Caving FAQs 

for Visitors, Non-cavers and the Curious.

Is Caving Dangerous?

Yes.

 Caving can lead to injury and death. People die in caves every year. We don't encourage or recommend caving to others. If you are interested in caving and choose to become involved in it, you do so at your own risk. We invite you to come to our meetings and on our caving trips, but you will be participating as a free agent. You are responsible for your own actions and your own safety. You need to fully understand that caves are not "safe" places. You can slip and break bones; you can fall off exposed cliffs or into pits; you can be crushed by falling rocks and collapsing passages; you can get trapped by floods; you can drown; you can get lost or stuck; you can die of hypothermia. 

 Why Do People Go Into Caves?

For lots of reasons. We do it because caving is one of the few activities left on Earth in which a properly equipped and knowledgeable person stands a good chance of discovering and exploring places where no other human being has ever set foot. We do it because going into a cave is like going into another world--a challenging world without cell phones, TV, cars, jobs or any of the million other humdrum distractions of the surface. It can be like going to the far side of the Moon and then going home to sleep in your own bed or campsite that night. We do it to explore, to experience living geology, to survey and to map, to take photographs, and to further knowledge in one of the many cave-related areas of science. We do it to study bats and other cave creatures, to look for archeological or paleontological sites, to study the hydrology of a region. We do it because we enjoy it. 

Is Caving Difficult?

 

Caving is frequently both physically and psychologically demanding. It can involve belly crawling for long distances (hundreds of feet) under very low ceilings through soupy mud or cold water. It can involve complex rock climbing and chimneying maneuvers. It can involve prussiking, rappelling, duckwalking, wading in neck-deep water and squeezes through tight passage. Caving requires that you co-exist with and respect bats, cave crickets, centipedes, spiders, packrats, harvestmen and other cave creatures.  It frequently involves exposure to heights and it requires endurance--sport caving trips that last 6 to 8 to10 hours are not uncommon. Caving almost always involves getting muddy, wet and tired.

 

Aren't There Some Easy Caves That Don't Involve All That Stuff?

 If you want easy you probably ought to stick to commercial caves. 

Where Do You Go Caving in West Virginia?

There are more than 4300 known caves in West Virginia, 110 of which have a mile or more of passage. There are eleven caves with more than ten miles of passage and six caves with more than 20 miles of passage. 6 of the 25 longest caves in the US are located in West Virginia. One West Virginia cave has more than 45 miles of passage.

If I E-mail You, Can You Tell Me Where Those Caves Are Located? 

Sorry, no can do.

Jeez, What a Jerk! Why Not?

 

Because we have no idea who is sending us e-mails. An e-mail representing itself as being from a knowledgeable caver or respectable outdoor organization could actually be from a bunch of drunken amateurs with flashlights who know nothing of caving procedures and etiquette. That matters very much to cavers because:

 

1. Most of the caves in the Eastern US are on private land and landowners will usually allow only competent and responsible cavers in their caves.  We go to great pains to cultivate good relationships with cave owners and we don't want to louse that up by sending potentially incompetent or inconsiderate strangers to trespass on their property and maybe even vandalize their caves.  When landowners are abused, caves get closed.    

  

2. People who don't know (or don't care) what they are doing in caves can damage delicate formations or destroy the habitat of endangered and occasionally unique species of both animals and plants. Careless human traffic can destroy significant archeological and paleontological sites in caves as well.

 

3. We know from bitter experience that caves with well-known entrances  are frequently filled with litter and  vandalized with spray paint or by people carving their names on the ceiling or walls.  

 

4. People who don't know what they are doing are the ones most likely to get lost, injured or killed in caves, and we don't want to get called out in the middle of the night to go look for you.

 

5. Liability concerns. If an amateur representing himself as a caver asks us for a cave location and we give it to him and he goes into the cave and gets injured or killed, we could be sued.

 

Maybe you know better and know what you are doing, but we can't take the risk that you may not be the responsible, ethical, knowledgeable person you claim to be in your e-mail. People who are really interested in caving will learn cave locations by taking the time to get involved with the caving community

and getting to know other cavers.

