Preparing for Your Trip
Safety should be at the forefront of your mind before you enter the cave. When you are scheduling a caving trip, be sure that you have the necessary equipment, know the cave (or having someone with you who does) and ensure that your skill level matches the cave you will be exploring. Your basic equipment list includes:
• Caving helmet: Only use helmets approved by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation---look for the UIAA Safety Label.
• Gloves: Leather gloves or rubber coated gardening gloves work well. Choose a glove that offers good gripping on wet surfaces since many caves will be wet.
• Light: Always bring three sources of light into the cave with you. At least one of your light sources should be attached to your helmet.
• Boots: Do not wear tennis shoes into a cave. Boots provide thick tread needed to grip muddy and slick rocks, while giving ankle support to reduce the risk of sprains.
• Knee and elbow pads: You can buy pads designed for sporting events or purchase caving-specific pads.
• Appropriate clothing: Most caves are cool, under 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Wear clothing that dries quickly, like synthetic materials.
Check your equipment for wear and tear. If you are unsure about the condition, replace or repair it.
Safe Traveling Underground
Keep safety in mind during your traveling underground. It is never safe to cave alone. Use the buddy system to check each other's equipment and ask to make sure everyone has their proper equipment. If any object falls, even if you don't think anyone is below you, yell "rock." And if you hear anyone yell "rock," keep your head down and take cover, do not look up.
When traversing tricky passages---straddling a crevice---always keep at least three points of contact on the cave (these might include back, butt, shoulder, forearm, not always hands and feet). Have the least experienced caver set the pace, but not lead the group. Put someone who is experienced caving or knows the cave well as your lead person. Establish a strong caver as a sweeper, to be the last in line. If available, have a map of the cave with you. Otherwise, map/sketch the cave as you go. At the least, look back so you will remember what the cave looks like from the other direction.
Planning Ahead for Emergencies
Plan ahead in case emergencies happen. Your cell phone will not work in the cave. Cell phones might not even work right outside the cave. Have rescue rope with you in caves where crevices will be traversed. Make sure everyone in your group is equipped appropriately. Be level headed and prepared for common caving emergencies---cave ins, falling rocks, hypothermia (especially in wet caves) and losing light. Tell someone not on the caving trip exactly where you are caving and when you expect to be out.
Using these tips will help you have a safe and fun caving trip. Vertical cavers need to take added precautions and should be trained appropriately in technique and safety.
Article Written By Jessica Linnell
Jessica Linnell is a published author, blogger and freelance writer in the Atlanta area. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications and has been writing for 10 years. She has been published in Atlanta magazine, Cherokee Living, and North Fulton Living, as well as on numerous websites.