Vertical Caving

What Skills Do I need to Learn?

This section will give you a simple checklist of skills you should develop before exploring vertical caves. You will develop most of these skills by actively participating in cave trips with more experienced cavers and watching how they move. The basic knowledge you need is:

  • The different types of rope
  • Basic knot tying
  • How to tie a harness and etrier out of webbing
  • How to rig a rope and identify good and poor rope rigging
  • How to properly rappel
  • How to use an ascending system
  • How to use proper rope signals

Descending and Ascending

You should learn how to:

  • Lock off your descender while on rappel
  • Change from rappelling to ascending while on rope
  • Change from ascending to rappelling while on rope
  • Cross a knot during a rappel or ascent
  • Get upright if your upper ascender or chest harness should fail while climbing
  • Downclimb with your ascenders
  • Properly inspect and maintain your vertical system

Advanced Vertical Techniques

You Should Learn to:

  • Use a tether for hauling heavy loads
  • Use your system to climb steep slopes
  • Cross rebelays How to assist someone who has inverted
  • “Pick off” an injured caver from the rope
  • Make field repairs to your gear


This site is not designed to teach you all the techniques involved in exploring vertical caves. Below are several very good references to help you learn more.

Alpine Caving Techniques by Georges Marbach and Bernard Tourte (translated into English by Melanie Alspaugh) Speleo Projects (2002) Excellent guide to European-style caving with good sections on technical rigging of waterfalls and stream passages.

On Rope: North American Vertical Rope Techniques, 2nd edition by Alan Padgett and Bruce Smith. National Speleological Society (1997) Excellent reference on American single rope techniques, including rigging and vertical systems.

On Call: A Complete Reference for Cave Rescue edited by John Hempel & Annette Fregeau-Conover National Speleological Society (2001) Reference manual on North American cave rescue techniques.

SPAR Expedition and Small Party Rescue Manual by Rick Speaect and Eddy Cartaya. Published by Vertically Speaking (2019). An excellent reference manual for how to prepare for and address underground emergencies when the group is going to have to rescue itself.

Knots for Climbers, 2nd (How To Climb Series) by Craig Luebben. Falcon Press (2001)

Basic Rockcraft by Royal Robbins LA Siesta Press (1970) Classic knot reference.

The Online Guide to Cave Exploring