Rusty's Cave

Spelunking ... What a strange word. Yes, that is what I like to do. Other weird words are spelunker (that is what I am), speleology (study of caves, I do that), and speleologist (he who studies caves, so I suppose I R this). The original Latin word is 
spelaeum which means cave or grotto and then the French folks got a hold of "that" word and thus, those four weird words above. Anyway, this is a good read about that word.

The preferred word for folks like me is "Caver" (has fewer letters and easier to pronounce). Yes, I am a caver, one who explores caves. Why? I like it! It's Fascinating! When you enter a cave, your whole world instantly changes. It is dark, real dark, and I mean really really really really dark. Your world becomes that area that your cave light can illuminate. What might you see? That depends entirely on the cave. Let the exploration of what you can not see begin!

As you venture into the cave the light diminishes from the Entrance Zone light (an area that will get full sunlight) to the Twilight Zone (an area of no direct sunlight) to the Dark Zone (the area of no observable natural light ... you're on your own light now). There are many types of caves from big walking passages down to tiny barely-fit-into-the-crawly passageways. Sinkholes are open pits that may just be a few feet deep to massively large pits that requires rope to descend into and then ascend out of. Chambers in caves may be intricately decorated with a variety of cave formations or passages may show the scalloping of ancient, fast moving water.

As you proceed deep into a cave things can change very rapidly. Be on the alert at all times! The large walking passageway suddenly narrows to a crawl way, to a tight squeeze (not a place for a claustrophobic person) and  then to an impassible diameter from which wind gushes out and you just know there is more cave beyond that point that has never been explored. You might be following a nice wide passage with a stream flowing smoothly through the center of the passage. Follow that passage and you may find yourself at the top of an underground waterfall just waiting for you to rappel over it! TOO COOL! You find a tiny hole on the ground's surface so you stuff and squeeze yourselves in and then you pop into a room that you can park a 727 and that room is decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, soda-straws, helictites, columns, flow-stone, rim-stone dams, cave pearls, bacon strips and popcorn formations that just glisten from the light of your head lamp. WOW! As dusk approaches you might sit at a cave entrance with your favorite beverage and watch in awe as thousands and millions of bats emerge for a night-time of foraging for insects that eat our crops or us!

In a cave you or your team may never know if you found that one tiny, dark passage hidden behind a formation that can take you further down into that intriguing and fascinating world.One of the biggest thrills in caving is finding a virgin cave and being the first person ever to cast light upon it, see it, and explore it. Yes, there are many caves to be found, we just have to
find the way in.  Find and join a grotto (cave club), get  trained and get equipped for the experience of caving.

Getting Started - The basics for basic caving:

The helmet
, get one. PERIOD! Yes, you can cave without one and use a cheap headlamp but the first time you bang your head, rock falls, etc ... you will cry or worse. My first one was a metal construction hardhat my daddy wore on the oil rigs, it was pretty heavy but it did the job. One of most popular helmets based on Internet comments (I have not yet found a chart or site that reviews multiple caving helmets. Most of what I have found are opinions.) is the Petzl Ecrin Roc (discontinued) follow by Edelrid, Camp-USA High Star, Black Diamond Half Dome, and Kong. Try them on, remember, you will be wearing it for many hours of enjoyable caving.

Lights, well you can not cave without one unless you stay within the entrance zone of the cave and what fun is that. My daddy said," Take this" and thus my first cave light was "Big Red," a big sealed beam lantern that chewed through the 6 volt lantern batteries (still have it).  Have a minimum of three light sources with enough batteries for each to last twice (safety factor) the entire trip. Now days LEDs are the choice among cavers as the energy consumption is low thus longer battery life. One light will be main head lamp. There are a lot of good ones that will work and get one that has a high water resistance factor or preferably waterproof. Chat with fellow cavers about the lights they use and get their opinions, likes and dislikes. I have only found a smattering of inconclusive reviews on the Internet (but then I got tired of looking).  The second light is usually a second headlamp or a flashlight style strapped to the side of the helmet but if you do the ultra-tight crawlies, that extra device there could be a bit of hindrance.  Avoid those cheapies that have the on/off button at the end as most of those buttons fail pretty quick. The third light can be same as the first or second and for simplicity, you might choose lights that all use the same type/size battery (convenience) and that use off-the-self batteries that can be purchased in the local convenience store (also convenient). After a cave trip, remove the batteries, its not good for the light if the batteries start leaking. Check the REI sight below for info on choosing a head lamp and Bright Guy has excellent prices.  As for those chemical lights, they are really less than useless for caving so save those for your next underground rave, Harlem Shake in a cave, or your Halloween scary thing. You will want to see where you are going, what you could fall into, and that which may be looking back at you! If your light goes out .... anyway ... on to clothing.

, you should wear it caving. Colin Fletcher writes in his book The New Complete Walker (first printed a long time ago), "The best dress for walking is nakedness." ... So ... Skip the cotton (some cotton blends are OK in dry caves), if it gets wet, it's slow to dry and you could get chilled or worse, hypothermia. Go the polyester/spandex route and look for tags that mentions something about "Advanced Evaporation," "Moisture-Wicking Polyester," or "Quick-Dry Polyester."
Go for rip-stop nylon pants and avoid clothing with lots of pockets. Pockets, straps, and other loose things are just something else that can "hang" you up while clamoring through a tight, speleothem-filled passage. Many seasoned cavers prefer caving shorts and caving suits/overalls (some manufactures and vendors are listed below). This outer wear is made by cavers for cavers. The material is durable with minimal but appropriate outer pockets and the suits may incorporate knee and elbow pads. Under the outer wear is the underwear. Go with the polyester/spandex combo or a warmer polypropylene and a couple of caver favorite underwear brands are Terramar and Indera. Some cavers, for extra warmth, will use fleece clothing as a base layer. Texas caves are warm but in colder areas the caves are colder. Dress in layers. If you are riding with me, have a change of clothes to put on after caving or you will either ride home naked or walk. I keep trash bags to stow the dirty cave clothes until they are dumped into the washer, this prevents the inside of the vehicle from getting soiled. What ever clothing you choose to cave in, it WILL become permanently stained and become holey (and you will not have to pay a design clothing manufacturer for the privilege of extra stains and holes in the wrong places). Yes, I have a bag labelled "cave clothes."

Optional Clothing for body protection ... Knee pads and elbow pads are wonderful for lots of crawly passages. The five and ten dollar athletic pads are fine for some passages but when the going gets rough (lots of sharp and pointy protrusions), then more substantial armament might be required (unless you have steel knee caps and elbow tips). Try some on and talk with other cavers about comfort and durability as they will have to protect and be comfortable. Me, I have
Crawldaddies Knee Pads and Dirty Dave's Elbow Pads and I like them. I had some of the cheap hard shell pads from an army surplus store and although they "protected," I moved on to the fore mentioned gear. Gloves should be used for all caving activities and mandatory for SRT (Single Rope Technique). Caving gloves may be priced at $25 or more but $5 gardening gloves can work fine. For SRT I would highly recommend gloves with a lot of extra padding in the palms. Bicycling or weight-lifting glove are also great but avoid those that have that so-called gel filling. Fingerless gloves are also beneficial because the bulk of the gloves can make manipulating gear a bit tedious at times.

Tennis shoes may be fine for some caves (commercial) but for more advance caving situations, go for boots that have deep-lugged soles and good ankle support.You are not going for a walk in the park, you could be heading into a dark, wet, muddy, slimy, slippery cave (or a cavernous opening a hundert feet high by a hundert feet wide with giant speleothems). Please, no sandals or open-toed shoes. Good traction is important for climbing about and that good traction could be more important when you encounter a Yeti, Sasquatch, lions, tigers, bears, snakes, Mexican free-tail bats, frogs, toads, racoons, ring-tailed cats, porcupines, scorpions, BIG spiders, centipedes, millipedes, thousands of daddy long-legs, vampire bats, other weird troglodytes or mutant Homo sapiens (Descent, The Cave) . A favorite caving boot are American made Army jungle boots but these are getting hard to find and pricy. The "OTB" boot
and "Wellies" are also popular among cavers for their performance and longevity. Go for deep lugs for traction and mud cleaning and high-tops for ankle support. Drain holes and good ventilation are a big plus in caving boots.

REI, Campmor, Academy Sports, Dicks, Sports Authority, and Army Surplus Stores (90% of the products in Army Surplus Stores are from China or other foreign places. UGH!) are a few places for buying cave clothing and some other items that may be useful for caving. For more and specialized caving items, check the manufactures and vendors listed below.

