Exploring caves: Safety tips from the experts

2018-07-06 13:45 - Kavitha Pillay
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There’s a feeling of elation that travellers experience when embarking on journeys of exploration and discovery.

This burst of adrenaline that comes through adventure travel can sometimes sway travellers to push the boundaries and take their daring explorations even further – be it diving deeper into oceans, “free-climbing” mountains, or venturing into the wild, unfamiliar caves, mountains and forests.

When it comes to adventure travel, there are always safety measures to take, and relevant experienced groups of people to consult before venturing off, to avoid facing deadly situations.

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The current incident involving a group of 12 boys and their football coach who are trapped in Thailand’s Tham Luang cave, highlights the seriousness of cave exploration without an experienced caver or informing anyone about their whereabouts.

Rescuers who reached the group trapped in the flooded cave since 23 June, say finding them was the easy part but getting them out safely will be the challenge. Read the latest News24 update here.

Be a safe caver

Mountain Safety, which shares safety updates for Table Mountain and other Western Cape mountains, told Traveller24 that adventure-seekers should never explore caves without an experienced caver.

“Novices should not be exploring cave systems that can be very complex and technical in Western Cape mountains,” says the hikers safety network, adding that people should take caution at sea caves too as they run the risk of being trapped by tides or swept out to sea.

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Dr Stephen Craven, Vice-President at the Cape Peninsula Spelaeological Society told Traveller24 that those who wish to go caving should join a club that safely explore caves, such as the Cape Peninsula Spelaeological Society.

This society - which promotes the safe exploration, recording and conservation of cave systems around the Western Cape - facilitates recreational and scientific cave explorations with other member groups of the South African Spelaeological Association.

Craven says that members of such clubs know the local caves and their potential hazards and have access to the necessary equipment such as ropes, ladders, reliable lights, among other caving necessities.

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“Safe cave exploration demands proper training by their members, which can be done only in the caves,” says Craven.

When it comes to show caves such as Cango Caves, Craven says that such caves present fewer problems because access is controlled and tour guides are familiar with the cave. “The only potential accident cause beyond the immediate control of the guides is inappropriate footwear,” adds Craven.

A post shared by Cango Caves (@cango_caves) on

Steve Mouton, Head Guide at Cango Caves, says the most important rule is to never go into a cave alone.

“If you and your friends decide to do a bit of recreational caving, make sure to inform family members and friends of your expected time of return, number of people in your caving party and also, exactly where you are going to go caving. This way, if you are not back outside by your expected time of arrival, then those that you informed can start to get a rescue party arranged and find you before it’s too late,” Mouton tells Traveller24.

He shares more tips:

  • Stay with your caving team throughout the entire trip.
  • Have a map, or preferably make sure a person is with you who knows the cave.
  • Before entering a ‘wild cave’, wear a helmet and make sure that you are adequately dressed.
  • Make sure you have enough water.
  • Carry at least one spare light source.
  • Try not to touch anything unless you really need to. “Not only could you damage the speleothems but they are also fairly brittle, sharp and heavy. They could break and you can hurt yourself,” says Mouton.
  • When entering a show cave, never wander off alone - stay with your guide at all times.