Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Learning the Ropes – About Caving - Climb On Safely – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award

Caving and climbing have a few skill sets that are similar. We have mentioned that before. One of these skills learned by climbing that comes in real hand while caving is rappelling. Vertical caving skills involves rappelling into a pit, and climbing back out. There are also some basic climbing and bouldering techniques that are helpful to cavers. Understanding what equipment is needed and how to take care of it is also important. After all, your life is literally hanging on it.
Taking the BSA “Climb On Safely” course will cover just about all the basics you need to know to have a safe caving trip. It will also cover a lot about what you will need to learn about ropes and their care for the Caving Elective for the Ranger Award. If your caving is going to involve class 4, 5, or 6 of the YDS ratings, you will need to have someone in your Unit with a current “Climb On Safely” training.
“Climb On Safely” can be done on-line in about 20 minutes and can be found at myscouting.scouting.org. The basics of it are rather straightforward and safety oriented.

1. Qualified Supervision
All climbing and rappelling must be supervised by a mature, conscientious adult at least 21 years of age who understands the risks inherent to these activities. This person knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the youth in his or her care. This adult supervisor is trained in and committed to compliance with the eight points of the Boy Scouts of America's Climb On Safely procedure. One additional adult who is at least 18 years of age must also accompany the unit. Units with more than 10 youths in the same climbing/rappelling session must have an additional adult leader at least 18 years of age for each 10 additional youth participants. In other words, a group of 11 to 20 youths requires at least three adult leaders; a group of 21 to 30 youths would require four adult leaders, and so on.
The adult supervisor is responsible for ensuring that someone in the group is currently certified in American Red Cross Standard First Aid and CPR (a 6 1/2-hour course).
In addition, the two-hour module "First Aid—When Help Is Delayed" is recommended. A course of equivalent length and content from another nationally recognized organization can be substituted. A higher level of certification such as emergency medical technician (EMT), licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), and licensed health-care practitioner is also acceptable.
The ARC's Emergency Response, a 431/2-hour course that includes CPR, is highly recommended.
2. Qualified Instructors
A qualified rock climbing instructor who is at least 21 years of age must supervise all BSA climbing/rappelling activities. The climbing instructor has successfully completed a minimum of 10 hours of instructor training for climbing/rappelling from a nationally or regionally recognized organization, a climbing school, a college-level climbing/rappelling course, or is a qualified BSA climbing instructor.
The BSA offers a section of National Camping School for climbing directors who in turn can train climbing instructors. (A Project COPE director or instructor fulfills this requirement until January 1, 2002.)
Every instructor must have prior experiences in teaching climbing/rappelling to youth and must agree to adhere to Climb On Safely and the guidelines set in Topping Out.
NOTE: Any adult Scouter who successfully completes training in Climb On Safely is entitled to wear the temporary patch, No. 8631. A Climb On Safely Training Outline, No. 20-101, is available from your local council service center.
3. Physical Fitness
Require evidence of fitness for the climbing/rappelling activity with at least a current BSA Personal Health and Medical Record—Class 1, No. 34414. The adult supervisor should adapt all supervision, discipline, and precautions to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. If a significant health condition is present, an examination by a licensed health-care practitioner should be required by the adult supervisor before permitting participation in climbing or rappelling. The adult supervisor should inform the climbing instructor about each participant's medical conditions.
4. Safe Area
All BSA climbing/rappelling activities must be conducted using an established or developed climbing/rappelling site or facility. A qualified climbing instructor should survey the site in advance of the activity to identify and evaluate possible hazards and to determine whether the site is suitable for the age, maturity, and skill level of the participants. The instructor should also verify that the site is sufficient to safely and comfortably accommodate the number of participants in the activity within the available time. An emergency evacuation route must be identified in advance.
5. Equipment
The climbing instructor should verify that the proper equipment is available for the size and ability level of participants. Helmets, rope, and climbing hardware must be approved by the UIAA (Union Internationale
des Associations d'Alpinisme) and/or CEN (European Community Norm). All equipment must be acquired new or furnished by the instructor.
Records must be kept on the use and stresses (the number of hard falls) on each item of equipment, which must be specifically designed for climbing and rappelling. Outside providers should be asked if they are aware of any stresses that have been put on their equipment. Any rope or webbing that has been subjected to more than three hard falls or that is four years old (whatever its use) must not be used. Refer to Topping Out concerning records that must be kept.
6. Planning
When planning, remember the following:
• Obtain written parental consent to participate in climbing/rappelling activities for each participant.
• In the event of severe weather or other problem, share the climbing/rappelling plan and an alternate with parents and the unit committee.
• Secure the necessary permits or written permission for using private or public lands.
• Enlist the help of a qualified climbing instructor.
• Be sure the instructor has a topographic map for the area being used and obtains a current weather report for the area before the group's departure.
It is suggested that at least one of the adult leaders has an electronic means of communication in case of an emergency.
7. Environmental Conditions
The instructor assumes responsibility for monitoring potentially dangerous environmental conditions that may include loose, crumbly rock; poisonous plants; wildlife; and inclement weather.
Use the buddy system to monitor concerns such as dehydration, hypothermia, and an unusually high degree of fear or apprehension. The adult supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the group leaves no trace of its presence at the site.
8. Discipline
Each participant knows, understands, and respects the rules and procedures for safely climbing and rappelling and has been oriented in Climb On Safely. All BSA members should respect and follow all instructions and rules of the climbing instructor. The applicable rules should be presented and learned prior to the outing and should be reviewed for all participants before climbing or rappelling begins.
When participants know the reasons for rules and procedures, they are more likely to follow them. The climbing instructor must be strict and fair, showing no favoritism.

Not Knots!! Who's There?? – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award



There are a few knots that are commonly used for caving. These also happen to be the same as the knots used for climbing. So if you’ve done some climbing you may be familiar with these already.
Learning knots can be confusing. Animated Knots by Grog http://www.animatedknots.com/ is a good web site, which shows these in animated graphics.

The most generally used knot is the Figure eight. It is the basis for type several other commonly used knots. One is the Figure Eight Follow Through, or also known as a Figure Eight on a Bight. http://www.animatedknots.com/fig8follow/index.php?LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com This should be backed up by a Stopper Knot. http://www.animatedknots.com/stopper/index.php?LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com
The Bowline is another looped-end knot. It’s not used as commonly as the figure, but it is useful. It too should have a stopper knot. http://www.animatedknots.com/bowlineclimbing/index.php?LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com

If you need to clip into a loop in the middle of a line that could be anchored at either or both ends you can use a bowline, but a Butterfly Knot is your best bet. It takes less rope, and even after it’s loaded can be untied relatively easy. http://www.animatedknots.com/alpinebutterfly/index.php?LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com

Joining two ends of rope together is also a very common task. You could be tying two ends of the same rope or webbing making a loop. Or you can be joining together to different pieces of rope or webbing. A Double Fisherman’s Knot is usually used for tying two rope ends together http://www.animatedknots.com/doublefishermans/index.php?LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.and a Water Knot is usually used for tying two pieces of webbing together http://www.animatedknots.com/waterknot/index.php?LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com
A friction knot can be used to ascend or descend a rope. The Prusik knot is just what that’s for. http://www.animatedknots.com/prusik/index.php?LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com
These are just the basic knots you should know before attempting to learn vertical caving techniques. There are variations of these and other knots for other purposes. But these are the standards that you will use throughout your caving career.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Personal Caving Equipment – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Change of Clothing

One of the elements for the Caving Elective requires you to know what equipment you will need for caving.

