What can appeal to your explorer side more than caving? Caves and caverns never fail to impress and fascinate anyone who has the opportunity to visit them. I have been into quite a few caves all over the world, from small and touristy to huge and remote - and I had a blast every time.
But caving is not for everybody. Some people aren't going to enjoy lying on cold rocks or navigating through cold and muddy waters. To those people, there's nothing to enjoy about caving. After all, there is more than enough beauty and wonders on the surface. So, why venture into a cave underground at all?
The answer to the above question depends on who you are asking. For some caving enthusiasts, it's all about their curiosity quest, their quest to test and expand their limits. These types of people are always looking for the next adventure, the next cave to explore and conquer. For others, caving is all about the sheer thrill of finding obstacles and overcoming them.
Some photography enthusiasts are simply into caving to capture breathtaking pictures. The process of taking the pictures is as exciting as the pictures themselves since the photographs are to be taken under less than ideal conditions.
There are people that are into caving for camaraderie and lifelong friendships formed in the caving community. Caving enthusiasts are all about the experience presenting the chance to create deep bonds with like-minded people.
From vast underground chambers to some of the most spectacular and fragile crystal formations that can't be found anywhere on the surface, and sweeping stainless rivers, there are many incredible scenes to be encountered on caving expeditions. If you are thinking of giving caving a shot sometime in the future, you'll need this guide to get you ready for your maiden caving expedition.
What Is Caving?
Caving is simply an activity that involves exploring underground caves and caverns. The activity is usually done in groups or in the company of an experienced cave guide. Experienced caving enthusiasts also go on solo expeditions.
Some degree of physical and mental fortitude is needed in caving especially when passing through some challenging environments. Some cave systems may have big open caverns that turn into incredibly narrow passages that require you to crawl through.
And not everyone has the will or courage to traverse through some of the challenging environments encountered in caving. Those that have the strength and willpower find the entire process rewarding and are always looking forward to the next adventure.
What is The Difference Between Caving and Potholing?
You may have noticed caving and potholing used interchangeably but are the two words the same? Caving and potholing are similar as both involve the exploration of caves. However, there is a key difference in the land formations or cave network of the two.
Caving is usually done in horizontal passages while potholing is done in vertical passages. Since potholing is done in vertical passages, you’ll need to descend or climb down the passages, something that requires specialized equipment.
What is The Difference Between Caving and Spelunking?
Caving and spelunking both refer to the recreational exploration of caves. Technically, there are no differences between the two terms. Spelunking is the term used for cave exploration in the United States and Canada.
However, in the caving community, spelunking and caving may mean different things. A ‘caver’ is used for someone experienced in cave exploration (caving) while a spelunker is a novice or amateur that lacks sufficient knowledge about current exploration techniques.
Is Caving Dangerous?
There is no sugarcoating it, caves are an inherently hazardous environment. They are filled with obstacles and hazards we are not used to. Cavers can fall through vertical drops, streams can flood, loose rocks can fall on them, and so on.
So does this mean no one should go caving? The answer is a resounding no. Understanding the risks is the most important thing about caving. The second most important thing is to take steps to mitigate the risks. And this is accomplished by using the right gear.
If property safety precautions are observed, safety becomes safer, a lot safer. There is more to caving than just waking up one day, googling popular caving destinations, and then descending a tunnel. You need to learn the ropes to maximize your safety during a caving expedition.
Is Caving Scary or Fun?
Caving isn’t for you if you’re claustrophobic, afraid of darkness, bugs, and height. That said, caving is a both a scary and fun activity. The stark difference between the open, sunny surface and the darkness of caves is enough to make many people at least uncomfortable, if not scared.
Crawling on all fours through narrow passages with only a headlamp to light your way can be scary. The main fear in caving is due to the fear of the unknown. But this is also part of the appeal of the activity. There is also the feeling of seeing incredible scenery you know very few people will have the privilege of seeing.
What Is The Caving Equipment?
Below are essential gear to pack for a caving expedition:
Visibility is generally low in caves and there’s the risk of hitting your head against low-hanging and razor-sharp stalactites. Rocks or other debris may also fall from the ceiling and hit you square on the head. As a result of these risks, you need to protect your head by wearing a quality helmet.
Headlamps and Batteries
Due to the little to no visibility inside caves, a headlamp is needed for navigation. Experts recommend that covers carry 2 headlamps with them and pack extra batteries for both lamps. If a lamp sustains impact or damage on a caving expedition, it should be replaced before the next adventure.
Comfortable Clothing and Shoes
Comfortable and breathable clothing are best worn for cave exploration. It’s even better if you wear long sleeve and pants as those can protect you from bruising or cutting yourself on rough surfaces.
The type of footwear you wear matters. Sturdy boots are ideal for caving conditions as they provide good traction on even cave surfaces. They also protect your feet from cuts and scrapes. It’s also recommended you wear elbow pads, knee pads and heavy-duty gloves are also recommended.
A first aid box might come in handy in case of bruises and cuts. You can clean and disinfect the wound to ensure it doesn’t get infected.
Food and water
Caving is a physical and mentally demanding activity. And you are bound to run low on energy. You need to replenish yourself to get the strength and vitality you need to keep going. Some water and a few extra power bars are all you need to replenish yourself. It’s better you bring them along and not need them than to need them and not have them with you.
Do I seriously need to mention this? If you are a photography enthusiast, you have the opportunity to take some stunning pictures inside caves. If not, you could just take a couple of pictures to commemorate your first caving experience.
How to Get Into Caving?
If caving appeals to you, the best way to get introduced to it is to head to a staffed cave where you’ll be gently eased into the world of caving. Staffed caves follow health and safety regulations and even provide tour guides for cave explorations.
You can also sign up for organized group or individual tours. You’ll learn about essential caving gear, the dos and don’ts of caving, and how to deal with the more challenging parts of caving.
Getting into caving this way allows you to get a feel of the activity and deciding whether you want to go further or not. If you decide you want in, consider joining a caving club that organizes regular group outings. This approach is far better than just packing some gear and heading into an unsupervised alone and will little to no knowledge of how to deal with challenges or obstacles.
Caving is not without hazards and risks. The best way to mitigate these hazards is to learn about them and know how to deal with them. Get into caving the right way for your sake.
Beginners' Tips For Caving
Below are safety tips to have in mind and follow before exploring the underground world:
Never Cave Alone
A beginner caver should never go on a caving expedition alone. There are so many dangers that the ‘spelunker’ is not prepared to handle. You should explore the underground world with at least one experienced guide by your side.
Know Your Limits
Caving isn’t a marathon. Your pace doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have a good time underground which may mean different things for different folks. Feeling tired shortly after your expedition? Take a rest. Start at a slow pace.
Know The Caver Motto
The caver motto is simple and goes as thus – “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time”. The ecosystem underground is a delicate one and one that needs to be preserved. Be careful not to harm the flora and fauna in the deep below.
Don’t Attempt Cave Diving
Cave diving is the most advanced and dangerous type of cave exploration. In cave diving, the diver can’t swim vertically to the surface in case of an emergency.
As a beginner, you shouldn’t attempt cave diving even if you are a certified scuba diver. While most of the techniques of open water diving applies to cave diving, there are some specialized cave diving techniques you need to learn. Also, the conditions and equipment also differ. So, unless you are properly trained in cave diving, don’t think about attempting it.
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