There are several primary causes of accidents in caving. If you are careful and know these causes, most caving accidents are preventable.
Trips and Falls
Trips and falls are the most common type of accident in caving. You are most likely to stumble towards the end of a cave trip when you are tired and not picking your feet up as well as you were at the beginning.
- Pace yourself
- Keep up your energy level by eating and drinking water regularly
- Do not try to move with a dim light; this can make it difficult to see floor irregularities and other obstacles.
- Always be on the lookout for potential hazards around the edges of pits and climbs.
- Do not depend solely on your past knowledge of the cave, be aware conditions may have changed.
Rockfall is the second most common cause of caving injuries. The entrance areas of caves are exposed to large swings in temperature, erosion, and other factors which make them especially prone to loose rocks. Many large cave rooms are littered with large, loose boulders called breakdown. These rocks can shift unexpectedly when you are climbing up or down. Pits with rocks at the top can be extremely hazardous because the high velocity of a falling rock can cause major injuries.
- Always be aware of people below you
- Stay out of the rockfall zone
- Do not count on your helmet or quick reflexes to save you from injury
- If there is loose rock around you, you are probably in the rockfall zone
- Yell “ROCK!” if you drop or dislodge anything, whether it is a rock, debris, or even a piece of caving gear
- Do not look straight up if someone yells “ROCK!”
- Be careful of shifting rocks if the passage you are going through is between or under breakdown
- In a breakdown passage, avoid pushing or kicking the rocks
Every caver has been disoriented in a cave at least once. Even with a good map, the complex, three-dimensional nature of caves makes them difficult to navigate.
- Look behind you every once in a while; a cave passage will look different on the way out
- Pick out landmarks at key junctions
- Look at the structure of the cave to see if there is a regular pattern or trend to the cave that you can use to find your way back out
- Follow the wind and remember whether the wind was in your face or at your back on the way in
- Keep an eye on the person in front of you and behind you to help keep the group together
What to do if you get lost
- Stay put; do not wander around
- Put on your spare shirt and other dry, warm clothes
- Eat a snack and drink a little water
- If you are comfortable in the dark, turn off your light to conserve batteries
- Pound rocks together to make noise instead of shouting yourself hoarse. This sound can be heard much further than your voice
- Do not lie down on the ground or on a rock; this will only sap your body heat
- Be patient and do not panic
It is best to prevent hypothermia than to treat it. Follow these guidelines to prevent getting into trouble.
- Wear the right type and amount of warm clothes
- Stay dry as much as possible
- Pack the right kinds of spare clothes in case of emergency.
- If someone on the team needs to wear his spare clothes in order to stay warm, it is time to leave the cave
- Even slow movement will help keep a person warm. Use a steady but measured pace to exit.
Caving can be a strenuous activity so it is important to drink water regularly. Dehydration can be a problem in hot, dry caves and cold, wet caves. In warm caves, you will sweat more, but the humidity does not allow your body to cool effectively. In cool, wet caves, you do not notice your thirst as much as you would in a dry cave, but you are still losing water.