Most wild caving trips are usually 3 to 5 hours long and may extend a mile or more underground.
The entrance to a cave may be up and/or down a path, on the side of a hill, hidden behind bushes and tall grass, in the middle of a pasture or in a huge sink hole. To enter the cave, girls may be faced with lowering themselves down a small hole, crawling over or under a ledge, squeezing into a crack between a rock wall and the ground or, in some cases, they may be able to follow a stream passage and walk into the entrance. Regardless of what the entrance looks like, the girls should be prepared to hike to the cave carrying all of their own gear.
Once inside the cave, the girls may need to crawl or climb over broken rocks to get to the first room of the cave where they can stand up. When the girls go beyond the light of the entrance, the guide or lead caver should have them sit down, turn off their headlamps and sit still for a few minutes. Sitting in total darkness allows their eyes to adjust to the darkness of the cave. After 3 to 5 minutes, the group will turn on their headlamps and proceed into the cave.
Caves and caverns are of different shapes and sizes. Some caves are like a string of pearls - a small entrance opening up to a large room which leads to a small opening into another large room. These types of caves can be small where there are a couple of rooms attached to each other, or the cave may extend for miles. Some caves are water passages where the girls will walk along an underground water tube with small passages extending off of the main tube. Others combine both the string of pearls with a water passage. Caverns are large underground chambers. They may be several stories tall and may extend for hundreds of feet. In many cases, smaller caves branch out away from the cavern.
Not all caves require the same skill level. It is not uncommon for caves to vary in difficulty. For example, some caves may have areas that drop down deeper into the earth, which involves rappelling. Only groups that have been trained in rappelling and have the appropriate rappelling gear should attempt exploring a cave with that degree of difficulty. Therefore, it is important for the leader to match the difficulty of the cave with the experience of the group. First time cavers should always explore an easier, beginner cave. As the experience of the girls increases, the leader can then determine whether the girls are ready for a more advanced, challenging cave.
Girls should be prepared to see two caves. The first cave is the way in and the second is the way out. Both are the same cave, but look very different. Therefore, it is necessary for the group to mark their way through the cave, either by arranging small stones into a recognizable pattern or by using flagging tape to mark the way. Girls should look for formations that look distinctive, such as a rock shaped like an animal or a familiar object. They may want to name these formations, so the group can identify them on the way out.
The temperature of a cave is determined by the average overall above ground temperature of the area where the cave is located. Therefore, caves closer to the equator will be warmer than caves further away from the equator. Caves in the continental United States are usually cool, ranging from as warm as 69 degrees in Arizona to a cold 47 degrees in Maine. Girls should dress appropriately and in layers, so they can adjust their clothing to meet their temperature needs within the cave.
Generally speaking, caves are cold, dark, wet and muddy places. Girls will be on their hands and knees crawling, climbing, stooping, sliding, belly crawling and walking though a series of wet passages within the cave. The formations the girls encounter may be breathtaking and the skills they gain while exploring a cave are well worth the discomforts they will overcome. Girls should be prepared for the challenges they encounter. They should expect to get wet and muddy while caving. For many girls, that's the fun part.