– also traditionally known as spelunking in the United States
and Canada and potholing in the United Kingdom and Ireland – is the
recreational pastime of exploring wild (generally non-commercial) cave
systems. In contrast, speleology is the scientific study of caves and
the cave environment.
The challenges involved in caving vary according to the cave being
visited, but – in addition to the total absence of light beyond the
entrance – often include the negotiation of pitches, squeezes,
and water hazards.
diving is a distinct, and more hazardous,
sub-speciality undertaken by a small minority of technically
proficient cavers. In an area of overlap between recreational
pursuit and scientific study, the most devoted and serious-minded
cavers become accomplished at the surveying and mapping of caves and
the formal (though usually private) publication of their efforts.
Sometimes categorized as an "extreme sport", it is not commonly
considered as such by long-time enthusiasts, who may dislike the term
for its connotation of disregard for safety.
Many caving skills overlap with those involved in canyoning, mine and
4 Practice and equipment
8 See also
10 External links
Caving is often undertaken for the enjoyment of the outdoor activity
or for physical exercise, as well as original exploration, similar to
mountaineering or diving. Physical or biological science is also an
important goal for some cavers, while others are engaged in cave
photography. Virgin cave systems comprise some of the last
unexplored regions on
Earth and much effort is put into trying to
locate, enter and survey them. In well-explored regions (such as most
developed nations), the most accessible caves have already been
explored, and gaining access to new caves often requires cave digging
or cave diving.
Caving, in certain areas, has also been utilized as a form of eco and
adventure tourism. Tour companies have established an industry leading
and guiding tours into and through caves. Depending on the type of
cave and the type of tour, the experience could be adventure-based or
ecological-based. In many areas (e.g. America, the oceanic islands of
Tenerife, Iceland and Hawaii), there are tours led through lava tubes
by a guiding service.
Caving has also been described as an "individualist's team sport" by
some, as cavers can often make a trip without direct physical
assistance from others but will generally go in a group for
companionship or to provide emergency help if needed. Some however
consider the assistance cavers give each other as a typical team sport
Too much emphasis on the labeling of caving as a sport can narrow the
goals of caving as a whole.
Caving often puts the needs and welfare of
a cave before those of the active participants. It is fair to say that
while caving shares some attributes of sport activities, for many it
transcends sports as many cavers pursue cave science, mapping,
photography, and the management and conservation of cave
Caving in the north of England, an area that is also popular for
Clay Perry, an American caver of the 1940s, wrote about a group of men
and boys who explored and studied caves throughout New England. This
group referred to themselves as spelunkers, a term derived from the
Latin spēlunca "cave, cavern, den", itself from the Greek
σπῆλυγξ spēlynks "cave". This is regarded as the first use
of the word in the Americas. Throughout the 1950s, spelunking was the
general term used for exploring caves in US English. It was used
freely, without any positive or negative connotations, although only
rarely outside the US.
In the 1960s, the terms spelunking and spelunker began to be
considered déclassé among experienced enthusiasts. In 1985, Steve
Knutson – editor of the
National Speleological Society (NSS)
Caving Accidents – made the following
…Note that I use the term 'spelunker' to denote someone untrained
and unknowledgeable in current exploration techniques, and 'caver' for
those who are.
This sentiment is exemplified by bumper stickers and T-shirts
displayed by some cavers: "Cavers rescue spelunkers". Nevertheless,
outside the caving community, "spelunking" and "spelunkers"
predominately remain neutral terms referring to the practice and
practitioners, without any respect to skill level.
Potholing refers to the act of exploring potholes, a word originating
in the north of
England for predominantly vertical caves.
The base term caving comes from the
Latin cavea or caverna, meaning
simply, a cave.
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Caving was pioneered by
Édouard-Alfred Martel (1859–1938), who
first achieved the descent and exploration of the Gouffre de Padirac,
in France, as early as 1889 and the first complete descent of a
110-metre wet vertical shaft at Gaping Gill, in Yorkshire, England, in
1895. He developed his own techniques based on ropes and metallic
ladders. Martel visited
Kentucky and notably Mammoth
Park in October 1912. In the 1920s famous US caver
Floyd Collins made
important explorations in the area and in the 1930s, as caving became
increasingly popular, small exploration teams both in the
Alps and in
the karstic high plateaus of southwest
Causses and Pyrenees)
transformed cave exploration into both a scientific and recreational
activity. Robert de Joly, Guy de Lavaur and
Norbert Casteret were
prominent figures of that time, surveying mostly caves in Southwest
France. During World War II, an alpine team composed of Pierre
Chevalier, Fernand Petzl, Charles Petit-Didier and others explored the
Dent de Crolles
Dent de Crolles cave system near Grenoble, which became the deepest
explored system in the world (-658m) at that time. The lack of
available equipment during the war forced Pierre Chevalier and the
rest of the team to develop their own equipment, leading to technical
innovation. The scaling-pole (1940), nylon ropes (1942), use of
explosives in caves (1947) and mechanical rope-ascenders (Henri
Brenot's "monkeys", first used by Chevalier and Brenot in a cave in
1934) can be directly associated to the exploration of the Dent de
Crolles cave system.
