If you’re new to the world of spelunking, you’re likely excited to explore the many caves systems beneath the earth’s surface. Something about caves has fascinated us since prehistoric times — and this curiosity helped ensure the survival of our ancient ancestors. That said, a caving trip can take a turn for the worse.
Before you head out for the first time, you should study the following safety rules. While no amount of preparation can eliminate the hazards you encounter, you’ll be far more prepared to deal with them. This knowledge will ultimately increase your enjoyment and quite possibly save your life.
With that in mind, what situations should you avoid?
1. Forgetting Your Hard Hat
The most common causes of caving injuries are trips and falls and rockfall. A stone falling from an unseen ledge could knock you unconscious if you leave your head unprotected. Always wear a hard hat, preferably one with a headlamp.
Another reason to wear a hard hat? Bats live in caves, and they don’t take kindly to getting caught in human hair.
2. Sticking Your Hands in Blind Crevasses
If you want to experience the ultimate in darkness, a cave is your best bet. You can’t see beyond the entrance without the aid of lamps and flashlights. If you start to hurry, you could put your hand where it doesn’t belong — and live to regret it.
You could put your hand in guano, which can carry diseases. You might also encounter a recluse spider. If it’s the latter, you might not know that one bit you right away. Their fangs are small and their bites are not painful — but you could develop a necrotizing lesion that causes severe complications.
3. Not Accounting for Temperature Shifts
The climate of a cave reflects the area in which you find the structure. Caves in Arizona are warmer than those in Wisconsin, for instance. However, they tend to stay the same temperature year-round — which means you could find yourself too lightly clad if you head out in July or August.
The inside of a cave varies between approximately 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While it isn’t freezing, you can get hypothermia quickly in many areas without ample clothing. If you don’t get to the surface soon enough, this condition can turn fatal.
4. Neglecting to Bring Backup Lanterns
The scariest scenario imaginable is to lose your light while deep in a cave. The absence of illumination can disorient you, and panic doesn’t help an already tenuous situation. While many popular caves contain ample lighted areas, those you explore independently will not — never go into that kind of location solo.
The bottom line? Bring backup lanterns aplenty with you. Three sources of light are the required minimum, and you will need battery reinforcements, as well. Handheld flashlights can hamper range of motion, so a headlamp works best. The next best option is flashlights with handles that you can clip onto your belt or a wristband.
5. Rushing Over Wet Stone
It can get wet in caves. Many form when acidic rains from above gradually eat through stone over hundreds of thousands of years. Slick stone can lead to painful spills, and a broken bone can require a call to rescue personnel.
Wear the right footgear and padding when you go crawling through tight caves. A pair of sneakers with sturdy rubber soles can do the trick, although you might feel more comfortable with insulated boots in colder locations.
A set of knee pads can be a lifesaver for folks with rheumatoid arthritis when it comes to crawling through the muck — they keep the cold from irritating sore joints.
6. Ignoring Your Body’s Limitations
That gorge only appears to be two feet across. On land, you could jump that distance without a running start. However, do you want to risk falling into an abyss when help can be hours away — if they can get to you at all?
Know your body’s limitations. Yes, you want to see everything possible in a short time. However, you don’t want to squeeze into tunnels from which escape proves impossible or climb down ledges that you can’t scale back up when it’s time to go home.
7. Failing to Inform Others
This advice should be commonplace to those who often participate in adventure sports, but always tell people where you are going and what time you expect to return. That way, if you get lost or injured, rescue crews know where to look. Hopefully, you won’t get yourself into any situations that require aid, but you need to prepare for every eventuality.
Assign a contact person who remains on land for deep dives. You will need specialized communication equipment, as stone absorbs the waves from many devices, rendering cellphones useless. If you can’t afford the right tools for your expedition, wait until you can. Better safe than sorry.
Avoid These Caving Dangers for a More Memorable Spelunking Trip
Caving is a fantastic way to get exercise and explore the fascinating world below the earth’s surface. Prepare yourself with these tips and you’ll have a memorable (and safe) time.