- Exploration and Geology merit badges
What is a cave? A cave is a naturally formed void located beneath the surface of the earth. By definition, it must have passages or rooms large enough to admit a human. By popular definition, it must be long enough for a caver to get out of the twilight and enter total darkness.
Most states have some “show caves”—caves with paid tours and knowledgeable guides, complete with lights and easy paths and stairways. If Scouts have no idea what a cave environment is like, the show cave is a good place to start. Some of them offer special “wild” tours for groups that want more of a muddy, crawling adventure. These commercial caves may have a different set of rules and standards that they have developed, and probably will charge modest fees.
Selecting a Cave Guide – The selection of an experienced cave guide is critical to a team’s success and safety in cave exploration. The cave guide should have at least four of the following qualifications:
- Three years of continuous membership in the National Speleological Society (NSS)
- Three years of continuous membership in a grotto (the proper name for a cave club) sanctioned by the NSS
- Three years of experience in cave exploration, verifiable by trip log or grotto attestation
- Current certification in first aid and CPR
- Access to suitable caves
- Instruction in or exposure to cave rescue techniques
Caving Techniques – The goals of every caving expedition are to get in and out of the cave safely, to enjoy yourself while you are underground, and to leave no trace of your visit. Meeting those objectives requires planning. Familiarize yourself with any rules or caving guidelines by contacting the agency responsible for managing that area. For example, there might be limitations on the size of groups allowed to go into a cave, and permits could be required. In addition, agency officials might be able to provide you with maps and suggestions for ways to enhance your experience.
Risks and Safety – Caves are the last place in the world to get hurt. There are often very difficult obstacles to get an immobilized person through. Cavers often say the strictest rule in caving is DON’T GET HURT. There are two types of rescues if someone does get hurt: 1) Self-rescue and 2) Rescue by rescuers. Type 1 is by far preferred. If you are hurt, getting yourself out of the cave is the best thing to do. Before going into a cave, discuss what dangers there may be, how to avoid them, and what will be done if someone is injured. Order a copy of American Caving Accidents from the NSS and take turns reading some of the stories at a Scout meeting.
Caving Safety Concerns:
- Loose rocks can be knocked off on a person below. Care should always be taken not to do this. It has been said by cavers that the most dangerous thing in a cave is the other person, because of the possibility that he or she may knock a rock on another caver.
- Don’t jump in a cave. Climb down slowly. Shadows can throw off your depth perception.
- Be certain of where you are in a cave and how to get back out. Sometimes it’s necessary to leave a piece of flagging tape or some other indicator at a confusing junction for the trip out. Be sure to take it with you when you leave.
- Watch the weather. Some caves can flood to the ceiling. Err on the side of caution.
- Tell someone where you will be, what time to expect to hear from you, and how long they should wait if you are late calling before they should get concerned and call someone to check on you. (This is good practice for any backcountry trip.)
- Usually the only place a poisonous snake will be in a cave is at the entrance. Be extra cautious there. The first person in should poke a stick around in leaves and rocks and look for a snake.
Ethics – Cavers take very seriously their creed to take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time. Leave caves cleaner than you found them. Pick up other cavers’ litter. Do no
harm. Marvel at living organisms in caves, and take photos of them—but don’t touch them.
Don’t even leave crumbs or food scraps in a cave. Go to the bathroom before you go underground and do your best not to even urinate in the cave.
Some cavers have gone in caves that no one has entered since ancient people did. On some occasions ancient footprints are found. This attests to how timeless they are. The wind doesn’t blow, the rain doesn’t fall, and things stay the same for many, many years. Respect that and pride yourselves on treading gently in this marvelous world.
Caving ethical concerns:
- Never add to litter in a cave. Always remove some.
- Be gentle. Don’t disturb anything. Leave it like you found it or better.
- Do your best to not leave human bodily waste in a cave. Go before you go.
- Never write on the walls. It’s illegal to do so in most states.
- Leave cave wildlife alone. Take photos only.
- Never touch or break a cave formation (stalactite, stalagmite, drapery, bacon rind, helictite, etc.). They are ancient and should be left for others to enjoy. Damaging cave formations is illegal in most states.