Cave packs are essential for hauling your stuff to, in, around, and out of the cave if you are going to be in there for more than a half hour or so. A canvas pack is just fine for dry caves and the best shape is elongated or cylindrical for ease of hauling it through the cave. Your pack should have minimal external straps to keep it from hanging up on cave formations and avoid packs with zippers. The zippers will get clogged with dirt and sand and then become impossible to operate. Opt for packs with draw strings or that fold-over. Then there is the Warren Cave Pig, excellent for a cheap, DIY cave pack. Contents of your pack may contain snacks (beef jerky and M&Ms), water, first-aid kit, toilet paper, knife, spare key to pickup, backup lights, batteries, duck tape. Other cave packs you would haul into the cave would be a rope pack, and a vertical gear pack.
Check the vendors below for packs and bags.

Electronics and caving do not go together very well. That wet, sandy, dirty, muddy, environment is a wee bit hard on electronics. The only electronics I carry into the cave is my camera. I do not advise taking your cell phone into a cave, although newer models have excellent cameras. If the phone gets smashed, well, anyway, so much for an emergency phone call. If I think I will encounter H2O, I carry a small water proof (not water resistant) bag to protect my camera. Check into the waterproof cameras, the Fuji seems to be a caver favorite.

Going Caving Finally!
After reading all that stuff above, reading websites, reading books*, talking to other cavers, and acquiring your stuff, Lets Go Caving! Get your gear organized, don't cause others to wait on you. Let someone trustworthy know where you are, when you are leaving and when you will be back. Honor the cavers creed, "Take nothing but pictures,
leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time." ENJOY CAVING!
    * American Caves and Caving by William R. Halliday, M. D. is an original standard on caving. It is still a good read.

I suppose I should practice what I preach ...

And always, cave soft and cave safe.

Water Resistant or Water Proof?
     Understanding Water Resistance and Water Proof Ratings      

Caving Lights:    
     Headlamps: How to Choose - Good stuff from REI     
     Fenix Lights     
     El Speleo   
     Little Monkey - home of the Rude Nora caving light   
     Marble Mountain Lights     
     Princeton Tec   
     Pulsar Lights   
     Scurion Lights     
     Viper Lights 
     Zebra Lights         

Caving - Rope Ascending Links
Climbing Systems    
     Comparisons of the Frog and the Mitchell    
     Floating Cams for Prusiking    
     How to Rope Walk    
     Jugging The Froggy Way    
     Purcell Prussik Building  
     Ropelab - Excellent website from down under 
     Setting up a Mitchell rope ascending system    
     VERTICAL - A Technical Manual for Cavers    
     The Yo-Yo Climbing System     

Caving - Rope Descending Links:
     Backing Up An Abseil    

     Daring Descent: Having Fun with Friction    
     Figure 8 Descenders - Different ways of rigging the figure 8
     Rappel Z - Skinny Rope Technique         
     Self-Belay My Rappels    

Rope Knots:
Animated Knots - Great site for learning how to tie knots  
     Rope Management and Knots     

Vertical Devices:
Vertical Devices - This fascinating site warrants a section of its own!

Caving - Manufactures and Vendors:
  B&C Wonderwear - Caving clothes, packs, pads, and bags
     Black Diamond Equipment    
     Bluewater Ropes    
     Bob and Bob   
     Bright Guy - Great source for headlamps at great prices
     Camp-USA - Helmets are popular among cavers    
     CMC Rescue   
     CMI Gear     
     Columbia Sportswear     
     Dirty Dave's Cave Gear    
     Edelrid - rope, helmets, etc
     Gibbs Ascending Products    
     Gonzo Guano Gear
     Indera Mills Co. - underwear         
     Inner Mountain Outfitters   
     Hi-Tec Para Boot - Gaining popularity among cavers
     Karst Sports    
     Marble Mountain Lights    
     North Face   
     On Rope 1    
     REI  - Join for a one-time fee of $20 and enjoy the dividends and sales      
     Pelican Products    
     Pigeon Mountain Industries    
     Salamander Caving Gear - cave suits   
     SAR Technical Access and Rescue    
     Sherrilltree - Has gear that cavers can use   
     SMC Gear       
     Speleobooks - Lots of Books!    
     Sterling Rope   

