Caving Checklist Musts:
Helmet Lights (Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary)
Two or three recharges for each light source
Inner clothes (top and bottom)
Outer clothes (top and bottom)
Change of clothes to ride home in (don’t forget shoes)
Garbage bag or two
Food (crushable) and water
Money for gas, food, etc.
Kneepads and/or elbow pads
Backpack or side pouch
Cave Safely and Softly!
Alex Boughamer NSS# 40422
Caving is a relatively inexpensive activity that can give
the participant a sense of adventure, achievement, and especially
discovery. Occasionally, a caver can experience the same sort
of feeling that Neil Armstrong felt when he first stepped
onto the moon- the feeling of boldly going where no caver
has gone ever before. You will find yourself walking, crawling,
slithering, climbing, and sliding in order to explore this
new world. In doing so you may discover muscles you never
knew you had. Caving does have its inherent risks; getting
lost, rockfall, caver fall (falling caver), drowning, hypothermia,
arid cuts and bruises. These risks can be extremely reduced
with a little knowledge and know how. Most accidents occur
to people who enter without being prepared and don’t follow
a few common sense rules. Stupidity is the number one killer
in caves. This sheet is designed to reduce the general risks
involved in caving and give the beginner an idea of what equipment
they will need. Although this information pertains to any
wild cave trip it does not cover the additional information
or equipment involved with vertical caving or underwater caving.
You are responsible for your own safety in a cave.
1) NEVER CAVE ALONE: If you
do, you might as well carry a tombstone with you. If you get
hurt there is no one there to help you or to go for help.
The National Speleological Society recommends at least four
people present when caving. If someone gets hurt then one
person can stay with the victim and the other two can go for
2) LET SOMEONE KNOW WHAT CAVES)
YOU ARE VISITING AND WHEN EXPECT TO RETURN: Leave information
with someone about where you are going, what cave(s) you are
visiting, and what time you’re expected to return. (Keep in
mind that time flies while underground so give ample leeway
to avoid wild goose chase rescues). Also leave the name and
phone number of a person familiar with the cave you are visiting.
Don’t decide to go to a different cave without getting in
contact with the person who knows of your whereabouts.
3) ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET:
Aside from bruises (you can almost always count on a few)
the most common injury associated with caving is smacking
your noggin on the ceiling. The helmet’s main purpose is to
protect you against this type of injury. Knobs on your head
are not fun and lead to a miserable experience. Picture a
6ft tall person unknowingly standing up in a passage that
is only 5’ 5” high. You can generate enough force to potentially
knock yourself out.
4) CARRY AN AMPLE SUPPLY OF LIGHT:
At least three sources of light are required, because light
is life in a cave. Helmet mounted lights are better than handheld
flashlights because your hands will be free for balance; however,
most beginners use handheld flashlights because they are cheaper
and more available. Bring several recharges for your lights
whether they are batteries or carbide. For most Pennsylvania
caves bring three or four changes for your primary light source;
and one or two for your secondary and tertiary light sources.
West Virginia caves will require more since they are larger.
Sources of light could include handheld electric flashlights,
helmet-mounted electric lights, helmet-mounted carbide lights,
mini-mags, candles, and light sticks. Your first three light
sources should not include candles and light sticks. Your
first three light sources especially your first should be
durable and able to withstand jolts with in a wet and muddy
environment. These are usually toys and used only for aesthetics,
but they are a good fourth or fifth light source. Some cavers
attach glow sticks to their helmets to assist their main source.
The advantage of this is peripheral light as well as having
some light for when the main light goes out. A lot of cavers
also tie a miniature light around their neck with a string
(shoe strings work well). This gives the caver easy access
to a backup. For battery-operated flashlights, alkaline batteries
are the best. Carbon cells and rechargeable batteries don’t
last long—so if you are planning to use them bring even more
for backup. Some other notes of advice are to carry extra
bulbs and turn off your lights to conserve your batteries
when sitting around talking to other cavers.
5) WHAT TO WEAR: Clothing
requirements for caves vary depending on the cave and the
level of activity. Most limestone caves in this area are between
50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 13 degrees Celsius). Two
or three layers of clothing are usually sufficient for recreational
caving. Clothing should be old and not loved, for cave mud
does not wash out of clothing. The kind of material worn is
important. Cotton has no insulation value when wet. Try to
avoid wearing a lot of cotton. Wool, nylon, polypropylene,
and spandex are a few materials that do hold 111 heat when
wet. Examples of things to wear above the waist are a turtleneck
or thermal underwear covered by a long-sleeved heavy work
shirt or sweatshirt. For below the waist, thermal underwear,
pantyhose, spandex or a combination of these, covered by jeans
works well. Coveralls are even better for outerwear. Shoes
should have good traction on wet rock and mud. Hiking boots
and work boots with flexible soles are ideal. Tennis shoes
are not good but will work if that is all you have. Kneepads
and elbow pads are nice to have (especially kneepads) but
not necessary. They can be bought for S or 6 dollars at K-mart
or Wal-Mart. Gloves (leather, cotton, or rubber) are also
recommended. Most of the clothes can be picked up at Goodwill
or flea markets very cheaply since cost is always a concern
to college students and cavers as well since they end up destroying
everything anyway. Unless you bring your own car, take a change
of clothes to wear home or else you might have to ride home
naked—it has been done before! Don’t forget a change of shoes.
