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I have been hiking/mountaineering for quite a few years now. But, I have never been into a deep cave as yet. We are planning to explore a natural cave that we'll have to rappel into. The cave is unexplored for nearly a 3 decades now, and evidently has a way out. We plan to explore and search for the way out on the other side, if not then we intend to jumar back up to the top.
The source of information about the presence of potable water and the exit on the other end is genuine.

Edit : Its a natural cave. To get into the mouth of it, one needs to rappel down a rough 200 ft. Its rich with Flora and Fauna, an ideal habitat for reptiles and Bats, a mild stream of water that goes through it, but one never gets into a depth more than 4 ft. In the month of March, usually it doesn't rain here in India, so pretty safe with water flow which one needs to deal with for a very short distance in order to cross it.

Apart from carrying flash-lights/torches, Medical kits, safety, what are the precautions that one should take during such an exploration?

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I've never caved, but a rope seems wise to take along. –  gerrit Feb 26 at 18:35
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I don't know what type of cave it is, but going there without an experienced person might be not the best idea. Although some of the rope techniques are similar to those used in climbing, the caving guys have developed lots of special techniques for problems that climbers never have and therefore never learn about. Therefore doing your first caving trip by rappelling into a cave that should have another exit but maybe you have to jumar back does not sound like a safe and easy first time trip to me. –  Benedikt Bauer Feb 26 at 19:07
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wondering around in a (relatively) unexplored cave with little or no experience seems like a monumentally bad idea. –  Liam Feb 27 at 9:45
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As a mod, I support this question - sure it is a bit broad, but why not have some general advice for caving? –  studiohack Mar 1 at 7:01
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I have to ask: Have you been in a cave at all yet? If not, go in a much easier one that doesn't require any ropework to get comfortable with enclosed, sometimes very, very tight spaces and being wet and muddy for everything you do. Don't start with a cave that requires a rappel entry. –  manoftheson Mar 3 at 3:53

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As an experienced caver, I can say @studiohack & @manoftheson both good advice. Here's some additional pointers, in no particular order. Some of this is copied from my comments, but new info as well.

  • One thing I want to emphasize is using a head mounted light. This leaves both hands free for climbing and crawling. Make sure it has a chin strap.

  • If you might get wet, wear wool or synthetic clothes. No cotton! Cotton gets cold when wet.

  • VERY important, tell someone exactly where you are going, what time you expect to be out, and want time they should call for rescue. For instance, if you think you'll be out by 4pm, and you give yourself 2 more hours just in case, then rescue should be called at 6pm. A lot of times we don't have a cell signal at the cave entrance, and never inside a cave. That's why you tell someone else where you're going, and when you'll be back. It's their job to call for rescue at the time you tell them.

  • And to add a note about footwear. Footwear must be sturdy, attached to your foot securely where it can not come off, and have GOOD TREAD on them for gripping power. The rocks inside a cave are usually wet, slippery, and not flat. And if a friend can pull your shoe off your foot, then so can thick mud.

  • And even if you don't take an experienced caver with you, NEVER, EVER go caving alone. There's too many things that can wrong. An injury that is easily survivable can turn fatal if you don't have someone there to help.

  • Take a water resistant wrist watch. So many of us are used to using our cell phones to tell the time, but this is not convenient inside a cave plus it may get damaged and you won't be able to tell the time anymore. Remember, you're inside a cave and there is no sun / moon / stars to tell you what time it is.

  • A small, durable backpack to carry your stuff.

  • A change of clothes for when you exit the cave. Do you really want to wear your wet, muddy, and possibly torn clothes home?

  • And find out the temperature of the caves in your area. Caves will stay close to the same temp all year long, but that temp depends on a couple factors. For the most part, the warmer the average temp outside, the warmer the cave. Also, the water in the cave is the same temp as the air, but will feel a LOT, LOT colder. Is you're going to spend a lot of time in water, consider a wetsuit.

  • Kneepads. If you like your knees, and want to keep them, wear kneepads. When you're crawling around, and your knee lands on a pointy rock, you'll thank me. Not a lot rules about what kind, just that it has to stay on your knees.

  • Snacks. Take some snacks that are easy to carry and offer high energy. Candy bars work work here.

  • Camera. This is not required, but you want some pics to show friends. If it's not waterproof, put it in a watertight bag, then put that bag into anther watertight bag. Keep a dry towel handy to clean/dry your hands before pulling out the camera.

  • Warm bed. This is for after your trip. Caving can be a strenuous activity, and you will sleep well that night. :-)

Have fun, and be safe.

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How does the chin strap come into play if you're wearing a helmet? –  hillsons Mar 5 at 2:44
    
The chin strap keeps the helmet on your head. I can almost guarantee that you will bang your head more than once and you don't want to knock it off. Plus, in a cave,and the crawling you may have to do, you may not be vertical. –  Tom Collins Mar 5 at 6:30
    
Could you give some examples of the kind of footwear that works best for caving? –  Mr.Wizard Mar 16 at 6:40
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Most cavers wear boots. Keep in mind that they may get completely soaked. Caves are hard on boots. Personally, I buy cheap ones ($25), which will last me about 10 trips before falling apart. Some cavers wear trekking shoes. While these have a good tread, they don't have ankle support. But they are easier to take on and off. I've even seen people using those barefoot shoes, claiming the extra flexibility helps then on the uneven surfaces. –  Tom Collins Mar 16 at 16:05
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About the helmet: cavers wear what are basically climbing helmets with a light(s) attached. They are useful for avoiding injuries from banging your head but are much more important to prevent head injury in the case of a fall (which is why climbers often wear helmets and why the chin strap is important so that the helmet down't accidentally come off in a fall). A fall onto your head from as little as 6 feet (2 metre) can result in a fatal head injury. –  Paul Lydon Mar 19 at 12:47