There are some very basic pieces of equipment that every caver should have when entering a cave. This is equipment that must be in good working condition and every one must have their own without sharing. Each issue will discuss one or two items in more detail so you get an idea of why each item is important and where to find what you need cheap. I’ll later go into optional equipment that is a very good idea to have and WNS decontamination procedures for those who face that challenge.

Here’s you basic list:
Helmet
Helmet Mounted Light Source
Two sets of fresh batteries
Two additional Light Sources
Sturdy Boots
Sturdy Work Gloves
Old rugged Clothing
Thermal Layering Underwear
Synthetic Socks
Small pack w/
Water
Food
Small First Aid Kit
Plastic Trash Bags
and
Change of Clothing


Change of Clothing

We mentioned in another issue about plastic bags and storing your muddy caving cloths. When you are done caving you should be prepared with a complete change of clothing. Not just your outer garments. There’s a very good possibility that you will get dirt, mud, sweet, and water in every layer of cloths, right down to your underwear and socks. The person you drove to the cave with could rightly so get very upset with you if you tried to get into their car with cave mud on you.

Decontamination of caving gear, whether your in a WNS area or not, is a very good idea. After scraping off as much mud as possible, put all your cave gear into a sealed plastic bag. Use some antibacterial lotion like Purell on exposed skin before you enter the vehicle is important to help reduce the possibility of transmitting any bacteria or fungus from one cave to another. For the most current decontamination procedures, please visit the National Speleological Society’s White Nose Syndrome www.caves.org/wns web pages for links to what is current and new.

Personal Caving Equipment – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Cave Pack

One of the elements for the Caving Elective requires you to know what equipment you will need for caving.

There are some very basic pieces of equipment that every caver should have when entering a cave. This is equipment that must be in good working condition and every one must have their own without sharing. Each issue will discuss one or two items in more detail so you get an idea of why each item is important and where to find what you need cheap. I’ll later go into optional equipment that is a very good idea to have and WNS decontamination procedures for those who face that challenge.

Here’s you basic list:
Helmet
Helmet Mounted Light Source
Two sets of fresh batteries
Two additional Light Sources
Sturdy Boots
Sturdy Work Gloves
Old rugged Clothing
Thermal Layering Underwear
Synthetic Socks
Small pack w/
Water
Food
Small First Aid Kit
Whistle
Plastic Trash Bags

and
Change of Clothing


Cave Pack

If you’re going for an easy 2-hour caving trip you really don’t need much. But you never really know what can happen. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of when you put on your helmet that your cave pack is not far behind. But what do you really need to take with you?

Your cave pack does not have to be very big. Just the size to carry only what you need is the best bet. You will be carrying it with you through some tight passages. It will not always be on your back. It may be easier from time to time to move it to your side or front. There will be time when it’s easier to take if off and push it ahead of you and just carry it in your have.
Water is very important with any strenuous activity. As you breathe heavier, water vapor will be lost through the lungs. You will sweet more and lose water through your skin. You should keep yourself hydrated enough to avoid dehydration even though while caving you may want to avoid having to urinate often. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehydration#Avoiding_dehydration One or two liters should be enough for a few hours of cave exploration.
Strenuous caving will burn off about 400 to 500 calories an hour depending on what you are doing. Food and nutrition are very important. As you burn off calories you should slowly replace them. If you don’t you’ll find yourself slowing down physically and mentally. With insufficient calories you may also find your body will have difficulty keeping warm. High-energy foods (Power bars, Cliff Bars, etc) are important to keeping your physical and mental performance up to a safe level.
A small personal first aid kit is important to have. Not just for major accidents, but for minor scrapes and cuts. In addition to a few Band-Aids, disinfectant wipes, and such, some people like to carry some minor over the counter medications to treat diarrhea and upset stomach. A personal first aid kit is a good place to store an epi-pen, rescue inhaler, or other personal medication you may need while in, entering, or exiting a cave.
A whistle can be used in the event you have a problem and need to attract attention. Three blasts on a whistle in an international signal for help.
A plastic trash bag is one of those items that has multiple uses while caving. Yes, it can be used for hauling trash out of a cave and it’s surroundings. It can also be use as a vapor block. If you wrap the bag around you it will help hold heat close to your body if your unexpectedly delayed in the cave for any reason. It is also a good place to store all your dirty cave cloths and equipment once you’re done and changing into clean cloths.
You cave pack is an ideal place to store your extra batteries and extra sources of light. Some cavers carry other emergency items like hand warmers, emergency kits, webbing, and carbines. While you will probably have to take your cave pack off to fit through some tight passages, it’s a good idea to not leave it behind anywhere thinking you’ll pick it up on your way back unless you are positive you will be needing anything from your pack at all.

Personal Caving Equipment– Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Clothing

One of the elements for the Caving Elective requires you to know what equipment you will need for caving.

There are some very basic pieces of equipment that every caver should have when entering a cave. This is equipment that must be in good working condition and every one must have their own without sharing. Each issue will discuss one or two items in more detail so you get an idea of why each item is important and where to find what you need cheap. I’ll later go into optional equipment that is a very good idea to have and WNS decontamination procedures for those who face that challenge.

Here’s you basic list:
Helmet
Helmet Mounted Light Source
Two sets of fresh batteries
Two additional Light Sources
Sturdy Boots
Sturdy Work Gloves
Old rugged Clothing
Thermal Layering Underwear
Synthetic Socks

Small pack w/
Water
Food
Small First Aid Kit
Plastic Trash Bags
and
Change of Clothing


Clothing

There is no particular order of importance for which article of clothing is most important. The actual clothing you will need can change from one cave to the next depending on the wetness and temperature inside the cave.

It good to have something sturdy and durable on your feet when caving. Having good foot traction is very important. Boots with a lug sole and covers your ankle is a priority. The lug soul will release mud collected better than the soul of a sneaker or walking shoe. If the mud is not released it builds up to the point you are walking on mud with mud and will not have enough traction to keep from sliding. Because you will be crawling, climbing, and walking through rock passages you run a risk of banging your ankles. Protection is important to reduce injuries.
Also in this environment your boots won’t last long. Don’t spend a lot of money on your boots. Don’t use your best hiking boots, as they will be ruined. Work boots, cheap hikers, “jungle jump” boots, and muck boots work well. You will have to clean them well after your trip.
If you are decontaminating your gear you may want to consider a rubber muck boot. They stand up well to mud, water, and some cleaning chemicals. They generally have a good soul and can keep the moisture out to a point. They are also cheap.
Work boots, hikers, and jump boots with a good lug soul can give you plenty of protection and traction. They hold up well to the abuse found inside a cave. They won’t last forever, so don’t spend a lot of money because you will have to replaced them sooner than with normal use.
Sneakers are a very bad idea. Don’t wear sneakers.

Gloves are an important piece of safety equipment for two reasons. The first is that you will want to protect your hands from abrasions. You will be grabbing and holding onto rocks so you want something with a good grip and traction on the palms. You’ll want to keep you hands as warm as you can. You will get wet and with that comes cold. If by chance to have to touch a formation, the gloves will help protect the formation from the oils and skin cells from your hands. These oils can degrade formations.

Synthetic socks and a thermal base layer is important. This base layer should be able to wick moisture away from your body. Cotton is very poor at doing this and can hold moisture against your skin, which will pull heat out of your body, which will promote hypothermia. What you use for this base layer entirely depends on the environment inside the cave. What will the temperature be like? How much moisture will there be? Most caves in the mid-Atlantic section of the US are 54 degrees at 100% humidity. Nice mid-weight poly-pro long johns work best for most people in most of these caves. Caves further south tend to be a little warmer and you may not need as much of a base layer. Ask the folks you’ll be caving with what they recommend.