In 1941, American cavers organized themselves into the National
Speleological Society (NSS) to advance the exploration, conservation,
study and understanding of caves in the United States. American caver
Bill Cuddington, known as "Vertical Bill", further developed the
single-rope technique (SRT) in the late 1950s. In 1958, two Swiss
alpinists, Juesi and Marti teamed together, creating the first rope
ascender known as the Jumar. In 1968 Bruno Dressler asked Fernand
Petzl, who worked as a metals machinist, to build a rope-ascending
tool, today known as the
Petzl Croll, that he had developed by
Jumar to pit caving. Pursuing these developments, Petzl
started in the 1970s a caving equipment manufacturing company named
Petzl. The development of the rappel rack and the evolution of
mechanical ascension systems extended the practice and safety of pit
exploration to a wider range of cavers.
Practice and equipment
Caver in an
Alabama cave showing common caving wear: coveralls,
helmet-mounted lights, heavy boots and gloves.
Hard hats are worn to protect the head from bumps and falling rocks.
The caver's primary light source is usually mounted on the helmet in
order to keep the hands free. Electric
LED lights are most common.
Many cavers carry two or more sources of light - one as primary and
the others as backup in case the first fails. More often than not, a
second light will be mounted to the helmet for quick transition if the
Carbide lamp systems are an older form of illumination,
inspired by miner's equipment, and are still used by some cavers.
The type of clothes worn underground varies according to the
environment of the cave being explored, and the local culture. In cold
caves, the caver may wear a warm base layer that retains its
insulating properties when wet, such as a fleece ("furry") suit and/or
polypropylene underwear, and an oversuit of hard-wearing (e.g.,
cordura) and/or waterproof (e.g., PVC) material. Lighter clothing may
be worn in warm caves, particularly if the cave is dry, and in
tropical caves thin polypropylene clothing is used, to provide some
abrasion protection whilst remaining as cool as possible. Wetsuits may
be worn if the cave is particularly wet or involves stream passages.
On the feet boots are worn – hiking-style boots in drier caves,
or rubber boots (such as wellies) often with neoprene socks
("wetsocks") in wetter caves. Knee-pads (and sometimes elbow-pads) are
popular for protecting joints during crawls. Depending on the nature
of the cave, gloves are sometimes worn to protect the hands against
abrasion and/or cold. In pristine areas and for restoration, clean
oversuits and powder-free, non-latex surgical gloves are used to
protect the cave itself from contaminants. Ropes are used for
descending or ascending pitches (single rope technique or SRT) or for
protection. Knots commonly used in caving are the figure-of-eight- (or
figure-of-nine-) loop, bowline, alpine butterfly, and Italian hitch.
Ropes are usually rigged using bolts, slings, and carabiners. In some
cases cavers may choose to bring and use a flexible metal ladder.
In addition to the equipment already described, cavers frequently
carry packs containing first-aid kits, emergency equipment, and food.
Containers for securely transporting urine are also commonly carried.
On longer trips, containers for securely transporting feces out of the
cave are carried.
During very long trips, it may be necessary to camp in the
cave – some cavers have stayed underground for many days, or in
particularly extreme cases, for weeks at a time. This is particularly
the case when exploring or mapping very extended cave systems, where
it would be impractical to retrace the route back to the surface
regularly. Such long trips necessitate the cavers carrying provisions,
sleeping and cooking equipment.
A caver begins rope descent of a vertical shaft using an abseil rack.
Caves can be dangerous places; hypothermia, falling, flooding, falling
rocks and physical exhaustion are the main risks. Rescuing people from
underground is difficult and time-consuming, and requires special
skills, training, and equipment. Full-scale cave rescues often involve
the efforts of dozens of rescue workers (often other long-time cavers
who have participated in specialized courses, as normal rescue staff
are not sufficiently experienced in cave environments), who may
themselves be put in jeopardy in effecting the rescue. This said,
caving is not necessarily a high-risk sport (especially if it does not
involve difficult climbs or diving). As in all physical sports,
knowing one's limitations is key.
Caving in warmer climates carries the risk of contracting
histoplasmosis, a fungal infection that is contracted from bird or bat
droppings. It can cause pneumonia and can disseminate in the body to
cause continued infections.
