A visit to some touristically developed caves has sparked your passion for the dark side and now you want to get into the real stuff and try proper caving? Rest assured that many adventures lie ahead of you in this world of , underground streams, waterfalls and bizarre forms and eternal darkness, but also of magical beauty. However, you need to be aware, that caving can’t be compared in any way to the leisurely strolls did before, with guide, infrastructure and electricity.
Exploring wild cave systems is not an activity to be taken easily. Besides adventure also many dangers are waiting for the inexperienced. You’ll have to deal with extreme temperatures, narrow spaces, difficult climbing parts, uneven, unpredictable, slippery surfaces and dampness. Orientation is extremely difficult in a cave and the physical requirements are not to be underrated. Luckily, there are as many levels of difficulty for caving as there are caves, each one with its very own requirements. The more climbing the exploration of a cave involves and the more difficult the terrain is, the better is the physical shape you need to be in.
Skill comes with practice, though. Don’t expect too much of yourself for the first tours, choose simple caves and when you are sure, that you’ve found your new favorite hobby, you can build up your skills from there.
Photo by jcmu.
Good Equipment Saves Lives
For a successful and safe caving tour nothing is as important as good equipment. Being stuck deep down in a cave with a fading flashlight and beginning hyperthermia is not exactly how you want to spend your holidays. If you want to safely return to the world of the living, the following items are an absolute must:
Light sources: You are descending into a world of complete darkness, so reliable light sources are essential. Take at least 3 of them. It might be additional weight, but better safe than sorry. Take a headlight, another headlight, a handheld flashlight and possibly matches and candles in a waterproof bag. They won’t be able to guide your way out of the cave, but in case of emergency a little light can still make you feel much more comfortable, than persevering in pitch black darkness. Also take additional batteries for the electric flashlights. Ideally they all use the same type.
Helmet: A proper helmet might well be your lifesaver. Caves are slippery, uneven terrain, full of rocks and you can easily lose your balance, low ceilings make it easy to seriously injure your head. Caving helmets offer impact protection and shock absorption, but as they can be quite an investment, when you start exploring easier caves, it is fine to use a construction helmet. They don’t have built in flashlights or holders for flashlights, but for the first tours you can always resort to good old duct tape, to fix your flashlight on the helmet.
A first aid kit, water and some protein bars should also not be missing on the packing list. Put all that stuff into a small backpack, which is easy to remove when you have to get through narrow passages. Later on, when you are already more advanced, you will also need climbing equipment, but for now that shall not be your concern.
Forget Your Sense for Fashion
Chose clothes that can get dirty and torn apart and in which you can comfortably move. If the cave is not too wet, normal old jeans and an old t-shirt/sweater will do fine. It can get quite cold down there, but you’ll also be constantly moving and produce body heat, so layered is clothing is recommended, as well as bringing an emergency blanket with you, to prevent hyperthermia in extreme situations. Knee and elbow protectors can prevent pain and injuries, as well as gloves which additionally protect the cave formations from being contaminated by the oils on your skin when you touch them.
A good option for your very first tour is to join a guided caving tour, where usually the necessary equipment is provided.
Before you go on a caving tour, you should always tell someone where you are going and when you are expected to be back. So in case of emergency, you can be sure that at one point a rescue team will show up.
But the most important rule is: never go alone. A group of 4-6 people is ideal. You can still move quickly and in case of an accident, one person can stay with the injured one and the others can go and get help.
Navigation in a cave is difficult, especially on the way out. In the beginning go always with someone experienced who can guide you. On your way into the cave turn around regularly, so you remember the landmarks from the right perspective. Also always be aware that you have to go back as far as you came in, and often the way out is more difficult, since you have to go uphill and are already exhausted. So ration your strength carefully.
If you get stuck in a narrow passage, you need to stay calm, or otherwise your lungs fill with air and it is even more difficult to get out of your misery. Breathe calmly and try to carry on.
In general, don’t take a caving tour to easily. It is not an afternoon stroll, caving is a dangerous activity, which requires all of you senses to be focused.
Leave Nothing Behind But Footprints.
It might not seem like it, but caves are highly sensitive ecosystems. One careless touch or step can destroy what needed millennia to develop. Try to touch as less surface as possible, especially not your bare hands, since the oil of your skin can seriously damage cave formations and the sensible flora and fauna.
Under no circumstances spray on walls or carve in rocks to mark your way out of the cave system. Everything you take with you into the cave, you need to take out of it again.
Having read our caving guide for beginners, nothing stands in the way between you and your caving adventure anymore, so go out and explore this fascinating, new world!