A Call to Prioritize Beginner Training in the VTC Program


Since the National Speleological Society (NSS) chartered the Vertical Training Commission (VTC), we’ve had lots of interest in our training program from outside organizations. We’re excited about the enthusiasm for our vertical training program! That being said, we would like to take this opportunity to clearly state our mission and outline appropriate uses of our volunteer-based program. We also want to make clear that our program is very much still in development; we ask for patience as we develop and pilot our student and trainer curricula as well as our associated policies and procedures.

VTC’s primary mission is to teach basic vertical caving techniques to the hundreds of new cavers who join the NSS and our local chapters (“grottos”) each year. We are designing our core vertical training program to include two levels of student courses: a Level 1 course in basic vertical techniques and a Level 2 course that will focus on rigging and more advanced vertical techniques. To effectively deliver this vertical training program, we are concurrently developing a “train-the-trainer” program to train and qualify volunteers to serve as trainers (to teach the student courses) and master-trainers (to teach the trainer courses). A dedicated group of NSS volunteers is working diligently to complete and pilot-test all of the program’s components. Based on our progress to date, we expect that completion and full rollout of the two course levels will likely take at least 2 – 3 more years. Even after all of the necessary program elements are in place, it will still likely be several more years before we are able to train and qualify a sufficient number of trainers and master trainers to meet the expected demand from new cavers.

Vertical Training Commission

VTC’s vertical training program is not designed to be used as a credentialing program; such use would seriously impair our ability to achieve our primary mission. VTC only provides instruction; we do not provide any certification of vertical caving competency. If outside organizations were to nevertheless attempt to use VTC’s courses in this manner, experienced cavers would take limited classroom spots away from the new cavers our program is intended to serve.

VTC’s charter was specifically written to discourage the use of VTC courses as a prerequisite for allowing cave access. Our charter states: ”Our goal is to improve vertical safety for cavers, while resisting efforts to develop vertical training certifications as a mechanism to limit or restrict cave access.” We recognize that there are already a large number of highly skilled and experienced vertical cavers in the U.S., who have acquired their skills and experience through a wide variety of sources, often spanning years and dozens to hundreds of vertical caving trips. Requiring these experienced cavers to take a basic training course simply to demonstrate skills they already possess would place an unreasonable burden, both in time and expense, on these cavers. An approach that mandates formal training in vertical caving techniques to allow cave access for recreational, educational, or scientific activities would also be inconsistent with how private and public landowners currently manage access that entails other technical skills, including canoeing, kayaking, white-water rafting, rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering.

To help us focus on teaching new cavers, we respectfully request that organizations avoid any policies or actions that require completion of VTC training as a condition for access to caves. We look forward to working in partnership with outside organizations whose policies align with our mission and purpose. We are more than happy to answer any questions about this or suggest alternative ways the VTC curriculum can be used. Feel free to reach out to vtc@caves.org for more information.

Arhythmia – Jacob Lieber