Caving is an exciting and adventurous sport. An amazing underground world that only a few people dare to experience makes the risks of subterranean travel very worthwhile. Before heading underground for the first time, take some time to properly prepare for your journey.
Leave detailed directions to the cave along with any meeting places, and the names and contact information of the caving trip organizer and fellow cavers with somebody trusted who will be staying above ground or at home. In the event that you are late returning home, this person is responsible for contacting the local authorities and rescue personnel in the area where the cave is located.
Your caving trip leader should be experienced and knowledgeable about the cave system you will be exploring. Do your own research before booking a trip or agreeing to go with your friends. Explore very carefully!
There are many hazards underground, among them can be: bats, guano, snakes, spiders, trapped animals, low oxygen areas, water hazards, hidden drop offs, and of course falling rocks, cave-ins, and getting stuck in tight spaces are all real concerns. Do not enter any areas where you are not 110% certain you can get out of.
Once you arrive at the cave, leave some emergency supplies, food, water, and the keys to at least one of the vehicles above ground. It is not uncommon for cavers to lose items underground. While the list of equipment to bring on a caving trip is long, not all of the items should be brought underground and some can wait in the car until needed.
Caves are dark, wet, and cool places. Temperatures in many caves and caverns remain below 15º Celsius year-round. Hypothermia is a big risk when you are underground. Ground water seeping into caves is also very cold and soaks clothing and footwear quickly adding to the risks. Dress appropriately for your journey. While specialized cave gear is available, in many cases it is not necessary for short day trips.
The most important items any caver must carry with them are: climbing helmet with chin strap to protect against bumping your head and from falling stones and rocks, a headlamp that attaches to the front of your climbing helmet, a spare flashlight on your person and a spare headlamp in your back pack along with several extra batteries, micro fleece long underwear, shirts and pants layered as necessary for staying warm and cool, coveralls are a necessity for staying clean and dry, heavy work gloves or neoprene gloves, knee pads, elbow pads, waterproof boots, and a sharp knife.
All cavers must also carry a backpack containing: drinking water, food, multi-tool, lighter, watch, many glow sticks, compass, pencils, notepad with waterproof paper, permanent marker, emergency candle, waterproof matches, foil blanket, large garbage bag, zip lock bags, waterproof container for cell phone, first-aid kit, rock climbing harness, nylon slings, carabiners, descender, ascender, and 11mm climbing rope, small roll of duct tape, whistle, bright coloured chalk for marking directions, a map of the cave system, and instant heat pads. Weather-proof walkie talkie radios are a good idea if there is the chance you could become separated from others in your group or to reach the trusted person who will be staying above ground.
Cavers may also want to include in their kit some other items which are usually left above ground in the car or boat. These include a large first aid kit, towels, blankets, spare clean clothes for the ride home, extra food and water, sunglasses (the sun can be very bright after being under ground for several hours), suntan lotion, bug repellent, sun hat, extra batteries, map and/or directions to the cave from the meeting place, contact information for local authorities and the other people in your group, and the contact information for the trusted person back home who has your itinerary.
Caving is an amazing adventure, but not for the faint of heart. It combines the skills of hiking and climbing in a way few people are brave enough to try. Caves and caverns are not located everywhere, so if you have them in your region you could be one of the lucky few to discover caving!
Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson