People Underground
Newsletter of the Human Science Section of the National Speleological Society

Volume IX Number 1 Winter-Spring-Summer 1996

TABLE OF CONTENTS Winter-Spring-Summer 1996

[Note: The numbers in the following table are the page numbers in the text version. I decided to leave them here to facilitate citations. Why I didn't think of that for previous issues I don't know-rs]

TABLE OF CONTENTS Winter-Spring-Summer 1996 1

Regional Variations in Caver Profiles 1

Editors Column 2

Minutes of the 1995 Annual Meeting 5

Wayfinding and Orientation in Caves 6

A Human Science note. 8







Kids Caving 18

Caving for Pay--A Heretic's Viewpoint 20



Regional Variations in Caver Profiles

by Jane Prendergast

There is frequent discussion on and off the net regarding regional difference in cave use and caver profiles within the United States. As I recently agreed to babysit the Cave Registry Program while John Wilson serves as Administrative Vice President of the NSS, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare some variables for a few caves in the database.

I would first like to give some background information about the program. John Wilson began the program in 1974 and has dedicated himself to it for the past 20 years. The database exists because volunteers mailed in requests for register books, and followed through by placing the books in PVC containers made to order by other volunteers. The containers were carried into the caves, checked periodically, and replaced when full. Data was entered into computer files by yet other volunteers, using a program (CCUS, versions 1 & 2) which was written by Tim Kilby and generously donated so that it could be made available free of charge to anyone who wanted to enter, maintain, or analyze data. The project has been supported by grants from the Cave Conservation and Management Section of the NSS and The Virginia Region, as well as The Robertson Association, the American Cave Conservation Association, the Southeastern Region the Northwest Caving Association, the NSS and many other contributors.

I looked at a total of six caves, three from the TAG area and three from the Northeast. The TAG caves are Natural Well, Howard's Waterfall, and Cemetery Pit, and the Northeast caves are Knox, McFail's, and J4. Natural Well is a 186' pit bounce, usually the first or second vertical cave for Huntsville cavers; Howard's Waterfall is an easy horizontal cave, and Cemetery Pit combines a vertical drop with extended horizontal passages. Knox, in upstate New York, is an easy horizontal cave except for the notorious Gunbarrel, which is between the entrance and the register; J4 is a more challenging horizontal cave in State College, Pennsylvania, and McFail's, near Knox, has a vertical drop of about 75' (which is deep by New York standards) and miles of cold, wet passage, some of which must be negotiated to reach the register.

(Continued on page 3)

Section Officers

Chairman: Dave Lemburg
7563 San Como Way Goleta CA 93117 (805)968-8734

Vice Chairman:

Secretary: Evelyn Bradshaw
10826 Leavells Road
Fredericksburg, VA 22407-1261
Treasurer Bill Bussey
3007 Mt. Moriah Road
Durham, NC 27707
Editor and Publisher: For This Issue:
Rob Stitt
For Next Issue:
Renee Westerfield
3007 Mt. Moriah Road
Durham, NC 27707
People Underground is published by the Human Sciences Section of the National Speleological Society. Correspondence, membership dues, requests for information and material for People Underground should be sent to the Editor or Treasurer, as appropriate: Rob Stitt, 1417 9th Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119.

ฉ Copyright Human Science Section of the National Speleological Society, 1996. All rights reserved.

Original material is copyright by the Human Science Section. Permission to reprint material appearing in People Underground is granted to all internal organizations of the NSS provided credit is given to the author and People Underground and a copy of the publication is sent to the editor. The opinions expressed in articles appearing in People Underground are not necessarily the opinions of the Human Science Section or the NSS.

Printed by members of the D.C. Grotto and the Potomac Speleological Society.

The Human Sciences Section (formerly the Social Science Section) was chartered in 1974 and has struggled to stay together since that time. The Section holds its annual meeting at the NSS Convention, usually scheduled as an informal luncheon. The Section welcomes all individuals who are interested in the human sciences. At this time the Section plans to publish newsletters semi-annually. People Underground is sent to all members of the Human Science Section. Membership dues are $5 per year and may be sent to the Treasurer's address, given below. For your convenience, a membership form is included on the back cover, page 23.

POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Evelyn Bradshaw,. 10826 Leavells Road, Fredericksburg, VA 22407-1261

SUBMISSIONS: Articles and other People Underground correspondence should be sent to the Editor. Submissions on computer disks should be made with 3-1/2" or 5-1/4"IBM compatible diskettes. Microsoft Word 5.x or Word for Windows, Word Perfect 5.0 or higher, or straight ASCII format is preferred. Do not format materials for multiple columns! Diskettes will not be returned unless requested. Arrangements may be made for transmission via modem; call or write the Editor for details. Or send an E-Mail message, or your article, to the Editor via the Internet:

WORLD-WIDE-WEB: People Underground is posted on the Section's Home Page on the World Wide Web:

Editors Column

This will be my last issue as Editor. My life has gotten too busy these days, so I'm turning it over to someone new. Starting with the next issue, the Editor and Publisher will be Renee Westerfield.

I've enjoyed doing this publication for the last few years. I'll keep doing the World Wide Web page, and will continue to be as active in the Section as I have been in the past.

Good luck to Renee!

Rob Stitt

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Cave Use Survey

(continued from page 1)

I hope to do a study involving the purpose of the cave trip and its duration in the near future; for the moment, I concentrated on the seasonal use of the cave, the percentage of NSS members, ratio of female/male cavers for NSS and non-NSS populations, age of NSS and non-NSS cavers, and the prevalence of carbide. I would greatly appreciate any feedback regarding query topics. The results are:

McFail's Cave-Canadians %NSS=45 23 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
35 0 100 20.7 50 100 27

McFail's Cave-Americans %NSS=80 11 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
31 0 75 22.3 0 70 31

J4 %NSS=12.3 292 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
25 7 56 21 19 29 23.8

J-4 Dome Room %NSS=23 204 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
29.1 13 51 20.4 14 30 23.8

Knox Cave %NSS=7.3 110 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
29.5 37 50 22.4 31 87 21.6

Cemetery Pit %NSS=24.2 132 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
31.2 18.8 50 24.6 12.76 25 25.3

Howard's Waterfall %NSS=22 150 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
34 17.6 32 25.9 >24* 9.4 35.8

*Girl scout troop was logged as a single entry

Natural Well, Alabama %NSS=31 139 entries

<age> % female % carbide <age> % female % carbide <age>
------ 16.3 0 12.5 0 -----------

Use of the caves by month is broken down in the following table:

Seasonal Use:

Cave Name J F M A M J J A S O N D
McFail's 29 5
J-4 77 38 28 1 17 29 --- --- --- 1 69 11
J-4 Dome Room --- 24 19 6 11 --- 4 21 17 28 9
Knox 99 11
Natural Well 10 13 7 8 16 10 9 11 7 12 15 7
Howard's Waterfall 25 10 12 33 9 8 45
Cemetery Pit 22 10 17 25 1 9 11 27


In each case, the average age of NSS cavers is several years greater than that of non-NSS cavers. This suggests that several years of caving elapse before joining the NSS; also that NSS members do not leave the NSS while they are still caving actively. The highest percentage of NSS members was found at McFail's, both for American (80%) and Canadian (45%) cavers; this probably reflects the level of experience needed to reach the register. A very distant second was Natural Well (31%). Although this would seem disappointing for a cave in Huntsville, Natural Well is still a beginner cave, although vertical. The extremely low percentage of NSS membership among Knox cavers results from Knox's popularity amongst outing groups where one leader will take in a group of ten to twenty novices. This is also the explanation of the high percentage of female visitors to the cave.

Except for Knox cave, and among the Canadians at McFail's, the participation of female cavers is lower in these caves than the 20% figure generally given. Carbide use persists, and the average age of the carbide user is slightly higher than that of the average age of the non-NSS caver (except at Knox, where the outing groups supply carbide cap lamps to their college-age members) which suggests that carbide use peaks after a year or two of caving. Still, about half of the NSS members report using carbide as their main source of light. Carbide use varies widely among the non-NSS cavers.

As for the monthly use chart, McFail's is closed in the winter; J4 has been known to flood in April. Knox is also closed in the winter, but the register was probably not in place during the spring. Natural Well sees steady year-round usage, with a slight peak for SERA. The Howard's Waterfall register was not in place for a full year, nor was Cemetery Pit's, but the high numbers for December and January are a surprise.

The database files from the CCUS program were imported easily into tables constructed in Word Perfect 6. It is important to scan the data. For example, on the McFail's list, there was a trip recorded on 2/9...when the cave is closed! However, noting that the members of this trip were French Canadian, and that a number of Canadians had signed in immediately afterwards on 9/2, it was easy to correct for the European date notation. Also, I would caution anyone applying statistical formulae to the data lists to make sure that variables like age or hours in cave are excluded if zero.

Many interesting questions remain to be asked and hopefully answered using CCUS questionnaires and data. However, the survey program has grown to the point where we can no longer rely on volunteers to process the data at a central location. The number of actual entries per register varies, but is generally less than one hundred per year. Thus data entry would not be difficult for each local grotto. CCUS receives 20-30 registers per year and volunteers (and there are few enough of these) are more anxious to enter data from their own area than from an area where they themselves don't cave. The idea of centralized data entry started when postage was cheap and computers were expensive and rare. This has now reversed. Sending registers through the mail is both risky and costly.

It may also be time to redesign the register forms. A survey of active CCUS participants elicited more than a few comments about the length and detail of the forms. I would like to propose a change such that one person from each group would sign for the group-related information (like the purpose of the trip, time in cave, how found, etc.) and the others sign beneath only their names, age, sex, NSS status and caving experience. More input on this subject would be most welcome.

The register program is the only means we have to measure quantitatively the impact of human use of caves. Register information can be correlated with biological studies, as is being done in California, to help preserve the bat population. In addition, the register program helps to satisfy the desire of many cavers to leave some record of their passage in the cave. Volunteers are always needed to place and maintain registers, and to record data. New ideas are also warmly welcome. Although I will be leaving for the mid-East in January, and so will be unable to continue as chairman, I hope that this article will stimulate interest and discussion, and perhaps even find a volunteer or two.

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Minutes of the 1995 Annual Meeting

National Speleological Society: Human Sciences Section

David S. Lemburg, Ch. 7563 San Como Way Goleta CA 93117 (805)968-8734
Evelyn W. Bradshaw, Secretary 10826 Leavells Road Fredericksburg VA 22407-1261
Note new area code (540) 898-9288

MINUTES of the annual meeting of the NSS Human Sciences Section, held July 20, 1995, during the annual NSS convention in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Present: Dave Lemberg, Evelyn Bradshaw, Carma Buckland, Bill Bussey, Michael and Pat Dore, Sue Dotson, Peri Frantz, Hal Hallett, Ken Hornung, George Huppert, Peter James, Tim Kilby, Mark Korman, Jeff Lory, Alan Luton, Jim Luton, Gail McCoy, Nancy Ortolani, Jane Prendergast, Clinton Schemmer, Rob Stitt, John M. Wilson, Bill Yett.

1. Minutes of the previous meeting, held June 23, 1994, in Texas, were reviewed and accepted.

2. Finances Rob Stitt, treasurer, reported $401.28 on hand. There had been shuffling of bank accounts by the banking system and he mentioned that he has not found a banking facility open on Saturdays and nearer his residence. The Executive Committee was authorized to take any necessary action to provide forms that may be required by the bank to formalize the transfer.

3. Demographic Study It was announced that the demographic survey of the NSS membership has been completed and a report made to NSS via the NSS News. The data are available for the use of anyone who is interested in other studies involving the membership.

4. Brochure The status of a brochure about the Section was unclear and Evelyn Bradshaw promised to check on this. {Secretary's note: The previous brochure was readily located in the file; it had been completed before the Section's name change and did not mention the demographic study as a project. An updated brochure in draft form is being circulated with these draft minutes.]

5. NSS Bulletin Questions about the future of the NSS Bulletin should be settled at the meeting of the Board of Governors this Friday.

6. Section Purpose and Activities We hope for a full-length paper session at the 1996 Colorado convention. A call for papers will be issued early. Reports on ongoing research are solicited. It was noted in connection with the Map Salon and the Survey and Cartography Section and judging criteria that there was no real group consensus as to what a map is. Are we judging the map itself or the software used to create one kind of map? People see this differently.

7. People Issues The question was raised as to how much residual discrimination against women still persists, as, for example, remarks that pass for humor in grotto newsletters but which demean women. Awareness of the unacceptability of this kind of attitude needs to be raised.

A good subject for research is the role of young adults in the Society and how to retain their membership and involvement. How long on the average do they stay in? Why?

Another project that some of us would like to see is that of scheduling events at NSS conventions to minimize to a greater extent than at present conflicts. It was suggested that there are computer programs that could be adapted to facilitate this project. Comments from attendees of this and previous conventions might help in fashioning such a computer program.

Minutes by E. Bradshaw

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Wayfinding and Orientation in Caves

Dave Lemberg and Dr. Daniel Montello, Department of Geography, University of California at Santa Barbara

Throughout history, humans have exhibited a deep-seated fear of being lost, especially in the dark. You can look at literary examples from Theseus in the Labyrinth to Tom Sawyer and Indian Joe; in the popular tradition, without aid (thread or string) you are likely to become lost and die a gruesome death of thirst or hunger in the darkness (or worse). But what of reality for those frequent visitors of darkened labyrinths? Are most cavers afraid of getting lost? Do cavers really have major difficulties wayfinding in caves? How is wayfinding in caves different from wayfinding on the surface?

In reality, losing your way in cave is a danger, but not nearly so much of a serious hazard as hypothermia, climbing hazard, rockfall hazard, and water hazard. "Lost cavers" are a significant proportion of the total incidents listed in American Caving Accidents, but are rarely listed among the serious incidents. Techniques books on caving and cave rescue spend some time on getting lost and searching for lost cavers, but little space is given to wayfinding and wayfinding training. Why is this? Is wayfinding in caves simply following a short set of rules or have we just not thought much about it? Dave McClurg in Adventure of Caving describes three levels of lost: off route, momentarily confused, and totally lost. To hear cavers tell it, totally lost is just a longer state of momentarily confused. A study of how you might be "turned around", totally lost, or temporarily confused for a couple of hours, should be valuable for those interested in caver training, cave safety, cave rescue, and those interested in wayfinding in general.

This article is part of a larger study of wayfinding in caves by Dr. Daniel Montello and Dave Lemberg of the Department of Geography at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Part of the study involves the use of a standard survey on "Getting Lost", modified for caving, that has been administered at large caving functions. The data from these 86 surveys has recently been coded and analysis of these data will be reported in a future issue. This paper is the result of an orientation exercise by the investigators which combined familiarizing a non-caving environmental psychologist/geographer with caving and cavers, and allowing the researchers to do unstructured interviews with a group of experienced cavers. The exercise involved conducting interviews with cavers in the relaxed atmosphere of an expedition base camp over the Memorial Day Weekend in 1994.

Five cavers were interviewed. The group included three men and two women, ranging in age between 29 and 50. All of the group were experienced cavers, having been active in the sport from 2 to 26 years. All of the group had been caving more than 100 times; some of them closer to 1000 times. The interviews consisted of a list of questions designed to draw out cavers on wayfinding, cave mapping, and general caving practices and attitudes. The questions were not posed in any standard order, but generally grouped into related categories (i.e. wayfinding and navigation, mapping and map reading, etc.). Tape recordings of the interviews were then transcribed to text. The questions and responses from these transcripts are summarized below. In Part I of this paper, the emphasis will be on wayfinding and orientation. Part II of the paper will emphasize the group dynamics of wayfinding in caves, route descriptions, and map reading problems.

Wayfinding and orienting in caves involve many different techniques and skills. There were some wayfinding techniques common to all of those interviewed. The one rule that all of the cavers stated for successful wayfinding was the "look back" rule: to look back to recognize the cave passage and route from the reverse perspective which the caver would be using on the return trip. Another technique common to all of the cavers was to note locations as waypoints. These waypoints included recognizable landmarks such as formations or breakdown, and visible places or patterns such as rooms, crawls, climbs, passages, etc.

Humans have evolved the natural ability to visually discern and integrate patterns and contrasts in our environment. In wayfinding, we tend to construct our paths using recognizable landmarks. Cavers tend to focus on the visual characteristics of the cave and on the physical characteristics of movement through the cave. Visual cues include outstanding formations with unusual colors and shapes. Pretty things and ugly things, formations that stand out from the background. Formations that resemble familiar objects make good wayfinding cues. Cavers (and others) often create names for such features either formally for all to see on the map, or mentally to themselves. Such explicit verbal labeling is a helps to tie the unfamiliar environment of the cave to more familiar mental references, making it easier to remember and identify in future encounters. Where the passage is featureless, sometimes the cavers create their own visual cues with stone cairns or mud sculptures. One caver interviewed cited an instance where a room was recognized by an etching of Bullwinkle the Moose! The caver also tends to store types of moves as cues to location. Stressful moves such as climbs and squeezes are popular (as cues). So are annoying or tiring moves such as crawling and duck-unders.

Landmarks and passages features make good wayfinding cues in general because cave features do not usually vary over time. Caves change quickly in geologic time but rather slowly in human time. There are some seasonal changes that may be tied to rainfall levels - water levels and silt build-up. There may also be more catastrophic changes due to major flooding or sinkhole collapse, but these are rare. The other changes to be considered are human changes. While we are supposed to "take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints", in reality we have some minor impacts on the cave on each trip. Formations may be accidentally dirtied of broken, trails cut into the mud, rock or mud markers created, destroyed, or moved.

Another common technique in wayfinding is to tie these visual cues (landmarks) and body movements (climbs, crawls, etc.) together - "I know that the climb-up is just beyond where you start crawling". To some cavers, following a route is a matter of combining strings of landmarks, moves, and procedures; going from formation to climb to junction to crawl, to arrive at specific destinations. These techniques are used by all cavers. More advanced cavers such as explorers and mappers use their knowledge of cave structure to "learn" the cave. As the caver proceeds through the cave, he or she notes the changes and trends of the passages. What sorts of passage are they moving through - vadose, phreatic, borehole, bedding plane, breakdown, etc.? How and where does the passage change? In what direction do the air and water flow? What evidence of human traffic (footprints, mud smears, survey stations, cairns, etc.) does the cave exhibit? Cavers using these observation techniques build an "intelligence" of the cave that allows one to not only follow and remember the existing route, but also extrapolate the trends and directions of the cave passage, recognizing levels and regions as they progress through the cave system.

For the beginner or for the most advanced and experienced explorer, the underground environment presents special difficulties for the wayfinder. On the surface, most of our wayfinding is done in two dimensions. In caves, we are faced with a three dimensional wayfinding task which can be very confusing. Adding to this confusion is the complexity of the cave structure. Caves are often described as being "maze-like", meaning that they have many branching passages, changes of direction (right, left, up, down, and various oblique angles), and changes in structure (breakdown, crawls, pits, etc.) and appearance (color, shape, consistency, etc.). The perspective of the wayfinder changes as he or she looks in different directions. The way in does not look like the way out (hence the need for the "look back rule"). All of these properties are confusing - much more so than a standard garden labyrinth or maze puzzle on paper.

It is also difficult to orient in cave systems. The actual structure of the cave passages does not match our intuition of the passages. Much of our world is rectilinearly oriented, especially in the built environment. Underground, this is not the case. The passages are generally not rectilinear, and may curve in any direction. The combination of twisting passages, darkness, and shadows results in reduced perspective. The darkness itself may be quite disorienting to some. The horizon or field of view may be very close (restricted vistas). We often can not see the entire passage at once - we can only see what is in the line of sight of our headlamps. Indeed the combination of various headlamps focusing in different directions and at different intensities of light can present a very confusing tableau. Distance measurement and estimation becomes distorted. The restricted line-of-sight in caves limits our ability to estimate distance. Distance may be estimated as a function of the time and/or effort required to get from one place to another. Another disorienting aspect of caving is the task of moving through the three-dimensional space of the cave system. Moving through a cave, one must simultaneously orient both vertically and horizontally. The way out is generally up (or occasionally down) rather than just backward.

The cues for orientation underground are also different than those on the surface. There are no sky cues - no sun, no moon, no stars. Shadows are not a directional cue as they are on the surface. The lack of general surface cues such as horizons and the sun creates distortions in the perception of time and distance underground. Without a sky (and usually without a watch) there is no external reference to the passage of time. Time may be measured in terms of the rhythms of caving. Such rhythms include carbide or battery changes and the cycle of brightness of the headlamps. Low light levels at the end of the carbide charge or battery life may also distort distance. In low light levels, features become fuzzy, shadows less distinct, and even scanning distance lessens. Time may be measured in terms of bodily functions - hunger, thirst, cold, stress, and fatigue. In extreme conditions, these bodily stresses may distort time perception in themselves. According to some of the cavers interviewed, the greater the level of fatigue, the greater the perceived distance and time. Time measurement may also be a function of actions or travel. Time and distance are to some extent interchangeable so that one may say that a destination is 2500 feet in or they may say that the same destination may be one hour in. Travel speed and effort will affect time and distance perception. What is one hour in for one group of cavers may be a half hour to another group, and two hours to a third. Time perception for a group of cavers may well be a function of the slowest caver in the group. Indeed, a slow caver may very well disrupt the time perception of an experienced caver who would normally traverse a route much faster normally.

Other difficulties stem from the way the party goes through the cave. There are different speeds and styles of caving. Often the leader wants to get to a specific destination quickly for surveying, sightseeing, photography, etc. The type of trip may determine how much the caver learns about the cave. Surveyors and photographers may come out of the cave with detailed observations that will synthesize into a comprehensive knowledge of the route. A fast "tourist trip" or an "in-and-out" scientific collection trip does not generally allow the caver the leisure to built wayfinding knowledge. The party quickly moves through the cave at the leader's pace, too quickly for the other members to do the sort of observation required to build route knowledge. At this pace, the other members of the group may become passive followers, unable to find their way out without the leader's assistance. Depending on the person's position in the line, there may be perspective problems. It is difficult to concentrate on learning the details of the passage if your perspective is dominated or blocked by the boots, back, helmet, or rear-end of the person in front of you.

There are also special problems involved in finding cave entrances and finding one's way back to the vehicle or base camp. One major problem is finding the cave entrance. The entrance may be hidden by vegetation, by rugged terrain, by other similar looking holes or pits, etc. There are few distinguishing features on karst landscapes. Often the printed or oral directions are hard to follow (maps seem to be easier to follow than oral directions), inaccurate, or distorted (more on this later). Distances may be wrong. The "big tree on the hillside" may look no different from all of the other trees on the mountain. There may be seasonal changes in the landscape - a clear view through the trees in the winter may disappear with the summer foliage. Weather conditions such as rain or fog may obscure views. Darkness is a problem, especially on return trips from the cave.

When one leaves a cave, there may be many problems with finding one's way back. Navigating on the surface in darkness creates many of the same problems as in cave navigation. The features and landmarks of the route look different in the opposite direction. The problem is compounded by the fact that one may have traversed the path in daylight. Obvious features in the daylight may not stand out in the beam of a headlight. Distant landmarks used for wayfinding in the daylight may not be visible at all after dark. Add to the problem that one is likely to be fatigued and dehydrated after a long day of caving, and one has the recipe for confusion and disorientation.

One of the cavers interviewed told a story of coming out of a cave in Mexico. Not only was it dark, but the ground was covered in a thick fog. The party became confused over which direction led back to the village. Some thought it was one direction, some thought it was another direction, and others were not sure of any direction. They were on a ridge and normally could have seen lights, but with the fog and the darkness, there were no visual cues. Then one of the party remembered that there were a lot of dogs in the village. They said, "we'll just yell really loud . The dogs will all bark, and we'll know that's the way to go". So they did, and it worked.

To be continued (in a future issue):

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A Human Science note.

This Letter to the Editor of the High Country News, 3/20/95, was copied in the Oregon Grotto's May 1995 Speleograph:

Dear HCN,

Last summer I spent several days in Salmon, Idaho, as part of my research on the human dimensions of ecosystem management. I expected to hear the same sort of petulant threat-mongering that Jon Margolis mocked--something I've heard increasingly often in my years of listening to the voices of the rural West (HCN, 2/20/95).

Instead I found a community where it was still thought proper to be polite to strangers bearing notebooks. Salmon was a working town where mining and logging were honorable occupations, but where folks also were proud of the contribution that river rafting makes to the local economy. It was a place where the Forest Service and BLM were said to be part of the solution as well as part of the problem. . . a place where conservative Mormon farmers and ranchers set up a phone tree so they could quickly turn off the irrigation pumps when a salmon or two were seen waiting to head up the Lemhi River to spawn.

I'd hoped to be able to do a follow-up study this summer to try to discover what made Lemhi County different. Why was it still possible in Salmon--but not in Joseph or Kalispell or Republic or Silver City--for there to be civil discourse between people who care equally about the land but want such different things from it?

Now I can forget that idea. Folks in Salmon are polishing their six-guns just like their counterparts across the West--thanks to the Wilderness Society, Pacific Rivers Council, and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund lawsuit that would block all grazing, logging and mining on the national forests of central Idaho. I suppose it's easy when you're in an office in Portland or San Francisco to forget that living, breathing people are part of the landscape of the West. It may be easy, but it's also disastrous. This sort of one-size-fits-all approach to environmentalism, imposed from outside by people who wield their legal hatchets simply because they know they can, will harm the environmentalist cause just as surely as any dam.

If we lose the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws in the 104th Congress, it won't be because the bad guys got elected at precisely the wrong time. It'll be because the good guys tried to kill a gnat with a meat cleaver, and in the process managed to slice their own jugulars.

  • Mark Brunson
  • Logan, Utah
  • The writer is an assistant professor of forest resources at Utah State University and a former Montana journalist.

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    By Lou Simpson

    The following article by Lou Simpson in the Nov. 1995 Electric Caver, by the Greater Cincinnati Grotto, was intended by its author simply to be a humorous essay. However, what about some articles of a more serious vein addressing the topic of the aging caver? Some readers may want to take exception to some of the conclusions stated by Simpson. With all the double entendres, we may have to start sending out People Underground in a brown wrapper?

    During their late teens and early twenties, men reach their peak caving performance, with a steady decline thereafter, while women just get better and better. Young female cavers may find young men exhausting to cave with, and often get left behind, unsatisfied. But as both male and female cavers age, their drives for caving become more compatible and their relationship actually benefits from it. "The emphasis is on quality now, not quantity," said a quintenarian male cave friend of mine. "We don't do it as often these days, but when we do, it's very gratifying!" Young cavers who kept at it all night now find themselves, at 40 or 50, opting for shallower penetration and less hard-core activity, but actually find themselves liking it more. "I used to be sore after caving with my husband," our friend's caver wife told us, "but now he and I are more in tune, moving in a gentler rhythm, enjoying going down together more than ever before."

    Our friends, once they overcame their embarrassment about this sensitive subject, talked on into the nigh, well, 10:30, about their rejuvenated love for caving together in their twilight years. "My husband used to be a caving stud," said Joyce (not her real name). "He would be down on his hands and knees for hours. It really wore me out." "Now we find that we like it better standing up," said Bob (not his real name either). "Doing it horizontally all the time really got old. People really ought to find out about more positions than just the one," he continued. "After half a lifetime of dirty enjoyment, we found some interesting variations that have really turned us on. We find that doing it with #^*@'#* or using really neat equipment enhances the experience, said Bob. "We really like using ropes and harnesses, but sometimes we get tied up at the fieldhouse." Joyce added, "Well, I really like the photography. I get really turned on when I look at the pictures of us all down there together squirming in the mud." My wife Sheryl tells people, "Since Lou's two experiences with flooding, he's been a lot more careful. And he takes better care of his equipment. He used to just let it hang until it dried out, then beat it against the side of the house to get the dust off." I do find that it takes me longer to recover than it once did. "Yesh," Sheryl equipped, "he does his best to keep up with those young cave babes, but then he comes home to me cut and bleeding and licking his wounds. "So, what's in store for us in the future? Ever since my wife heard of Climax Cave, she's been saying, "You've never taken me to Climax. I hear it's really neat." So I guess I'll have to find out how to reach it. I may have been there once long ago, but I was by myself and I blacked out.

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    In an article titled "Caving for Conservation," John Gookin, Curriculum Manager for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), sets the record straight on certain assertions made by Warren Anderson about NOLS.

    Warren Anderson's letter (Rocky Mountain Caving, Autumn 1994) regarding "caving for pay" points out valid issues such as safety, conservation, and access that are of vital importance to all cavers. However, his assertions of federal land management agencies corrupted by unscrupulous outfitters and other wild claims does a disservice to the issues at hand and to caving in general. The intention of this article is to correct the misrepresentation of the National Outdoor Leadership School's (NOLS) caving program and point the debate in a more constructive direction.

    Anderson asserts that "commercial outfitting in caves will never be safe." This is true to the extent that no activity with inherent risks is ever safe. Indeed, any educational program hoping to teach judgment MUST have genuine risks. How risky is caving compared to other activities? No database of comprehensive caving use and accident information exists. While the NSS does an admirable job of publishing the highly educational American Caving Accidents, we cavers are still a long way from having statistically significant information. Until we cavers gather objective baseline data, Anderson's contention that educational caving is unsafe remains moot.

    I appreciate Anderson's description of NOLS as "arguably the most responsible commercial outfitter in America." But when he mentions numerous searches and rescues and a group size that is woefully exaggerated, I feel it is important to set the record straight. NOLS's caving safety record is excellent. We have had one search and no agency rescues in 25 years. We did use a SKED to haul out a student with a sprained knee once, and with their own rescue cache. While we are suitably concerned about the famous Rachel Cox search in Wind Cave National Park, we are also proud of how we handled our responsibilities and the in-depth analysis that followed. Our wilderness education safety statistics were the first of their kind to be studied by an independent researcher and published in the medical literature. Data gathered by insurance companies, the National Speleological Society (NSS), and the Association for Experiential Education clearly show our record to be exceptional.

    We have never caved in groups of 30. NOLS' caving courses currently have an average of 11 students and three instructors. Anderson's high number of 30 may have been taken from past permits which allowed that number, but our courses are half that size in the campground, and far less underground. In fact, it is uncommon to find a NOLS course with more than 12 student.

    Anderson mentions that organizations such as NOLS need to enroll "anybody who will pay." This statement, which seems to be the crux of Anderson's argument, clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of how organizations like NOLS operate. As an educational institution we could not exist for long if we simply allowed anyone on our courses, regardless of their motivation, medical condition, or other constraints. Instead, over the years we have steadily increased the sophistication of our student screening. Coupled with our attention to screening has been a deliberate effort to offer a choice to students so they can decide if they want to cave or not. This commitment to both proper screening and lowering the profile of caving is a result of the constructive debate regarding cave conservation facilitated by the NOLS.

    Anderson mentions an "unnatural relationship" with the Bureau of Land Management and undue pull with the National Park Service. We are proud to be a committed partner with the federal land management agencies. We care about the lands on which we operate, and we participate--as anyone is allowed and encouraged to do--in the land management planning process. However, we have no special ability to affect land management decisions and we certainly have not striven to seek short-term expediencies for our program at the expense of long-term conservation. Our involvement in planning processes is consciously based on our commitments first to conservation and second to education as an important and valid use of public land. NOLS operates under the discretion of land managers and we routinely adjust our use per their request. NOLS continually abides by more stringent federal regulations than private cavers do. We do not mind being held to a higher standard since we view access by any organization as a privilege and not a right.

    Anderson makes the legitimate statement that non-cavers cause increased impact; this statement justifies caver education programs. Educational use of caves can accomplish two goals: first, to train cavers to be responsible in using the resource (we cavers all started as beginners) and second, to build the constituency for cave preservation. While the number of cavers is important to regulate, we firmly believe that habits count. Cavers with strong conservation ethics and proper skills have less of an impact on cave resources than uncommitted cavers, whatever their level of experience. Protective legislation like the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, and the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act are perpetually under attack and thus the increasing need for a committed constituency to fight for continuing these protections.

    Schools like NOLS can contribute more to the caving community than just our field course program. As a non-profit educational institution, we feel a responsibility to assist land managers in reaching others. As a partner in the national "Leave No Trace" program, we developing a public domain "Caving Skills and Ethics" booklet and a training curriculum for federal land managers. The upcoming Bureau of Land Management national cave brochure displays the important work that can come from NOLS, the NSS and the BLM working cooperatively.

    We hope the caving community takes a hard look at the many important "cave-for-pay" issues and continues to examine safety, conservation. and access. Viewing any issue this varied as black and white will never be fruitful. Short-sighted condemnation of one group of users by another will only distract us from the real issues and alienate people. The big issues on the horizon are larger than any one faction of wildland users can handle and we will work best if we work together.


  • Hunt, Jasper Ph.D. The Ethics of Risk, Proceedings of the 1994 Wilderness Risk Managers' Conference, pp. 82-89.
  • Gentile, James M.D., et al. Annals of Emergency Medicine 21.7 July 1992, pp. 110-188.
  • (Source: Rocky Mountain Caving, Winter 1995)

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    Mike Bailey, NOLS Caving Coordinator

    The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOS) has been teaching responsible caving skills and ethics for 25 years, as an optional part of our semester program. Students first successfully complete a month-long mountain section (hiking, not caving) where they practice the intricacies of low impact camping and environmental ethics. After the mountain section they move on to three to four other skills areas, which may include caving.

    Our two-week caving progression begins with a number of above ground classes and extensive practice to prepare the students to enter caves with a sense of body awareness, familiarity with their equipment, safety alertness, and knowledge of the fragile cave environment. Obstacle courses emphasize careful movement more than tight squeezes: we often use teetering eggs as "formations." Initial caving trips are short, allowing students to remain alert enough to focus on careful technique. As student abilities improve, the trips increase in length accordingly. Our staff incorporates daily conservation and safety messages as awareness and mobility increase. Students are supervised and are only on trips that match their abilities; a student is never forced to go caving for the sake of caving. The student to instructor ratio is less than 4:1.

    NOLS consciously selects the caves we use with the desire to keep beginning students in more durable and impacted areas, before visiting more sensitive areas of a cave. In certain caves we limit ourselves from ever entering pristine or delicate areas.

    The caves we use must have typical risks encountered by cavers so we can help students develop judgment. Judgment is "a comparative evaluation based on prior experiences," so we do not depend on student judgment until their experience base and proper habits are demonstrated. We are currently trying to slowly shift to more durable caves, specifically trying to use more active vadose caves with seasonal flushing.

    During caving courses, NOLS routinely teaches classes on speleogenesis, karst hydrology, speleothems, cave biology, caving hazards, first aid, cave search and rescue, cave photography, cave conservation organizations, land management, and surveying. In areas with vertical caves, we include above-ground training in ascending and descending techniques before applying these skills underground. Additional classes are taught covering vertical self rescue techniques, Cave managers often visit courses and talk about cave management concerns. Managers frequently take advantage of the manpower to perform many types of service work, including clean-up and photo-monitoring. Important themes on any NOLS course are safety of the individual, care of the environment, and expedition self-sufficiency. NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt says it is criminal to teach wilderness skills without the associated safety and ethics; we still teach by this maxim.

    NOLS students are offered a comprehensive education in caving. Sometimes they continue caving after their course, and involve themselves in the protection of cave resources. After any NOLS course, we expect our students to go home with the knowledge, skills, and habits to effectively supervise the safety and ethics of their peers; that is what outdoor leadership is. More importantly, our semester students go home with the teaching strategies to others in a positive manner, so those people might pass the ethics on again. In this manner, the constituency for wildland conservation grows.

  • (Source, Rocky Mountain Caving, Winter 1995
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    By Diane H. Peapus (from Cleve-O-Grotto News, July 1995;u 10050


    As some of you know, I've started my own science. Speleojunkesis. It's the study of junk in caves. My particular interest is determining how junk gets into caves in the first place, with the hope of developing methods for preventing future junk accumulation. Speleojunkesis is not one of those stuffy sciences. You don't even need to be a scientist to participate. All you need is an official speleojunkesis sample-collection bag in your cave pack. This is basically a large plastic resealable bag with the words "Spelunk Junk" written on it. Prototype spelunk junk bags were distributed at the February Cleveland Grotto meeting, and reasonable facsimiles can easily be made at home.

    I have collected spelunk junk from three caves--Bear, Sharps, and Hidden River--observed spelunk junk in Mammoth-Onyx, and analyzed J4 spelunk junk collected by other speleojunkesis enthusiasts. The results of the sample analysis and some theories are presented here. It's generally seen that different types of caves have different types of spelunk junk which can be classified into a limited number of categories. It's theorized that different methods of spelunk junk prevention are needed for different types of caves.

    Bear Cave, March 11, 1995

    Bob Danielson was the first to embrace the spelunk junk sample collection devices, bringing enormous resealable plastic bags to the Bear Cave clean up sponsored by Loyalhanna Grotto. Also available for spelunk junk collection at Bear were wire brushes, five gallon plastic buckets, and one-gallon plastic milk jugs donated by Bob, Terry Rooney, Melissa Kennedy, and others, a 55-gallon drum/garbage can at the entrance to Bear Cave maintained by Loyalhanna; and Kim Metzger's ATV for hauling the samples down the mountain. Very little spelunk junk was found in the cave. However, decorating the entrance was a collection of defunct kitchen-drawer-style flashlights, dead batteries; the remains of several bonfires; abandoned cave clothes; and empty cave drink containers, including those which once held fluids with varying percentages of alcohol. The majority of the spelunk junk inside the cave was collected from the maze walls using wire brushes and consisted of brightly colored thin films in shapes resembling arrows, usually with the symbol "OUT "inscribed nearby. Most of these films fell to the cave floor when brushed or were mixed with cave mud.

    Sharps Cave, April 1, 1995

    Cleveland Grotto's annual April Fool's Day Sharps Cave trip proceeded under the arrangement made last year, that we pick up any junk we see. Once again, Bob provided huge spelunk junk sample-collection bags and added wooden tongue depressors for scraping up carbide. To our delight, only a few carbide dumps and no other spelunk junk were found in Sharps that day.

    J4 Cave, April 15, 1995

    Spelunk junk consisting of inappropriate light sources and empty food wrappers was collected in J4 by Mickey Skowronsky and Paul Drennan and is reported in Cleve-O-Grotto News (May 1995, vol. 41(5), p. 34). The main difference between 14 spelunk junk and that of Bear is that the absence of the 55-gallon garbage drum made it necessary for J4 spelunk junk to accumulate in the only collection device found there, namely, the cave register tube. These samples were submitted for analysis at the May Grotto meeting.

    Hidden River Cave, May 6, 1995

    Several bags of spelunk junk were collected at the Grotto's third or fourth Somewhat Annual Hidden River Work Day. This cave has a history of foul spelunk junk from commercial runoff, inefficient sewage treatment, and chemical spills. All these are already documented by the EPA and considered far too serious topics for the fledgling science of speleojunkesis at this time. (Refer to American Cave Adventures, published by the American Cave Conservation Association, Fall, 1994.) Sample collection was limited to items which could be contained in a spelunk junk bag.

    After collecting a bag of spelunk junk, it was noticed that the samples consisted of a small number of repeating offenders. Wanting a second opinion, the first official speleojunkesis, Melissa Kennedy, was enlisted to take time from weed patrol and collect a bag of spelunk junk. She confirmed that the spelunk junk contained only a few recurring items: broken glass, cigarette filters, snack food wrappers, and plastic straws. The most notable exception to these items was a pink plastic water pistol found by Bob Danielson, and theorized to be historic spelunk junk, possible used by the Kentucky Militia during the Civil War.

    Mammoth-Onyx Cave, May 7, 1995

    Our clean up efforts at Hidden Cave were rewarded with a tour of Mammoth-Onyx, the commercial show cave at Kentucky's Down Under. Our knowledgeable guide, Chris, explained the present management's inherited problems caused by metals leaching from coins deposited into a formation historically called "The Wishing Well," how these metals

    killed cave microbes at the bottom of the troglodyte food chain; and the consequent loss of sightless cave fish, once abundant in the cave. As he described the removal of thousands of dollars in pennies from the Wishing Well, monitoring the slow reappearance of natural cave bacteria, and an unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce cave fish, I observed several dollars in new coins in a pool nearby. Throughout the tour I also detected a considerable amount of chewing gum on the cave floor and formations. No spelunk junk was collected at this time, however. Chris assured us that the gum and coins are now removed on a regular basis.


    While in the show cave, it was noted that its spelunk junk was of a different nature than samples previously collected in Hidden River, Sharps or Bear. Samples were compared and classes of spelunk junk were identified. Samples from J4 analyzed later were found to be consistent with the classes determined using the Hidden River, Mammoth-Onyx, Sharps, and Bear data.

    Coins and gum found in Mammoth-Onyx are classified as commercial spelunk junk. They are likely to have been carried in by paying customers and deposited carelessly, as with the gum, or intentionally, as with the coins. Providing a gum receptacle and artificial wishing well at the entrance to a commercial cave may prevent further accumulation.

    As Hidden River is in the center of town and subject to street runoff and storm drain backup, the type of samples found there was classified as run off spelunk junk. Since the source of these samples cannot be specified as in the commercial cave, a broader plan to prevent this type of accumulation needs to be implemented. Working storm drains, adequate public garbage receptacles and pick up, and education may curtail this type of spelunk junk. Discouraging the use of non-reusable, non-biodegradable items, such as plastic straws, may also help.

    Spelunk junk of the type found in Bear and J4 can be referred to as "caver" generated. Encouraging "cavers" to join grottos and participate in safe, cave-friendly caving may eliminate these samples. Cavers carrying spelunk junk bags, grotto-run clean ups, and grotto maintenance trash receptacles also seem to be effective.

    Carbide dumps found in Sharps fall into the most disturbing class of spelunk junk termed caver generated. This is not to be confused with the "caver" generated category found in Bear and J4. A carbide dump bag similar to the spelunk junk sample collection bags can be made also using resealable plastic bags, but printing the words "Spent Carbide" on it. The fine line between caver generated and "caver" generated classifications needs further studies.

    Continued collection of spelunk junk samples is always welcome.

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    Developer plans Spielberg-type park in world-famous Mexican caves

    Imagine the U.S. government so strapped for cash it agreed to turn the Grand Canyon into a Disneyland-style theme park. {Ed. Emeritus - It's not so unbelievable today, considering some concession proposals and ideas of selling off NPS properties.)

    That's what is shaping up for the world-famous Cacahuamilpa caverns, which a Canadian developer plans to turn into an enormous backdrop for a high-tech Magic Mountain gone wild--complete with exploding volcanoes and life-size robotic dinosaurs identical to those in Jurassic Park.

    Desperate for money because of its economic crisis, Mexico in April 1995 granted industrialist Barry Sendel the first-ever rights to build a concession in one of Mexico's forty-four national parks. But Sendel plans more than just snack bars for Mexico's answer to Carlsbad Caverns.

    The developer who designed attractions for Disneyland and Universal Studios plans to spend $19 million turning the natural wonder into "The Cave of the Time." Using holographics, state-of-the-art headphone sound and dinosaurs made by the creators of the stars of Seven Spielberg's "E.T." and "Jurassic Park," visitors would be led through simulations of the Big Bang, the formation of glaciers and seas, the origins of life, and the rise of humans.

    Outside Sendel plans an insectarium filled with 50,000 varieties of bugs, a planetarium, museum, hotel, and restaurant.

    But environmentalists won't be first in line to see the show. "Would you do this at Yellowstone Park? At Yosemite? This is a natural phenomenon, not Disneyland, and it doesn't need embellishment," said Jeanne Gurnee, former president of the National Speleological Society, the foremost cave exploration and protection organization in North America. "This goes against the whole idea of a national park, which is to share its wonders of nature with the people of Mexico and with visitors without the benefit of theatrics," added Gurnee, author of the top guide to the continent's show caves.

    Sendel has managed the caves since April 18 and has agreed to pay the Mexican government more than $500,000 a year for fifty years. While he is still seeking approval to build the theme park inside the two explored miles of the caves, Mexican officials say the project could be approved by September.

    The vast caverns, of which Nineteenth Century writer Frances Calderon de la Barca said, "No being but He who inhabits eternity could have created," are made up of more than twenty giant rooms. The largest is more than forty-five stories tall. Filled with gigantic stalagmites and stalactites, the mysterious natural sculptures produced by millions of years of trickling water, the caverns are made famous for the 1940 discovery of rare blind fish in their immense rivers. The caverns remain largely unexplored.

    Mexican authorities say they have no choice but to allow the development in order to save the caves, which are littered with garbage and in disrepair after years of government neglect. There are no medical services and no security inside the caverns. Dozens of vendors sell everything from tacos to replicas of the caves and operate in a free-for-all marketplace inside.

    Officials say they are seeking investors for other Mexican national parks, which extend over five percent of the country's land, and include vast canyons, forests, coastline, and deserts. For years the largely unpatrolled parks have run wild with crime and marijuana fields. With the government millions of dollars in debt since the December devaluation of the peso, there is no money for improvements.

    "I see their intentions are healthy," sad Pedro Alvarez-Icaza, general director of environmental regulation at Mexico's National Ecological Institute, the government agency in charge of national parks. 'The caverns can't remain as they are; we need an alternative. This could become a sort of vast educational space for our children that we don't have." Alvarez-Izaca said that it is unlikely Mexican authorities will allow the dinosaur portion of the exhibit inside the cave, but that they have no reservations about permitting their placement outside.

    The government has few reservations about the other effects Sendel plans, including installing fake floors and rock bases over a portion of the cave, pumping in smoke and water-based gas to simulate erupting volcanoes, and wiring the cavern for light and sound.

    Sendel makes no apologies for his plans. He says he intends to restore the beauty of the caves while attracting more visitors than ever. "Being an environmentalist, I don't want to see the caves destroyed any more than they have been, and they've been allowed to go downhill for years," he said. "We're going to get them in shape and create the Eighth Wonder of the world, something that's never been seen before. It's the most fantastic theater for a show about the creation of the world ever conceived."

    Sendel and Creative Presentations International, a Valencia (California) based company best known for its development of Spielberg's most fantastic creatures, say the development will do less harm to the fragile natural sculpture of the caves than the harsh lights and concrete walkway installed now for visitors by the Mexican government.

    By using laser beam technology and projecting sound effects to visitor headsets, they say damage to the caverns from sound and light waves will be virtually eliminated.

    Environmentalists say developing Cacahuamilpa is a travesty. "The caves are a cathedral to nature. If you change them, if you make them a backdrop for technological wizardry, it is an assassination of the caverns themselves," said Romero Aridjis, a Mexican poet who heads The Group of 100, the country's most prominent ecological organization.

  • (From the Daily Mail (a Knight-Ridder Newspaper), June 28, 1995.
  • Source: Dead Dog Dispatch (Tri-State Grotto), August 1995
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    "Tray Murphy," Richmond Area Speleological Society

    This paper was posted on the Cavers' Digest, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author. It may help cavers to see the issue of introducing Scouts to caving in a new positive light.

    Some time ago I was asked to write the definitive work on the ever popular subject of Scouts going caving. This short (?) treatise will be posted to four places: alt. caving, rec. scouting, Cavers' Digest, and SCOUTS-1. I suggest you extract it to a text file and read it off-line and then maybe make a few copies and pass it around. Maybe this will help lessen the friction between the two groups (Scouters and cavers) that I'm hearing about on both fronts. This will be in two major sections, one for Scouts and their leaders, the other for cavers. First, a little background, and some common elements.

    I started caving 23 years ago at 14 years old. The cavers of ESSO Grotto took me under their wing, and taught me how to cave without getting hurt, and to minimize my impact on any cave I visited, "sacrificial" or not. In other words, cavers taught me how to preserve caves and do it safely. At 18, I joined a Boy Scout troop that my brothers belonged to, mostly to take the older Scouts caving, and teach them climbing and ropework.

    I've been involved with both groups on a local, regional, and national level ever since. I regularly take Scout troops caving and, so far, have a perfect safety record. Some of these Scouts have become accomplished cavers; others have never been underground again. The next few paragraphs should help to explain how we do it safely and why I do it the way I do. Unless otherwise cited, the opinions herein are mine, amassed over the previous 20-plus years of Scouting and caving.

    Caving has been found to be the third fastest growing "adventure" sport in the country. That means the pressure on cavers to introduce people to the underground environment will only continue to grow. This is a fact of life, owing greatly to the exposure caving has received in recent years in the news media (Lechuguilla's discovery, rescues of both cavers and non-cavers, articles in magazines such as Boy's Life featuring the caving Brown family, Outside and National Geographic featuring Bill Stone during his Huautla expeditions, etc.). All we as cavers can hope to do is educate, alleviate (more later), and find cave trip leaders that know how to take groups caving safely and responsibly. What cavers are trying to avoid is finding 25 Scouts with little or no equipment, several hours back in a cave with high exposures, and other dangers, mindlessly stomping through a cave tramping down everything is sight, while daintily plucking bats from the walls. This is an accident waiting to happen, not to mention against the law. What Scout leaders are trying to do is find ever more challenging, educational, and exciting things to inject into their program, since they compete with so many other activities for the boy's attention.

    Cave resources are limited, and threatened on many fronts, all across the country. Laws have been enacted to help protect the natural resource of caves, and we all need to do everything possible to protect both the cave and its environment, and the health and safety of the people who explore them.

    For the Scouters

    First, read the Guide to Safe Scouting. It is available from your local Scout Service Center. It is the bible that you should follow when planning trips and activities for your Scouts. It has a specific section on caving, climbing, and rappelling. It says:

    These minimum safety requirements apply (italics mine).

  • 1. Cave exploring, other than simple novice activities, should be limited to Scouts and Explorers fourteen years of age or older. (Italics BSA's, indicating mandatory standards).
  • 2. Group leaders qualify through training and experience in cave exploring and through knowing established practices of safety, conservation, and cave courtesy (meaning land owner relations etc. - my addition).*
  • Pretty clear. Yet a lot of the Scoutmasters I see writing, and calling, seem to think the rules don't apply to them. The 14-year-old age limit is there for a reason. There has to be a carrot-and-stick approach to keeping boys interested. If they've done everything by the time they're 14, there's not much left. That's why it is a Venture Scout pamphlet, and not a merit badge! Also, it's very clear in Scouting literature that not every activity is for every boy. Project COPE limits its participants, as does Philmont and the other high adventure bases, even National Jamborees have age limits. This age limit also helps with another problem. The literature cited as references talks about it: group size. Cavers try to limit the size of any group to 12 or less, except under some exceptional circumstances. This includes caving trip leaders and the 2-deep leadership (that means 2 registered adults) required by the BSA. That leaves only about 8 youth spaces. The size limit helps to control the group, its whereabouts, and its activities. Small groups are more easily supervised, and are generally better behaved. Realize than an injury to a Scout only an hour from the entrance of a cave could take 15 or more hours to effect a rescue. Only one Scout has to get out of line for someone to get hurt. Also, limiting group size helps the group in moving through the cave smoothly. Except for show cave trails, few caves have hiking grade footing throughout. Tight spots, or a tricky crawl or climb can slow the group to a snail's pace. Too many people means the ones in back get cold and antsy while waiting, and the ones in front tend not to wait for them, creating a situation where the group is split up--obviously a dangerous situation. If you have too many14 and ups, find another way to cull out some--use attendance, rank, dues status, or other methods to week out those who show up only for the "fun stuff." Limiting the group size also lessens the impact on the cave. Studies have shown that very small air temperature changes in the cave, caused by body heat, can adversely affect bats living there, especially if they are hibernating. Lint, trash, and other human debris is left in caves, no matter how small the group, but smaller groups tend to police the cave better, leaving it in better shape than a convoy of people on a stampede. Also consider the older Scouts, too. In the last stampede, witnessed, the older Scouts were clearly tired of having to push the younger, smaller Scouts along. The younger ones were exhausted, cold, and in way over their heads. The older ones resented having to push them every step of the way. As a result, the group saw little more than the entrance room and a couple of dead passages, while my crew visited the prettiest sections of the cave, only 45 minutes beyond where the other group was stalled.

