Glossary of Common Caving Terms

Anchor – A solid object such as a tree, rock, or bedrock wall that a rope can be tied to or attached to.

 Bad air – Air that is either low in oxygen or high in non-breathable gasses such as methane or carbon dioxide.

Balaclava – A hood that covers the entire head with an opening for the face, usually made of wool or synthetic material.

 Belay – A safety line used by one caver to help another keep from falling if he should slip. Also the act of providing a safety line for another caver.

 Bolt – A metal pin driven into the rock so that a hanger can be attached to fix a rope to solid rock.

 Boulder cave – A cave that is essentially the spaces between fallen rock, also known as a talus cave.

Breakdown – Large blocks of fallen rock in a cave. These rocks generally fall when a cave is first drained of water or as surface streams intersect the cave.

 Calcite – A pure crystalline form of calcium carbonate, the primary component of limestone.

Canal – A narrow stream or river passage with a swift current and solid bedrock walls.

 Chimney – A climb narrow enough to bridge across in order to go up or down. Also the act of climbing a chimney.

 Duck under – A place in a dry passage where you have to lower your head to get through. Also a short section of submerged cave passage that you can hold your breath and quickly get through.

Dynamic rope – Nylon rope designed to stretch in order to absorb the shock of a fall.

Epigenic cave – A cave formed by the action of surface waters descending into the ground and dissolving rock.

 Etrier – A simple ladder made of webbing or rope with loops to put your hands and feet into.

 Flowstone – An area where water has flowed across a wide area and deposited thin layers of calcite to resemble a frozen waterfall or smooth surface.

 Formations – Cave decorations such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. Also called speleothems.

Free climb – A climb that does not require rope to ascend or descend. Also the act of climbing without rope.

Guano – Bat or bird droppings.

Gypsum – A soft mineral made of calcium sulfate that can form speleothems such as flowers and needles.

Handline – Rope or webbing used to assist a caver up or down a climb without technical ascending or descending devices.

Harness – A belt with attached leg loops used to support a caver while attached to a rope.

Helictite – A speleothem that twists or curls as it grows, making it look like a worm or snake.

Hypogenic cave – A cave formed by water rising up from below and dissolving the rock, usually as the result of two different kinds of water mixing together.

Hypothermia – A reduction of body core temperature more than two degrees. Also called exposure.

Karst – A landscape characterized by poor surface drainage, caves, sinkholes, and springs.

Lava tube – A cave formed by cooling lava as it flows away from a volcanic vent.

Limestone – A rock made primarily of calcium carbonate and usually formed around oceans or seas by living organisms.

Popcorn – A knobby speleothem formed by evaporation of water from cave walls or caused by water splashing off the floor or a stalagmite.

Pothole – A hole carved in the floor of a stream passage by water large enough to step into.

Rappel – A pit that requires a rope and technical descending equipment to go down. Also the act of descending a pit on rope.

Rebelay – An anchor or other rigging point to redirect a rope away from waterfalls, sharp edges, or other obstacles. Also the act of redirecting the rope.

Rigging – The combination of ropes, bolts, and webbing used to anchor or redirect a rope for descent or ascent. Also the act of anchoring a rope for descent and ascent.

Rimstone dam – A speleothem caused by the slow buildup of calcium carbonate at the downstream end of a shallow pool.

Sinkhole – A surface depression where water enters the subsurface in karst areas or a depression caused by the collapse of an underlying cave passage.

Speleothem – Cave decorations such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. Also called formations.

Squeeze – A cave passage just large enough to fit through.

Stalactite – A speleothem that grows downward from the ceiling like an icicle by the slow accumulation of minerals such as calcium carbonate.

Stalagmite – A speleothem that grows upward from the floor by the slow accumulation of minerals such as calcium carbonate.

Static rope – Nylon rope designed with very little stretch in order to minimize bouncing when used as a fixed line in vertical drops.

Sump – A place where the cave passage is completely filled with water.

Troglobite – Cave dwellers that are adapted to and complete their life cycle in the total darkness of a cave.

Troglophile – Animals that prefer environments like caves but can survive outside of a cave if suitable habitat exists.

Trogloxene – Animals which frequently use caves but must return to the surface for food or other needs.

Tyrolean traverse – A traverse along or across an obstacle that is rigged with a rope anchored tightly between two points so that you hang directly on the rope.

The Online Guide to Cave Exploring