Caving may seem like a claustrophobic and terrifying activity for some, but for others, it’s an exhilarating and adventurous hobby.
And after 12 boys and their soccer coach were rescued from a Thai cave after being trapped for more than two weeks, those who were fearful of the activity may have some more ammunition.
Caving, also known as spelunking, involves exploring a cave’s mazelike passages by crawling around dark, dank crevices. There are more extreme versions, such as diving and vertical caving, and there are also family-friendly passages to explore for beginners.
“Caving means taking a calculated risk. I also drive. I’ve been hurt worse in traffic accidents than in caves. I still drive, and I still go in caves,” cave expert Bill Steele wrote in the Washington Post.
There are always dangers one should keep in mind when caving, but there are safe ways to go about it — especially when wanting to explore many of them located in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
If you’re thinking of trying out the activity, here are some safety tips to keep in mind.
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Never go alone
Never go caving alone; a small group of four to six people is preferable.
“With this number, if someone is hurt, one person can stay and comfort the injured and the other two can get help,” according to the National Speleological Society.
Before you head into the cave, make sure you prepare with proper gear, check the weather (any chance of rain and you should cancel) and let someone know where you are headed and when you’re to return.
Here’s what you should take, according to the National Speleological Society:
- Helmet — this should be a hard hat with a chin strap. Your primary light source should be mounted on top of it.
- Backup lights — it’s going to be pitch-black in the cave, so make sure to bring at least two sources of backup lights, including waterproof flashlights.
- Ropes — this is an important piece of equipment if you do extreme rappelling, so make sure to test the rope before caving.
- Gloves — this is to help protect against cuts.
- Knee and elbow pads — for when you are crawling in tight spaces.
- Cave pack — a fanny pack of substantial strength or an old military pack is helpful in carrying needed extra equipment (water, food, flashlights, batteries, carbide, plastic bags).
- Food and water — make sure to bring high-energy food such as power bars and carry extra water in case you get lost.
- First aid kit, whistle, duct tape, cave map, compass, space blanket.
“The Thai boys and their coach obviously were not prepared with supplies in case of an emergency. They were not prepared with proper gear such as helmets, each person with a dependable light (or three, like we carry), boots and so on,” Steele wrote in the Washington Post.
LISTEN: Kathleen Graham, president of the Alberta Speleogical Society describes what it’s like to be stuck in a cave
Lookout for hazards
Here are some of the dangers of caving.
- Falling rocks
- Getting lost
- Oxygen deprivation
- Disease (do not drink the water)
“Many people don’t realize that caves are the storm sewers of the earth,” said Scott Falkingham of the Speleological Society of Manitoba.
“When it rains, the runoff flows into caves. While the amount of water will vary depending on the location and particular cave, and not all caves flood as spectacularly in this Thai instance, it is important to be cognizant of the outside weather and know the potential dangers of the particular cave you’re visiting.”
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If you’re new to caving and want to try it out, Caving Canada recommends joining a caving club or taking a course first.