Spelunking, now usually called "caving," is a recreational activity of exploring caves. More than 200 caving clubs in the United States offer adventurers opportunities to visit caves and learn the skills needed to cave safely. Caving can be great fun and educational but also demanding and dangerous. There are innumerable caves in the United States and, according to the National Caves Association, about 100 have guided tours. Caves are underground hollows. Limestone and sandstone carved out by water form the largest number of caves.
Why Spelunking Is Popular
Speleologists are scientists who study caves and their frequently unique ecosystems. Hobbyists find pleasure in discovering the unusual life and distinctive geologic features found in caves. Caves often are thought of as homes for bats and snakes. But many other creatures live there, some of which never leave their dark cave environment and are sightless. Many caves that have pools of water contain fish and amphibious creatures that you might not see anywhere else. As water creates a cave, it often carves the soft stone into structures that rise from the floor or hang down from the ceiling, called stalagmites and stalactites. These formations delight cavers with their shapes and colors. Finding new things to experience and the physical and mental challenges required to find them make spelunking a popular hobby for many people.
Use the Right Equipment
A device that provides you light is the most important piece of caving equipment. Bring several independent light sources to ensure safety. The head-mounted lamp that is strapped onto your helmet is the most important. Other light sources you could use include hand-held flashlights, glow sticks and small LED lights. You need to carry extra bulbs and batteries for each light source. Bring extra clothes for warmth and dryness, hiking boots, gloves, knee pads for crawling, ropes, maps, a first-aid kit, plastic bags for trash, food and sufficient water.
Always Think of Safety
Spelunking is a safe hobby when you engage in it properly. The No. 1 cause of danger is getting lost in the cave. Problems also are caused by running out light, falling into crevices and flooding of passage ways. Cave temperatures are lower than outside, so if unprepared you might develop hypothermia, a seriously low body temperature. To avoid these and other dangers, you should never go without several other cavers. When possible, hire a guide. Always let people know where you will be and when to expect you back.
How to Get Started
For a list of caves and groups of cave enthusiasts near you, visit the websites of the National Caves Association (cavern.com) or Caving Meetup Groups (caving.meetup.com). Many of the popular caves have websites. Start by taking a guided tour and then undergo rigorous training until you are confident of your knowledge and ability to explore safely.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images