     Swaygo Gear
     Terramar Baselayers - Please wear underwear while caving  
     Ver Sales, Inc.         
     West Virginia Underground      

Caving Clubs/Info/News/Organizations:    
Bat Conservation International - Plans for bat houses    
      Caving News - An online source of caving news    
      Commission on Volcanic Caves    
      Karst Information Portal - A digital library of karst information     
      Karst Worlds - Daily Caving News    
      Long and Deep Caves - By Caver Bob     
      National Speleological Society - The national club - search for a local grotto and join   
      Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. - Join; owns and manages lots of caves           
      Spelunkologists - Caving trip reports and Cave photos - Fun Site!    
      Underground Texas Grotto - Lots of resources on this page      

Caver Gatherings and Conventions:
    NSS Events - The one stop for all caver events, happenings, gatherings, and announcements
     Old Timers Reunion (OTR) - Largest annual reunion of cavers in the world      
     TAG Fall Cave-In - Large gathering of Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia cavers
     Texas Caver Reunion (TCR) - Big gathering of Texas Cavers and a few from surrounding states    

Cave Geology/Formation:
    Cave Formations (Speleothems) - A nice site from down under.    
     Geology of Caves - NPS website   
     Geology of Caves - USGS website     

Caves of Special Uniqueness   
Carlsbad Caverns 
     Kilauea Caverns of Fire - World's longest and deepest lava tube system     
     Mammoth Cave - World's longest known cave    
     Krubera Cave - World's deepest cave    
     Naica Crystal Cave    
     Son Doong Cave - World's largest cave in Vietnam    
     Waitomo Glowworm Caves    
     Werfen Ice Caves - World's largest ice cave         

Cave Folklore/History/Mythology:
Kentucky Cave Wars    
     The Legend of the Bell Witch and Bell Witch Cave News    
     The Great Onyx Cave Cases - Very interesting read.    
     Tommyknockers - a BLM site ... even the gov believes!           
     Tommyknockers of the Western Mines    
     Top 10 Sacred Caves - National Geographic site        

Bat Detectors:
     Bat Planet - Lots of stuff     
     Belfry Bat Detector    
     Build a Simple Bat Detector - I bought and built one. Fun to use!    

Bat Flights:

     Carlsbad Caverns    
     Congress Street Bridge    
     Bracken Bat Cave - World's largest bat colony!   
     Devil's Sinkhole    
     Frio Bat Flight    
     Nickajack Cave, TN    
     No. 9 Tunnel   
     U of F Bat House - World's largest occupied bat houses     
     Waugh Bridge Bat Colony      

Bat Houses:

     Bat House Forum    
     Bat House Information    
     Building a Bat House    
     Florida Bat Conservancy Bat House Plans    
     Install a Bat House - A BCI website     

Amateur Radios in Caves:
      Cave-Link Radio   
    Caver Radio    

Not quite ready for prime-time wild caving, try a  public cave. The expense is minimal (park fees, lunch, etc.) and skill is minimal (walking and chewing gum) and equipment is minimal (none or basics provided by the park). Use the following websites to find a public cave near you.
     Cave and Mine Adventures - North central California   
     U. S. Show Caves Directory    
     The Virtual Cave - Cool to play with if you can't leave home   

Disclaimer - Caving, like mountain climbing, scuba diving, kayaking, sky-diving, bungee-jumping,mountain-bike racing, NASCAR, horseback riding, motocross, football, basketball, baseball, soccer, rugby (I played that in college), chess, checkers, bridge, and tiddly winks, is an enjoyable and thrilling sport, is also potentially dangerous sport. The information presented here are only general guidelines for caving and should not be taken as gospel. This webpage is a resource page. You go caving at your own risk of injury or even death. It is your responsibility to know and understand your skill limits, your equipment limits, the limits of your companions, and the dangers that could be present in the cave. Please join a grotto, learn, train, practice, and go caving with responsible cavers. The author of this page will not be held liable for any actions safe or stupid that results in injury or death. Once again, please be safe as I do not want to be part of a team that has to rescue you or drag your dead body out.

Free Floyd Collins!

2011 M L Furrey, a currently misplaced Texas Caver,  who besides being a caver (NSS 18074) also enjoys backpacking, amateur radio (WA5POK), astronomy, and most anything that gets me outside.
Last Updated: December 2013