Bring a garbage bag to put your muddy clothes in. Glasses
can be worn as well; it might be a good idea to invest in
a strap to keep them from falling off your head. Contacts
can be worn but bring eye drops.
6) ACCESSORIES: A side pouch
or a pack no larger than a Jansport is excellent for carrying
batteries, water, food, or whatever you need. Food should
be squash resistant, bananas and twinkles don’t last long.
Water can be carried in plastic bottles. It is advisable that
you bring some food and water along; you can leave it outside
the cave if you don’t want to take it in.
7) PHOTOGRAPHY: Caves are
really hard on cameras. If you want to take in your own camera
you should wrap it in a towel and put it in a Tupperware container.
Disposable cameras with flashes are great because you can
destroy them and it’s no big deal. The flashes only work up
to about 25 feet. Make sure everyone including the photographer
holds his or her breath for at least a three count because
light is reflected beck to the camera from the fog (results
in cave ghosts).
8) CONSERVATION: Caves are
highly respected among cavers. They are unique, rare, and
delicate environments. You are only visitors. The National
Speleological Society’s motto is, “Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but carefully placed footprints. Kill nothing
but time.” Hurting or killing any of the cave’s residents
and taking, marking or breaking any cave’s formations is illegal
and punishable by fine. Offenders will be prosecuted. Do not
leave trash in the cave, mark the walls with paint or chalk,
or leave string to mark your path. If some means of marking
passage is needed then leave paper notes or arrows pointing
in the direction of the exit. They can then be picked upon
the way out. Bats will not hurt you. They do not want to fly
in your hair. They cannot bite you with the exception of Big
Brown bets if you stick your finger in their mouth while handling
them. Don’t handle them. Do not wake up hibernating bets.
Doing so will cause them to speed up their metabolism. They
will burn up valuable fat reserves and starve to death. Contrary
to popular belief~ less than one half of one percent of bats
contract rabies and unlike other mammals, they do not become
aggressive. Only 10 people in the U.S. and Canada are believed
to have gotten rabies from bats in the last 40 years (Source:
Dr. Merlin Tuttle. Bat Conservation International. Bacardi
Imports, Inc; Bat Booklet). More people die each year from
stress associated with finals.
9) SAFETY: The National Speleological
Society publishes an annual list of caving accidents. From
1986 to 1993 there was an average of 53 reported injuries
a year including an average of 4 deaths annually. Knowing
how to dress and bringing sufficient backup light will significantly
reduce your chances of incident. However knowing what accidents
are common and how they happen is also important.
A) Caver fall is the most
frequent accident. Maneuvering should be done with three points
of contact when possible. That means that touching the cave
with three parts of your body as much as possible at one time
will help stabilize you. Usually that means two feet on the
floor and one hand on the wall. It could be two hands on the
walls and one foot on the floor; or a back against the ceiling,
a foot against a wall, and a head on the floor. Second, never
jump. A sprained ankle can become a major rescue effort. Plus
jumping gives up control. You can’t stop a jump. Third, always
ask for help if you have any doubt. One caver on a trip was
too macho or proud to ask for a hand when climbing over some
large rocks and as a result fell 12 feet and landed on her
back. Luckily she was wearing a cave pack and landed on a
clean floor and was not hurt. Caving is a team effort. Don’t
be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t think you can do something,
don’t do it.
B) Equipment failure is the
second most common reason for accidents. For beginner cavers
that usually means the “token dead batteries in-the-flashlight
C) Rockfall is rare but can
happen, especially if the caver is negligent. Most of the
passages in caves are stable but there are some places where
there are loose rocks. These places are characterized by having
what is called breakdown (or ceiling rocks) on the floor.
They are often where the cave meets an overlying rock layer
or near the entrance where weathering is prevalent. Be careful
and gentle in areas like this. Be extremely careful during
the spring thaw and after heavy downpours. The back portion
of Coon Cave is an example of this.
D) Outside weather can also
endanger the lives of cavers. Cloudbursts can flood some caves.
Check the weather before visiting a cave prone to flooding.
Loyalhanna Creek Cave and Tytoona Cave are two of only a few
that can flood in this area.
E) Hypothermia is always
a threat but can easily be safeguarded against the first stages
of hypothermia are goose bumps and shivering. Next the shivering
will stop and muscles will stiffen. The victim will then begin
to lose touch with reality followed by a stupor state and
finally unconsciousness. Hypothermia is easy to avoid by dressing
properly and staying dry. Feet, hands, and legs will naturally
get wet in stream passage but avoid getting the core (chest
and abdomen) of your body wet. If you are sitting around and
feel like you are getting cold, crawl around a little bit
or eat something (digestion generates heat). If someone becomes
hypothermic give the victim warm liquids to drink and apply
external heat to the face, neck, and abdomen.
F) Getting seriously lost
can be avoided by going with a guide, taking a map, or leaving
paper arrows or markers that face towards the direction of
the exit as you enter the cave. The markers can then be picked
upon the way out.
10) HEALTH PROBLEMS: Let
people in your party know if you have any medical conditions
that may need attention.