SOME VERY BASIC CAVING TECHNIQUES
DISCLAIMER: This list is not intended to substitute for proper training in caving techniques. Caving can be a dangerous sport if accepted safety rules and procedures are not followed. Always seek complete training from a competent source before heading underground on a caving trip.
1. Above all, stay with the group. Getting lost in a cave is very easy, and getting found can take hours and hours. The easiest way to keep the group together is to make each person responsible for watching out for the person behind them. This way, you can't leave anyone behind, and with someone in front of you at all times, you can watch to see how climbs and crawls are negotiated. STOP and WAIT if your "tail" gets behind, and remember to stop the group in front of you so you are not left behind.
2. Periodically stop and rest, and count to be sure no one is away from the group.
3. Don't get hurt in the cave. Cave rescues are long, arduous ordeals for all involved. An injury only 15 minutes into the cave can require a rescue that could involve 100 or more people, and take eight or more hours to complete. Leave the horseplay and rambunctiousness outside.
4. PUT YOUR HELMET ON YOUR HEAD AND LEAVE IT THERE!!! There are few good reasons to take your helmet off underground, and many that do live to regret it (if they live at all). Even if you stop to rest, don't take your helmet off. If you decide to stand and stretch, or to move "slightly", you run the risk of impaling your head, or falling and cracking your skull. A helmet that is not on your head can't even be called a brain bucket!
5. Move slowly and deliberately. Test handholds and footholds before placing your full body weight on them.
6. Ask for help if you need it. A good group leader will always have belay materials handy to help someone across a touchy spot.
7. Relieve yourself outside the cave, or plan on carrying your waste out with you. Caves are not bathrooms, the ecosystems move much more slowly than on the surface, and even urine can damage them. Water in caves often resurfaces in nearby wells and water systems.
8. Avoid touching formations or other cave features AT ALL COSTS! Touchy-feelly people damage the cave, usually beyond repair, since formations tend not to grow after being handled.
9. If you carry it in, carry it out. Used batteries, spent carbide, food wrappers, whatever. If Mother Nature didn't put it there, it doesn't belong in the cave.
10. Don't stop under groups of sleeping bats. Temperature swings of only a few degrees can rouse them, even from hibernation. Waking a bat unnecessarily can prevent them from living through the winter. Normal hibernation season is around Nov. 1 through May 1, though some start sooner and end later. Local conditions have a lot to do with their cycle. Please don't disturb it.
11. On the same note: DON'T TOUCH BATS OR OTHER CAVE DWELLERS. Only a few bats carry rabies, but if you're bitten, you probably won't catch the offender, and rabies shots are painful. Messing with underground life is like messing with any other wildlife; leave it alone, and it will leave you alone.
12. Eat and drink plenty of food and water. Caving is an energetic pursuit, and spirits flag when the stomach grumbles.
13. Dress properly. Hypothermia is a real possibility in 54 degree temperatures when you are sweaty from the 95-100% relative humidity. Eat a snack and drink some water when you stop to rest, but keep rest stops short to avoid chilling. Dressing in layers and avoiding cotton clothing helps.
REMEMBER THE CAVERS' MOTTO:
TAKE NOTHING BUT PICTURES, LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOTPRINTS, KILL NOTHING BUT TIME.
Almost every state (including VA and WV), and the federal
government have laws on the books that prohibit damaging cave resources in
any way. Don't end your trip in jail.
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