Information for new cavers

Equipment checklist
Avoiding caving accidents

Caving organizations

DFW Grotto — See meetings link at bottom of page for info on meeting dates, times, and location  
Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA) — P.O. Box 202853, Austin, TX 78720-2853
Texas Speleological Association (TSA) — P.O. Box 8026, Austin TX 78713
National Speleological Society (NSS) — 2813 Cave Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35810-4431

Boy Scouts of America caving guidelines
Caving opportunities for metroplex scout groups

The cave environment

To the beginning caver, the cave environment is quite alien. The absolute darkness within the cave can only be illuminated by the light sources you bring with you. This isolated environment is accentuated by the pervasive quiet, broken now and then by drops of water falling from the ceiling. The cave can be either dry, muddy, or wet. The floor might slope in one direction, then suddenly change and slope in another, and sometimes drop away all together into a deep pit. Meanwhile, the height of the cave ceiling can also change radically. It may vary from huge chambers dozens of feet high to low crawlways of less than a foot. Some caves are extraordinarily beautiful. They contain decorations such as stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, soda straws, cave coral, travertine dams, draperies, and flowstone, among others. But even caves without decorations can have a special attraction. Caves and their formations take millions of years to form.

Compared to the outside world, the darkness, temperature, and humidity inside most caves are fairly constant. In most caves, especially those that have active speleothems, or cave formations, the humidity is near 100 percent. Some caves may be drier and have lower humidities. In large caves, the temperature deep within the cave is near the mean annual temperature for the area (usually in the 60s or 70s for most Texas caves). Near the entrance, however, the temperature is directly influenced by the exterior climate and becomes variable.

Where animal life is found, it is unusual and has required special adaptations for it to exist in the relatively stable and isolated cave environment. Some animals you may see include blind albino cave fish, albino salamanders, cave crickets, and bats. Most of these animals are extremely rare and delicate, and you should take care to avoid harming any of them. Some cave fauna are protected by the state or federal governments as endangered species.

It is in this special environment that you as a cave explorer will find yourself. Every cave is unique and has new challenges for the caver. As you gain experience in cave exploration, you may decide to pursue some specialized types of caving. These may include surveying and mapping caves, studying cave wildlife, cave photography, vertical caving (rappelling and ascending ropes to reach otherwise inaccessible caves), exploration, and cave diving (which is considered one of the most dangerous sports in the world).

Basic do's and don’ts of caving

  • Before entering any cave, make sure you have permission from the landowner. Give the owner a signed release form which states that he or she is not liable for any accidents.
  • Never cave alone, and never without at least one experienced caver. It is best to have at least three people on any cave trip.
  • Before entering a cave, let someone not entering the cave know where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Before entering a cave, pay close attention to the weather. Many caves flood rapidly during rainstorms, so you should never enter a cave if heavy rain is possible.
  • Never use alcohol or drugs before entering a cave.
  • Carefully check the cave entrance for scorpions, spiders, and poisonous snakes when you enter and exit the cave.
  • Wear your helmet at all times.
  • Always carry at least three independent back-up sources of light, including batteries and bulbs.
  • Personally carry everything you may need in the cave, in case you get separated from the rest of the group.
  • Look behind you as you travel through the cave so you will recognize the way out.
    Be aware of loose rocks, crevices, and other dangerous topography that could cause accident or injury.
  • Never smoke or use tobacco in a cave. It can pollute the fragile cave environment.
    Don't drink any water found in the cave. It may look pure, but is generally contaminated.
  • Some caves have pockets of unbreathable air (“bad air”). Retreat immediately to a location where the air is pure or exit the cave if you experience any of these symptoms: Labored breathing, headache, nausea, vomiting, or weakness; unexplainable discomfort or anxiety. You can check for bad air by trying to light a candle, match, or cigarette lighter; the flame will be separated, small, brief, or absent in bad air.
  • Know your physical capabilities and limitations, never exceed them. Don't push yourself beyond your limits.
  • Do not mark or deface the caves in any way. Do not write on the cave walls or formations.
  • Avoid touching cave formations, especially with your bare hands. Cave formations are delicate and may break easily. Also, the oil from your skin will permanently mar them and affect the growth of formations.
  • Never remove cave formations. Many states protect caves and their formations, and carry stiff penalties for those who damage caves or steal formations.
  • If you encounter any animal life, avoid contacting or harming it if possible. Most cave fauna are extremely delicate and rare.
  • Carry out all waste, including human waste, spent carbide, and dead batteries.
  • Follow the NSS motto: "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footsteps, kill nothing but time."

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