The allure of exploring underground can be exciting. There is much to be appreciated, understood, and treasured in the caverns of our planet. However, even experienced cavers always approach an expedition with thorough planning, proper provisions, and a plan understood by the whole spelunking team. Here is a cautionary list to consult before any caving trip.
ONE: NEVER GO INTO A CAVE ALONE and without informing someone who is staying on the surface. Always have a buddy system agreed upon by your whole spelunking team. Make sure at least one person on the surface per cave team member knows who is going, where the cave is, and how to reach contacts for each caver. Each caver must contact their surface person by a certain time after the party is expected to exit the cave, or the surface network must initiate a prepared search and rescue plan. Because of white nose bat disease, many public caves are closed at the current time. Do not trespass in closed public caves. Always have an understanding with the owner before entering a private cave.
TWO: NEVER LEAVE BEHIND ANY GARBAGE OR BODILY WASTE. Be prepared to pack out anything that comes in with you. A trip to the restroom before suiting up for an expedition is highly recommended. Appropriate containers and bags can package your waste for removal from the cave.
THREE: NEVER ENTER A CAVE WITHOUT AT LEAST THREE WORKING LIGHT SOURCES FOR EACH PERSON. LED headlights mounted on your helmet are best. You may also find wrist-mounted LED’s very helpful, but they are not always recommended for rugged caves. Always carry spare batteries. Open flame light sources are a very bad idea due to unreliability and damage to the cave environment.
FOUR: NEVER SPELUNK WITHOUT WEARING A UIAA CERTIFIED HELMET, ADJUSTED PROPERLY FOR YOUR HEAD. Heavy boots, knee and elbow pads, and sturdy gloves are essential. A spandex or silk under layer and tough coveralls are the best clothing. Avoid moisture-trapping cotton, which can weigh you down and steal your body heat. Have a balaclava or winter cap ready to wear under your helmet if you get cold.
FIVE: NEVER FORGET YOUR BASIC FIRST AID/EMERGENCY KIT. Make sure you have something for wound compression and a space blanket to ward off hypothermia. Bring sufficient food and water for the length of your expedition, waste containers, and spare batteries. Pack this kit in the smallest, toughest possible knapsack.
SIX: NEVER TOUCH CAVE FORMATIONS OR FOSSILS. Even breathing on them can damage them, so get a good look from the cave’s standard trail.
SEVEN: NEVER MOLEST ANIMALS, PLANTS, FUNGI, OR OTHER LIFE FORMS YOU ENCOUNTER IN A CAVE. Cave ecology is fragile, and a very important aspect of life on earth. Like the rock formations, we all need to admire and protect these treasures. Respecting caves closed due to white nose bat disease is every caver’s responsibility.
EIGHT: NEVER CLIMB UNDER OR ONTO LOOSE ROCK. Your weight can dislodge huge, crushing boulders, deadly rock slides, or tons of smothering gravel and dirt. Do not jump in a cave, as the floor may be thinner than you realize. Be wary of even leaning against the cave wall or any protrusions. Always check overhead before standing up; the ceiling may be closer than you think. Always carefully examine the path before you before proceeding with caution.
The last two points are so obvious that they need no explanation:
NINE: NEVER GO NEAR A PIT, SINKHOLE, OR CLIFF.
TEN: NEVER GO INTO UNDERGROUND WATER.
Keep these ten tips in mind and you will be able to safely enjoy one of planet Earth’s most intriguing environments!