Gear Up For A Thrilling Spelunking Adventure!


Tiffany & Heather explore Tumbling Rock Cave

The feeling of being lost in the darkness with your heart thumping, senses on full alert is one that not many people get to experience.

It's the thrill-seeking explorer that will want to venture into an uncharted cave system where there's no telling how deep down or far back you'll have traveled before coming across another human being - if at all...


Amateur cave exploration, or "Spelunking" as it's known to the initiated, is the thrill of exploring dark, hidden spaces deep in the unknown recesses of the earth. If you're a little bit of an adrenoline junkie and you don't mind getting a little dirty, then spelunking is definitely the thrilling adventure sport for you! But, before you go charging into a cave without any preparation, take a few minutes to read this post and learn how to gear up for a caving adventure. You'll be glad you did!


There are two types of caves you can visit:


People walking a man-made trail through Calsbad Caverns.

Show caves, like Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico or Cathedral Caverns, Alabama are commercial caves that have man-made improvements to the site so that you might explore from the safety of a guided pathway. You will not be required to bring additional equipment to tour these caves as they generally won't allow you the opportunity to climb or crawl around. However they are still great to visit. They have knowledgable tour guides, the caverns are well lit for some amazing photo opportunities and they are definately a must see if you have someone who would like the cave experience but can't physically explore a wild site. *Usually requires a fee to enter.



Entry gate to Tumbling Rock Cave.

Wild caves are undeveloped caves that have no tour groups, lighting, or marked trails. Exploration of these caves will require you to climb, crawl, crab walk, and even wiggle into tight spaces. Sometimes, they will even require you to dive! You will likely get turned around a few times and you will more than likely get muddy and wet. There are very advanced wild caves like Wind Cave, South Dakota and there are some incredible caves for both the experienced caver and beginner spelunker like Tumbling Rocks, Alabama. Many of these caves have been mapped but there is plenty of opportunity to discover new passages as cave systems are often very large and complex.


*A permit is usually required to explore wild caves. Make sure you follow up with that when you are planning your trip, and to avoid any uneccessary injury, check out our gear checklist for the beginner spelunker:


CHECKLIST:

Tiffany in full caving gear, smiling at the camera

Let's start off by reiterating that there are some things you simply cannot do without if you plan on entering a Wild Cave. First thing you need is a group of people who are willing to enter into the unknown and get lost with you. It's recommended that you have a minimum of (3) people in your group in case of emergency. Make sure you include people who are excited about going into such a rugged environment! Chose your crew wisely. The members of your group will encounter many physical challenges and possibly claustrophobia and panic... which are very real hazards deep inside of a cave even for someone with no history of anxiety.


CLOTHING


There's a good chance that your cave exploration will be chilly, even cold. It may also have wet and muddy passages, so you will want to avoid cotton and blue jeans. We suggest you stick with dry-wick/quick drying fabrics for the best experience! *Wool is best for socks


Tim, helping heather as she slides down a rock

One thing you learn quickly about caves, there is a lot of sliding on your booty. The pants you wear will need to be durable. Unfortunately, I haven't really found any women's pants that are durable enough for spelunking so I use Men's Wrangler Outdoor Zip Cargo Pants. These pants are Nylon and Spandex, meaning I can climb and crawl in them easily because they move with the shape of my body as if they were athletic wear. They are also water resistant which means that when I'm scooting through mud, the inside of my pants (and my skin) stays comfortable and dry. And... I've never experienced a rip. Honestly, the fabric isn't even snagged. I can't express how super convenient this is when you have hours of exploration ahead of you and no other change of pants in your bag.


HEADWEAR


Head gear is downright unattractive. Wearing it makes you look like an alien with an elongated forehead. in fact, everyone in your group is going to make fun of you and you most certainly will make fun of them. Wearing a Helmet is definately going to make it difficult to get cute pictures. But, you should NEVER NEVER EVER enter a wild cave without wearing a caving helmet.

On our last adventure, I would have likely concussed myself a minimum of 26 times had I not been wearing the helmet. The hard truth (no pun intended) is that there will be times when you think that the ceiling is higher than it is. There will be times that you will be climbing boulders and not see that stalactite inches from your skull. There will be times when you're crawling along a passage only to lift your head up and...BOOM! It doesn't matter how aware you are of your surroundings, caves are dark and change dramatically from moment to moment. Wear the helmet!


FOOTWEAR


Merrell Hiking Shoes worn by a man and a woman

Caves are wet which makes them muddy and slippery in the best of conditions. Throughout this blog I've mentioned the amount of crawling and climbing you will likely face on your expedition. I think that people are often shocked by the type of climbing they will encounter if they have never experienced it before. On our last spelunking adventure, we missed our path and were forced to climb a 70ft high pile of boulders to continue to the other side. There were times that our very slick, rocky path was about two feet across with a sheer 30ft dropoff to the side. There was also another standout moment where we had walked through mid-calf water and had to climb to a ledge that was around 7ft high. This required stepping here and pulling there... Imagine doing that in tennis shoes?


Had we been wearing the wrong shoes, these challenges would have been near impossible.

Make sure you are wearing water-proof or water-resistant hiking shoes. We are big fans of the Merrell brand in our household. They are great shoes and won't break the bank. The ones I wear (pictured above) have been with me on trails in all types of terrains all over the country and definately scored a solid 10 inside of a cave. I did not experience any water seepage until my shoes were fully emersed and they performed well on slippy rocks.


