Spelunking is the recreational sport of exploring caves. For centuries, they have been used for shelter, or explored out of curiosity. Today, people's sense of adventure has turned spelunking into a unique experience. If you're ready to try your luck, read on for basic safety guidelines and some of the best caves around the world.
Though spelunking can be a unique adventure, it also requires you to have a partner. "It's a buddy system type activity," says Chuck Bitting, a geologist at the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. "It's good to know your groups' strengths and weaknesses, so as not to put someone in a situation where they can get injured."
If you are interested in caving on a regular basis, you should try joining a caving club. Most clubs are associated with the Speleological Society, who's focus is on safety and the preservation of caves.
Here are some safety precautions to remember before crawling through a cave:
- Don't go alone.
- Check the weather. Make sure it's a sunny day with no chance of storms. If it starts to rain, the water that is funneled underground can fill up a cave fast and block previous entrances.
- Notify a friend. Let someone at home know what time you plan to go, where you're headed, and what time you expect to return.
- Wear a helmet. Everyone involved in caving should have a helmet with a headlamp—don't forget to carry extra batteries. "Make sure everyone has three dependable lights and a strong helmet," suggests Bitting. "If your light goes out, you're stuck."
- Layer your clothing. Wear sturdy clothing. Pants and long sleeves are recommended since you'll be crawling and scraping along the rock during your adventure. Wear synthetic fibers or material that will dry quickly because it can be very wet inside a cave.
- Pay attention. Every member of the trip must be aware of their surroundings. Cave passages look different when coming from a different direction so it's crucial that everyone pays attention detail to avoid getting lost.
- Mark your path. Use a non-permanent marker, such as stacked rocks, to help you keep track of your route.
- Don't over pack. If you need to carry a backpack, make sure it's small. A large backpack will prevent you from being able to fit through certain areas, which raises the risk of injury.