Sorry, but that's just the way it is.

Does the Monongahela Grotto do Professional Cave Guiding or Cave Tours?

Nope. We're just a group of people with a common interest.

For commercialized cave tours in this region you can go to:

                            Laurel Caverns in Southwestern PA 

                            Seneca Caverns in Riverton, WV

                            Smoke Hole Caverns near Seneca Rocks, WV

                            Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg, WV

                            Organ Cave near Ronceverte, WV

Organ Cave, Lost World Caverns and Laurel Caverns also offer "wild" cave trips--that is, cave trips that are off the commercial trail. Scott Hollow Cave in Monroe County WV offers nothing but wild cave trips. All four of these caves are well worth seeing, but Scott Hollow and Organ caves are an especially good deal because they are two of the largest and finest caves in West Virginia.

 

Can I Just Show Up at a Mon Grotto Caving Trip and Go Caving?

         If you are a beginner or if you aren't a member of a recognized caving organization we ask that you come to at least one of our meetings first--for several reasons. Most of what we do isn't meant for beginners. If you're new to caving or relatively inexperienced, we can arrange for you to go on specific beginner trips and can teach you caving skills. If you are from outside of our area and are a beginner, we recommend that you go to a grotto in your area and try to meet cavers in your own area. If you are not a beginner, but aren't a member of a recognized caving organization and we don't know you, we cordially invite you to come to a meeting first just so we can get to know you and you can get to know us. Members of recognized caving organizations can generally just let us know they're coming and show up. 

If I Go on a Beginner Cave Trip What Do I Need to Wear?  

(Understand that we are posting this information on clothing and equipment ONLY for people who have been invited to come on one of our grotto's caving trips.)

1.      What you need to wear depends on the cave. Basically, you need to dress the way you would dress for humid fifty five-degree weather in which you might have to crawl in mud or wade in a stream. In general, wear old clothes that can get muddy, wet and possibly ripped. Caving is extremely hard on clothes. Army fatigues are good. An old pair of jeans is good for most beginners'  trips, and obviously you'll want to wear a long sleeve shirt of some sort. You may want to wear coveralls if you have them. A lot of cavers wear polypro long johns underneath of coveralls. 

2.      Wear boots that provide ankle support and good traction. There are all sorts of surfaces you might be walking on in caves including uneven and occasionally slippery rocks, slippery clay, goopy mud and wet streambeds (like walking in a creek bed). You'll  need traction for climbing rocks. If possible try not to wear athletic shoes--tennis shoes, running shoes, etc. They don't provide ankle support and don't provide much traction in the mud. If you have nothing else, they'll have to do; but they'll make your trip harder, wetter and more dangerous. Definitely do not wear sandals. (I once had a guy show up for a beginner trip with nothing but sandals. I asked him if he had read the equipment list I had given him and he said he had, but he pointed out that it hadn't said he couldn't wear sandals. Don't wear sandals.) Many Americans are starting to borrow an idea from our British cousins and wear rubber boots ("wellies") with good tread into caves 

3.      Wear wool or synthetic socks. Cotton socks don't insulate when wet, and likely as not your feet are going to get wet. It is best to wear an inner nylon sock and an outer polypropylene or wool sock.

4.      Depending on the cave, you'll probably want to wear kneepads if you have them--either the kind you get in at a hardware store or an athletic kneepad. You can go caving without kneepads, but most cavers wear knee protection of some sort because crawling on rocks without kneepads hurts. 

5.      Gloves can keep your hands from getting muddy and cold. Some folks cave without gloves, but if you do so you'll probably end up with dry, shriveled up hands--cave mud does that. I recommend a pair of cheap, well-fitting leather gloves. (Walmart has leather gloves for all sizes of hands.) Some people wear rubber gloves.  I don't like rubber gloves because they make my hands sweat too much--but each to his or her own. Cotton gloves are fine in caves that aren't too muddy 

What About Equipment?  

