Caving With Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Council 11-18-18

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Yes, they were at it again. This time there were two new Troops to introduce to caving. Eastern PA Council set this one up at the same time as the one in October. This trip originally had sixteen people, but one Troop backed out at the last minute. It’s a shame because they missed a very good time with these girls. Maybe they’ll come out again when they can. We have been having a tremendous amount of rain and unprecedented snowfall for this time of year. As a result the cave actually had a good bit of water in it.

I like to use this cave for beginner trips because it is stable. But I’ve never seen this much water in this cave. Parts that usually have a little sticky mud had water over the top of my thigh. I choose to avoid the lower parts of the cave. For most of the girls this was their first wild caving trip. I didn’t want to take any chances with them and I didn’t want anyone cold and miserable. But they all got very muddy, and had a blast. How could I tell? Watch the video. L…

Reviewing The Girl Scouts of USA Caving Policy

Yes, Girl Scouts go caving too. And they are AWESOME!!

I did a review of the BSA caving policies a little while ago. Since I’ve started taking more Girl Scouts caving I thought it would be a good idea to review the Girl Scouts caving policy.
Most people don’t realize that Scouts BSA (formally Boy Scouts) and Girl Scouts have two completely different business models. I’m not going into that here, just know they are not the same type of organization with the same rules.
The information can be found in the current (2018) Safety Activity Checkpoints. This document can be obtained through your local Girl Scout Council. For ease I’m going to cut and paste the necessary parts here in green type. The caving part starts on page 131 of the 2018 edition. This section refers to other parts of the document plus another Girl Scout document. I included those clips where appropriate as well.




Spelunking/Caving

Council Approval: Required
Activity Permitted For: J C S A
(Juniors [grades 4 & 5], Cadets [grades 6 to 8], Seniors [grades 9 & 10], Ambassadors [grades 11 & 12])

Not Recommended For: Daisies (grade K & 1) (I’m assuming caving is not recommended for Browies [grades 2 & 3] either.)

Girl Scouts, please don’t ask your guide if they are a “spelunker” or how long have they been “spelunking”. You don’t want to insult the person taking you underground for the first time.

About Spelunking

Spelunking, or caving, is an exciting, hands-on way to learn about speleology, the study of caves, as well as paleontology, which is the study of life from past geologic periods by examining plant and animal fossils. As a sport, caving is similar to rock climbing and often involves using ropes to crawl and climb through cavern nooks and crannies. These checkpoints do not apply to groups taking trips to tourist or commercial caves, which often include safety features such as paths, electric lights, and stairways. Caving is not permitted for Daisies and Brownies. 

I don’t feel that caving is similar to rock climbing. I hate heights, but love the dark. And I don’t “often” use ropes. It’s just another thing to get tangled in and mess up a perfectly good day.

Never go into a cave alone. Never go caving with fewer than four people in your group. Appoint a reliable, experienced caver as the “trail guide” or “sweeper” whose job it is to keep the group together. When climbing in a cave, always use three points of contact, hands, feet, knees, and, possibly, the seat of your pants (the cave scoot).

The best way to find a guide is to go to www.caves.org and click on “Find a caving club near you”. Most Grottos (local chapter of the NSS) will have someone that would take you caving. You can also go to the NSS Youth Group Liaison Committee’s web page and find a Regional Coordinator for your State and send them an email. If all else fails, send me an email at allenmaddox@youcave.org.

Learn More:
• U.S. caving clubs: National Speleological Society
• White-nose syndrome in bat populations: White Nose Syndrome
• National Caves Association
• Guide to responsible caving: American Cave Conservation Association


Just a quick correction. The “Guide To Responsible Caving” that I know is written and published by the National Speleological Society.

Include Girls with Disabilities

Communicate with girls of all abilities and/or their caregivers to assess any needs and accommodations. Check with public, governmental, and tourist caves about their accessibility provisions. Learn about the resources and information that Disabled Sports USA provides people with disabilities.

Let’s not paint all disabilities with the same broad brush. Evaluate each person individually. I have taken some kids who are autistic caving and they were great.

Safety Activity Checkpoints

Verify instructor knowledge and experience.
A guide with documented experience in cave exploration should accompany the group into the cave. A guide can also help decide which caves are suitable. Pre-trip instruction should be given by an adult with documented experience according to your council’s guidelines.