A lot of cavers use coveralls specifically designed for caving. These are very durable and generally made from ballistic nylon. They are also very expensive. As you are just starting out or only going on your first caving trip, you’ll want to still keep it cheap. You can get away with a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt for your first trip. You’ll soon realize that it will be hard to keep your shirt down and your pants up. This is why most cavers wear one piece coveralls. You can find these relatively cheap used on auction sites. Some places that specialize in work cloths will carry these, too. They will not last long. You will wear holes and rip seats, knees and elbows pretty fast. Cave mud will destroy zippers. After a couple trips the zippers will fail, and usually when you need them the most. Velcro fasteners works well and mud washes out.
The same with other items you will have to decontaminate, synthetics don’t tolerate bleach well. You’ll be cleaning all your caving cloths after each caving trip. Be aware of the cleaning instructions.

Personal Caving Equipment – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Light Source and Batteries

One of the elements for the Caving Elective requires you to know what equipment you will need for caving.

There are some very basic pieces of equipment that every caver should have when entering a cave. This is equipment that must be in good working condition and every one must have their own without sharing. Each issue will discuss one or two items in more detail so you get an idea of why each item is important and where to find what you need cheap. I’ll later go into optional equipment that is a very good idea to have and WNS decontamination procedures for those who face that challenge.

Here’s you basic list:
Helmet
Helmet Mounted Light Source
Two sets of fresh batteries
Two additional Light Sources
Sturdy Boots
Sturdy Work Gloves
Old rugged Clothing
Thermal Layering Underwear
Synthetic Socks
Small pack w/
Water
Food
Small First Aid Kit
Plastic Trash Bags
and
Change of Clothing


Lights

You are going to have to have at least 3 sources of light. Inside a cave there is absolutely no light. It’s not nighttime dark like with stars and moon. There is no natural source of illumination. It’s absolutely dark. If your light goes out, you need a backup. If your backup light goes out you need a backup for that one. If you can’t see because you don’t have a light, you’re not going to be able to get out of the cave.

Your primary light source needs to be mounted on your helmet so your hands are free to help you keep your balance and navigate through the cave. If your flashlight is in your hand and you slip and drop it and it falls into a hole or breaks, you will then have no light. If you slip and you don’t drop your handheld flashlight, you will probably not be able to catch yourself which could result in an injury.

Today’s caver does have a choice in light sources.
Some cavers still prefer a carbide lamp. These lamps work by having a chamber with miner’s grade carbide in it and a reservoir with water that drips into the carbide chamber. The two chemicals together create acetylene gas, which is ignited. Depending on what kind you have they take a little work to keep lit and maintained. The light from them is well balanced through the light spectrum. They do give off heat, which can be a pro or con depending on the situation. You do have to deal with the spent carbide and dispose of it properly.
Most cavers today use battery-powered headlamps. These come in a big verity of kinds, styles, and price range. Up till recently incandescent lamps were the most popular. They gave the most light. Recently the LED light has been improving. Now they have become more popular than the incandescent because they can generate a lot of light, weigh a lot less, are more compact, and use a lot less battery power. You can pick up an inexpensive one at a discount or home improvement store, but don’t expect them to perform like the more expensive one developed specifically for caving which can be expensive. The cheaper ones may last a trip or two, but are not designed for the beating they will take inside a cave. You can use one for your first cave trip, but you’ll soon want something better.
You could use one of the cheaper lights as a backup second source. But if you don’t use it often you should take it apart and clean it after each use so it doesn’t corrode and fail when you need it the most.
A few cavers use “mini mag lights” as a third source of light. These can be kept in a cave pack or taped to your helmet.

You will see a few cavers who will keep all three source of light on their helmets. The purpose is to eliminate rooting through a cave pack looking for a flashlight in the dark. It’s a lot easier to just turn on another light. Usually lights burn out when it’s the least convenient like in the middle of a climb or a long belly crawl.
Some cavers carry a small LED light on a lanyard around their neck and even a couple more in their packs giving them 4, 5, and 6 sources of light.

Another suggestion that most cavers will give you is to use only lights that all require the same size batteries. When you are carrying backup batteries it’s a lot more convenient to not have to carry multiple battery sizes. If all your lights use, let’s say “AA” batteries, you only need to carry two additional sets of “AA” batteries and not two sets of “AA” and two sets of “AAA” and two sets of “C”.
There are also different types of batteries. Nickel cadmium and lithium ion. “Nicads” are the most common and cheapest. They work in most lights. “Li-ons” are lighter and come in a rechargeable version. But you have to be careful and make sure the light you are putting them in can handle them, especially LED lights, because they discharge at a higher rate and may damage some lights or even catch on fire.

So there you have it. Lights don’t have to be expensive, especially when you’re starting out. You can get better ones as you spend more time underground and retire the cheap ones to be your backup.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Encore: Dead Dog Cave with Troop 178 12-15-07

Philly Grotto was heading on down to West Virginia with Troop 178 to do a little caving at Dead Dog Cave. I guess we've never done this cave in the winter before because I don't remember the walk to the cave being so cold. By now we don't get lost in the field looking for the hole they way we did the first couple times. But it's still a good ½ to ¾ mile walk from the cars to the entrance of the cave.

This was not their first caving trip with us. They had done some in NY as well. We all entered without any incidence and started poking around. There are parts of the cave I've been before and other parts I'd like to get too. With the size of this cave I still have not seen the whole thing, much less in one trip.

There is a fair amount of climbing and squeezing. It is a strenuous cave to crawl around inside of. We let the boys lead a good bit and discover what passages they could find. There was passage that they found that I didn't think looked worth while to squeeze into at that time. But now in hindsight, after I've looked over the map, there seems to be a good amount of passage past that point. I just need to loose a few more pounds to get past that hole and maybe rig a hand line for the return, just in case.

But we managed to cover a fair amount of the cave on that trip. We tried to make sure we didn't return on the same path that we entered rooms and passages. That made it a bit more interesting and we got turned around a couple times because of it. Just kept pushing until everyone was tired and ready to exit the cave.

Getting out usually a chore, especially replacing and locking the gate. In the past this has taken up to an hour to get it right. Today, with the cold, we were motivated and got it in place in 20 minutes. Then there was the long walk back with the sun low in the sky. We did get changed and packed up and back in the cars before sunset and headed back to Pennsylvania.

The day didn't stop there. The Grotto members and Troop 178 stopped to have dinner together and talked for a few more hours about caving and Scouting. We agreed to get together again real soon and do this again in the summer.

Personal Caving Equipment – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Helmet

One of the elements for the Caving Elective requires you to know what equipment you will need for caving.

There are some very basic pieces of equipment that every caver should have when entering a cave. This is equipment that must be in good working condition and every one must have their own without sharing. Each issue will discuss one or two items in more detail so you get an idea of why each item is important and where to find what you need cheap. I’ll later go into optional equipment that is a very good idea to have and WNS decontamination procedures for those who face that challenge.

