CAVING NOTES FOR BEGINNERS

Participation
One of the attractions of caving, potholing and exploration of abandoned mines is its adventurous nature.  The accident rate in caving is thankfully low but from time to time serious and fatal accidents do occur. It is therefore important that beginners who seek to go caving are aware of and accept the element of risk and take responsibility for their own actions.

Safety
Although it will not be possible for an absolute or relative novice to caving to evaluate precisely the organisation, safety considerations and leadership skills associated with a trip that you are considering going on much can be done with a common sense approach.

Make sure you know as much about the trip as possible.  How long is it?  What are the difficulties?  Is the cave entrance remote?  Is the trip a wet or dry trip?  How much time will be spent in water; will it be knee deep wading or will it be necessary to swim?  Is the cave liable to flooding and what would be the effect of this?  Are there climbs or traverses?  Will it be necessary to use a rope or ladders?

Who will lead the trip?  What is their experience of caving and of the chosen cave in particular?  Do they seem sensible, mature and know what they are talking about?

What clothing and equipment will you require?  What will you need to provide? What will be provided for you?  Does it appear in good condition?  Does it fit?

Is emergency equipment and first aid equipment to be taken?  What emergency equipment will you be expected to carry?  Is spare lighting being carried?

If the club is a university or college club it will almost certainly have a set of guidelines for caving.  Ask for a copy and compare with what you have been told.   If you are at all unsure ask for clarification.

All adult cavers participating in an informal group or club situation should seek as soon as possible to improve personal competence and help to share the responsibilities for each trip e.g. all party members should know what to do in the event of an accident.   Basic first aid is an important skill and as many as possible should be trained.

If you have any health problems likely to affect performance during the activity you should let the leaders know prior to the start of the activity.

If you become distressed or concerned during the activity you should bring this to the immediate attention of the other members of the party including the leader.

Hypothermia is one of the main hazards and you need to make sure that proper precautions are taken to avoid its onset, i.e. proper clothing for the conditions to be encountered, staying dry if at all possible, eating properly before and during trips, ensuring that the pace and length of the trip is appropriate to the fitness of participants and avoiding long waits at ladder pitches etc.

Hypothermia Symptoms include:
- sufferer becomes quiet, lacks interest, becomes slow and starts lagging behind
- mental deterioration
- uncharacteristic behaviour
- loss of faculties, e.g. slurring of speech
- shivering
- loss of consciousness
- breath smells of acetone

Party members should be aware of what actions to take should any party member exhibit the symptoms of hypothermia.

Access
All caves belong to someone.  Most require the crossing of private land and in many cases permission needs to be sought.  You should play your part in maintaining good relations with landowners and others by respecting property, using approved routes to cave entrances and changing discreetly.

The Country Code should be adhered to.

Conservation
Caves are a unique and very special part of our natural environment.  Because of their slow and gradual formation over many thousands of years, fantastic passage shapes develop, breakdown occurs, sediments are deposited, beautiful calcite formations build up, and various creatures find a home.  To be the first to enter such a place is an experience unlikely to be forgotten, but unfortunately one that only a few people will be privileged to have.

Once a cave has been entered a process of deterioration begins.  Sometimes this is extremely rapid, but usually it is steady and barely noticeable.  Whatever happens, the end result is the same, a place retaining little aesthetic value and interest.   Such destruction is a crime against nature and there is a moral responsibility on the part of everyone using this environment for their enjoyment, whatever their motivation and purpose, to ensure its preservation for others.

It is therefore essential that respect for the conservation of the underground environment should be encouraged on all trips.  All cavers whether novice or experienced should be aware of and adhere to the NCA Conservation Code.

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Printed copies of this Information Leaflet are available from the NCA Training Coordinator on receipt of an A5 s.a.e.  ------------------------------------------------------------------------

For direct contact with the NCA please E-Mail Nick Williams at nick@confmnce.demon.co.uk
or visit National Caving Association (N.C.A.