. Make sure you know where to park and be sure to have some idea where you will be able to change clothes. Be careful about destroying the environment, leaving trash and so forth.
       — If you are unsure about the status of a cave check with other cavers, your grotto or the NSS. There is never any reason to go into a closed cave!

Establish a Time to be Out of the Cave and a Contact Person Who Knows this Information

       — Make sure someone knows approximately when you are starting your trip, how many people are going with you, where you are planning on going in the cave and approximately when you expected be out of the cave. He or she should understand that they will be the person to call for help if you have not checked in with them after the trip should have ended. The amount of time they should wait depends on the trip and your skill as a caver, but there should be some kind of understanding about how long they should wait before they begin to make that call.
       — If the person above ground does not hear from the trip leader after the pre-arranged time, the rescue call out should be to someone affiliated with cave rescue or your local grotto. If you are stuck or hurt in a cave you really do not care who gets you out as long as they do it safely. Simply calling the local 911 operator will set the wheels in motion within the cave rescue community.

Does Everyone Have the Skills Needed?

Everyone going on the trip should be physically and mentally ready for the challenges that will be associated with the trip. He or she will also need to have the skills required for the kind of cave. The bottom line is, if you think that you or someone else on the trip is not up to challenges that you will be encountering, it is far better to bring it up before a serious problem arises inside the cave. For example,
       — Does everyone on a vertical trip understand on-rope techniques such as a change over?
       — Does someone have a limiting medical condition?
       — Is someone claustrophobic and you are going on a tight trip?

Caving Trip With First-Timers

There are several things that should be discussed with people who have never been underground before. Discussing these things with them will help them be mentally prepared, safer and have a better experience. Following list is full of important tips.

       — Three points of contact should be exhibited when moving over uneven ground. This means having three points on your body supported on immovable objects. Whether it is your left foot, right shoulder and knee; your left elbow, head and right hip; or your right hand, bottom and back. Stabilize your body while moving through wet and/or difficult areas.
       — The group needs to stay together.
       — Do not exert yourself beyond the limits of your endurance and never do anything that your are not comfortable with. Remember, discretion is the better part of valor. If anyone should have any questions or anxieties, he or she should make their concerns known. It is a team effort when underground.
       — Everyone should know the importance of cave conservation on the trip. Do not leave trash behind, pick up others’ trash, do not vandalize and do not take souvenirs.
       — Briefly discuss what will be done if something goes wrong. Everyone should know to wait for instructions from the trip leader, unless he or she is in a life-threatening situation. They need to understand that the trip leader makes the decisions in case of an emergency.

At the Cave

       — Someone in your group should have a first aid kit. At the very least you should have a knife, gauze pads, an ace bandage, a garbage bag or space blanket, a candle and matches. Also, caffeine pills come in handy if someone on the trip runs out of energy while still in the cave.
       — Make sure that all your gear is working properly before you go underground.