Spelunking (Caving) – An Underground Adventure

Caving, also known as potholing or spelunking, is the recreational pastime of exploring wild cave systems. Depending on the type of the cave you are exploring, you may come across rocky walls, wade through waters, or dive into different depths of water. Caves have rock formations such a stalactites and stalagmites, which normally can never be found above ground. There are also creatures that have lived in and have fully adapted to the darkness and moisture in caves, such that if they were exposed to light, they would die. Some caves carry a lot of human history and you can find pre-historic pottery, campfire sites and ancient art.

2 people exploring caves

Why People Go Caving

Spelunking is a multi-faceted activity. You can do it to explore, exercise, or just to test your physical capabilities. Either way, it’s a fascinating adventure to see what exists underground, to find things lost to the outside world.

Discovery – Cave exploration is an adventurous activity of the highest form. The universe that lies beneath our feet is simply exotic. From creatures that live in the caves to rock formations to water types, caving has the lure of the unknown and the excitement of discovery.

Cave Archaeology – Caves were used for sacred rituals and ceremonial sites in many world cuĀ­ltures. Because they are protected from elements of weather, they often have well-preserved ceremonial vessels, clothing & burial objects. Caving enthusiasts can study these artifacts to establish archaeological evidence.

drawing in a cave

Sports – No other sporting activity can give the same unique thrills and challenges that caving can, offering an adrenaline-filled sporting experience. You can engage in competitive traversing of gorges, ascend the potholes, climb boulders as well as swimming in the underground lakes.

Exercising – Caving requires flexibility, mobility and strength, which are beneficial to muscles and joints. Not only that, but there’s something very peaceful about exercising in a cool environment away from everyone else. It’s definitely a unique experience.

Best Types Of Caves To Discover

There are many types of caves and the best types to discover depend on how they were formed and where they are found. They include:

Solution Caves – These are the most common and complex types of cave systems. Solution caves are formed from soluble rocks, with the most common being limestone. When groundwater seeps underground through cracks, joints, faults and bedding places through these soluble rocks, they end up forming solution caves.

type of cave

Eolian Caves – These are wind-carved caves which are usually found in desert areas. Desert winds, which carry silt or sand particles, continuously hit against rocky cliffs, which then creates caves.

sand cave

Sea Caves – These caves are beautiful and well formed through the action of sea waves pounding against the land, leading to material removal over time. They are always found facing the sea and are adventurous to discover, as many of them can only be approached by boats or kayaks.

ocean cave

Rock Shelters – These are formed as a result of bedrock erosion which takes place in insoluble rocks. They are found in places where a resistant rock, like sandstone, overlies an erosion-susceptible rock, like shale. Erosion weathers the shale off and leaves behind a rock shelter with a sandstone roof.

type of cave

Ice Caves – Ice caves are the most unique type of cave, as they are formed entirely from melting ice and flowing water within and under glaciers.

caves made of ice

Equipment To Use

While caving, the most important equipment one should have is the helmet and a source of light. Hard hats or helmets should be worn to protect the head from any falling rocks, as well as to provide a hands-free source of light. LED lights are a caver’s primary source of light, which is usually mounted on the helmet so they can carry other things.

helmet for a cave

The clothing you should wear mostly depends on the environment of the cave. In cold/ice caves, the caver should have a warm base layer that has insulating properties. Light clothes can be worn in warm dry caves while wet-suits can be worn if the cave is wet or has stream passages. It’s also a good idea to carry a first aid kit in your backpack for emergencies, as well as some sort of stick to feel things out, like how deep a body of water will be.

Dangers Of Caving

Caving can be a dangerous activity and depending on the type of the cave, a caver can be exposed to many bad things/situations like the ones below.

Hypothermia – When a person loses more heat than they can absorb and their body temperature falls to below 90 degrees. They shiver and can become confused in the early stages, progressing to more confusion and no shivering. After that is the most dangerous stage where the condition becomes lethal.

graph for hypothermia

Falling – People have fallen down deep holes in caves, breaking bones or worse. If you’re alone, that could mean big trouble, as there’s no one around to help. Always watch where you’re going and try to have a friend go along with you, just in case there is such an emergency.

Floods – If it’s been raining in the area of the cave, there could be flash floods, so it’s good to stay tuned in to the weather before caving. The ocean water in caves will rise with the tide, so that needs to be considered as well. Floods can be deadly or cause you to be trapped for an extended period.

Falling Rocks – Falling rocks can quickly turn into a tragedy, so always be on the lookout for unexpected situations like this that can arise. If it’s a popular tourist destination, you can ask how often rocks fall from the ceiling and how safe the cave is overall. Be aware at all times of your surroundings.

Physical Exhaustion – If you get tired easily, think twice about a longer journey into a cave. It can be more tiring than you think, especially if it’s all downhill and you have to walk back on an upward slant. Take breaks if you must and take water with snacks for a nice boost of energy.

Histoplasmosis – This disease is also known as Cave Disease or Spelunker’s Lung and is caused by a fungus found in soil. The reason it’s in caves is because of bat droppings. If you’re in a situation where you’re excavating and digging for souvenirs, make sure to wear a mask to avoid breathing in any dust from the soil being disrupted. Some people wear one anyway, just to be on the safe side.

scaling an ice wall

Spelunking can be a fun and peaceful activity, a place to get your mind off of things while you go exploring deep into a cave. It’s truly like a whole new world underground that will excite our curiosities and show some uniquely beautiful scenery. Everyone should try it at least once, and who knows, maybe it will be something you become passionate about, as there are many kinds of caves to explore!