Here’s you basic list:
Helmet
Helmet Mounted Light Source
Two sets of fresh batteries
Two additional Light Sources
Sturdy Boots
Sturdy Work Gloves
Old rugged Clothing
Thermal Layering Underwear
Synthetic Socks
Small pack w/
Water
Food
Small First Aid Kit
Plastic Trash Bags
and
Change of Clothing

Helmet
Your helmet should be UIAA approved for climbing. (http://www.theuiaa.org/upload_area/cert_files/UIAA_106_helmets_2009.pdf) But you’re saying that we will be caving and not climbing. However, the head injury hazards are the same. Bumping your head is the most common hazard while caving. That pretty much goes without saying. There is always the possibility that someone can knock stone or other loose debris from above you. A UIAA climbing helmet can take multiple hits from the top as well as the sides. A climbing helmet has a multiple point chin strap as well, so when properly fitted will not get knocked off if you fall. When you start getting into vertical caving your going to be required to have a UIAA and/or CE Climbing helmet so you might as well get one of these to begin with.
Climbing helmets do come in a verity of brands, models, and price range. Don’t just order solely on price. Each model has their pros and cons. Go to a store and try different ones on. Is it comfortable? Does it adjust to fit you well? Can you mount your headlight on it? Ask other cavers what they think about their helmet. Would they buy another one? Are there any issues you haven’t thought about?
BSA Climbing Standard says you should replace your helmet every 5 years. This is mostly due to UV degradation of the materials. Being underground you don’t have the UV issues, but there are other issues that degrade the material as well. If your helmet does take a hard hit, don’t take a chance, and just replace it. There is a possibility of micro fractures that you can’t see. I guess you could have the helmet x-rayed after a fall, but for the price of a x-ray, a new helmet is cheaper.
If you decontaminate you helmet on a regular basis, look into how the different chemicals affect the shell, the lining, and the webbing of the helmet.
Yes, the helmet is probably going to be the single most expensive piece of basic equipment you will buy. But if you consider that each scratch you see on your helmet is a potential ER visit, the cost doesn’t seem so much. Hey this is your head we’re talking about. A broken skull is a lot different than a broken leg.
Don’t scrimp and use your old bicycle or skateboard helmet. Different sports have different requirements for helmets. They don’t all have the same rating. Bicycle helmets don’t allow for much impact from above. They are also only good for 2 hits, when you hit a car or other object and when you hit the ground.
If you buy a used or borrow a helmet you don’t really know its history. You don’t know how old it really is. You don’t know how many hard hits its taken if any at all. BSA and professional outfitters keep track of their helmet’s histories, but not everybody else does.
When in doubt, buy a new climbing helmet.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Encore: Crew 5 3-19-05

On Saturday, March 19, 2005, 9 members of Crew 5, of West Chester PA, planned to cave. Members of the Philadelphia Grotto guided this quest for adventure.

Crew 5’s plan was to do more than just go caving, they wanted to get a taste of as many aspects of caving as they could. To do this they decided to earn the Caving Elective of the Ranger Award. This elective includes learning about and teaching to others different aspects of the cave environment. They learned about cave biology and geology and how it’s all part of the big environmental picture. They learned about cave maps and how to read them. They learned about they’re own safety in the cave. They learned how keep the cave, and its inhabitance, safe by practicing Leave No Trace ethics while in the cave.

So the plan was to enter the cave about 11:00 to 11:30. But before we went in there was a quick demonstration by Landon on Carbide headlamps and how they work. This was followed by the all-important "Talk" by Amos on last minute safe caving.

We divided into 3 groups and entered the cave. Fortunately, a couple of the adult leaders have caved before with other grottos. We were able to have one of them as a sweep.

Peiper cave is a maze cave. It is relatively easy and makes a great "first trip" for novice cavers. There is some climbing, but nothing too high or exposed. There is some crawling through mud. There are passages that have high ceilings and easy walking. There are also bats that seem to like to hang in places that make them susceptible to being knocked down. You really have to watch yourself where you put your hands and feet. Fortunately, non were disturbed.

Another advantage is that this cave is big enough that the three groups could cave without bumping into each other, unless that is the plan.

As usual, time just slips away while in there. The exit time of 4:00 PM crept up real fast. We did make it out on time, but, as usual, my group was the last out. "Just making sure no one was left behind."

After all were out and accounted for, we changed and tried to clean up. The Crew found out that you never really get all the mud off and sometimes you just have to except going to get something to eat with traces if Peiper left on you.

Crew 5 is great group and we look forward to caving with them again next year.

Encore: Caving with Crew 304

Since Geocities is closing down, I have to move all my trip reports. They are in a sort of blog form, so I'll be moving them over here, one at a time.
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Crew 304 is from Glenside. We’ve done trips with them and Troop 304 before. They are a great bunch and fun to be around, so the motivation to get them into the schedule was there even though it was full already. We found September 6th to be a good date for mostly everybody.

Saturday morning Amos, Steve, John, and myself met at the McDonald’s parking lot and piled into the Montana and headed west on the Turnpike. What was left of the hurricane was blowing rain. The forecast didn’t look all that great, but we would be underground most of the day.

We were all to meet at a rest stop. The Crew was running a little late. After a few phone calls back and forth we found out where they were and got their course corrected and headed toward us. We finally got all collected together and headed to the cave.

When we arrived it was still raining. It’s not much fun getting dressed in the rain and getting wet before getting in the cave. Everybody made the best of it and remained excited about the adventure. So we set off to the cave as quickly as we could and got inside it to settle in and get everybody adjusted.

After a few technical adjustments and the standard “Cave Talk”, we had them divide into two groups. Steve lead one group, Amos lead the other. I swept Steve’s Group, John swept Amos’s group. One of the things I like about sweeping is that I can take occasional short cuts and swing into position to take some pictures of the folks we are caving with. With six in our group I had a chance to take a few snapshots.

We did the whole standard type tour and ran these guys though the passes. They did exceptional and tried many squeezes and climb that we normally don’t do. Time does go by faster when you in a cave. We finally crossed paths with the other group after about three and a half hours. We conferred for a while to see how everyone felt and what they wanted to do. A few had enough and wanted to go out and few still wanted to cave some more. Steve and I took a small group of exhausted cavers out the entrance and noticed that it had stopped raining. Then Steve and I headed back in to catch up with the last group.

When we caught up to them they were still going strong. We went into a few more crawls and rooms and took a few more pictures. I think we cover every inch of that cave that day. We finally emerged five and a half-hours later. Usually we do a 2 or 3 hour trip, but these guys just wanted to see and do more. It was a little bit nicer out side now, so we took our time getting changed and talked to the Crew and set up a plan to start planning for their next trip. We didn’t get out of there until about 7:30. We were tired and hungry and settled for fast food and headed home.

OK, so what are we going to do next year to top this trip?

See More Pictures

Encore: Central New Jersey Council Girl Scouts Caving IPP 8-03-08

Since Geocities is closing down, I have to move all my trip reports. They are in a sort of blog form, so I'll be moving them over here, one at a time.---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Central New Jersey Council Girl Scouts wanted to do a Caving Interest Project Patch for their Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts. They asked me if I could help them with this. They were going to Laruel Caverns in the middle of August, but wanted to do a pre-trip class to lean what they could about caves and caving.

I guess I didn’t figure on traffic being that bad. What should have taken about an hour and 15 minutes was more like two and a half. This was all the notorious “Surekill Crawlway” that caused the problems.

I eventually arrived and went in to see what was happening. They all were there and just settling in to start. They helped me unpack all my props from the car and sat down to review their safety protocols for running a trip like this, just so the girls understood what was involved.

Talking about caving, or rather listening to someone talk about caving, is not as nearly as exciting as actually going in a cave and seeing everything first hand. But I try to give this a shot at every cave talk I do. We did go over all the personal safety gear they would need. As they gave their idea of what was important I pulled it out of my bag and dressed one of the girls in the gear until she looked like she was read to cave.

We talked a little about the geology of the caves and how they are formed and showed a few slides from Rupert Cave’s New Section (I wish I had brought the maps of Rupert with me).

After that I had them build a cave out off giant sheets of black plastic and the soda cans that represent stalagmites. Then we talked a little about planning a trip and reading a cave map. Topping the whole this off with a discussion about bats and WNS.

