1) Never cave alone. If something happens to you, who will know? What if you twist your ankle or break your arm? Will you be able to make it back to the entrance without assistance? Probably not. The National Speleological Society (NSS) advocates a minimum group of three cavers.
2) Always tell someone you trust where you will be caving and how long you expect to be gone. If something *does* happen to your group, rescuers will be on the way that much quicker. And they won't waste valuable time trying to determine which cave you've gone to.
3) Never climb a rope hand-over-hand. Simple physics show that it is physically impossible to climb out of a deep pit hand-over-hand. You will get tired and what will you do then? If you must do pits, take the time to learn vertical techniques from people who know what they are doing and invest in some sound equipment. Many grottos (including the Upper Cumberland Grotto) periodically schedule vertical training and practice sessions. These sessions give you the opportunity to try out vertical gear to decide what system works best for your physical and financial condition. [Excerpts from American Caving Accidents pertaining to vertical accidents will be published on the World Wide Web in the future -- so stay tuned!! In the meantime you can visit the ACA's home page at: http://scott.marketspace.com/~aca/]
4) Never use a flashlight as your primary light source or, worse still, a lantern. It's very simple, really. Rocks are hard. Caves are dark. When you drop your lantern or flashlight and break it, you will be left in the dark. At that point, the odds that you will be injured if you try to proceed further are astronomically against you. Headlamps [attached to your helmet -- you did wear a helmet, didn't you? see Number 5] are sturdier and leave your hands free for climbing and scrambling over rocks. Also, always make sure you have back-up lights almost as good as your primary source [no cylalumes or "snap sticks"-- they would never be bright enough to get you out of a big cave] and spare bulbs, batteries, fuel, etc. for all of your lights. Carry these things with you at all times!
5) Always wear a helmet. Many spelunkers say "I never use a helmet because it impedes my movement" or "I can't see with it on." Those people just haven't done enough caving. Most caves involve a great deal of crawling, stooping, ducking and climbing. Inevitably, you're going to bash your head into something (or someone is going to knock a rock down on you). If you are not wearing a helmet and you are very lucky, you won't be too badly hurt. Have you won a lottery lately? Then you are probably not lucky enough. [Potter's Ace Hardware off Willow Ave. in Cookeville has perfectly serviceable helmets for $7 -- they aren't top-of-the-line and you'll have to add a chin strap yourself, but they'll do fine for someone who caves infrequently or is just starting out. Spend the seven bucks -- you'll be glad you did.]
6) Have someone in the party carry a pack with spare food, water and some first aid equipment. This is a bare minimum; in reality, EVERYONE should carry a pack with their own supply of food and water and some minimal first aid stuff -- (bandaids, ace bandage, Tylenol, space blanket or trash bag [for conserving body heat -- very important!] -- and, of course, their back-up lights. However, for you minimalists out there, you can get away with letting one person carry the spare food and water and the first aid stuff. Everyone should still port their own back-up lights (with spare batteries, fuel, etc.), however, and you can always tuck a trash bag into your helmet for emergencies or for packing out litter. While you're at it, why not put a candy bar into one of your pockets, just in case?
7) Wear boots or heavy duty footwear with deep lugs and ankle support [Not tennis shoes!]. A tragic, but true, story reveals how important good footwear can be. A teenage girl, wearing regular tennis shoes, entered a cave with some friends. Less than 50 feet from the entrance, she slipped on the muddy floor and slid down a slope. At the bottom she rolled a few feet and was impaled on a stalagmite. She bled to death in 15 minutes. Good boots (and more caving experience -- but that's another story) would have prevented this unnecessary death!
DON'T BECOME ANOTHER STATISTIC. CAVE SAFELY AND SENSIBLY!
After a couple of trips, you may appreciate the following optional items a little more:
Good quality leather boots
Kneepads [cheap ones at Wal-Mart do just fine]
Reliable cave map
Extra lengths of webbing or cord for repairing vertical gear or fashioning handlines
Carbide repair kits
Candles and waterproof matches
Go back to the TOP of this trail.
Find out more About the UCG.
Leave this alcove and go back to the Entrance.
We welcome your comments or bug reports
via email to your friendly, neighborhood speleoweb hostess,
April Hannah, NSS #35012.
This page, http://www.tntech.edu/www/life/orgs/grotto/tips.html, validates as
(C) Copyright1998, 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 these images to disk for your own use is a violation of the U.S. Copyright Law.