Spelunking. It isn’t the prettiest word in the dictionary, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Spelunking is the sport of exploring caves as a hobby or for scientific purposes. Also known as caving, spelunking explores caves more so for fun rather than professionally. The people who do it professionally are called “cavers.” The term spelunking comes from the Latin word spelaeum, which means “a cave.” Fun Fact: the scientific study of caves and the cave environment is speleology.
Spelunking’s difficulty can range from easy to very difficult, depending on the cave and knowledge of the spelunker (yes, that’s a real word). Challenges can also include the negotiation of pitches, squeezes and water in the cave.
Caving is said to be pioneered by Édouard-Alfred Martel, a Frenchman who came up with caving techniques using ropes and ladders. Special gear is required for spelunking. You wouldn’t think it, but overalls are great for spelunking since things can get pretty dirty down there. A helmet, headlamp and non-slip shoes are also advised. Climbing paraphernalia such as ropes, glow sticks, flashlights and GPS devices are good supplies to bring along for your journey. Not saying this will happen, but just in case you do get lost or trapped, bring an abundance of food and water–just in case.
Experts also advise bringing a compass and a small first aid kit for any minor bruises you may get along the way. Other safety tips include constantly taking mental snapshots of where you’re coming from and where you’re going so you won’t get lost.
It is also recommended to go spelunking with experienced cavers since it’s easy to get lost or injured. It’s best to go with a small group of people, never alone. Many national and state parks such as Onondaga Cave State Park in Missouri and Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona offer spelunking. A lot of parks don’t allow solo spelunking.
Dangers of cave touring include hypothermia, falling down, falling rocks and exhaustion.
For the advanced caver, vertical caving is sometimes practiced. Vertical caving is the means of using ropes to access portions of a cave due to large drops, oftentimes hundreds of feet. Vertical caves can be found in many southern states including Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
When you do visit your respective cave, be sure to keep the area as unpolluted as possible. Don’t write or leave any markings on the cave walls. Don’t touch the formations because most are very fragile and easily breakable.
There is a caving motto, Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time,” which is good to heed.
If you’re interested in spelunking, contact your local state or national park to see if they offer any cave services. Enjoy!