I wish I could go with them to Laruel Caverns next week. They are going to have a lot of fun. It’s a great cave for first time youth group to explore caves in a dark environment. Actually experiencing the youth’s first caving trip with them is a great experience and one of the reasons I enjoy doing this so much. I can’t wait to hear how their trip goes and to see pictures of their adventure.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Encore: The Brandywine Valley Association

Since Geocities is closing down, I have to move all my trip reports. They are in a sort of blog form, so I'll be moving them over here, one at a time.
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( http://www.brandywinewatershed.org/ ) is an organization dedicated to the environmental protection of the watershed in Brandywine Valley. They run a Summer Camp program that reflects that philosophy. One of the components of their summer camp program examines and teaches the relationship of the watershed with the karst region.

Last year they went to Crystal Cave (http://www.crystalcavepa.com/ ) in Kutztown to learn about caves. The Education Director had contacted me, through the grotto, looking for information on caves that she could use with the program. I volunteered to go out a talk with the kids after their trip through Crystal Cave.

For kids younger than I am use to working with, they knew their stuff. They must have paid attention and asked questions of the guides because they knew most of the material I covered with them. I think that mostly it’s because these kids are there because they want to and they are interested in environmental issues.

The Director, Giselle, and I talked about the possibility of getting these kids into an actual wild cave. So we made a plan for the next year.

Wind Cave was the place we decided on for a number of reasons but mostly because it’s an easy cave. Also that it’s close to Indian Echo Cavern (http://www.indianechocaverns.com/home1680.html ) that they were visiting. Another is that it’s a tectonic cave and different from the solution “commercial” cave they would visit the day before. And because it gets abused, they can see first hand what happens when caves are not taken care of.

A couple weeks ago Amos and I took two of the adults from BVA to Wind Cave to evaluate the cave, room by room, passage by passage, what the kids will see and what they can and can’t safely do. Because this trip was on a weekday, and I didn’t anticipate other Philly Grotto cavers to be able to go along, I wanted their staff to be able to understand what we will be getting into.

I usually don’t take this age group caving. But I found these particular kids to be the exception to what most 10 to 12 year-olds are. As a group they understood very well the environment of caves, how they are formed, what is inside, and their importance in environmental relationships. They did a “ropes course” a few days before and some classroom caving exercises with tables and chairs. There were no wimps, whiners, or criers in this group.

I met them where they were staying at 8:45 in the morning. OK, so I was suppose to be there at 8:30. We did get to the cave, got all suited up, and entered a little after 10 AM. With twelve kids and three leaders in tow, you tend to run a little slower than normal, and we counted on this and gave the kids plenty of time to explore and poke around. We did the main entrance straight back, the upper dome room, and the main room. We went down the hole in the main room to the lower level and to the one below that. Some of the kids were very nervous about the climbs. With good spotting they were all able to do everything we threw at them. There were definitely some character building moments that day for all of them at one time or another.

Towards the bottom of the cave a few said they were starting to get cold. I did brief them before we entered to let me know when they started to get cold because it takes time to get out. So we started our way out and up through the climb to the main room where we gathered together again. I told them that those who were cold or had to go to the bathroom could go out the main entrance and would be out in about five minutes. Those who wanted to try a more difficult exit could and it would take an additional ten to fifteen minutes. All of a sudden nobody was really that cold or had to go to the bathroom that bad. They wanted the challenge.

The last passage was a chimneying of about twelve to fifteen feet long and they would be about four to five feet off the floor. I asked them if they watched to old Batman TV shows. Well, that’s what we’re going to do. I showed them how to do it once. Then I went back and slide down to the floor so I was underneath each one as they got indo position, with their feet on the ledge of one wall and their backs on the other as they skidded along. They all did very well, but I think it gave them more security with me under them.

Then we climbed up and out one of the other entrances and into light. By the time I got out, as the last one out, most of them were eating and drinking and undoing their muddy clothes.

I can’t say enough how prepared this group was mentally, physically, and equipment wise. Giselle and Tara from BVA really did their homework and had the kids ready. I feel this is one of the main reasons there were no issues or incidences, much less, no accidents. The attitude of the kids made this for me a really fun trip that I hope can be done again next year.

Encore: Caving with Troop 9 May 1, 2004

Since Geocities is closing down, I have to move all my trip reports. They are in a sort of blog form, so I'll be moving them over here, one at a time.
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On May 1st, 2004 Boy Scout Troop 9, from Honey Brook, went caving with members of the Philadelphia Grotto. The Troop members consisted of John, Randy, Dan, Shawn, Brandon, Mike, and adult leader Randy. The members of the Grotto were Stacy, Amos, Bill, and Marcy. I played double duty being the Scoutmaster of Troop 9 and the Youth Group Liaison of the Philadelphia Grotto.

Senior Patrol Leader Dan split the boys into two groups and the Grotto members divided themselves as group leaders and sweeps.

The planned 2 to 3 hour tour went very well. The boys had opportunities to explore different parts of this large, maze cave. No injuries, just fun.

All in all the consciences is that the boys want to go back and the grotto has extended them an invitation for next year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Caving: A policy statement and guidelines on caving prepared by the Youth Groups Liaison Committee of the NSS and the BSA

General Caving Policy
Caving can be a hazardous activity when the proper equipment, skills, and judgment are not used. Trips that are led by adults inexperienced in caving and trips containing large numbers of persons compound the hazards already inherent in the activity and create a potentially dangerous situation.

1. All caving, other than simple novice activities, should be limited to adults and young people 14 and over—members of Venturing crews or Learning for Life posts, and older Scouts in troops and teams. “Simple novice activities” means commercially operated cave excursions.

2. Units (teams, troops, crews) that include cave visits in their program, whether for one trip or many, must adhere to the two deep leadership policy of the Boy Scouts of America (two registered adult leaders, or one adult and a parent of a youth member, one of whom must be 21 or older). These leaders must be responsible, mature adults who are constantly present with the group. One cave trip leader must be highly qualified through caving experience and must be thoroughly versed in all established safety practices, conservation measures, and courtesy to cave owners.

3. In conformity with the BSA policy on the use of wilderness areas, all caving groups should be limited to eight to 10 persons and two deep leadership as required by the Boy Scouts of America for all trips or outings. Caving activities for larger groups should not be conducted. Each group should be organized to function independently, i.e., plan its own trips on different dates, provide its own transportation and food, and function as a separate and distinct group. The only exception to these rules may be trips to certain commercial caves where special provisions are made to furnish proper supervision by professional guides.

Note: Caving trips have been incorporated in the BSA “Policy on Use of Wilderness Areas by Personnel of the BSA,” with a cross reference to these guidelines. Copies of the wilderness area policy statement are available from High Adventure Programs, Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, Irving, Texas 75015-2079.

4. Any Venturing crew wishing to learn about cave rescue work or pursue that activity as a specialty must do so under the sponsorship and supervision of an adult cave rescue group affiliated with the National Speleological Society.

5. All Scout groups are required to have an approved tour permit for trips of all kinds. Cave activities are included under that plan. National tour permits are required for a trip of 500 miles or more; local permits are issued to cover shorter trips.

6. The leaders and the individual members of the group must understand these basic practices and policies of caving, which are approved by the Boy Scouts of America and the National Speleological Society. In addition to understanding these tenets, every participant in a caving trip must agree, without reservation, to follow all of the specific guidelines contained in the remainder of this publication.

