"Leave Nothing but Footprints, Take Nothing but Pictures,
Kill Nothing but Time."
[ Scott's Gulf ]
[ Caving Safely ]
[ Cave Conservation ]
[ TAG Caving ]
[ Gallery Underground ]
[ The Entrance ]
Glossary of Cave-Related Terms
Many of the terms on this page have links to pictures or text elsewhere on the Internet.
- anastomoses-- Braided solution tubes, frequently appearing on the undersides of poorly jointed limestone strata. These features, which form phreatically, are known to contribute to the rapid development and expansion of proto-caves.
- bitter end-- Usually used in conjunction with "push," as in "pushed to the bitter end," this phrase means not just that the passageway ended, but that it ended in grim or dangerous circumstances.
- breakdown-- Blocks or slabs of rock which have fallen from the ceiling of a cave. A very common feature of many caves, breakdown blocks may be small or they may be as big as schoolbuses. In either case, they form the floor of many passageways and must be climbed over or through to continue exploration. They may also form a terminal collapse, where, although further passage is suspected to lie on the far side of the breakdown pile, they form an impenetrable barrier to further exploration. Some cavers have made a name for themselves in caving circles by pushing through seemingly terminal breakdown to find a way onward; however, this type of "pushing" is dangerous and should not be attempted by novice cavers.
- buffoon, speleo- or cave buffoon-- Derogatory term applied to unprepared spelunkers who blunder into caves and then do stupid things. Also frequently applied to describe cavers who do something stupid, silly or foolish, especially when they are expected to know better.
- calcite-- Calcium carbonate, CaCo3, with hexagonal crystalization. This mineral is found in the form of limestone, chalk and marble and is the basic mineral from which many formations, including stalagmites and stalactites, are made.
- carbide-- Chemically, calcium carbide is CaC2, a substance resembling dark grey limestone gravel which, when combined with water, produces flammable acetylene gas. Before electric lights, carbide was used by miners as fuel for their lamps (carbide lamps are still frequently called "miners lamps"), hence the term "miners grade" in reference to smaller chunks which burn easily in a carbide lamp. It is still the fuel of choice for many European and U.S. cavers due to its heat producing properties and the quality (due to wavelength) of the light it produces.
- caving, -er(s)-- The activity of exploring a cave. The use of this term, as opposed to "spelunking," usually connotes a higher level of training, preparation and experience. A caver is one who engages in caving, usually on a regular basis,
as this article explains.
- drapery, -ies
- eardipper-- Term used to describe a passage where you have to pass through a low spot almost filled up with water. The ears usually get wet because you have to turn your head sideways to keep water from running in your
- epsomite-- The mineralized form of magnesium sulfate, MgSO4 * 7H2O.
- Flashlighters-- A more derogatory term for spelunkers, generally regarded as connoting a lesser level of preparation, knowledge and concern for conservation.
- grim-- Used to denote any cave trip or cave that is extremely unpleasant. "Grim" also usually implies a wet and/or dangerous trip.
- gypsum flowers
- karst-- A geologic region characterized by
layers of porous limestone containing sinkholes and underlain by caves and
- pearls or cave pearls
- phreatic-- A term used to describe
speleogenesis that occurs at or below the level of the water table. Passages formed phreatically are typically horizontal passages, rounded and smoothed by the passage of underground water. "Fossil trunks" are always formed phreatically, at least initially.
- pit-- A vertical drop, requiring rappelling and ascending gear.
- push trip, pushing-- Pushing refers to pushing oneself through tough or tight passage in an attempt to locate more cave. A push trip is usually an expedition-style trip with additional discovery as its goal. If someone says a lead has been "pushed," it is generally accepted (although not universally true) that there is no more accessible cave beyond. See "the bitter end."
- sherpa-- Anyone who volunteers (or is persuaded by whatever means) to haul heavy packs or gear, such as vertical gear, long ropes, or photographic equipment. This is frequently done in order to secure a spot on an interesting, and perhaps exclusive, cave trip or expedition.
- speleogenesis-- The process that creates and
- speleologists-- A speleologist is one who studies caves for scientific purposes. Most cavers regard themselves as speleologists to one extent or another.
- speleothem-- Cave formations. These take a wide
variety of delicate forms and may exhibit broad variations in size, color,
opacity or translucence, fluorescence, and composition.
- spelunker, -ing-- A person who explores caves
for a hobby; the act of exploring caves for a hobby. See
caving, -er(s) for more information and a
reference to a good article on the subject.
- sump-- a pit or a pool in which water collects. In a cave, a sump may simply be a water-filled low place in an otherwise dry passageway, a small, temporary obstacle which provides an invigorating plunge or ear-dipper for wet-suit clad explorers. Or it may indicate that the remainder of the cave beyond that point can only be explored by scuba-equipped cave divers. The extent of the sump must be successfully determined before further exploration can continue.
T.A.G.-- An acronym for Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Commonly used to refer to the cave-rich area surrounding the joining of these three states.
- terminal-- adjective used to describe the very end of a cave, as in "After four hours of caving, we reached the terminal collapse of the cave." Frequently used in conjunction with one of the following words: collapse (as above), breakdown, sump, or room. The related noun "termination" or the verb "terminate" are also used in some situations, as in the following sentences: "This was the termination of our exploration at that time;" or "We decided to terminate the survey at this point."
- vadose-- A term used to describe speleogenesis that occurs above the level of the water table, often via waters dripping or running from the surface. Vadose cave passages are typically vertical canyons or pits.
For further reading on the web, we recommend the
Glossary of Cave and Karst Terminology, prepared by Joe Jennings in
Australia, and the Caver's Slang Dictionary available at the TAGNET web site.
Go back to the TOP of this trail.
Leave this alcove and go back to the Entrance.
[ TTU Home Page ] [ Scott's Gulf ]
We welcome your comments or bug reports
via email to your friendly,
neighborhood speleoweb hostess,
Hannah, NSS #35012.
You've found our Cave Register!
Prove You Were Here--Sign it!
View the Register Entries!
A few hardy explorers have pushed the very limits of exploration in the UCG Home Cave. We honor these brave adventurers in the Hodag Hall of Fame, an archive of journal entries from their explorations.
This page, http://orgs.tntech.edu/grotto/glossary.html, validates as
(C) Copyright 2003, April Hannah for the Upper Cumberland Grotto of the NSS. All Rights Reserved. Photos available on this web site are the property of individual members of the Upper Cumberland Grotto. Failure to request permission before saving the contents of this web page to disk for your own use is a violation of the U.S. Copyright Law.