1.      On beginner trips the grotto can supply a helmet and a light for those who don't have them. Generally speaking a helmet should be a UIAA approved helmet with a quick release strap.  If you enjoy caving and plan to pursue it, your first equipment purchase should be a good helmet and helmet light.

2.      The rule is that all cavers carry three sources of light. Your helmet light is your primary light source. For secondary lights you can use a small (preferably powerful) flashlight (like a minimag) and maybe a backup head lamp or an LED light. 

3.      If you can, bring a small rugged backpack or fanny pack that can get dirty and wet. It will contain:

    1. Food of some sort (energy bars, candy bars, trail mix, a sandwich or something else high in carbohydrates). Don't overdo the food. With most beginner trips you'll be in and out in two to four hours. You don't need a whole meal.

    2.  A bottle of water or sports drink of some sort to take with you in the cave.

    3. Spare batteries, bulbs and backup lights.

    4. A small first aid kit in a waterproof container.  

      New cavers sometimes ask if it is really necessary to carry a pack. Good question. On short beginner trips it may not be necessary. The trip leader will usually pack extra batteries and lights, and several people can share a pack. But if you take up caving, a pack is a necessity. Along with the things listed above, you will start carrying your own inventory of useful things.

4.      You will want to carry a garbage bag in your pack or in the top of your helmet. You can sit on it if you're going to be sitting for a while and it can help prevent hypothermia in certain situations. You will use it for your muddy clothes and boots when you come out of the cave.

5.      When you come out of the cave you'll need a complete change of clothes, including, of course, dry shoes and socks. One of the true pleasures of caving is in putting dry socks on cold wet feet.

6.      If it is a wet or wading cave you may want a small towel to dry off with after you come out of the cave.  Many cavers don't bother with that luxury. I do.

 If I Go in a Cave Can I Break Off a Stalactite for a Souvenir?

      If we even hear about you doing something like that we'll see to it that you are arrested, fined $500 and spend the next six months in the regional jail. You cannot remove any rocks, minerals or living things from a cave. You can not remove or disturb archaeological artifacts or fossils  You cannot spray paint or carve your name. You cannot damage a cave in any way. That is both federal law and WV state law. Responsible cavers don't disturb cave formations. They do not even touch them unless it is absolutely unavoidable. They try to stick to a single track or trail.  They don't drop trash of any kind and, once again, they take special care not to disturb the cave plants and animals. "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time."

I Don't Live in Your Area. How Do I Find Those Other Grottos You Mentioned?

     See the links page for links to other grottos in the region. Or click on this link for a state by state list. Or just do a search on Google using the words "caving" and your state. If you live outside of the US where there are caves & cavers, you will find speleological organizations in the same way. If you live in the region around Washington DC, check out the Potomac Speleological Club (PSC). It isn't a grotto of the NSS, but is a good organization for both beginning and experienced cavers.

 

How Can I Find Out More About Caving?

  

     Come to one of our meetings if you live in our area. If not you can download brochures in PDF format at the NSS (National Speleological Society) web site. Here's a link for that brochure page. Download the NSS brochure, "Guide to Responsible Caving". Here is a link to a good beginner caving site. Find a grotto meeting and go.  

Would a Complete Newbie be Out of Place at One of Your Meetings.

        We try to be an inclusive rather than an exclusive organization. The desire to crawl into holes in the ground is shared by relatively few mortals. If you have that desire, the Monongahela Grotto will welcome you.  If you've never caved and want to, we can help you get into it and make sure you're doing it safely, effectively and with a proper understanding of cave conservation.

Does the Monongahela Grotto Give Public Presentations on Caves and Caving

If you are a school or organization in or near North Central West Virginia--probably, but it depends on whether one of us can fit it into our individual schedule.

 

Will the Monongahela Grotto take local Scout or Church Groups on Cave Trips

Occasionally. Decisions are made based on the size of the group, the age of the participants, the number of adults involved and other factors.

 

 

 

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