In many parts of the world, leptospirosis ("a type of bacterial
infection spread by animals" including rats) is a distinct threat
due to the presence of rat urine in rainwater or precipitation that
enters the caves water system. Complications are uncommon, but can be
serious. Safety risks while caving can be minimized by using a number
Checking that there is no danger of flooding during the expedition.
Rainwater funneled underground can flood a cave very quickly, trapping
people in cut-off passages and drowning them. In the UK, drowning
accounts for over half of all caving fatalities (see List of UK caving
Using teams of several cavers, preferably at least four. If an injury
occurs, one caver stays with the injured person while the other two go
out for help, providing assistance to each other on their way out.
Notifying people outside the cave as to the intended return time.
After an appropriate delay without a return, these will then organize
a search party (usually made up by other cavers trained in cave
rescues, as even professional emergency personnel are unlikely to have
the skills to effect a rescue in difficult conditions).
Use of helmet-mounted lights (hands-free) with extra batteries.
American cavers recommend a minimum of three independent sources of
light per person, but two lights is common practice among European
Sturdy clothing and footwear, as well as a helmet, are necessary to
reduce the impact of abrasions, falls, and falling objects. Synthetic
fibers and woolens, which dry quickly, shed water, and are warm when
wet, are vastly preferred to cotton materials, which retain water and
increase the risk of hypothermia. It is also helpful to have several
layers of clothing, which can be shed (and stored in the pack) or
added as needed. In watery cave passages, polypropylene thermal
underwear or wetsuits may be required to avoid hypothermia.
Cave passages look different from different directions. In long or
complex caves, even experienced cavers can become lost. To reduce the
risk of becoming lost, it is necessary to memorize the appearance of
key navigational points in the cave as they are passed by the
exploring party. Each member of a cave party shares responsibility for
being able to remember the route out of the cave. In some caves it may
be acceptable to mark a small number of key junctions with small
stacks or "cairns" of rocks, or to leave a non-permanent mark such as
high-visibility flagging tape tied to a projection.
Vertical caving using ladders or single rope technique (SRT) to avoid
the need for climbing passages that are too difficult. SRT however is
a complex skill and requires proper training before use underground
and needs well-maintained equipment. Some drops that are abseiled down
may be as deep as several hundred meters (for example Harwood Hole).
Many cave environments are very fragile. Many speleothems can be
damaged by even the slightest touch and some by impacts as slight as a
breath. Research suggests that increased carbon dioxide levels can
lead to "a higher equilibrium concentration of calcium within the drip
waters feeding the speleothems, and hence causes dissolution of
existing features." In 2008, researchers found evidence that
respiration from cave visitors may generate elevated carbon dioxide
concentrations in caves, leading to increased temperatures of up to
3 °C and a dissolution of existing features.
Pollution is also of concern. Since water that flows through a cave
eventually comes out in streams and rivers, any pollution may
ultimately end up in someone's drinking water, and can even seriously
affect the surface environment, as well. Even minor pollution such as
dropping organic material can have a dramatic effect on the cave
Cave-dwelling species are also very fragile, and often, a particular
species found in a cave may live within that cave alone, and be found
nowhere else in the world, such as
Alabama cave shrimp. Cave-dwelling
species are accustomed to a near-constant climate of temperature and
humidity, and any disturbance can be disruptive to the species' life
cycles. Though cave wildlife may not always be immediately visible, it
is typically nonetheless present in most caves.
Bats are one such fragile species of cave-dwelling animal. Bats which
hibernate are most vulnerable during the winter season, when no food
supply exists on the surface to replenish the bat's store of energy
should it be awakened from hibernation. Bats which migrate are most
sensitive during the summer months when they are raising their young.
For these reasons, visiting caves inhabited by hibernating bats is
discouraged during cold months; and visiting caves inhabited by
migratory bats is discouraged during the warmer months when they are
most sensitive and vulnerable. Due to an affliction affecting bats in
the northeastern US known as white nose syndrome (WNS), the US
Fish & Wildlife Service has called for a moratorium  effective
March 26, 2009 on caving activity in states known to have hibernacula
(MD, NY, VT, NH, MA, CT, NJ, PA, VA, and WV) affected by WNS, as well
as adjoining states.
Some cave passages may be marked with flagging tape or other
indicators to show biologically, aesthetically, or archaeologically
sensitive areas. Marked paths may show ways around notably fragile
areas such as a pristine floor of sand or silt which may be thousands
of years old, dating from the last time water flowed through the cave.
