If you are new to caving or just vaguely interested, we hope you will find some of the following questions and answers useful.
What is caving?
Caving is the exploration of caves. It may not be the first time a cave has been entered but it might be exploration on a personal level by someone who has not been in that particular cave before. Caving usually involves being part of a group of cavers who often get as much fun out of being together as a group as being in the cave. It might mean helping each other through obstacles, sharing the wonder of a passage's beauty with others or just having a good sporting trip.
Why do people go caving?
Caving can mean different things to different people. For some it can be escapism from the daily grind, to others a fun way of getting some exercise. Tremendous friendships can develop between cavers whilst underground. There are also many aspects within caving that attract people such as the exploration of new caves, SRT, climbing, diving, photography, even sketching and painting! It comes down to the individual, but caving is certainly regarded as a very worthwhile pastime to all those who participate in the sport.
What types of caves are there?
Lots - Horizontal, vertical, horizontal and vertical, flooded, dry, hot, cold, humid, draughty, muddy, sandy, the list goes on and on. Most caves in the UK are not hot or humid. We have most of the other items in the list though, usually within a single cave!
What is a caving club?
To most cavers, a very worthwhile and helpful item. Caving clubs often have a tackle store, which is useful for beginners when finding out what they might need for caving, without having the financial outlay. Clubs also offer regular organised caving trips with experienced cavers, which is an excellent opportunity for beginners to learn. Some clubs also have their own caving hut, which allows members to stay in a certain caving area with good facilities. An important aspect of caving clubs is their social side, which is often regarded as essential (especially after a good trip!). There is usually an annual fee to be a member of a club and some publish a journal, which members receive.
Where can I find a caving club?
Caving clubs exist in many parts of the country, even where there are no local caves. They can often be found through colleges and universities. Descent magazine always carries good listings of caving club details. Check the links page.
Should I get proper training?
This is a good idea as there are many aspects to caving that you are unlikely to have come across. Training also involves learning to treat the cave environment properly, with respect to conservation. Training can be obtained through caving with experienced cavers, caving clubs or through commercial centres.
What equipment do I need?
The basics usually include an oversuit, made of a tough material (usually Cordura or PVC) and an undersuit for warmth. Stout boots (or a pair of wellies), a caving helmet, lighting system and belt. Many cavers also like to wear pads to protect their knees and elbows. In wet caves a an wetsuit is often used. Items such as ropes, tools or even diving equipment can be used to tackle particular obstacles within certain caves. The advantage of being in a club becomes apparent when needing additional equipment as members usually have access to club equipment.
Will I get wet and cold?
Yes. That's part of the fun… hard to believe sometimes! With the proper caving attire it is easy to keep warm and comfortable even after a total immersion. Modern undersuits allow the body to warm up very quickly after a ducking and the suit often dries very quickly once you are moving. A wetsuit protects against cold water very effectively but can get chilly if you are not moving for a long period of time.
Is it dangerous?
The newspapers and TV often paint a poor picture of caving if they report an accident underground (which is a relatively infrequent occurrence). The reality is that many caving trips are carried out every weekend with people enjoying a safe and fun time. Proper training and a bit of common sense goes a long way. Many cavers are members of rescue teams and look after each other in that way. A rescue might mean looking for a group that has become lost or helping cavers that have become tired on long trips. It is only rarely that something more serious occurs. Many people look forward to caving trips with their friends and have an excellent and safe time.
What specialities are there in caving?
Single Rope Technique (SRT) - is a method for ascending and descending pitches in caves. This is a skill that most cavers use. The use of electron (wire) ladders is also employed but most people regard SRT as the favourite choice.
Climbing is often a way to find new cave passages and can involve placing bolts and safety lines to protect the climber.
Digging is a method of finding new cave passages and can involve regular digging trips for weeks, months or even years, in efforts to breakthrough. Various tools and methods are employed in digging and it can involve camping underground if the dig is a long way into the cave.
Cave Diving is a method for passing sections of cave that are full to the roof with water. These sections can be a few feet long or several kilometres. Free diving very short flooded sections (sumps) is practised by some cavers. This involves holding your breath for a few seconds and ducking through. Full diving equipment is used by a handful of highly trained cavers to pass longer sumps. Cave diving is regarded as the most extreme aspect of caving and is only practised by a small percentage of cavers. See the Cave Diving Group Website.
Cave photography is a very popular caving speciality with many people enjoying good results. There are also some exceptionally fine cave photographers who bring the world of caving to the public through their work appearing in magazines and books.
Surveying - Creating a map of the cave.