Cave Safety
7. Any cave trip must include a fully qualified leader or adult assistants qualified to handle all problems that might arise. These leaders should have had experience as active participants in a competent caving group. They must realistically evaluate their own knowledge and experience and must never attempt to lead their group into a situation that is beyond their capability or the capability of any member of the group. The overall capability and pace of a caving group is always that of the least able member of that group, and no member of the group should ever be encouraged or permitted to attempt a potentially dangerous act that is beyond their ability solely because the remainder of the group has the necessary ability.
The leaders must thoroughly comprehend that overwhelming difficulties may easily result from the problems of fatigue, improper or faulty equipment, emotional problems, physical limitations, or excessive eagerness or exuberance in members of the group. Additionally, they must realize that all of these individual problems are often interrelated and that the occurrence of any one of them can easily create a situation that will lead to or accentuate any or all of the others.
The leaders must constantly remember that any obstacle overcome on the way into the cave will also have to be overcome on the way out, when the group is tired, when the initial enthusiasm of some of the group may have decreased, and when their alertness and physical abilities, as well of those of their group, is at the lowest.
The leaders must have adequate first aid training and ability, and a comprehensive knowledge of the practices to follow in the event of an accident.
The leaders must keep their group together at all times.

8. All basic equipment such as clothing, shoes, lights, and spare parts for the lights, hard hats, and food should be appropriate for the cave being visited. It is the responsibility of the leader to insure that all equipment is adequate and in good condition.
The equipment and spares must never be makeshift or of questionable dependability. The highest standards developed by experienced cavers are to be met in all categories of equipment.
The use and repair of each item must be understood and demonstrated by all of the party before entering the cave.
Under no conditions should any member of the group be permitted to enter the cave if they do not have all of the required equipment in their possession. The sharing of any equipment, such as lights, between individuals must be prohibited.

9. Except for groups composed entirely of experienced cavers, the cave to be visited must not require the use of ropes, ladders, or other climbing devices. The safe use of these aids requires extensive initial training and practice under controlled conditions above ground, never in a cave.

10. Natural and fabricated hazards such as mud slopes, loose rocks, pits, deep water, complex routes, old ropes, wooden ladders, and the possibility of flooding are all dangers to some degree and must be approached with care and judgment. If it appears that an accident may still occur in spite of preventive measures, that area must be avoided entirely.

11. The strength, endurance, and specific abilities of every member of the group must be evaluated in advance and nothing attempted that exceeds anyone’s limitations. Climbing, crawling, and route finding are not necessarily inborn skills, and should be taught and tested before a cave trip is undertaken.

12. Not only the leaders, but every person on a cave trip should be aware of the necessity to constantly observe the whereabouts and potential problems of other members of the group and be ready to provide any assistance necessary.

13. Running, jumping, horseplay, and solo exploration must be prohibited—such foolhardy actions jeopardize not only the individual but also the entire group.

14. Caves are often cold and damp, and hypothermia is a danger, especially on long trips or trips requiring wading or crawling in water. Try to dress for conditions to be met, stay as dry as possible. Leave the cave immediately if any member of the group shows signs of hypothermia such as uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, or loss of coordination.

15. Specific information about the caving trip must be left with a responsible person back home at time of departure. This should include location and length of time of trip, expected time of return, list of participants, and whom to contact for each trip member in case of emergency.

16. A record of every cave trip will provide valuable assistance to new leaders and cavers alike. Full records of all caving accidents will provide the basis for a guide to the development of a safe caving program. A complete report of any accident, regardless of severity, should be sent to the Safety Committee of the National Speleological Society, Cave Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35810.
Serious accidents should also be reported to the director of Health and Safety Service of the Boy Scouts of America.

Cave Conservation
In spite of the fact that most cave features are made of rock, many of them are, in reality, fragile.
Once they are gone or damaged they can never be recovered, nor can they be replaced with anything else. Every cave and its contents took tens or even hundreds of thousands of years to form, and it can all be disfigured or completely destroyed in one moment of carelessness. Carelessness is regrettable and must be guarded against at all times. Deliberate vandalism, on the other hand, is more than regrettable; it is literally a criminal act and must be forbidden. Every caver has an obligation to do his/her utmost to protect every cave he/she visits.
The necessary degree of protection is relatively easy to obtain, however, if everyone in the group agrees to adhere to the guidelines contained in the policy on the use of wilderness areas adopted by the Boy Scouts of America (see note under guideline 3). Many of the specific points contained in that wilderness policy are directly applicable to caving, and, besides providing protection for the cave and its contents, adherence to these guidelines will result in a safer, more enjoyable, and more easily managed trip. Cavers should leave absolutely no trace of their visit behind when they leave the cave. This means that they must leave every natural thing in the cave exactly as it was before they entered; it means removing everything that they brought into the cave; and it means staying on the established trails through a passageway to avoid increasing the number of disfiguring paths.

17. Cave formations and minerals of any kind must never be removed from the cave for any purpose. Caving trips should never include cave mineral or formation collections. They should rather substitute underground photography or artwork for displays and science fair projects.

18. Any cave formation must not even be touched. Both mud and the substances on a person’s skin will permanently discolor formations. Some cave formations grow by means of complex chemical processes and, in addition to the discoloration, any deposit left on these formations from the contact can interfere with future growth. Some formations are extremely fragile and will require the caver to exercise great care in order to avoid damaging them. If it is impossible to pass by these formations without causing damage, then the group must give up seeing any part of the cave beyond that point. Damaging formations to gain access to additional areas of the cave is not an acceptable practice.

19. Bats and all other forms of cave life must never be disturbed nor removed from the cave for any purpose. Many species of cave life are rare and have been brought to the verge of extinction by collectors and vandals. During the winter months, hibernating bats should be left strictly alone. Awakened too often, they will use up their winter’s store of fuel and die of starvation before summer. Most bats are extremely beneficial as insect eaters and should never be harmed. Some caves have been designed as special bat habitats and closed to entry for all or a part of each year.

20. If the cavers should be fortunate enough to find animal bones or artifacts in a newly explored passage, they must be careful to avoid touching or disturbing those items in any way. The best course is to take pictures of them, if possible, and immediately report the findings to competent authorities, such as a natural history museum, an archaeology association, or the nearest chapter of the National Speleological Society. Many old bones and artifacts that have been lying in caves for extended periods of time will crumble when touched; if they are ever to be removed, it must be by professional methods. Even if they are in good shape, touching or moving them could destroy the scientific information they hold while in place.

21. The caver must never write, mark, or paint on walls, ceilings, rocks, or formations of a cave.
Some caves have had registers installed by caving groups and visiting cavers are invited to sign them to record their trip. Occasionally it may be necessary to mark a confusing junction so that the correct passage may be found on the way out of the cave. For this purpose, cavers should carry small slips of paper with arrows drawn on them or, a better choice, small strips of reflective tape cut into the shape of an arrow. In either case, the markers are placed in suitable locations as
the group enters the cave. They all must be collected on the way out. Experienced cavers always follow the rule that—without exception— arrows placed in a cave always point to the exit, never in any other direction.
Using string to mark passages is not practical. In a small cave the marking of passageways is seldom necessary. A large cave would require a considerable amount of string and it isn’t always possible to collect all of it on the way out, resulting in litter.

22. Personal sanitation requirements should be met before entering the cave, and appropriate containers should be packed in and out of the cave in case of sanitation emergencies.

23. Spent carbide should be removed in suitable containers, never dumped in the cave. Once removed from the cave, it should be deposited in roadside trashcans or similar locations, never dumped on the ground. Spent carbide is toxic and will cause sickness and death when eaten by animals. Farm livestock in particular is often harmed this way. An inexpensive plastic bag is ideal for carrying carbide waste safely and easily. Spent carbide still emits a certain amount of acetylene gas and severe burns can result from accidental ignition. Some cavers prefer to use spare bottoms filled with fresh carbide for their carbide lamps, removing and capping the spent one and installing a fresh one as necessary. Never leave used batteries in a cave, either. Pack out everything taken into a cave.