    Now, what about that "simple novice activities"? Lots of discussion with leaders and cavers has brought me to this conclusion: Simple novice activities are: no exposure (danger of falling) over the height of the shortest participant, and that exposure must be spottable. The trip should be no more than 2-3 hours long (not enough to challenge a gung-ho patrol of 14-year-olds, plenty enough for a bunch of 11s and 12s). Our troop sends younger Scouts to commercial show caves for their trail tours, and since we schedule caving trips only about every two years, after a 12-year-old goes to a commercial cave he's generally eligible to go on the sport trip next time. Young Scouts simply don't have the maturity to handle many of the challenges, both physical and mental, that go along with sport caving if you intend to go much beyond an entrance room. Our grotto leads "kids'" trips with a ratio of 1 cave to no more than 2 kids for the families in our grotto but we still stay within simple novice activities. This approach would not work well with Scouts because only three or four Scouts could go with a 1.2 ratio of cavers to novices.

    Another question I often hear: Why won't cavers talk to me about taking my troop caving? Well, it will be a lot easier if you read the above references first, and plan to let them know that you will abide by their rules for going underground. Remember, you're the one asking someone else to do you a favor. and possibly expose him- or herself to liability by taking your Scouts caving. No one has a "right "to go caving. Many cavers are simply not willing to leave themselves hanging out like that. If they have insurance, they're a potential litigation target. If someone gets hurt, they have to prove they weren't negligent, and if some judge or jury doesn't understand what the case is all about, they could lose everything they own. Sound like fun? The BSA will not help them if they are not registered Scouters, so most cavers are on their own with liability coverage, and most probably have no more than their homeowner's blanket policy, if that. Another reason is that so many Scoutmasters seem to think that they know all about taking boys on adventure activities, even if they've never done it themselves. Books and literature are no substitute for experience when it comes to adventure programming. You should no more take a group to the top of Denali without years of experience than you should insist that someone else take your crew underground. Realize that some cavers may not feel qualified to lead a novice group underground. I've seen some excellent underground group leaders, and some abysmal ones. Trust the caver if he/she says they can't (or won't) lead and offers no further explanation. I don't like to admit when I can't do something, either.

    Probably the biggest reason that cavers don't respond well to requests to go caving is that they get so many. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, college (and high school) outdoor clubs, parks and recreation groups--the list goes on and on. So, many grottos have had to say, "No more outside group trips." They're just inundated. If you were my fifth caller on a given night, I think I'd be a little short, too.

    And finally, there's the question of equipment. Cavers have to be properly prepared to be safe in the underground. Remember how long it takes to get an injured person out? Where's the food and water? How about warmth and light? A lot of cavers live on a shoestring caving budget, and cannot afford to outfit 12 other people with helmets with chinstraps and a light source, spare lighting for each, and all the other things you need to be safe and comfortable underground. Construction hard hats with string under the chin will not cut it. $5 headlamps are OK only for the simple novice activities. Packs need to be bigger than a wallet, and hold all the correct stuff. It's mighty expensive if you're trying to equip a whole crew.

    If you do approach a caver, try to do it in person. The NSS Home Page can help you find a grotto and contact near you. Go to a grotto meeting. Meet some of the caves. Maybe go caving with them, if you can. Stress that you want to teach your Scouts something about caves and caving, rather than coming off as a thrill seeker, and maybe they'll talk to you. In any case, they're going to talk to you about it on their terms. So accept that, and go from there. Cavers aren't necessarily standoff-ish or cold. They just don't get approached in the right way (I know from first-hand experience!). Don't ask to camp underground in a cave. Your Scouts can get the full caving experience without spending a night underground. Few cavers will accept such a request anyway. Little camping is ever done underground except for expedition style cave exploration where there is no choice. The reason is cave conservation. How do you manage human wastes, trash, and body heat warming the cave? What about drinking water? Lots of reasons to camp in campgrounds and cave in caves.

    Now what happens, if no one will take you caving? Well, you can keep looking, perhaps contacting another grotto, or another caver. Or you can limit your trip to a commercial show cave. Some of these caverns offer "wild" trips, typically for a fee. They are usually geared for a lowest common denominator, and can be little more than exploring unlit commercial trails, or they can venture out into undeveloped areas of the cave, adding in something more than simple walking. A last resort can be cave-for-pay operations. With cave for pay, it's a toss-up as to what you get. Few "operators" carry liability insurance, and as "commercial outfitters," they certainly should. Checking credentials can be extremely hard. There is no organization which certifies cave trip leaders. With a profit motive, they are more likely to cut corners with equipment and safety. They may or may not have permission to be in a cave. Not many landowners are happy to have cave-for-pay operations going on in their caves, and the discovery of trespassers can be embarrassing and expensive for the operator and his charges. And, you are not likely to get any education in caving techniques. They also seldom limit group sizes ($$$$$), and a huge group in a cave just isn't going to have any fun.

    For the cavers

    As I've said before, the requests to take Scout groups caving are not going to go away. I do know that some cavers simply will not, under any circumstances, take a youth group, or even any other non-caver group, underground. In this case, you're wasting your time reading this; it won't change your mind, no matter what your reasons for your decision: liability concerns, concern for the cave's well-being, lack of equipment to loan, etc. Nor am I going to encourage groups to contact you, or even suggest that you take them caving. What I do ask is that you at least consider the possibility, for reasons I'll set out later.

    Not all Scoutmasters are enemies. If you read the section intended for them, you'll see some of the reasons why caving is such an attractive activity, and where many of them are coming from when they contact you and ask for a caving trip. Most all of them are looking for an activity that is both educational, challenging, and exciting. Their motives are 99.9% pure: they're trying to fulfill their commitment to Scouting by providing the best possible program for young boys to grow into young men.

    Some of the reasons we as cavers should consider fulfilling at least some of the many requests to go caving are these: 1. We are, on the whole, better educated about caves, and therefore better able to teach the conservation and safety aspects to novices in a convincing way. 2. We have knowledge as to which caves can safely be visited by various groups, and we keep up with landowner status regarding by whom, and when their caves may be visited. 3. We have the resources available to teach the general public about caves and cave resources, and dispel some of the myths about caves and caving (and bats, too). 4. We will undoubtedly have to rescue at least some of the people we refuse (not that we should accept any and all requests). Some bull-headed people never learn, and will try to go on their own, without any preparation, and there's nothing we can do about it.

    Probably the best way to explain this topic is to use our grotto's method of accommodating requests to go caving (by any group, by the way, not just Scouts). We have had an Education Committee for many years to handle the requests, from initial contact, until the trip comes off. They also arrange public transportation, and schedule our grotto display for outdoor shows, and other public event, such as Earth Day. We are not soliciting new cavers, we are merely educating the public about caves and cave resources, and hoping to reel in the few that are really interested in caving, and steer them right from the beginning, as I was at 14 years old. Anyone who calls our office or contacts any member of the grotto about taking a group caving is put in touch with the Education Chairman. The Chairman explains our policies about age and numbers limits, and a few other minor things. They also explain that for us to take them caving, we require an orientation by a grotto member about the trip. Then, dates are negotiated. Then the Chairman is responsible for finding a trip leader (from a pool of caves who have indicated a willingness to take groups, and who, in many cases, go out with more experienced trip leaders to learn cave routes, and techniques for dealing with the groups). Usually, a new leader will go on a trip as an "assistant leader" to get used to working with crews of non-cavers.

    We require an orientation meeting or two, especially with youth groups. We have developed a scripted slide show that any member can present to a group with only a little preparation. It covers everything from how caves are formed, conservation of resources and why, what formations are, biota, and the human history of cave exploration. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to present. Then we go over cave safety, more conservation, and give out an equipment list. Every item is required to be supplied by the participants: proper clothing, extra lighting, food, water, extra light sources, and batteries. We as a grotto supply helmets with mounted electric light sources. We are not afraid to refuse to take someone underground who shows up ill-prepared for the trip. Safety comes first! This orientation usually takes about 30-45 minutes, which is why we usually take up two Scout meetings. It also provides a different program for the Scoutmaster for two weeks. We never supply maps, directions to caves, or other information directly to group leaders. If hey make a make to the cave as they drive, there's nothing we can do about that. Hopefully, the orientation teaches them that you must have more than just a map to the cave to cave safely.

    We limit trips to one per group per year, at the minimum. Usually we won't take Scout troops more than once for several years. Participants with Scout troops must be 14 or older, and we require First Class rank. The rank requirement weeds out slackers who don't participate in the Scouting program except when it is "exciting." You get a better bunch of kids this way. The troop must supply two leaders to go underground. That way, if there is an accident, the Scout leaders can deal with the boys and the cavers can deal with the emergency. We take a minimum of two cavers, which is why we occasionally stretch the group limit to 14 total--2 cavers, 2 Scout leaders, and 10 Scouts. We do not camp underground. Our trips stress safety, conservation of cave resources, and education about the cave. If it's exciting, too, great. Usually, the boys are so engrossed with the formations and other pretties, or so busy slogging through whatever fun the leader had found now--a nice mud crawl or a belly crawl through a stream, that they are having fun, whether they realize it or not!

    Picking the proper cave can be a chore. It's a good idea to pick something with relatively large passages that a group can move through fairly easily. Tight crawls slow everything to a crawl, and the guys in back get cold and anxious waiting their turn in the barrel. The cave should not be vertical at all. Some low exposure is OK, but avoid slippery ledges that pitch off into a bottomless chasm. Remember, these guys don't have the cave savvy that we cavers have to move easily over the tough stuff. Belays really aren't much good with an inexperienced group unless you are going to take the time to rig them properly, and supervise the crossing of the heights. It's easy and safer to find another route with less danger. Excitement doesn't necessarily have to mean dangerous places where sure injury or death can occur on a misstep. See my description of "simple novice activities" in the Scoutmasters' section of this paper for further guidance. Base your selection on your best judgment of the groups' capabilities and desires.

