In addition to being one of the least expensive outdoor adventure pursuits; caving is also one of the most accessible too. You don’t have to be a supreme athlete or have any natural skill. Caving can be for anyone and of any age. All it really requires at a very basic level is awareness an intuitive mind and a sense of adventure. Oh….and not being afraid of the dark helps too!
However, joking aside, it is not without its dangers and, in certain areas, can present even greater danger than you might think which is why it is a good idea to get started in caving by joining a local club. Although you might think there are no caves in your area so there wouldn’t be a club, you might be quite surprised to find both caves and clubs are not as far away from you as you first thought so it pays to do a bit of research.
Not only will caving clubs teach you the background and basics of caving, it is a fun activity to go on expeditions with others who share your enthusiasm.
A club will usually consist of beginners like you, intermediates and experts who will be able to give you plenty of advice and useful tips for exploring caves but, like most beginners, once you’ve been a few times, you’ll adapt some of the techniques and practices you have been taught to suit your own style and, due to the structure of caves, your techniques of navigating through them will often be determined by your height, weight and strength. That said, an expert caver’s advice will be invaluable and is the best way to learn.
Rocks, mud and often water are the order of the day and you’ll find yourself stretching to climb over things, scrambling over rocks, constantly having to move quickly if rocks fall from a ledge etc. and you’ll be squeezing through tight spaces so whilst intense fitness might not be that important for basic caving expeditions, agility and an alertness to danger are very useful attributes to have.
Navigating a Cave
Unlike a hike where you’d probably have a map and compass and some recognisable landmarks to help you with your bearings and navigation, caving enthusiasts often choose not to carry such aids and it’s often previous experience of a particular cave or caving system that will help you navigate it more easily the next time. This is why going with an experienced member within a group is invaluable. Many caving beginners have found themselves lost inside a cave for several hours, going around in circles, only to find they were barely a few feet from the entrance the entire time. That said, there are specialist maps of caves and compasses work fine below ground level so the navigational tools are there if you choose to use them.
Conservation of Caves
One of the sadder aspects of caving is that you will sometimes see arrows which have painted on to various parts of the cave to aid previous people in their navigation. This is frowned upon by most cavers as it blemishes the natural beauty of the caving system. Like any natural environment, you should respect caves and the creatures that you encounter within them that might use them as their home. If you do place markers to help with your navigation, make sure they’re removable and that you take them (and any litter) with you on the way out.
Once you have whetted your appetite having gone on a few basic expeditions, you may want to try more daring challenges and, in the world of caving, there are plenty including vertical caving, cave photography, cave diving (a highly specialised and often dangerous sport which requires professional training) and cave rescue techniques. You can even combine caving with communications and electronics and a magazine called ‘Speleonics’ is fascinating if you want to learn more about caving and underground radio communication.
For those outdoor enthusiasts who have a fascination with the unknown of the underground, caving is the perfect pastime to share your sense of wonderment with others.