| Caving: Into
the Dark Abyss
Photo courtesy of Tom Lounsbury of the Middle Ozark
Lower Earth Society
|Underworld - Dave Epperson sits in a passage to set the
flash for the photo in "Chin Springs" cavern. |
In the world of
extreme sports, extreme caving ranks very close to the top of the list of
the most extreme.
Though many people who have not caved would scoff at the
idea of caving being among the most extreme, the fact that many caves
involve many of the more dangerous branches of extreme sports including
rock climbing, rappelling, scuba diving and even sky-diving in some very
limited cases in conjunction with the hazards of cave-ins, very tight
passages and often many hours or even days underground can test the nerve
and the limits of endurance of even the most experienced thrill seeker.
Although man has been using caves for thousands of years as shelter
or for other uses, the deepest expanses of most caves did not begin to be
explored until the 1950s when better equipment allowed for deeper
penetration of these wild caves. Since then, a whole new world has been
opened and one can never be sure what they will find when they enter a
cave that has never been entered before. While many call cave exploring
spelunking, most hard-core cavers simply call it caving. The term
spelunking is usually reserved for amateur cavers.
Yes, some say that there are no caves that have not been explored,
but that is not true. Virgin caves are found almost every day, and in some
cases entrances must be dug out to get access to the cave for the first
time. Similarly, while most people think that a cave is characterized by
broad walk-in openings, a great many caves must be accessed only through
sometimes very long distances of very tight passage. In some cases only
the smallest of people can get through the passage!
What does it take to be an avid caver? Well the first thing a
person must do is to find someone who is experienced to go with. Then the
question of equipment must be asked. When asked what he considered the
most important factor in caving to be, Dave Epperson of the Middle Ozark
Lower Earth Society wryly responded "Light!" Light is very critical.
General guidelines suggest at least three separate sources of light for
each person who enters the cave, and at least four changes of batteries
for each light. Similarly, a person should NEVER go caving alone. Standard
protocol preaches that at least three people should go on each trip. This
is not only to have sufficient backup in case the very unlikely occurs and
one person loses all of their sources of light, but also in case a person
is injured. Knee pads, elbow pads and a hard-hat are also a must.
Injuries in caves are an important consideration. The nature
of the cave will determine how a person will be extracted from the cave if
severely injured. Although extreme caves should never be entered by
unqualified caves, even the best run the risk of injury from falling
rocks, shifting cave walls, falls, or a whole host of other emergencies
that could occur. Some caves are very controlled because the nature of the
cave dictates that they are self-rescue only. Self-rescue only means that
the cave is extreme to the point that a person must get out on their own
accord for nobody will be able to get them out of the cave if they get
severely injured. The author of this passages has been to two caves in
Arkansas that are self-rescue only caves.
If a person decides that they have what it takes to be a caver, one
last consideration must be considered; the ecology of the cave.
Irresponsible caving, or ignorance of ecological processes in a cave can
have severe impacts on cave habitat. Not only can "live" caves be harmed
by touch, which results in the formations ceasing to grow due
to oils in human skin, but some cave species such at the gray bat (Myotis
griscesens) have become endangered in direct response to ignorant and
Photo courtesy of David Epperson of the Middle Ozark Lower Earth
|SUCCESS! - Lee Hassler and Ed
Corfee discuss the entrance to "Little Hell" that had just been
sufficiently dug out to allow access. |
In a world of extremes, caving covers all the necessary bases to be
classified as very extreme. Not all are up to the challenge for varieties
of reasons, and those that are should seek to become well trained in not
only how to cave safely, but also how to do so without damaging the
integrity of the cave. Responsible caving involves safety and respect for
the environment. As with all aspects of our environment, caves will only
remain pristine and beautiful if cavers protect them. Anyone interested in
learning more about responsible caving should check out the National
Speleological Society (NSS) Web site at
However, on a final note, if a person is claustrophobic, caving is
most likely not the best sport to try to get involved in.
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© The Voice 2006
02:13:16 PM —