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Caving Essentials


OK, folks, here is the short list of caving essentials along with some lengthy description by me. That's just my style, so enjoy!

First of all, you should know that the caves in Indiana are about 52 to 54 degrees F year round. That means that if you get wet (you wont get really wet) you could suffer from hypothermia. Similarly, if you get stranded or stuck or otherwise momentarily disoriented (a.k.a. Lost - don't worry though, really) you could also get cold. Your clothes will get dirty. Don't wear your favorite sweater and your roommates khakis, because they will not look pretty after your trip. You should wear old jeans, a T-shirt and a sweatshirt. You may also want to consider a pair of coveralls. These are coveralls, mind you, not OVERALLS. The difference is that coveralls cover your whole body--with sleeves, whereas overalls have those button straps over the shoulders and so forth. Overalls are a bad idea, because they are going to catch on rocks and such. If you don't have coveralls, I would not run out and buy a pair ($30 or so at Big R) but would wear old jeans and a ratty sweatshirt or something like that. Coveralls are best though.

OK, that said, here is the list:

1. Appropriate clothes (see above)

2. Gloves

Gloves are essential, since you will want to have your hands warm and clean. I use washable leather work-type gloves. This keeps my hands pretty dry and I like the leather because it breathes. Knitted gloves will get wet and cold. You don't want to get wet, and you don't want to touch formations with your bare hands (in fact, don't touch them at all.)

3. Boots

I wear a nice pair of hiking boots, gore-tex lined. This is for warmth and for traction. THEY WILL GET MUDDY!

4. Knee pads

This is optional, but everyone I cave with wears them and I highly recommend it. You will be doing some interesting stuff in crevices and over rocks, so you will want the padding. Crawling on the ground can be forgiving, but crawling over rocks for 600 feet at a time is tough on the knees. I have seen people use the plastic roller-blading type pads, but these tend to break or get caught or move out of position. I wear simple volleyball style foam-elastic knee pads. This gives me flexible protection.

5. Three sources of light

This is a caver's rule. One is your headlamp (I will be loaning this piece of equipment to you.) Two is a maglite or some other little flashlight, and three is another spare light of some kind: flashlight, candles, cyalume light stick. You don't want to be in a cave in the dark, or moving along and your headlamp dies. It happens. I carry my headlamp, a mini-maglite, and 3 - 24 hour candles with waterproof matches. That is 3 sources. Really, this is important. Try to leave those red plastic Ray-O-Vac flashlights at home if you can, as they are a favorite food of the flashlight eating Evil Cave Frogs! Light is everything to a caver, you should not skimp on this one. Bring whatever you can carry comfortably or in a pack. A trip leader does not take kindly to people who have light problems and then have no spare light.

Evil Cave Frog - A relative of the notorious Barking Cave Frog. Evil Cave Frogs have never actually been seen but will eat flashlights and sometimes have been known to put rocks in peoples packs. Usually this happens when your back is turned, or leave your pack with the rest of the group to check a side passage.

Barking Cave Frogs - These are rarely ever seen either, but you always know they are around when you hear their call and smell them. Barking Cave Frogs smell terribly bad and usually show up in tight crawlways where you cant escape their stench.

6. Helmet (We will supply this piece of equipment for you)

7. Batteries

You will need to supply batteries for your headlamp. This will be either 4 AA batteries or three C cells. I will tell you which you need. Make sure you have a couple CHANGES of batteries. In other words, bring at least 6 C's or 8 AA's, so you can change them underground if you have to (WHEN you have to.)

8. Water/food

I carry two 16 oz. Evian's with me in my pack. I also bring granola bars, beef jerky, crackers, cookies or GORP (Good Ol' Raisins and Peanuts) to munch on. Make sure they are in a container where they won't get smashed and remember, you cannot leave anything in the cave like wrappers and food.

9. Pack

I use a regular backpack, as I carry a first aid kit, compass, and some extra supplies, but a fanny pack works nice. Regular duffles can be difficult to carry around (especially in a tight crawlway.) A cave pack is a very personal item to a caver. It takes time to find a pack that works best for you. Don't use a briefcase! (*|;^)

10. Change of clothes and shoes

Don't forget some clean clothes. I wear my caving clothes to the caving site. Sometimes I then change back into clean stuff at the end of the day. Your clothes will get dirty. If you choose to change on site, be sure to consider that it is likely that other cavers will be changing in the same area, and there is no private changing area.

11. Money

The cave area where we will be caving is privately owned and maintained, and the owner asks that all who visit his property donate $1.00 to help pay for his annual liability insurance premiums. That is not much to ask when he is dedicating his time, money, and life to preserving this natural environment for us to enjoy. Also, I always go to Taco Bell after the trip if it's not too late.

A few words about caving:

Basically the caving experience can be enjoyed at multiple levels. There is a lot to see in the form of geology and archeology, and there are many different aspects of caving to experience. If you are not comfortable doing something, speak up and tell me and we can form our trip accordingly. On most trips, you have the opportunity to see some nice formations and waterfalls, traverse cracks and crevices, learn and improve your techniques in crevicing and chimneying, experience bear-crawls and bellywomps, and find yourself in giant rooms under the earth. On these trips, nothing is beyond anyone's abilities, although many things are a challenge. Safety is important and there are certain rules we must follow, but by and large, caving is a fun experience.

I borrowed most of this text from someone, but I'll be darned if I can remember who it was! If it is your text, let me know, so I can give you credit!