24. Each caver should demonstrate personal interest in caves and appreciation for them by participating in, or even organizing, an occasional cave cleanup. The object is to remove trash and carbide dumps left by thoughtless visitors, and to remove writing on walls through the use of water and stiff-bristled brushes. This makes an excellent group project and teaches the value of conservation and respect for the natural environment of caves.

Courtesy to Cave Owners
All too often cavers forget that a cave belongs to the owner of the land above it, and that they must depend upon the goodwill of the owner, who usually has no interest in their activities. Cavers typically have nothing to offer the cave owner in return for hospitality and, in fact, quite often represent a problem for the owner in the event an accident occurs. In recent years, interest in caving has increased tremendously. Owners of popular caves are besieged every weekend by cavers seeking entrance and the result has been that many cave owners are becoming alienated to cavers. The owner of the land on which the entrance is located may exclude everyone from the cave if they wish, and the rudeness and thoughtlessness of some cavers has caused the owners of some popular caves to do just this. The following guidelines are important and should be understood and followed by all cavers.

25. Every group planning to visit a cave must obtain the permission of the owner before entering the land. The best plan is for one or two of the leaders to visit the owner several days before the trip to obtain this permission, or they may initiate contact by letter or telephone. Some owners are reluctant, however, to give permission in writing by answering a letter, so this method may result in disappointment unless the group has had previous contact with the owner. If the group is certain that the owner will be present and permission will be granted, it is satisfactory to ask when they arrive for the trip. In this case, one or two members of the group should seek out the owner while the rest of the members wait. Do not assume that permission is automatic and begin unloading equipment and changing clothes during the waiting period. Always wait for the owner to give his or her approval. If you find that the owner cannot be located and you do not have prior permission for this specific trip, then you must go elsewhere.

26. Do not continually go back to the same well known caves. Heavy traffic causes damage to caves and puts a strain on caver–owner relations (commercial caves excepted).

27. After obtaining permission to enter a cave, usually you must cross the owner’s land to reach the cave. Remember that a farmer’s income depends on his crops and livestock. Don’t climb fences that may break under your weight. Always leave gates exactly as you find them, either open or closed. If the entrance to the cave is covered with boards or brush, make certain that it is replaced, even while the group is in the cave.

28. Do not tease or chase livestock. Take special care not to startle flocks of poultry. They could run to one end of their enclosure and some of them might be killed or injured.

29. Be conscious of and avoid any action that might disturb or inconvenience the owner. Keep noise to a minimum, especially late at night. Pick up all trash, even that left by previous visitors. Don’t build a fire. You should never camp on the land unless the owner extends the invitation. Don’t even ask. After you leave, there should be no sign of your visit remaining on the premises.

30. Ask where it will be convenient to park your cars. Do not block lanes and driveways.

31. If it’s not late at night, stop on the way out and tell the owner that you are leaving. If it is late, leave a note. Remember that the owner’s schedule, particularly if that person is a farmer, may not be the same as yours. If the home is dark, regardless of the hour, don’t disturb anyone. In either case, thank the owner at the time of leaving. Sending a follow-up letter including, if possible, pictures taken in the cave, is also a good idea.

32. When obtaining permission to enter a cave, never underestimate the length of time to be spent in the cave. If you specify an exit time to the owner, never fail to leave the cave within that time. Longer trips can be planned for the future. Missing an exit time causes unnecessary concern to the owner and, in extreme cases, needless efforts by law enforcement agencies and rescue teams.

33. Many undeveloped caves are owned by various government entities, such as state park services, the National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National
Park Service, etc. Many of these caves are gated and/or have strict access policies requiring permits to be secured in advance. Before undertaking a trip, find out what those policies are. When there, be sure to follow all rules.

34. The NSS owns some caves and manages others through various internal organizations, designated preserves, and lease arrangements with owners. The NSS committee or person in charge of granting access will know these BSA policies and guidelines, and will expect you to be in compliance with them.

35. Most states have some “show caves”—caves with commercially led tours and knowledgeable guides, complete with lights and easy paths and stairways. If members have no idea what a cave environment is like, the show cave is a good place for a group to start. Some of them will offer a special “wild” tour for groups who want a bit more of a crawling and muddy adventure. These commercial caves may have a different set of rules and standards that they have developed, and probably will charge modest fees.

These rules could condense to a simple statement:
Use common sense and treat the owner as you would like to be treated. If caving is to continue in this country, cavers must do all they can to make themselves welcome at each cave they visit.

Those seriously interested in caves may affiliate with a local chapter of the National Speleological Society. Information about that organization is available from the National Speleological
Society, Cave Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35810 or http://www.caves.org.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Part 4, The Program – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Planning a caving trip.

Whether it’s your first, tenth or one-hundredth caving trip, planning is the key to a successful, safe, and fun trip. Planning is part of the joinery and the adventure.
The BSA Caving Policy (bin # 19-102) says in part “Any cave trip must include a fully qualified leader or adult assistants qualified to handle all problems that might arise. These leaders should have had experience as active participants in a competent caving group.” If you’ve taken my advice and solicited your local Grotto, you probably have an experienced caver helping your Crew plan your caving trips.
The reason for this is that not all caves are the same. It is good to have someone along with some experience with the cave you plan on exploring. The first rule of getting out of trouble is avoiding it in the first place. Know something about the characteristics of the cave and know your own limits. It’s always good to push yourself a little, but not to the point the trip becomes needlessly dangerous.
There are some basics about a cave you should consider. A decent map of the cave will tell you most of what you will be facing entering and once you’re inside the cave.

You should know about any vertical exposure you may encounter. How much climbing is involved with the cave you are interested in. Even though it was not intended for caving, you can use the “The Yosemite Decimal System” (YDS) http://www.climber.org/data/decimal.html to get a good feel for what you will encounter.
Class 1 is a well-established path. Almost like a sidewalk. Think of a lighted commercial cave tour.
Class 2 will require some route finding and occasionally using your hands for balance.
Class 3 is scrambling on rocks using your hands as well as your feet. A hand line may be helpful. Boldering falls under this class.
Class 4 is climbing over steep enough terrain to require a belay (feet over shoulder height). Ladders fall in this class.
Class 5 is more technical climbing. Caving is not climbing, but sometimes you will be in a situation were you will need to climb and be on belay where a serious injury or death is likely in the event of an unprotected fall.
Class 6 is not a real YDS class, but this is where the rope deliberately bears the caver’s weight. Cavers call it “vertical caving techniques” and it involves ascending a rope with climbing aids and descending with rappelling gear. Special training is needed above ground before attempting this in a cave.
To do anything from Class 3 on up you must have someone on in your Crew with “Climb On Safely” training. This is a very basic, on-line, training that only takes about 20 minutes. This will help you understand more about what you are facing. I suggest that everyone who may be faced with Class 3 or above situation take this course. The more in your Crew who have this, the more smoothly your trip will go. If your going to be involved with Class 4 through 6 your should have a trained Climbing Instructor.

