Take a Glimpse: The Truth About the Dangers of Caving

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at www.caves.org or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

If you are planning to visit a cave and go underground for a long period of time, you need to understand the dangers of caving. Your entire trip depends on the level of responsibility and preparedness that all of the cavers show up with.

Caving is considered an extreme sport, and one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the world.

A group of cavers carefully climbs a narrow passageway in a cave.

There are many major and minor dangers of caving. Read and understand these below if you want to make sure your trip is safe. Accidents are preventable, but you must still prepare yourself for dealing with it, if one should occur.

Cave Water

Many beginner cavers think cave water is safe to drink. “It’s natural, so it must be pure, right?” Even if the water looks clear, this is far from true.

Not all cave water is safe to drink. Most of a cave’s water drips from the ceiling which can make you seriously ill.

In addition, many other dangers lurk in cave water. For instance, caves in suburban areas can have agricultural runoff that has a combination of fertilizers, waste, and pesticides. It can also have carcasses and viruses that can affect your health in the long run.

Other than that, caves that deal with flood water often have residual waste and chemicals that can make you severely ill. You see algae around that water which is a sign of contamination. We know most algae isn’t harmful but if it has a blue or green color, it means the water is toxic.

If you don’t have a water bottle and you are in a survival mode, filter the cave water first before drinking it. It always pays off to just carry a simple water filter around.

A man emerges from a pool inside a cave, surrounded by muddy rocks.
Many of the dangers of caving are brought about in darkness and near water. Watch your head!

Falls And Drowning

These are the leading causes of death inside the cave.

In the US alone, 42% of cavers who die will do so due to falls and drowning. Most of the accidents happen in vertical caves as they are demanding and physically challenging. The cavers have to climb on a vertical slope and they have to count on their equipment too.

Experts believe these accidents usually happen at the end of the adventure because once cavers fatigue, they begin to drag their feet instead of getting a firm grip on the ground. The only way to avoid them is to have proper physical training before the visit. You also have to keep an eye for the small hazards and keep your energy up by eating and drinking from time to time.

In addition, don’t move with a dim light. Bring extra batteries and a good quality headlamp, and even a spare flashlight if possible. If it is tough to notice the floor irregularities, stop walking, and get help first. It doesn’t matter if it’s not your first time in that particular cave. You can’t solely depend on your past knowledge of the cave since the conditions can change any time and the surface can be slippery due to heavy rainfall or flood.

Getting Lost

Getting lost inside a cave happens very often.

Fortunately, it is a rare occurrence but it happens if you or your group is without a professional guide. Caves look good when you enter inside them; there is a sense of astonishment and wonder. Instead of noticing the path, you notice the formation of the cave. For that reason, when it comes to exiting the cave, the return looks very different and puzzling.

Caves that offer family and school trips often have marks or signs like ropes and lights that don’t let you get lost when you are headed in the opposite direction.

But if you are in an unknown cave and feel confused about the route, it is better to start marking the places as you move so that you can come to the original place; it will always be near to the entrance and it will be easy for the teams or your friends to rescue you.

A large colorful passageway inside a cave, meant to show how easy it is to get lost.
One of the common dangers of caving is getting lost, when one person abandons the group and explores alone without informing anyone. Exciting? Maybe, but not a wise decision!

Beginner cavers should remember that caves are difficult to navigate. They should always stay on the path and follow the instructor religiously. There are a few special things which they can do to stay on track.

For example, always look behind after a few minutes to remember the way out. This helps greatly and let you remember all the small details and formations that look different when you walk out of the cave. Apart from this, keep an eye on the people around you; groups find it much more difficult to get lost compared to an individual acting on his or her own.

Low-Quality Air

It is commonly believed that caves have low-quality air.

Of course, low-levels of oxygen have been reported in many caves but one can survive in them and have a nice trip. In actuality, only 1% of caves have very low-quality and dangerous air. They have increased carbon dioxide levels and ammonia that can be dangerous.

You can’t enter inside those caves without a mask.

A woman sporting a full gas mask and other caving gear while inside a cave, probably dealing with dangerous or toxic air.
Though most people won’t need one, if you plan to go caving often and in more dangerous areas, you might want to get a good quality gas mask.

The good news is that it’s possible to avoid the low-quality air even in dangerous caves. Just avoid the small pockets and holes. They are often packed with carbon dioxide and don’t have good airflow. If it is necessary to cross the small pocket, try to do that quickly, because staying in low-quality air or carbon dioxide can cause hypoxia (oxygen deficiency).

Hypoxia has many symptoms that will make it obvious that you are in a low-quality air pocket. If you are feeling anxiety, confusion, and restlessness, it means you are dealing with early signs of hypoxia and you need to leave the cave immediately.

Some other indications of hypoxia include shortness of breath, increased respiration rate, audible noises with breathing, and loss of consciousness.


Now the real question is, how do you spot good/safe caves?

Well, just look for signs of watercress. Watercress in the cave water or pool doesn’t mean the cave is 100% safe. It is just the indication that the cave has better air and water quality. Another helpful tip is to check for the presence of snails. Snails thrive in a healthy environment. A bunch of snails in the water shows that the cave doesn’t have agricultural waste or contaminants.

A patch of watercress growing in a pond, signifying that the area has good air and water quality.

So to sum it up, the dangers of caving are often quite avoidable. Just visit family-friendly caves, don’t exceed your limits, go in a group, and have an emergency plan. In case of emergency, don’t act without consulting the trip leader or guide. He is the professional, knows all the aspects of the cave, and will make the right decisions in case of crisis.

However, this isn’t always enough. Sometimes, accidents occur that could not have been prevented, other than by simply not going. You can read about some of the more tragic incidents that have taken place in caves in this article. As a result, it’s vital that you take these risks into consideration when planning your trip.

A bad experience involving fear, injuries, or worse would ruin the experience for everyone. We want you back here after your trip to share details and photos, so take extra precautions when you go.

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