“Documented experience” is really pretty easy. Most cavers keep a journal of their trips. Some use pen or pencil in a notebook. Others may post pictures on social media. Your due diligence is important. Not only should you look for an experienced caver, but one with experience leading youth organizations on caving trips.

If you invite them to talk to your Girl Scouts you’ll find out how well they communicate with kids.

Select a safe site.
Obtain guidance from a local chapter of the National Speleological Society to select a cave to explore. Never explore a cave without a guide and without written permission from the site owner/operator. Check with your Girl Scout council for approval if needed.


This is a little misleading. As a rule cavers do not give out the location of wild caves. This is one way we are able to preserve them. Ask your guide for their insight to selecting a cave. They will generally be happy to help you in picking the right one for your Scouts.

Compile key contacts.
See “Introduction to Safety Activity Checkpoints 2018” for information.

Itinerary and Key Contacts.
Give an itinerary to a contact person at home. Call the contact person upon departure and return. Create a list that includes girls’ parent/guardian contact information, council contacts, and emergency services contacts. Keep this list on hand or post in an easily accessible location. Emergency and parent contact information can easily be saved to mobile phones. - Introduction to Safety Activity Checkpoints 2018


This is also something that cavers generally do for themselves. I always have someone who is not on the trip know where I am, who I’m with, and when I’m expected to call them when I’m out of the cave safely. They know if they do not hear from by a predetermined time to call 911 and tell the operator all the details. The Girl Scout Leader should also have a person to call and confirm we are all out safely.

Educate in advance.
Girls should learn about basic caving guidelines before planning a caving trip and they must understand safety procedures and know how to handle equipment. Caves are fragile and sensitive environments, and they need to recognize and use resistant surfaces for travel. If no latrine is available, pack out all human waste, solids, and fluids. The smallest food crumbs can impact cave environments, so choose less crumbly foods such as nuts and chewy energy bars.


Ask a potential guide if they would give a talk to your Girl Scouts. I have found that even if that talk is done on Skype, it is very helpful. This is a good time for everyone to ask questions about caving, the cave, equipment, and any other related questions.

Dress appropriately for the activity.
Make sure girls and adults avoid wearing dangling earrings, bracelets, and necklaces that may become entangled in equipment.


In addition to this, check with your guide what they are expecting your Girl Scouts to wear and provide for themselves.

Prepare for emergencies.
Ensure the presence of a waterproof first-aid kit and a first-aider with a current certificate in first aid, including adult and child CPR or CPR/AED, who is prepared to handle cases of soft tissue and bone injury and hypothermia. If any part of the activity is located 30 minutes or more from emergency medical services, ensure the presence of a first-aider with wilderness first aid. See Volunteer Essentials for information about first-aid standards and training.

First-Aider
A first-aider is an adult volunteer who has taken Girl Scout-approved first-aid and CPR training that includes specific instructions for child CPR.
The Safety Activity Checkpoints always tell you when a first-aider needs to be present – it is recommended that a first-aider be present at every troop meeting and activity.

Since activities can take place in a variety of locations, the presence of a first-aider and the qualifications they need to have are based on the remoteness of the activity. For example, if you take a two-mile hike in an area that has cell phone reception and service along the entire route and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is no more than 30 minutes away at all times, the first-aider will not need to have knowledge of wilderness first aid. If, on the other hand, you take the same two-mile hike in a more remote area with no cell phone service and where EMS is more than 30 minutes away, the first-aider must have knowledge of wilderness first aid (see the chart below).

GSEP offers First-Aider courses periodically throughout the year (see current course offerings listed on the Council Courses Schedule at http://www.gsep.org/volunteers/volunteer-training/.

Adult Volunteers are encouraged to take advantage of trainings offered in their local community or by other approved agencies, such as the American Heart Association or American Red Cross. Some courses offered by these organizations have separate components for First Aid and CPR. Both First Aid and CPR (with child components when applicable) are required to be considered a Girl Scout First-Aider. A complete list of approved First Aid/CPR providers and courses that meet GSUSA requirements can be found here, http://www.gsep.org/volunteers/volunteer-training/, under the First Aid/CPR Training section.