    What about liability? That's a question best left for the lawyers, but this is what little I know about it. If you do not accept money to take someone caving (and we do not even solicit a "maintenance donation" for helmet use), you're only liable in cases of negligence, i.e., where you go off and leave the group behind, or quit supervising them, or take them somewhere they clearly don't belong (like the edge of a 200' drop without vertical gear or training).**


    **Like I said, I'm not a lawyer. If you are really concerned about this, contact a liability or personal injury lawyer for more details. The liability lawyer will give you the case law, The personal injury lawyer will tell you he'll sue no matter what the merit of the case. You have to balance the two.


    Of course, anyone can sue for anything, and if little Johnny gets hurt underground on your trip, someone will probably sue you for it. Proper safety training can go a long way toward alleviating that risk, witness our grotto's perfect safety record (and mine, too). You can't ignore, or duck, all risk. Just taking a group underground is risky, and if you aren't comfortable leading groups because of this, by all means explain this to a Scoutmaster. If you are a registered Scout leader, working within your training and experience, and within National BSA safety standards, they will help defend you unless it is clearly negligence or worse. Get yourself a copy of the Guide to Safe Scouting from a local Scout Service Center, along with a copy of the Venture scout pamphlet Caving, and the Scout Fieldbook, both of which have sections on caving in them. Also, get the NSS guidelines. You'll know the rules, and if nothing else, you can fend off the Scoutmaster who insists on taking the 11-year-old munchkins along with you on the trip. Our grotto has helmet users sign a liability waiver, but no state allows you to sign away your right to sue. The waiver basically says that caving can be hazardous, and the participant assumes these risks. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) has an assumption of risk form. Unlike a liability waiver, it spells out in plain English the risks associated with outdoor adventure programs, and tells participants they must take responsibility for their actions in the activities they engage in. They will be happy to send you a copy if you request it. Whether a judge will throw out a suit against a leader if the plaintiff has signed such a form remains to be seen. So, there is a risk involved in taking other groups caving. You can't avoid it. It is a consideration.

    If you've made up your mind that neither you nor your grotto will take non-caving groups underground, at least use a little tact when turning down Scoutmasters or other group leaders. Part of the friction between the groups stems from Scoutmasters insisting that they should be taken no matter what, or the cavers insisting that they won't with no further explanation. At least return the call, or send a form letter: "We regret to inform you that we do not take outside groups caving because blah , blah, blah." Then maybe the hostility will not turn into an alt.caving or rec.scouting shouting match. If you won't do it, explain why. A simple courtesy call saying, "We're afraid of being sued" at least does not promote the idea that we are "elitists" of some sort.

    Cavers and Scouts can co-exist. As with any outdoor adventure sport, it will continue to grow. Scoutmasters can try to understand cavers' fears of too many people heading underground, and cavers can try to understand a Scoutmaster's desire to provide a vibrant, exciting program to his troop. Working together, cavers can tap a huge reserve of conservation-minded folks like themselves to help spread the word about caving and the natural resources associated with caves. Scout leaders can find a whole new adventure just waiting for his charges to learn about and try out as a new learning experience. Let's just douse the sparks and keep the lines of communications open.

    For more information:

  • Your local Scout Service Center
  • The National Speleological Society, 2813 Cave Avenue, Huntsville AL 35810-4431.
  • The NSS Home Page:
  • My home page, with links to other caving and Scouting resources on the web:


  • Written by Tray Murphy
  • Asst. Scoutmaster, Troop 891, Bon Air, VA
  • Richmond Area Speleological Society, Richmond VA
  • National Speleological Society NSS #29211 Life Member
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    Kids Caving

    "Wow, look! Do you see it? It looks like a cave. Let's go explore." This might be the conversation of any group of kids or adults) on a hike through the woods. Our desire, indeed our need, to explore the new and unknown drives our sense of excitement when encountering caves. This curiosity exists at all ages, but it is more evident in the young. A better way to state this is to say that curiosity is restrained in adults compared to in children for most adults, anyway). As we age, we gain the wisdom to control our curiosity and give way to it in more controlled situations.

    As adults, and as members of the National Speleological Society, we have a responsibility to help kids control their curiosity but not to destroy it) in such a way that they can enjoy the adventure of exploring the new and unknown without endangering themselves. We must show, by good example, the proper way to explore caves. We must teach them the safety rules they need to know before going caving. We must help them to use their interests in caving in a positive manner, by teaching them to use their new skills to help with cave conservation and other service areas of caving.

    Much has already been written about kids and caving. The various publications all deal with safety in great detail and should be consulted before caving with kids. A bibliography follows this article. Caving is very popular in this area, and many youth groups have guidelines to follow.

    The Boy Scout of America deals with caving in Chapter 25 of their Fieldbook. They recommend contacting NSS members for guidance on proper caving techniques. They then detail requirements for clothing, gear (lights, helmets, water and food, pack), first aid, and caving techniques, including interpreting cave map symbols. They mention commercial "wild cave" tours and stress the importance of obtaining landowner permission for privately owned caves. Other sections of the book discuss cave formation and geology.

    The Girl Scouts of the United States of America doesn't mention caving in Safety-Wise, their publication on general safety considerations for activities and program. This leaves it up to each Girl Scout Council to regulate caving for their members. Our local council, Girl Scouts of North Alabama, Inc., addresses caving on page D-7 of their reference manual Greenbook. In it they recommend a progression from commercial, guided tours to more advanced caving in privately owned caves. Part of this progression involves inviting an experienced caver to a troop meeting to discuss safe caving. They refer troops to us (the Huntsville Grotto) for experienced cavers. Details of proper equipment, clothing, etc. are not covered in Greenbook, nor are special first aid considerations. Girl Scout groups considering caving need to make sure they consult an experienced caver before going caving.

    The NSS has its own publication, Cave Exploring by Youth Groups, which is a pamphlet covering safety tips, equipment, conservation, and landowner relations. This pamphlet also refers the youth leader back to any additional requirements of their organization. Ideally, the pamphlet will be used along with meeting with an experienced caver prior to the caving trip. Another NSS publication, Caving Basics, does not specifically address caving with kids, but it does mention the responsibilities landowners must meet when they have an "attractive nuisance" on their property. In the event a group of kids goes caving without proper adult supervision or permission, a landowner must be aware of his and the kids' legal rights. For details of landowner liability, see Chapter 19 in Caving Basics. Some books have been written for children and cover the basics of moving safely. These include Caves and Let's Explore Caves and Caverns. These books do not have enough information to use alone, but reach the kids on their own level with some important information. It is assumed that the type of caving trips kids will go on will be horizontal trips in easy caves. Some of the preceding publications mention vertical caving but stress that it should be left to very experienced, and therefore older, cavers. These strips requiring special equipment and training are only for youth with enough sense of responsibility to take the risks seriously. Indeed, the vertical class that our grotto sponsors is for ages 18 and older, due not only to liability concerns, but to the level of maturity for vertical work.

    Should liability concerns keep us from caving with kids? The "Huntsville Grotto Trip Policy" states that no one under 11 be allowed on a Grotto-sponsored trip, and that no one under 16 be allowed without a responsible adult over 21. Should we ban kids from caves? No. We should cave with kids but let's make sure we do it right.

    Before age 11 or so, commercial guided tours (the kind with flat walkways and electric lights) are the best for novice cavers. In some caves, this is about the only way anyone will see any of the cave. These trips can be very interesting, since the guides will relate the history and geology of the cave Age 11 (or fifth grade) is a good age to start introducing kids to the commercial "wild" cave trips. Some good locations for these trips are Bear Rock, Cumberland Caverns, and Mammoth Cave. They all educate the kids before entering the cave (in addition to the preparatory work the group did before their trip) and keep the kids' safety in the forefront. Another popular spot with youth groups is Lost Sea Caverns Lost Sea does not follow safety guidelines and is not recommended for kid trips. They have you bring a flashlight for your only source of light, and they do not provide helmets. Their answer to that is "We tell the kids not to run or horse around while on the cave trip so they won't hit their head." Do not take your kids there for their wild cave trip! [Ed-The comments in this paragraph relate to caves accessible from Huntsville. For your area, ask a local caving group. Caving trips to non-commercial caves should be limited to middle school kids (7th grade and up). These kids should take an active part in preparing for the trip, including getting permission from the landowner. They should contact the landowner themselves and mention the adult sponsors of their trip, and refer the landowner to the adult for trip confirmation. The Grotto holds a "kids" trip every so often for little kids (and sometimes dogs), but these trips are not appropriate for youth groups going on their first cave trips. Family and experienced friends of Grotto members enjoy these trips.

    What benefits do kids get from caving? Well, first of all their curiosity and sense of adventure are satisfied. They learn that they can have fun exploring while staying safe. They learn that there are things that they can do that not all kids can do or have the opportunity to do. Kids take great pride in their accomplishments, and caving is something unique that they can become skilled in. Geology, geography, chemistry, biology, and ecology are seen in "real life" applications. Kids will develop a sense of protection for caves and cave formations. Concern for endangered species hits home when they see graffiti and vandalism in these delicate environments. Lastly, kids develop a sense of wonder at the beauty underground. Kids are always going to show an interest in caves. We can nurture that interest and create a future generation of responsible cavers. Or we can misdirect that interest by making caving something off-limits to kids, making it something they will try to do anyway, perhaps dangerously. What will it be?


    1. Fieldbook, Boy Scouts of America, Irving, Texas, third edition, 1984
    2. Safety-Wise, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., New York, 1993
    3. Greenbook, Girl Scouts of North Alabama, Inc., Huntsville, AL, fifth edition, 1994
    4. Cave Exploring by Youth Groups_, Youth Groups Liaison Committee of the NSS, Inc., Huntsville, AL 1992
    5. Kramer, Stephen, Caves, Carolrhoda Books, Inc., Minneapolis, 1995
    6. Toops, Connie, Let's Explore Caves and Caverns, a Young Explorer Series Activity Book, Explorer Press, Conway, AR, 1990
    7. Tarkington, Terry W., William W. Varnadoe, jr., and John D. Vetch, So You Want To Go Caving, a Manual for Beginners, Huntsville Grotto of the National Speleological Society, Huntsville, AL,

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    Caving for Pay--A Heretic's Viewpoint

    Nick Noe (at one time NSS Conservation Chairman)

    I promised myself that if I ever became active in caving again, I would try to avoid politics like a cat avoids water, butt it must be in my blood because whenever I hear a point-counterpoint discussion where certain arguments take liberty with logic, on goes the war paint and out comes the fightin' words. So it is with Caving for Pay. Having taken up scouting as a second hobby while in New York, it didn't take long for me to pick up on the feeling among cavers that Boy Scouts fit somewhere in between Used Car Salesmen and Televangelists. They can hardly be blamed for their feelings, given the abuse heaped upon the caves by unsupervised youth of some or no affiliation with scouting. Just the same, I feel compelled to rise to the defense of scouts as well as those cavers who devote their time and talents to take them caving, even for a price.

