Recreational Activities: Introduction To Spelunking

Spelunkers who enjoy the sport of cave exploration,can participate in the activity at all ages. Information on planning caving trips.

Spelunking or the sport of cave exploration, is a fun recreational activity that can be enjoyed by all ages and will help you appreciate the wonders of our world beneath the earth as it correlates to nature above the earth.

As with any hiking activity, children love this adventurous sport and can be included in your cave explorations if you are familiar with the cave and know it is a high clearance, safe area. Using a child back carrier is much better than carrying a child on your shoulders which can leave the adult dizzy or cause painful neck muscles and cramping.

Avoid sudden changes in elevation or altitude. If you have young children with you they can exhibit symptoms of altitude distress by becoming fussy, complaining of an earache or show stress in breathing.

Spelunking has some necessary do's and don'ts that can insure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Never hike alone and always tell others where you are going, what time you leave and when you expect to return. The leader of the group should be familiar with the cave and should be prepared with points of interest as well as possible dangers. Wear proper hiking shoes that are comfortable, preferably with ankle support. Dress in clothing that can protect your skin from cuts, bites and scrapes. Cotton clothing is a good material that can breathe easily and can be layered and removed if needed. Many cave temperatures can maintain a steady non-fluctuating temperature that is comfortable year-around but you should always bring a sweater just in case or a coat if you are exploring in high altitudes.

Do not enter caves without several flashlights or lighted headgear with backup lighting in case of failure. Wearing a hardhat can also protect your head from low rock overhangs. Bring rope, chalk and string to mark your path when exploring the cave. Carry plenty of water, and snacks high in carbohydrates as well. Carry a compass and first aid kit with you also. These items should be carried in a backpack or daypack to keep you hands and arms free.

Do not eat a heavy meal before beginning cave explorations. Watch your body for signs of fatigue keeping in mind that you will have to hike back out the distance you hike in. Often hikers can lose sense of how far they have traveled due to the dark nature of caves or miscalculate their own physical strength. If you do become overheated, take small sips of water while you rest.

Hike no faster than the slowest hiker and stay together as a group marking the path you are taking clearly.

SPELUNKING DANGERS

Deadly gases like methane and hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide can be found in caves and are often odorless and colorless leaving them undetectable to even the most experienced cave explorers. You can purchase devices that will detect any harmful gases for you.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

The pillars in caves are called columns. The icicle shaped rocks that hang down from the ceiling are called stalactites. The icicle shaped rocks that push up from the cave floor are called stalagmites. Remember stalagmites push up with all their mite from the floor, while stalactites hold on to the ceiling really tight. Generally the dark colored stalactites and stalagmites are considered to be dead and the light colored ones are living. This simply means that they are no longer receiving a growth source. Scientists believe that it takes nearly a thousand years for a stalactite to grow. Formations made from a dripstone deposit in the caverns are said to grow 1 inch every 100 years. You can also enjoy finding calcite crystals as well as intricate erosion features such as inverted potholes, draperies, domes, and pits.

You can also expect to see a few bats. They are usually only about four inches or smaller from head to tail. Females are a light brown color. They sleep for five days and leave the cave for one day to find food. The bats are harmless and will not attack people as the movies suggest. A cave habitat is also ideal for cave crickets, spiders and algae.

You might also find underwater rivers or lakes if an expert spelunker travels deep enough. Often these lakes are home to albino fish and albino crayfish. These species are blind and lack pigment due to their dark habitat.

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