Ceiling anchor

Safety

Safety Underground

No matter how large or small the cave or how well known it is:

  • Rule #1: Never go caving alone; and always stay with your group.
  • Rule #2: Always let someone back home know where you are going, and when you expect to return. Then check back when you get out!  (If you follow rules #1 and 3 you should be able to allow plenty of time and avoid an unnecessary rescue callout.)
  • Rule #3: Plan your trip carefully, including looking at available surveys and trail information to minimize the risk of getting lost, and ensuring that you and your companions have proper equipment and skills training for the nature of the trip. Is the cave gated and if so, can you get in and out?
  • Rule #4: Monitor yourself and your companions as you progress, to avoid becoming  overtired or hypothermic.  Do not hesitate to turn back if issues arise; too many wilderness incidents have resulted from “pushing” a goal.

Injuries in caves are rare, but even minor ones can be fatal if the victim is so far underground or in such a constricted position that  companions cannot  extricate the individual from the cave in time. Rockies caves are cold, and an injured person can quickly lapse into unconsciousness from hypothermia.  We highly recommend training in wilderness first aid and small-group self - rescue, as it will typically take a long time for large – scale cave rescue resources to arrive.

Typical caving dangers include being hit by falling rocks (usually loosened by cavers climbing above the victim), slipping on muddy surfaces, equipment failures, athletic injuries such as a sprained ankle, getting confused or lost, hypothermia and exhaustion. Simply put: approach this sport very cautiously. Even if a cave initially appears to be quite easy to visit, it is important to be properly equipped and aware of your own limitations, and the limitations of other members of your group. Instruction is recommended; consider contacting a licensed cave guide or going on a commercial "wild cave" tour for your first trip.

An underground injury could result in an extremely difficult and expensive rescue. A serious accident requiring help should be reported to the local agency with jurisdiction (usually the RCMP, although it may be Parks Canada or other agencies depending on location),  who will contact whatever resources might be available in the area and potentially issue a tasking to the Alberta/BC Cave Rescue Service.

There are numerous additional sources of good information on caving safety, including the Code of Conduct included in our membership application and relevant web pages of the National Speleological Society in the United States.  More advanced ‘technical’ safety and rescue techniques are available in numerous books and on-line sources, although there is clearly no substitute for experiential training with qualified instructors.

However, perhaps the best and last words on caving safely are not technical at all.  They were said by pioneer caver and cave diver Mike Boon (1940 - 2017), a former member of the Alberta Speleological Society, during an interview with Ian Mackenzie for Canadian Caver magazine, in July, 1992.

CC:  “Any final words?”

Mike:  “There is just one thing, as caving gets more and more technical and more and more attention is paid to gear and very involved rope techniques and rescue and so on, I think there could be a danger that you lose sight of the first, prime requirement of caving, which is vigilance. In other words, people may be getting a little too involved in tech … well, getting involved in technique is fine but it should be in the context of being vigilant as to your own personal progress in the cave, where you put your feet.  The old idea of looking after your partner, the buddy system, making sure somebody has finished a climb before you start on the next thing, in context obviously.  It almost has overtones of meditation. The idea of Tibetan and Zen meditation is to get you right into the present, right out of your dream world. If you’re down in a cave and you’re thinking about, I don’t know, wouldn’t it be nice to get in a car or something; be right here at the moment, attention, attention, attention and be right there are far as your partner is concerned, and never leave a person just struggling around behind you. So when you’re going into the cave, your concern is with the cave and where you put your feet and how everything is done, and with your partner, and not trying to create records or be hard or whatever.”

A Word About Liability

Caving is similar to many other wilderness adventure activities in that it can be done safely with  proper training, equipment and prudent behaviour, but there are inherent risks which can never be totally eliminated.  The Alberta Speleological Society makes no assurances or warranties, explicit or implicit, that any individual will be free from harm, either on a trip organized by the Society or on a self-organized trip involving individual members.  We believe that safety is the responsibility of each individual caver within their underground team, and that in the event of an accident it is the individuals involved, not the Society, who are responsible for their actions and any costs associated with a rescue attempt.  It is a requirement of members that they execute a Code of Conduct and legal liability waiver which incorporates this principle.