Another consideration when planning your cave exploration trip is water. Like vertical exposure, the wetness of the cave can be in varying degrees, and may even change from one trip to the next to the same cave or during a single caving trip.
The least wet experience would again be like the lighted commercial cave trip where you can wear your regular street shoes. No special planning there, but that’s probably not what you are looking at doing. There are some wild caves that are dry. Some tectonic and lava tubes may be drier that solution caves.
Most solution caves have mud in them. After all they are formed with the help of water. Mud can vary in texture. Some mud is slippery and sometimes so slippery it’s difficult to stand up. Some mud is sticky and sometimes it can suck your boots off your feet. Either way if you crawly through mud you will get wet.
Some caves have streams and standing pools in them. These can also be of varying depths and have their own hazards depending on the depth. You should also consider not just how deep the water is, but how long will you be in the water and how wet will you get. While you may not be swimming, if your in water for a while you will want to consider if a wet suit would keep you from becoming hypothermic. Even wading through thigh high cave waters that’s just above freezing become uncomfortable after just a few minutes.
Some caves have deeper pools and streams. While you wont be cave diving, you will be swimming. Wet suits will be necessary. Being part of the Boy Scouts of America you must have someone with "“Safe Swim Defense” training. Like “Climb On Safely” this is an on-line training course that can be completed in about 20 minutes. Everyone on a trip like this should have this training and comply with the guidelines.
Then the most wet and difficult is cave diving. This is just going to be mentioned here and not go into any details, as it is a very specialized activity requiring special training and certification and is beyond the scope of this article. For more information you need to go to the NSS Cave Diving Section at http://www.nsscds.org/test/drupal/index.php for more information.

Another consideration when looking at a cave to explore is how tight does the cave get. You can generally tell by a cave map what to expect with this. Those little circles with numbers in them are the height of the ceiling at that point in the cave. Sometimes you can have large booming rooms and high ceiling canyon type passages. Sometimes you can have belly crawls for a couple hundred feet. Sometimes it’s just a tight pinch of less than a foot to get to the next room. Knowing your limits is very important. Knowing the limits of the entire Crew is important , too. Generally ever passage you go through you may have to return through as well.

Generally most caving excursions will not encounter all these situations, but they will likely be combined together. So rappelling through a water fall in a tight tube would not be a good choice for your first trip. While it's good to challenge your self, be realistic about your limits and the limits of your group and the hazards and challenges of the cave you plan to explore.

Friday, October 30, 2009

BSA Caving: Guide to Safe Scouting Section on Caving

General Policy

Caving can be a hazardous activity when the proper equipment, skills, and judgment are not used. Trips that are led by adults inexperienced in caving and trips containing large numbers of persons compound the hazards already inherent in the activity and create a potentially dangerous situation.


1. All caving, other than simple novice activities, should be limited to adults and young people 14 and older—members of Venturing crews and older Scouts in troops, and teams. "Simple novice activities" means commercially operated cave excursions.


2. Units (teams, troops, crews) that include cave visits in their program, whether for one trip or many, must adhere to the two-deep leadership policy of the Boy Scouts of America (two registered adult leaders, or one adult and a parent of a youth member, one of whom must be 21 or older). These leaders must be responsible, mature adults who are constantly present with the group. One cave trip leader must be highly qualified through caving experience and must be thoroughly versed in all established safety practices, conservation measures, and courtesy to cave owners.


3. In conformity with the BSA policy on the use of wilderness areas, all caving groups should be limited to 8 to 10 persons and two-deep leadership as required by the Boy Scouts of America for all trips or outings. Caving activities for larger groups should not be conducted. Each group should be organized to function independently, i.e., plan its own trips on different dates, provide its own transportation and food, and function as a separate and distinct group. The only exception to these rules may be trips to certain commercial caves where special provisions are made to furnish proper supervision by professional guides.
Note: Caving trips have been incorporated in the BSA "Policy on Use of Wilderness Areas by Personnel of the BSA," with a cross reference to these guidelines. Copies of the wilderness area policy statement are available from High Adventure Programs, Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, Irving, Texas 75015-2079.


4. Any Venturing crew wishing to learn about cave rescue work or pursue that activity as a specialty must do so under the sponsorship and supervision of an adult cave rescue group affiliated with the National Speleological Society.


5. All Scout groups are required to have an approved tour permit for trips of all kinds. Cave activities are included under that plan. National tour permits are required for a trip of 500 miles or more; local permits are issued to cover shorter trips.


6. The leaders and the individual members of the group must understand these basic practices and policies of caving, which are approved by the Boy Scouts of America and the National Speleological Society. In addition to understanding these tenets, every participant in a caving trip must agree, without reservation, to follow all of the specific guidelines contained in BSA's Caving publication, No. 19-102B.


Cave Safety


7. Any cave trip must include a fully qualified leader or adult assistants qualified to handle all problems that might arise. These leaders should have had experience as active participants in a competent caving group. They must realistically evaluate their own knowledge and experience and must never attempt to lead their group into a situation that is beyond their capability or the capability of any member of the group. The overall capability and pace of a caving group is always that of the least able member of that group, and no member of the group should ever be encouraged or permitted to attempt a potentially dangerous act that is beyond their ability solely because the remainder of the group has the necessary ability.
The leaders must thoroughly comprehend that overwhelming difficulties may easily result from the problems of fatigue, improper or faulty equipment, emotional problems, physical limitations, or excessive eagerness or exuberance in members of the group. Additionally, they must realize that all of these individual problems are often interrelated and that the occurrence of any one of them can easily create a situation that will lead to or accentuate any or all of the others.
The leaders must constantly remember that any obstacle overcome on the way into the cave will also have to be overcome on the way out, when the group is tired, when the initial enthusiasm of some of the group may have decreased, and when their alertness and physical abilities, as well of those of their group, is at the lowest.
The leaders must have adequate first aid training and ability, and a comprehensive knowledge of the practices to follow in the event of an accident.
The leaders must keep their group together at all times.


8. All basic equipment such as clothing, shoes, lights, and spare parts for the lights, hard hats, and food should be appropriate for the cave being visited. It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that all equipment is adequate and in good condition.
The equipment and spares must never be makeshift or of questionable dependability. The highest standards developed by experienced cavers are to be met in all categories of equipment.
The use and repair of each item must be understood and demonstrated by all of the party before entering the cave.
Under no conditions should any member of the group be permitted to enter the cave if they do not have all of the required equipment in their possession. The sharing of any equipment, such as lights, between individuals must be prohibited.


9. Except for groups composed entirely of experienced cavers, the cave to be visited must not require the use of ropes, ladders, or other climbing devices. The safe use of these aids requires extensive initial training and practice under controlled conditions above ground, never in a cave.

10. Natural and fabricated hazards such as mud slopes, loose rocks, pits, deep water, complex routes, old ropes, wooden ladders, and the possibility of flooding are all dangers to some degree and must be approached with care and judgment. If it appears that an accident may still occur in spite of preventive measures, that area must be avoided entirely.

11. The strength, endurance, and specific abilities of every member of the group must be evaluated in advance and nothing attempted that exceeds anyone's limitations. Climbing, crawling, and route finding are not necessarily inborn skills, and should be taught and tested before a cave trip is undertaken.

12. Not only the leaders, but every person on a cave trip should be aware of the necessity to constantly observe the whereabouts and potential problems of other members of the group and be ready to provide any assistance necessary.

13. Running, jumping, horseplay, and solo exploration must be prohibited—such foolhardy actions jeopardize not only the individual but also the entire group.

14. Caves are often cold and damp, and hypothermia is a danger, especially on long trips or trips requiring wading or crawling in water. Try to dress for conditions to be met, stay as dry as possible. Leave the cave immediately if any member of the group shows signs of hypothermia such as uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, or loss of coordination.

15. Specific information about the caving trip must be left with a responsible person back home at time of departure. This should include location and length of time of trip, expected time of return, list of participants, and whom to contact for each trip member in case of emergency.

16. A record of every cave trip will provide valuable assistance to new leaders and cavers alike. Full records of all caving accidents will provide the basis for a guide to the development of a safe caving program. A complete report of any accident, regardless of severity, should be sent to the Safety Committee of the National Speleological Society, Cave Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35810. Serious accidents should also be reported to the director of Health and Safety Service of the Boy Scouts of America.


Resource: Caving, No. 19-102B