Safety in Caves
The following matters should be considered by all cavers before venturing underground:
Research your trip
All caving trips should be preceded by prior research.
This includes sourcing route descriptions and navigational guidance to assist you in reaching your destination, but also to ensure that the difficulty and water responsiveness of the trip is fully understood.
Information about caves can be found from numerous sources, including local guidebooks, experienced cavers and the internet including here on the CNCC website.
Remember that descriptions may contain errors or subjective statements. Therefore, multiple sources should be consulted. Ultimately, the experienced cavers on the trip must make their own informed judgement both before and during the trip.
Check the weather forecast
Many caves become extremely hazardous in wet weather.
It is critical to research how flood-prone your chosen cave (or route) is and to study the weather forecast and what the weather has been like during the previous few days. You should always know whether local water levels are rising or falling on the day of your trip and whether any further rainfall is a possibility while you are underground.
All caves, even typically dry ones, can flood, and cavers must make their own judgement based on experience, research and weather forecasts as to whether a trip is suitable.
Moorland gripping on several the fells across the Yorkshire Dales means that surface run-off can be extremely quick and some caves can flood even with slight rainfall. Be particularly wary of sudden heavy showers or snow melt. A snowy fell on a sunny day can produce severe floods without any rainfall or snowfall whatsoever.
Decisions to descend any cave after or during any kind of wet weather, or when wet weather or snow-melt is possible, should be made based only on an informed judgement backed up by thorough research from multiple sources.
The moto here is: “If in doubt, stay out!”
Know the capabilities of your group
Ensure that there is sufficient experience and skill on a caving trip.
Consider the skills and fitness of others in your group. From your research into the trip, you should know roughly how challenging the cave will be and what technical rope-work will be required. Ensure to share this information with everyone on your trip.
Make sure that each member is adequately fed, dressed and equipped for the trip and ensure that experienced cavers look after the wellbeing of less experienced members.
Always ensure that all members of you team feel comfortable expressing any issues they are having. Many incidents in caves are caused by people being overcome by fatigue or making errors in their SRT because they did not raise the fact that they were struggling.
If you have any doubts about the fitness or competence of your party, choose an easier trip or simply don’t go caving!
Check your equipment
Ensure the equipment you are using is safe and fit for purpose. Check all ropes, krabs, slings and other equipment for damage or defects while packing for the trip.
Ropes and slings in particular should be subject to regular inspection and replacement.
Ensure ropes are firmly knotted in both ends to avoid risks of abseiling off the end of the rope should it not reach the bottom of the pitch.
Always take underground sufficient equipment to deal with emergencies.
This includes water, food, a survival blanket/bag, emergency lighting, a heat source, first aid equipment and SRT rescue equipment (at the very least a knife, but ideally a pulley, spare karabiners, spare rope and an emergency jammer).
Consider carefully whether your team has the skills to cope with a serious incident. Take opportunities to undertake training in first aid and SRT rescue techniques where possible.
ALWAYS leave a callout!
Always tell someone where you are going to ensure that should you fail to exit the cave by the agreed ‘callout’ time, Cave Rescue can be summoned.
Pay attention for hazards
During your trip, be observant of your surroundings and situation for possible hazards. This includes (but is not limited to) the following examples:
- Watch for loose rocks especially near the top of pitches.
- Stand well clear from underneath ascending/descending cavers.
- Watch for rises in water levels or dangerously deep or fast-flowing water.
- Check the condition of all anchors you use for rigging (see here).
- ALWAYS rig using multiple belays without exception.
- Watch out for rope rub or damage and always rig to avoid rub.
- Avoid the use of any fixed ropes or ladders in caves (see here).
- Watch out for signs of fatigue or hypothermia in both yourself and others.
- Ensure you can retrace your steps (including ensuring that on exiting you will be able to find your way off the fell if the visibility has reduced severely).