Heather with her hand against the cave wall, demonstrating 3 points of contact

GLOVES


As you enter each new passage and each new chamber, you will be faced with new physical challenges. It's very important that you always have three points of contact to support your body weight. You should always have two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the surface (pictured).


Knowing that your entire day will be filled with grabbing the wall, climbing jagged rock, or crawling the sandy or muddy floor, gloves really become a necessity to prevent injury.


In this pic, Heather is wearing gym gloves. This worked well for her because of the padding in the palm. No doubt she also experienced a little sensory freedom since her fingers were free.


I went in the opposite direction. The gloves I wear are leather and have pads on top of the fingers for impact protection. This actually was my savior on several occasions when I accidently banged my hands into rock. What was also nice about these gloves is that I could still use my touch screen on the GoPro and on my phone. Once we had gone some distance, touching our electronics was no longer an option with the gloves on since we had gotten so dirty and grimy. But, the silver lining is that when I took my gloves off, my hands were still remarkably clean.


KNEE PADS


I did mention crawling, right? Did I mention climbing...on your knees? Yep, when that ledge is a little too high up for your foot to make contact, you're going to have to kneel on the ledge and pull yourself up. Also, when the boulders are large, slanted and slick, your shoes won't have the grip and getting on your hands and knees is the only way to make it up. Caves require more from your knees than any other activity or sport. There are a variety of knee pads to chose from at your local hardware store. Through trial and error we can tell you that the hard shell knee pads are the least comfortable on a long expedition and you should go for the soft shell knee pads instead. I use the Husky Fabric Cap Foam Non-Marring Knee Pads (Home Depot) but you can get similar knee pads a little bit cheaper here.


LIGHTING


Tim stands in a cave that is being lit up by different sources of light

Want to play a really fun game? Hike about 3 miles into a cave and have everyone turn out their head lamps all at once!


In your day to day life, you have never experienced this kind of darkness before. Imagine only a black void and no sound. If you didn't feel some weird emotion being miles deep in a tightly squeezed cavern, this might be the thing to push you over the edge.


It's recommended that each Spelunker in your group have three sources of light with them. You should definately have a 1200 lumen head lamp for those times you are climbing and can't carry a flashlight. We always carry two head lamps for back up. You should also have two flash lights. And, each one of these devices should be, at a minimum, 800 lumens... with lots of extra batteries.


Our headlamp batteries lasted 4-5 hours. Imagine my horror when my headlight went out mid-climb. I was not in the position to change the batteries and I couldn't see a thing. Thankfully my people saw my struggle and gave me some of their shine.


If your plan is to get amazing footage, make sure to bring twice as many lighting sources than mentioned above with lumens of 1500 or more. GoPro and your phone camera will require you to light the cave beyond what you are used to. Also, the bigger the room, the more light you will require.


MARKERS

scuba arrow, used as a marker to show the direction out of the cave

The feeling of being lost in a cave is one that has been intensely explored by humans for centuries. Caves are usually vast continuous mazes. You might find yourself in a large chamber, unable to find the forward passage, then turn a corner and realize there are several passages! The entire chamber now looks identical and you have no idea how to get back to the direction from which you came.


The unfortunate truth is that this happens to even the most experienced Cavers. This is why it's extremely important to leave markers along your route to help you find your way back out of an unfamiliar cave.


Markers should always be temporary, something you can pick up and just put back in your pocket along the way. We use scuba arrows to point us towards the way out. Pictured above is a scuba arrow pointing at a passage hidden by boulders. This passage was located in the 3rd chamber we had passed during the beginning of our trip. When we returned 5 hours later, we had no recollection of this room. Without this marker, we might still be in the cave.


WHAT GOES IN THE BACKPACK?


When we came back from our most recent spelunking adventure, my best friend asked me if it was difficult to breath so far down into the earth? Lucky for us, we never experienced low oxygen. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. For this reason, it's recommended that you always carry matches with you. If you or your group start feeling light headed, light a match. If the match lights, you're good to keep exploring. If the match struggles to light, your oxygen is low and it's time to head towards the surface. Here is a list of other necessary things that you should pack in your backpack for your adventure:


- Snacks

- Water (one gallon per person)

- Ziplock bags for the matches, phones, or anything else you don't want muddy or wet

-Laminated Cave Map

-Knife

-First Aid Kit

-Matches

-Batteries

-Extra shirt incase it's cold.

-Baby Wipes

-Waste bag (Leave nothing behind)


*Many caves require a seperate permit for rope work. We bring rope and leave it in the car in case of an emergency. You never know if one of your team might fall through a crevasse.


Dirty cave gear, packed in the trunk

Cave exploring, or sperlunking, is a dangerous but really exciting pastime. Make sure you have the proper gear before setting out on your adventure – it could save your life. And always be prepared for the unexpected; caving can be unpredictable and treacherous...an adrenoline junkies dream...it's me. I'm an adrenoline junkie.


Have you ever gone spelunking? Tell us about your experience in the comments.


Happy Spelunking!

~ Tiffany...with Tim...and sometimes, Heather ;-)


Tiffany smiling with bright headlamp on.

For more "TIFFANY TAKES ON THE WORLD! with Tim"

check out our Blog

"Don't Live The Same Vacation Year After Year"


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