It is rare that caves are close to trails traveled by off-road vehicles. Even if they are, you may never see them as they are typically well concealed by nature. However, in the rare occurrence an individual does find a cave, they may be tempted to explore it.

 

Caving is also known as spelunking in the United States. This is a specialized sport and can be extremely dangerous. If you encounter a cave, never enter it until you have contacted a local Caving Club or Grottos (NSS) Chapter. Just like Off Road Clubs, they follow specific guidelines related to safety and know the proper ways to protect the environment. The caving community is constantly working to keep caves from being closed due to improper use. Review the following links prior to going to any cave.  

There is much to learn about caves before you enter one.

It starts with proper training, cave etiquette, obtaining proper permissions, proper clothing, types of gear and knowing cave conditions. For example, one must know whether a cave is horizontal, vertical or both. Questions an individual must ask include: Does this cave flood? Is the cave stable? Also, remember that rocks can and do fall in every type of cave. Learning about cave conditions and being educated on caving techniques only comes with experience, common sense and proper training. 

Important Question: Would you repel down a cliff without proper training? Now would you want to repel down a rocky, slippery, cold and damp vertical shaft in a pitch-black cave? Would you like to fall down a shaft that you did not know about or see because it is pitch black? 

As stated, we recommend to get in contact with a Local Caving Club or Grottos (NSS) Chapter to get the required training before you enter any cave. Also, remember that no one has been to every cave, so before you visit one you have never been to, find someone that knows the area and ask for advice or help. Contacting the local Caving Club or Grotto (NSS) chapter is the best course of action because they will be familiar with the particular cave, know the proper gear, know safe exploration techniques, know how to recognize where you are and know the return route. These are just some of the abilities you can learn from caving with an experienced caver. This can transform a potentially dangerous experience into one that is safe, as well as exciting.

Potential Hazards in Caves

Many hazards can arise within a cave. Some issues an individual may experience include getting lost, contaminated air, ammonia from bat guano, methane or hydrogen sulfide and other gases. Flooding is also a serious issue, as many caves flood easily during and after rainstorms. You must be aware and learn about the potential hazards in any cave you are visiting.

Types of Injuries that May Occur

Many people do not consider the types of injuries that may arise in a cave, or the full impact even a minor injury can be in caving. Consider how difficult it would be trying to exit a cave with a minor injury as a sprained ankle or a pulled muscle.

The US National Library of Medicine did a study on cave injuries. Out of the 1356 victims identified, 83% of victims were male and 17% were female. Ages ranged from 2 to 69 years old, with an average being 27 years. The greatest number of events occurred in summer months, peaking in July. The most common incident leading to traumatic injury was a caver fall (74%), which also contributed to 30% of caver fatalities. The lower extremities were the areas most commonly injured (29%), followed by the upper extremities and head (21% and 15%, respectively). Fractures comprised 41% of injuries, followed by lacerations (13%), bruising, hematoma, abrasions (12%) and sprains and strains (7%).

Cave Rescue

Unlike a car accident, cave rescues take time and a large number of people and gear.  

A cave rescue does not happen quickly. The entrance could be miles away from a road and difficult to get to. This makes transporting the hundreds of pounds of gear required for a rescue very difficult to almost impossible.

Examples That Illustrates This Point

June 23, 2018 International news  Thai soccer team that became trapped in a cave.

November 23, 2019  Man’s body recovered after equipment failure at Valhalla Cave in Jackson County, Alabama

Protect Yourself with the Proper Knowledge

A good way to learn about caving is by contacting the local Caving Club or Grotto (NSS) Chapter; they will be glad to help. Go to The National Speleological Society (NSS)  website for more information about the sport and to Find a Local Caving Club or Grottos (NSS) Chapter.

Basic Rules for Caving

If you do intend to visit a cave, it is vital to know the basic rules of cave exploration. However, these are only basic rules and there is much more to learn before you will be adequately prepared to enter any further than the mouth of a cave.

  1. Before entering a cave ensure someone knows where you are going and when to expect you to return. If you do not follow this step, nobody will know where you are when you encounter a problem and rescue may not make it to you in time.
  2. Never go alone; always have partners. Going as a group of four or more cavers is recommended. This way if someone is hurt there will be someone who can stay with the hurt caver and at least two others who can go for help.
  3. Always wear a helmet and have three sources of light and extra batteries. If you have one light and it fails, you will not be able to find your way out.
  4. We recommend beginners start by visiting commercial caves to see if they can handle being underground. Caves can cause claustrophobia, acrophobia or abnormal uneasiness in dark places.
  5. Caves are cold and damp; without the proper equipment, hypothermia can occur. Hint: A plastic trash bag will keep you warm if you start getting cold; it could even save your life.
  6. Always respect cave owners. Most caves are on private property. Always ask permission, never visit a closed cave, get a permit if required and be polite, considerate and follow all the rules for the particular cave 
  7. Never enter a cave unless you are qualified because there are several types of caves: some horizontal, some vertical and in many cases a combination of both. This is why most people get in trouble. Only go with qualified and experienced cavers. 
  8. It is important to respect nature and the natural beauty of caves. When exploring, never touch formations. The salt and oils on your skin can cause the formation to stop growing.

Please be safe and respect all caves.

Special Thanks

We would like to give thanks to Paul Mclain of North Alabama Jeep Club for helping us in gathering the information to write this article. We would also like to give credit and thanks to Milton Polsky of Jackson County Grotto for his help supplying information for this article.

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