    I'm sure everyone has heard the story about the young man who asked a young lady if she would commit fornication for a million dollars. After thoughtful pause, the young miss replied that she probably would. The young man then asked if she would perform the same deed for one dollar. Her outraged response was, "What do you think I am?" His response was, "We've already determined that; what we're haggling over now is the price."

    To some degree, most of us have found ourselves in the predicament of the young lady with regard to caving for pay. It's all right if it's fun and we do it for free with friends, but the acceptance of any form of gratuity for our services, or exposure of caving as thrill entertainment for the general public would probably offend the moral sensibilities of most of our fellow avers.

    If we figure that there are about 30,000 active cavers in the U.S. population of about 250 million, that gives us a ratio of about one caver to 8,333 non-cavers. Given this ratio, I think that the NSS and organized caving in general may be trying to wrestle with a Goliath of public opinion about caves and caving. A growing population will ensure that there are more people to find the caves and less room for cave entrances to remain inconspicuous. So regardless of whether we take others caving, for pay or for free, the pressure will continue to mount upon the caves because public opinion about caves has changed very little in the past few decades. Certainly, we have made great strides in educating the proprietors or managers of well-known cave properties about cave management, but the larger issue of "public management" has gone virtually untouched. With commercial caves touting their virtues along every highway and popular media reports highlighting the thrill of exploration, it's inconceivable that anyone who isn't speleophobic would not be interested in a wild caving trip.

    The Boy Scouts of America has some very unusual ideas of what is a safe activity and what is not. Shotgun and Rifle Shooting, Archery, Canoeing, Water Skiing, Biking, Swimming, and Motorboating all have their individual merit badges with required safety instruction of candidates by certified individuals. Hang Gliding, Quad or Tri-runners, and Ultralight Flying have all found their way into the list of forbidden activities. Flying of private aircraft, challenge courses, basic rock climbing, and caving are all "high adventure" activities reserved for older boys or explorers, but without the offering of a merit badge. (although a Venture Scout pin is offered for completion of a "caving adventure"). Most scout troops and a few cub packs have generally had a "caving experience" as a unit at some time or another, usually supervised, but some free-lance. Cavers are as varied in their experience with scouts, with some shunning and some seeking "troop trips" for a variety of reasons depending on background, training, and motivation. All together, scouting creates a great demand for individuals with caving experience to lead trips.

    As long as America is a capitalist country, there will be an entrepreneur daring enough to find some way to make money in a caving-related activity, if it can be made to be profitable, and regardless of the wishes of the organized caving community. Some do it by publishing or selling publications, some by providing caving appliances, and some by providing training or led expeditions. If the demand is there, so will be a supplier for that demand, whether lawful, ethical, or otherwise. I believe the caving community should be more concerned with how the demand for Professional Caving is met, rather than whether or not it should be met. I think we are already seeing the first steps to licensing of cavers for use of state properties. The Department of Environmental Conservation of New York State requires a Professional Guide License for any individual leading a hunting party or back country trip on Department property for pay. Can licensing of professional cavers be so far-fetched if the public safety is involved? Certainly the state licenses beauticians, barbers, plumbers, television repairmen, and any other sill where a minimum of competence is required.

    A good case could be made for three classes of caving licenses--Amateur, Professional Horizontal, and Professional Vertical--based on experience, training, and tenure in the preceding license. The question is, Who among us will make that case? If we stand by and say nothing, hoping the problem will go away, we will continue to see unqualified individuals leading trips with serious consequences to the caves. If we advocate licensing, there will surely be some who will resist government intrusion into what they regard as the last unregulated frontier. Certainly this is a controversial idea, particularly in a caving community that has survived for years and prided itself on self-policing and peer pressure. But given the lopsided ratio of cavers to an ever-increasing and curious public, how long can we hold on? Back in a 1973 CIG Newsletter I predicted that the energy crisis would afford the caves some measure of protection because it would cost too much to get to the caves. As it turned out, there was plenty of energy available at the right price, and some 20-odd years later the caves are as much visited as they were back then. Even so there are pressures building which I think will serve to limit access to caves, and send the argument of caving for compensation to the sidelines to witness a much larger controversy.

    That controversy is liability;. The same folks who brought you mandatory seat belts, airbags, child-restraint seats, and smoking restricted to consenting adults in private, think caving is a dangerous activity and are charging accordingly. The insurance companies, like any smart businessman, try to minimize their risk. The days when you could buy a $100,000 term life insurance policy without telling the insurer you were a caver are long gone. If you have an NSS number, your actuarial tables are different than the average Joe or Jill. Even for the Boy Scouts, coverage is skyrocketing, and costs must be borne by chartering organizations or Scout Councils who have the financial resources to afford the premiums. Landowners are feeling the same pressure. it's a lot easier to deny access or fill in the entrance than to pay higher insurance premiums if someone gets hurt or trapped in your cave with the accompanying publicity. All of this makes caving for pay an expensive proposition if you mark up your guide fee sufficiently to afford malpractice insurance. Which also asks the question "What is caving malpractice?" but I'm saving that article for 2015.

    Another pressure is the Information Superhighway. Cyberspace may not replace Speleospace, but it will give it a good run for its money. If you can shop, work, and play at your keyboard, why bother go to out? Of course, here will also be some of us who have to get dirty in a cave just to prove it can still be done.

    Cave for Pay? Considering the consequences upon the caves of continuing to cave for free, I don't believe we can afford not to. Licensing for professional guides may not always guarantee a minimum degree of competence, but it is a good place to start if cavers expect to have any future control over who is using the caves and how well those caves are being treated. Slowly but surely, cavers are losing ground in the battle of public opinion. Bad things happen to caves because the public has little, if any, compassion for a hole in the ground and the critters who live there. We have tried to walk the fence by educating the public while not revealing cave locations and have failed. The result is a public that is increasingly aware of the caves strictly as a recreational resource for the more daring, and who will not wait for the organized caving community to show them where they are located. They are finding them quite nicely on their own, thank you, with repercussions that will eventually affect us all.

    Source: CIG Newsletter, January 1996

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    Ed. Note: I picked up this survey at the Caverns after the 1994 NSS Convention. It's included here as an example of the sorts of surveys that are being used to gather information.

    Date: Mo. ____ Day ____ Year ____

    1. How did you hear about Natural Bridge Caverns?

    a. friends/ e. radio
    b. outdoor advertising f. newspaper (where?)
    c. brochure g. other (specify)

    2. Which of the following statements best describes your trip to Natural Bridge Caverns? (select one)

    a. My visit to Natural Bridge Caverns was planned as part of my vacation.

    b. I came to Natural Bridge Caverns as part of a weekend outing.

    c. I was driving by and decided to stop at Natural Bridge Caverns when I hadn't planned to.

    3. What did you like best about your visit?

    a. Everything d. the cavern (which areas?)
    b. cleanliness
    c. friendliness

    4. What was your tour guide's name?

    5. Was your guide friendly and courteous throughout the tour?

    a. Yes b. no (please elaborate)

    6. Did your guide answer all questions in a knowledgeable and cheerful manner?

    a. Yes b. no (please elaborate)

    7. Is there anything you did not like about your visit?

    a. no b. yes (please elaborate)

    8. How likely are you to recommend that your friends visit Natural Bridge Caverns?

    a. Likely b. not likely

    9. Do you have any suggestions to make your next visit more enjoyable?

    a. no b. yes (please elaborate)

    How many persons in your party are in the following age groups?

    Under 18 years
    18ญญญญ24 years
    25ญญญญ34 years
    35ญญญญ50 years
    Over 50 years

    Natural Bridge Caverns ญ 26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Road
    Natural Bridge Caverns, Texas 78266ญ9645

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  • John Hochreiter NSS 32038
  • Central Jersey Caver, quoted in Northeastern Caver, Sept. 1995
  • I would like to open up a familiar old topic and try to get some new perspectives from the membership. Do you think that caving and cave locations should be a guarded secret or do you believe that caving is something that should be promoted or exposed for all to enjoy? Tough call.

    If it wasn't for some kind of publicity (Exploring American Caves in my case) many of us might not have discovered caving. The pursuit of this interest was not easy at first. It was tough finding any information on caves and cavers. This difficult process might have served to weed out people who just had a passing interest. The information available was scarce, but what was available was absorbed, thus educating the potential caver to the responsibilities to conservation.

    On the other hand, I'm sure there are many of us who discovered caving through some form of promotional type of activity (Scouts, Explorers, Conservation Groups). Many of my friends got turned on to caving this way. If there was too much secrecy, I gather many of these people would never have gotten turned on to caving. I don't pretend to have an answer for this great debate. I do, though, have an opinion. I feel as though I have been extremely lucky to have happened upon caving in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. This will be known as the best time in history for this interest. I believe it is inevitable that caves will be closed, lawsuits will close many of them; pollution will close many more; and poor land-owner relations will close most of the rest. The caves that will be left will have heavy traffic. Cavers will take to caving at night so the traffic will be low, thus adding to the landowner concerns. Caving as we know it will be something we talk about, like the fisherman do of the fish that used to be or the hunters do of the animals that used to roam the land. I believe that will happen and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. The only thing we can hope to do is delay it. Maybe it is possible to prevent it long enough for our children to experience caving. Already there is so much that I have seen that they will never get to see.

    So, if I had to vote on this topic, I would vote for secrecy. The mere presence of cavers in a cave pollutes it. We bring in trash' we track mud all over formations. Many of the passages we travel were once rimstone dams that have been filled with so much mud that people never notice they are walking on formations. We bring microscopic organisms in on our clothes. What these do to the micro fauna and the beginning of the food chain no one knows. Even the most conscientious of cavers has an experience where he or she has damaged or left something in a cave. So, to cave is to accept a certain amount of damage for the sake of one's own interests. So in our own self interest. Let's at least try to minimize the damage by keeping our activities off the front page. If caving can be left to people who have been influenced and educated by a discerning caving community, then maybe there'll be something left for our grandchildren to explore.

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