Couple things:

  1. ALWAYS wear a helmet. You bang your head a lot more than you think, since you're in the dark all the time (or with limited scope of light with your headlamp). With a helmet, you hardly feel anything when you bump your head. Much, MUCH more comfortable. Of course, keep it buckled to your head. You never know sometimes where or what will happen.
  2. THREE sources of light AND backup batteries for each. At least one source should be a headlamp.
  3. Reflective tape is great as well, especially if you're exploring - you need a way to mark your return. Always bring some of that.
  4. Perhaps most significantly, I would recommend never exploring caves without at least one very experienced person with you, who a) knows spelunking well, and b) knows the cave well. Caves are NOT good places to get lost - as it is all to easy to get search and rescue parties lost as well. Plus, there are many different variables to being lost in cave, such as no natural light (or warmth), little ventilation, etc.
  5. Oh, a mask never hurts, like a bandanna or such - I've crawled in caves with a 15" vertical space, and you don't want to breathe bat feces or other things, it's always helpful to filter (even roughly) what you breathe.

That's just the general stuff. As for rapelling, get comfortable with that outside first, then do it in a cave. That way, you'll have the basics down and if something happens in the dark or in the cave, you'll handle it more naturally.

Have fun!

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As an experienced caver, I can say this is good advice. One thing I want to emphasize is using a head mounted light. This leaves both hands free for climbing and crawling. –  Tom Collins Feb 27 at 20:00
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And a couple items to add. If you might get wet, wear wool or synthetic clothes. No cotton! Cotton gets cold when wet. Also, very important, tell someone exactly where you are going, what time you expect to be out, and want time they should call for rescue. For instance, if you think you'll be out by 4pm, and you give yourself 2 more hours just in case, then rescue should be called at 6pm. –  Tom Collins Feb 27 at 20:08
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In fact, avoid cotton all together when outdoors, just to be safe. –  hillsons Feb 27 at 21:20
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A lot of times we don't have a cell signal at the cave entrance, and never inside a cave. That's why you tell someone else where you're going, and when you'll be back. It's their job to call for rescue. Have fun, and be safe. –  Tom Collins Feb 28 at 10:16
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@TomCollins - I think you should compile your info here, and probably more, into an answer. You've got some great points here! –  manoftheson Mar 3 at 4:51

This began as a comment but quickly began to grow, so I suppose now it's my supplementary answer to studiohack's great answer.

  • Personal Experience - If you haven't been to any caves at all, explore a much smaller, easier one first before setting out to do a rappel-entry cave. This allows you to get comfortable maneuvering around in tight spaces where needed and how to deal with being muddy and wet for nearly every task you attempt. It will also help you relate other outdoor experience to the cave.
  • 3 Points of Contact - Caves are slippery so use hands, feet, and sometimes your rear-end to always have 3 points of contact to maintain stability in areas where you can't simply walk.

Also bring/wear the following items:

  • Compass - This is a good tool to help you know general directions of different passages and to keep track of where you're going.
  • Proper Clothing - Most caves tend to be in the ~55-60°F (~12.5-15.5°C) range, and you will be getting wet. So no cotton at all. Use your experience in hiking and mountaineering to prepare for this.
  • Sturdy Footwear - This is likely a given, but it bears mentioning. Wear shoes/boots that have good tread in order to grip slippery and muddy surfaces. Something that can drain water is also beneficial.
  • Gloves - Any type will work, but something that can be easily washed and is semi-durable is good. These are to not only protect you from the cave, but to also protect the cave from you. Our bodily oils actually have potential to do harm to the delicate ecosystems inside the cave.
  • Food & Water - How much you bring depends on the length of your time in the cave, but always bring something. If for example you were in an emergency and had to stay in the cave longer than expected, you'll need something to keep you going.
  • Watertight Container - You can use whatever works, but this is for bodily waste. You must not urinate or defecate inside of a cave. It will also harm the ecosystem as it really has no place to go as it would if it were normally buried in the ground outside.
  • Large, thick Garbage Bag - This is for an emergency bivy / vapor barrier so that you can get inside of it to preserve body heat. It's good to use a trash bag since it's lightweight and can be used to put your dirty gear in after your finished.
  • First-Aid Kit - What goes in this is up to you, but think about the types of injuries/conditions likely to be encountered, from simple cuts and scrapes, to broken bones, to hypothermia, to spinal compression... Think through the possibilities to better prepare yourself.
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@manoftheson: Great point about maintaining the delicate ecosystem of a cave. –  WedaPashi Mar 3 at 12:43
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Doesn't CO2 cause problems in some caves also? From an environmental point of view anyway? –  Liam Mar 3 at 17:07
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@Liam - Do you mean CO2 damaging the cave? If so, the only instances I know where CO2 is an issue are caves where ancient cave drawings/paintings are present. It was found that prolonged exposure from the breath of large amounts of visitors caused further degradation of the historical artwork on the cave walls. Not saying there aren't any, but I don't know of any cases where the natural environment of the cave is harmed by CO2, but there are some of the opposite: where hazardous gases can harm people entering the cave. Anyone else care to weigh in on this? –  manoftheson Apr 22 at 7:33

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