Most people tend to adopt their own style of navigating their route through a cave based on what technique suits them personally and through observing others watching how they tackle the cave and by asking advice of more experienced cavers.
The one thing you can be certain when moving inside a cave is that it bears little resemblance to moving above ground. The surfaces you’re moving through will rarely be level and there will be rocks to scramble over and mud and water to wade through so you have to adapt your techniques to each obstacle that’s presented to you.
Ultimately, your technique will be a combination of walking, crouching, crawling on your hands and knees, squeezing through tight gaps on your stomach or climbing up passages and using your outstretched arms in narrow gaps to lever yourself up as you push against each wall on either side.
It’s only by doing it that you’ll perfect the various techniques of moving through a cave and the more experience you gain, the easier and quicker you’ll become. However, it’s important to remember that safety should always be your first priority whenever you encounter any cave and, if you’re in any doubt, you should ask a more experienced member of your party.
There are, however, many different types of cave formations to navigate and you can only gain access to some caving systems by climbing down entrance shafts that can be hundreds of feet deep before you even get to the cave itself. This type of caving is known as vertical caving and should not be tackled without proper training and unless you’re caving with a group where at least one member is highly skilled and experienced.
It involves the descent of the cave shaft using ropes and anchors and, although there are some similarities to ropes and equipment used for rock climbing, it’s important you get the right training specific to using the ropes for underground caving. It has a relatively good safety record but it can be highly dangerous unless proper precautions are taken so make sure you’re trained and have the proper equipment and guidance.
This is a highly specialised technique and can be hazardous. It should not be tackled unless you’ve received expert training and have obtained the appropriate certification. So many fatalities have resulted as a result of cave diving and most of these have been to people who had a lot of open water diving experience but that, in itself, is simply not sufficient.
With an abundance of show caves all around the UK which are open to visitors, many people can be lulled into a false sense of security as to what ‘proper’ caving is all about and, although horizontal caving is relatively safe, providing you have a guide with you and are carrying the proper equipment, it does have its risks too.
As you become more familiar with different caving environments, your techniques will improve but you need to treat each expedition with the utmost respect and if you wish to move on to more advanced forms of caving, it’s crucial that you undertake the correct form of training from a reputable instructor.