Joining a caving group or club not only enables you to enjoy the experience of caving with other members with similar interests but it is the only sure method of caving safely. Because of the nature of the activity and insurance implications many clubs have a minimum age policy of 18, although some clubs allow people to join from the age of 16.
As you may be aware, there are a number of show caves around the country which people of any age can visit but, even though you won’t necessarily need any formal training to go adventure caving in many places, there are a number of training courses available and, if you’re serious about taking up the sport it’s a good idea to join a group which offers these training courses.
Caving comes in many forms and degrees of complexity and the greater the risk, the more training you need. Some clubs run a number of different courses for beginners, intermediates and advanced cavers all run by qualified instructors.
A beginner’s course might consist of learning about a cave’s geological formation and its history. You’ll learn different techniques that will enable you to move underground more efficiently, learn how to cope with wet or muddy areas and how to navigate extremely narrow passages.
Intermediate courses will help you to develop skills and experience within more challenging caving systems. You’ll get to try out horizontal and vertical ladder pitches, how to interpret different cave compositions, how to assess hazards, survey reading, safety procedures and about the conservation of the caving environment.
You may learn how to rig ladders and anchors to make ascents and descents safely within deeper caves which will also encompass the safe use of ropes, much in a similar fashion to training in rock climbing but underground.
Advanced courses can include learning the single rope technique and other aspects of safety and evacuation procedures, especially with regard to skills you might need if you intend to go caving solo or as part of a small, independent group expedition without qualified instructors being present.
There are also training courses leading to a number of recognised qualifications to enable you to become an expedition leader.
Is Joining a Group and Obtaining Training Necessary?
The answer to this often asked question is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Caving comes in all forms and those who just have a curious interest can often go caving in locations where you don’t need to be in the best physical shape and where the challenges are minimal.
However, it’s important to remember that caves by their very nature are all different and, whilst often having some similarities, they can be highly dangerous if you’re unsure of the area and you haven’t received proper training. Therefore, if you’re in doubt, it makes sense to go out and explore with a group in which at least one member is a qualified instructor, even if you don’t intend obtaining professional training yourself.
Remember, if you go caving solo and you run into trouble or injure yourself, no one may know you’re in difficulty for quite some time and you might not have a clue how to get out of the situation or might be too injured too move.
Horizontal caves are far easier than vertical caves and if you intend exploring the vertical variety, you’ll need specialist rope techniques for obstacles such as pitches and waterfalls. The more difficult the cave, the better physical shape you’ll need to be in too so it is highly recommended, if not compulsory, to receive some kind of training if you think you’re going to want to do much more than the basic exploration of easy caving systems.