Such deposits may easily be spoiled forever by a single misplaced
step. Active formations such as flowstone can be similarly marred with
a muddy footprint or handprint, and ancient human artifacts, such as
fiber products, may even crumble to dust under all but the most gentle
In 1988, concerned that cave resources were becoming increasingly
damaged through unregulated use, Congress enacted the Federal Cave
Resources Protection Act, giving land management agencies in the
United States expanded authority to manage cave conservation on public
In Europe there have been some panoramic 360° records and VR projects
as a means of sharing interesting caves or quarries:
France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Gard
jphd360/Les Plutons/Les Troglodytes
Les Deux Avens
France, Rhône-Alpes, Ardèche
Les deux Avens
Grotte du Noû Bleû
Belgium, Wallonia, province of Liège, Sprimont
Collectif Noû Bleû
Grange du Bacque
France, Rhône-Alpes, Ardèche
La grange du Bacque
Fontaine de Vaucluse
France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Vaucluse, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
Baume du Coudrier
France, Franche-Comté, Jura
La Baume du Coudrier
Les carrières de l'Echaillon
France, Rhône-Alpes, Isère
Les carrières de l'Echaillon
Aven de la Grande Salamandre
France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Gard
La Grande Salamandre
Grotte du Burlandier
France, Rhône-Alpes, Ain
Grotte Nouvelle de Vallon
France, Rhône-Alpes, Ardèche
La grotte Nouvelle de Vallon
Aven des Oublis
France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Gard
Grotte du Crochet Supérieur
France, Rhône-Alpes, Ain
Le Crochet Supérieur
Yes, here! (auto-detection)[permanent dead link]
2010/05 - 2016/11
Gouffre de La Morgne
France, Rhône-Alpes, Ain
Cavers in many countries have created organizations for the
administration and oversight of caving activities within their
nations. The oldest of these is the French Federation of Speleology
(originally Société de spéléologie) founded by Édouard-Alfred
Martel in 1895, which produced the first periodical journal in
speleology, Spelunca. The
National Speleological Society in the US was
founded in 1941 (originally formed as the Speleological Society of the
District of Columbia on May 6, 1939), and the first speleological
institute in the world was founded in 1920 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, by
Emil Racovita, a Romanian biologist, zoologist, speleologist and
explorer of Antarctica.
List of caves
List of longest caves
List of deepest caves
Caving in New Zealand (from Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand,
^ a b c "Many find caving's challenges, thrills illuminating". NewsOK.
8 June 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
^ a b Pearson, Anna. "
Caving in New Zealand". Stuff.co.nz - Fairfax NZ
News. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
^ Jenkins, Andy. "
Cave Diving – The Extreme of the Extreme".
Wow.gm. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
^ Chiacchia, Ken (6 April 2001). "Extreme
Caving - Gorgeous settings
present dangers and challenges in Omnimax film". Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
^ "Plunge into Roanoke's real underground". Roanoke Times. 7 March
2008. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
^ Harper, Douglas. "spelunk". Online Etymology Dictionary.
^ spelunca. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A
Latin Dictionary on
^ σπῆλυγξ. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A
Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
Caving equipment and culture (from Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New
^ Stenn, Frederick (1960). "
Cave Disease or Speleonosis". American
Medical Association Internal Medicine. 105 (2): 181–183.
Leptospirosis is a type of bacterial infection spread by animals.
It's caused by a strain of bacteria called leptospira. In 90% of
cases, leptospirosis only causes mild flu-like symptoms, such as a
headache, chills and muscle pain. However, in some cases the infection
is more severe and can cause life-threatening problems, including
organ failure and internal bleeding. In its most severe form,
leptospirosis is also known as Weil's disease.
^ A Guide to Responsible Caving. National Speleological Society. 2016.
p. 11 – via
^ a b Baker, A.; Genty, D. (June 1998). "Environmental pressures on
conserving cave speleothems: effects of changing surface land use and
increased cave tourism". Journal of Environmental Management. 53 (2):
^ Northeast Region Web Development Group. "Page Redirect".
^ Iraola, Roberto (October 2005). "Statutory overview: The Federal
Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988". Fordham Environmental Law
Review. 17: 89–271.
^ "Virtual Caving".
Burger, Paul (2006).
Cave exploring. Guilford, Conn.: FalconGuide.
ISBN 0-7627-2560-5. OCLC 53912806.
Marbach, George; Tourte, Bernard; Alspaugh, Melanie (translator).
Caving Techniques. Speleo Projects, Switzerland.
ISBN 3-908495-10-5. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Caving.
Look up caving in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Caving at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Cave topics and lists by country
Glossary of caving and speleology
Caves by country
Types and formation
Lists of caves
World Heritage Sites:
Cave Art of Northern Spain
Cave Art of Iberian Mediterranean Basin
Cave Art of the Iberian Southern Tip
New South Wales
Papua New Guinea
Nok and Mamproug