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Revision as of 15:40, 9 January 2007 by Wanderingfox-262 (Talk | contribs)
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Caving: The exploration, study and understanding of underground passages. Usually limited to passages passable by humans.

Speleology is the science of cave formation within Limestone (Karst) landscapes. leading to the American definition Spelunking which is called in the UK sport caving.

Potholing is essentially the same but technically refers to entering potholes (vertical surface shafts).

How to go caving: Easiest is to try and find a local caving club and get them to escort you on a few trips. Most have webpages and most large towns have one or more clubs. They may well have spare equipment to loan.

Equipment. Primary importance is a helmet and a light source. Climbing helmets are suitable, but cycling helmets are not. They should be tight fitting and kitemarked. Daylight penetrates a few tens of meters into a cave system at best, beyond this you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. A very strong long lasting and reliable light source is essential. A spare should always be carried. Caving trips can last several hours so be prepared.

Other equipment. Caves are cold (about 10C in the UK) and frequently wet to very wet. Hence most cavers wear a one-piece fleece undersuit known as a furry, and various types of one-piece waterproof oversuits, hardwearing cordura is popular but slick rubberised versions are also used. Steel toed boots or shoes are frequent though some prefer the flexibility of not having to lug cold metal around. Many cavers use Wellington boots, though again many dislike them filling with water and don't. For beginners this is not strictly required, though as caves are wet and muddy and frequently rubbing over rough rock most "normal" clothing disintegrates very rapidly!

Vertical sections of passage require specialist equipment. Either a cave ladder or by SRT. Make sure you are fully trained and comfortable in the use of these before trusting your life to it on pitches in the dark where nobody can advise you or correct your mistakes. As in much of caving you don't always get a second chance!

Etiquette: Entry to a cave - all land is owned by someone, get permission to cross the land beforehand. Many caves have specific access requirements (including barred and locked entrances) between landowners and a caving club. Ensure you fulfil all these before starting a trip. Once underground: Don't touch the formations. Calcite can form at a rate of 1A/min this means that the smear from your muddy hand can be present for years. It will take centuries to "replace" a broken piece of calcite. Don't disturb bats they are protected creatures. Don't shine your light at them. move on past quietly. Many UK cave passages are marked with tape to preserve delicate mud /floor passages from further wear. Even if you don't understand what’s being preserved don't cross the tape. You are responsible for your own safety, take enough food supplies but don't litter. Even crumbs take years to degrade as there is little or no bacteria underground.

How do caves form? Where to find caves? Caves are formed by the solutional activity of mildly acidic rain and streamwater on limestone. Hence you only find them in areas of exposed limestone. (Ice caves in glaciers as basaltic caves in volcanic areas are very different). In the UK the main areas are: S.Wales, Yorkshire, Peak District, Mendips with a few small systems in Devon and Scotland. in Ireland Claire and Fermanagh have a good collection. There are major systems in the USA, China, Spain, Austria, France, Slovakia, and many other areas, many not thoroughly explored.

All cave passages that aren't mines have been made by streams either long ago (known as fossil) or still in the process known as active. They vary enormously from massive caverns like Gaping Gill which is larger than St Pauls, through to tiny tubes just about bodysized.

Accidents and Rescue: Try not to need it! Have the right gear, check its in working order and be prepared. Sometimes even the best prepared have accidents. In the UK help is about 12 hours away. Someone has to get out or notice you are overdue. Volunteers from the region have to dragged out of pubs and co-ordinated to reach you, then you may receive your first aid and the long process of extracting you from a cave before the helicopter can get you to hospital. In other countries there may not be any rescues possible. (Cave divers have the same or longer rescue times, the world record for holding your breath is 7mins, you figure out why the mortality rate is high?!)

SO after all the doom and gloom why do it? It is fun is the answer. There is a large challenge element to it, overcoming hurdles physical capabilities. There is discovery of the unknown, even in the well explored UK new passage is continually coming to light and even if others have been there before you don't know what is around the next corner, very few cave passages are of the same nature for more than 100m. It is a very team sport; you trust your life to your mates and they trust you with theirs. (Solo caving is possible but only for the very strong willed). If you are interested find a local club and get in touch.

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