of exploring caves
The challenges of the sport depend on the cave being visited, but often include the negotiation of pitches, squeezes, and water. Climbing or crawling is often necessary, and ropes are used extensively.
Caving is often undertaken solely for the enjoyment of the activity or for physical exercise, but original exploration is an important goal for many cavers. Unexplored cave systems comprise some of the last unexplored regions on Earth and much effort is put into trying to locate and enter them. In well-explored regions (such as most first-world countries), the most accessible caves have already been explored, and gaining new caves often requires digging or cave diving.
Caves have been explored out of necessity for thousands of years, but only in the last century or two has the activity become a sport. In recent decades caving has changed considerably due to the availability of modern protective wear and equipment. It has recently come to be known as an "extreme sport" by some (though not commonly by its practitioners).
Many of the skills of caving can also be used in the sports of mine exploration and urban exploration.
Clay Perry wrote about a group of men and boys who explored and studied caves throughout New England. This group referred to themselves as spelunkers. This is regarded as the first use of the word in the Americas. Throughout the 1950s, spelunking was the general term used for exploring caves in US English. It was used freely, without any positive or negative connotations, although only rarely outside the US.
In the 1960s, the term "spelunking" began to convey the idea of inexperienced cavers, using unreliable light sources and cotton clothing. In 1985, Steve Knutson (editor of American Caving Accidents) made the following distinction:
- ..."Note that I use the term "spelunker" to denote someone untrained and unknowledgeable in current exploration techniques, and "caver" for those who are."
Potholing refers to the act of exploring potholes, a word originating in the North of England for a predominantly vertical cave. The term is often used as a synonym for caving, and outside the caving world there is a general impression that potholing is a more "extreme" version of caving.
Practice and equipment
Helmets are worn to protect the head from bumps and falling rocks. The caver's primary light source is usually mounted on the helmet in order to keep the hands free. Electric lights are most common, with halogen lamps being standard and white LEDs as the new competing technology. Many cavers wear two sources of light on their helmet _ one as primary and the other as a backup light in case the first fails. Carbide-based systems are still popular, especially on expeditions.
The type of clothes worn underground varies according to the environment of the cave being explored and the local culture. Typically, the caver will wear a warm base layer that retains its insulating properties when wet, such as a fleece ("furry") suit or polly propylene underwear, and an oversuit of hard-wearing (e.g. cordura) and/or waterproof (e.g. PVC) material. Wetsuits are worn if the cave is particularly wet, and lighter clothing may be worn in warm countries if the cave is dry.
On the feet boots are worn (such as wellies), and often neoprene socks ("wetsocks"). Knee-pads (and sometimes elbow-pads) are popular for protecting joints during crawls. Gloves are almost always worn.
Ropes are used for descending or ascending pitches or for protection. Knots commonly used in caving are the figure-of-eight- (or figure-of-nine-) loop, bowline, alpine butterfly, and Italian hitch. Ropes are usually rigged using bolts, slings, and karabiners.
Cavers carry packs filled with first_aid kits, food, extra equipment and bathroom supplies. So_called "pee bottles" are now standard and cavers are expected to carry their waste out with them. For solid waste, several zip_lock type bags (one inside the other) are used, surrounded by aluminum foil (for asthetic reasons). These are affectionally referred to as "cave burritos."
Caves can be dangerous places; hypothermia, falling, flooding, and physical United States is through the National Speleological Society (http://www.caves.org) or NSS (http://www.caves.org) for short. There, one can find a local chapter (called a "grotto"), and meet other cavers who will help train and educate the novice caver and suggest the right type of gear to be purchased.
Most land in the eastern U.S. is privately held, so permission must be obtained from the landowner to look for caves. In the western U.S., a permit for publicly owned lands may be required. Some caves are gated, or closed completely for certain reasons, but even accessible caves may have many laws that apply in order to protect them.
- Alpine Caving Techniques by Marbach and Tourtes ISBN 3908495105: widely considered to be the bible of caving techniques, particularly by European cavers