9 Tips for Novice Spelunkers and Cave Exploration

Into the rabbit hole…

Descending into the depths of the earth for a little walk in the dark is always a memorable experience. You never know what you may see or where you may go. As cool as the unknown may be, there are some things that you do want to know before you kick off your adventure. Cave exploration is a serious activity and should be treated as such. Many people have perished in caves from lack of preparation and knowledge. Here is what we have learned through our little walk in the dark.

The following tips are by no means comprehensive or meant to be used as a caving guide. Do your own research, plan ahead, and make sure you are prepared before dropping in.

  1. Always wear a helmet, no exceptions. The surfaces in caves tend to be damp and/or dusty. With these conditions in tight spaces, you’ll be bonking your head. Although unlikely, you could also dislodge a stalagmite or another spelunker may accidentally cause a rock to fall. Caves are filled with variables and almost nothing is sure.

    Stoked after obtaining the key for Spirit Mountain Cave from the BLM Field Office.
  2. Bring a pen, paper, and confetti. Caves have many different routes within them making them even more fun to explore. At each intersection, you will want to make a note of what you see and which path you took. Leaving a small piece of confetti at each intersection is a common way to mark your trail, just remember to pick up your confetti pieces on the way out. Getting lost underground is very serious and easily fatal. You will want to know where you came from so you can get out safely.
  3. Multiple lights are mandatory. Always bring a backup light should yours fail. If you happen to get stuck or lost in cave you will likely need ample hours of light support to figure out your pickle of a situation. You will be in rough shape if your lights die and you do not have a spare. Trust us.
  4. Never bypass a closed entrance. If an entrance is closed off, leave it alone. It is not an invitation to “take the path less traveled”. It is closed for a reason, sometimes because of unsafe air and other times unstable conditions. Don’t even bother or six feet under might be a literal term.

    Our good friend, Jeff, who so kindly showed us the ropes!
  5. Know you limits. Caving can get technical. At some points you may have to stem from point A to B over a 30 foot abyss. Maybe you need to rappel into unknown depths without knowing where your rope will take you.  Maybe you’ll be in a tight, claustrophobic situation and begin to panic.  All of the above scenarios are possibilities you should be prepared for. Trust us, you do not want to panic underground. Don’t be afraid to turn around and say “that’s enough for me”. Read more from The Gear Hunt here.
  6. No pets. Even if by some miracle the cave you want to explore allows pets please do not bring them. The air quality could be tougher on your pet than it is on you and cause real damage to them. With all of the variables you may find in a cave – rat poo, confetti, “biotic dust”, crevasses, holes, etc. its just not worth it. Plus, no one wants to step in dog turds. Enough said!

    A fall here would lead to sliding down a crevasse to reach the bottom 30 feet down mostly likely with lots of broken bones.
  7. Wear old clothes and wash them ASAP afterwards. You will get dirty, no questions asked. Afterwards, you don’t want to breathe in anymore cave dust than necessary so do yourself a favor and wash your clothes after you wander.  
  8. Don’t touch everything. All those cool sparkly rocks and growths you see are usually still alive and slowly growing. The oil on our hands stops them from growing and can kill them. The rocks are alive! 

    Stemming across a hole 15 feet deep
  9. Have some webbing and rope. If the routes get technical you will be glad for this! Instead of having to stem down you can sling some webbing and make a safer descent. A rope could come in handy in case of needing to rescue a member. You don’t need a huge 70meter climbing rope, just a small one about 10-30 meters.

We know this list may sound a bit grave but it is the reality of adventures such as this! Caves are rad but also dangerous. A lack of preparation on one team members part could lead to the rest of the team carrying out an injured spelunker. Always have a backup plan for the backup plan. Know what you are getting into and have a blast!



25 thoughts on “9 Tips for Novice Spelunkers and Cave Exploration

  1. Even something as simple as the Ape Caves, an “easy hike” these apply. I remember as a kid my dad crawling through a small side tunnel and coming back with a gash in his head. I would add a couple things

    1) warm clothing. It can be 90 outside and be 50 or less inside. Layers, as always are best.
    2) spare Batteries. Love the extra light (or two) idea, but spare batteries for all would help for even more in the light if problems occur.
    3) And as always, let someone know where the heck you are going and what time you expect to be back. I also add a “Start to Panic Time” Meaning, “If you dont hear from me by THIS time, then start to panic!” (In a good way by calling out the Cavalry to save my rear!

    Great post!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Many years ago while driving through the Black Hills, we took the tour through Jewel Cave. Silly me, I had a baby in a backpack style carrier. She was 4 months old. Well, you know how some passages are tight. This was a real workout. But, we enjoyed the cave just the same.


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