Basic caving techniques

Much of the technique of caving is learned through going caving and each person will tend to develop their own unique caving style to suit the type of caves they frequent and their own physical characteristics (height, weight, strength, etc.). The best way to learn effective and safe caving technique is to go with experienced cavers and pay attention to what they are doing and the advice they have to offer.

Photo: cavers exiting crawlwayMoving through a cave is seldom like a stroll above ground. The surfaces you are traversing are seldom level and frequently will be littered with large blocks of rock, known as breakdown that may require constant scrambling up and down rock piles, squeezing between and under blocks, and being alert for loose rock that might shift when stepped on or fall on someone below you.

Other passages may be narrow canyons or fissures where "chimneying" is required, using pressure on opposite walls for support as you climb. Still other will be low enough to require crouching, duck-walking, hands and knees crawling or even belly-crawling as the ceiling drops lower.

Navigation in a cave is another area where experience is the best teacher. When you first start caving you should always go with someone who is experienced and has been to the cave before. While many caves are relatively simple and difficult to get lost in, you won't have the advantage of distant landmarks to orient yourself.

Frequently the cave looks completely different when you change directions to exit. It is not uncommon for inexperienced cavers to be found lost quite close to the entrance. It is always good practice to look behind you frequently as you travel so you can recognize the passage as you return.

Don't place your faith in arrows that others have painted or scratched on the walls (this is viewed as vandalism by most cavers). It is not uncommon to find arrows pointing in multiple directions, all or none of which may be the actual way out. Too often string can be found littering the front part of a cave, left by misguided folks who have learned all their caving lore from novels - you can't carry enough string to mark your trail through any cave big enough to be lost in!

Practice cave conservation and leave the cave in at least as good a condition as you found it. If you feel the need to mark your path, use removable markers such as brightly colored flagging tape small pieces of reflective tape that you can retrieve on your way out.

Having a map of the cave is a good way to become familiar with it, but unless you make a point of orienting yourself periodically it can be difficult to tell where you are on a map, which will usually have a very limited amount of detail. Also, without a compass (compasses work quite well in caves) it is easy to get confused as to which way you are heading.

Photo: Caver climbing out of cave entranceProper equipment is always a top priority. A good helmet with a chin strap and a helmet mounted light, additional light sources, appropriate clothing, food and water, and some basic survival supplies go a long way toward making the trip more enjoyable and safer.

Once you have gone on a few trips and become comfortable with visiting some of the easier cave in your area, you may want to visit caves that require more advanced technique or get involved in some specific cave projects. Check out the advanced caving techniques pages for some idea of the possibilities.