Upon receiving their certification, volunteers are asked to forward a copy of their certification card/certificate either by mail or e-mail to the Volunteer Training and Support Department, ATTN: Training Records at training@gsep.org. Note: pricing and expiration dates differ amongst providers. The levels of first aid required for any activity take into account both how much danger is involved and how remote the area is from emergency medical services. See below:


Access to EMS                                            Minimum Level of First Aid Required
Less than 30 minutes                                   First Aid
More than 30 minutes                                 Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder


*Although a WFR is not required, it is strongly recommended when traveling with groups in areas that are greater than 30 minutes from EMS.

Your guide should offer their credentials to your list. You should know that they know what to do.

Get a weather report.
See “Introduction to Safety Activity Checkpoints 2018.” Also, in wet weather, avoid caves with stream passages, as some caves can flood.
Weather Conditions.
Always monitor the weather in the days preceding an activity or trip. Check the local weather report on the day of the trip. For circumstances in which forecasted weather could be a risk to safety, consider scheduling alternatives. In the case of severe wind, lightning, hail, ice, snow storm, flood warnings due to heavy rain, or a hurricane or tropical storm, consider contingency plans for itineraries and transportation. Consider rescheduling the event if the weather report is severe. Adhere to public safety announcements concerning staying indoors or evacuating the area. In extremely hot weather, girls should go on rides and do other outdoor activities in the morning and late afternoon hours, and during the hottest time of day stay in a shaded area or inside with air conditioning. It is important on extremely hot days to plan for easy access to plenty of drinking water to prevent heat exhaustion or dehydration. If extreme weather or temperature conditions prevent a trip, be prepared with a backup plan or alternative activity. - Introduction to Safety Activity Checkpoints 2018


Keeping an eye on weather.com for the area you will be is always a good idea. Ask your guide if any weather will be affecting the condition of the cave.

Safety Gear
• Properly fitting safety helmet with a strong chin strap. For horizontal caves, bump helmets may be used; for vertical caves, use safety helmets carrying the Union of International Alpine Association (UIAA) seal, which is located on the inside of the helmet. It is recommended that a disposable liner, such as a shower cap or surgical cap, be worn underneath the helmet to protect against the spread of head lice.
• Sturdy boots with ankle protection (hiking boots for dry areas; rubber boots or wellies for wet caves)
• Warm, rubber gloves (to keep hands warm and protect against cuts and abrasions)
• Long pants and shirt with long sleeves
• Extra set of clothes
• Non-perishable, high-energy foods, such as fruits and nuts
• Water
• Knee and elbow pads
• Water-resistant “wet socks” (for wet caves)
• Belt and harness
• Compass
• Three sources of light: the main light should be electric and mounted on the safety helmet, while the other two light sources may be flashlights
• Spare bulbs and batteries
• A trash bag (use as a poncho or for covering dirty equipment after the caving activity; cavers keep an empty trash bag in their safety helmets)


Get a list from your guide in writing what they expect you to have and what they will be providing if anything at all.

These checkpoints should be reviewed with the vendor, facility, guides, or your council as appropriate.

Epilogue

Let me plug my resources into your program.

  • I provide essential safety equipment for the day. I can provide other equipment that your Girl Scouts and Leaders may find convenient.
  • I have resources that most commercial outfitters don’t have, such as relationships with land owners and managers to get permission to enter wild caves on private properties. Yes, “caves”. If your Troop has been on a beginner trip with me already and want to try something a little more challenging, that can be arranged easily.
  • I have been taking Scouts cave exploring for many years and have developed a reputation of leading a fun, challenging, educational, and safe trip. Check out my Facebook Page and blog for stories and pictures of my adventures.
  • I have FBI and Pennsylvania State clearances for child abuse prevention. I also have First Aid and CPR/AED with Child CPR.
  • I take plenty of pictures and video for your Troop to share with your families and friends (it’s the only way they will believe what you really did).
  • I also know the best pizza places for dinner after the caving trip.

Make your Troop awesome with caving as part of your program. Make my resources part of your Troop’s program.
Send me an email at allenmaddox@youcave.org to start a conversation about taking your Troop caving.

Cave Safely, Cave Softly, Cave Often,
Allen Maddox
Youth Opportunities Underground - Founder

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