There, that’s the basic kit. But I didn’t tell you this so you could run to Central Surplus and thence down a hole in the ground. I described the kit so that a) you have an idea of the equipment investment required, and b) you can picture how ridiculous you’ll look and decide whether you can take it. If you’re the sort who gets into skiing and jogging because of the nifty suits you get to wear, you’re not gonna like caving one bit.
Now the next step in “how to cave” goes like this. Read. There are many excellent books on caving, its practices and penalties. American Caves and Caving by William R. Halliday is the best, most thorough caving book around. It covers geology, lore and caving techniques and equipment, including vertical caving and subterranean safety. There is also an extensive bibliography which will point you to other works. For a description of the most adventuresome grueling, far-out, hell-or-high-water caving since Alley Oop, read The Caves Beyond by Joe Lawrence and Roger Brucker, and The Longest Cave by Roger Brucker and Richard A. Watson. These volumes detail 20 years of exploration and mapping under the Flint and Mammoth Cave Ridges in Kentucky, culminating in the discovery of the Flint-Mammoth connection. The story makes exciting reading, though the narrative sometimes declines into caver chauvinism.
Now, contact local cavers through local aggregations of the NSS, and you’ll find experienced company. Then you can start to erode limestone passage with your tender flesh. You can also write to the Cave Research Foundation, 1726 Ashland Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. CRF is the organization responsible for the Flint-Mammoth explorations (not to mention the Carlsbad work out West) and they eat up a lot volunteer manpower. They do prefer experienced cavers, and like to have personal recommendations of candidates from members of their ranks. They have mapped close to 200 miles of cave in Flint-Mammoth alone (there’s plenty of virgin cave left), and they seem determined to link every underground passage in the world into that cave system. Explore with them, and someday you might emerge, squinting in the sunlight, out of a manhole cover at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Boylston.
Now, where were we? I’m finished and you’re still stuck in that hole we started with. Well, not to worry. If you can sniggle your arm down to your side and undo your pack you can get your flashlight out. Of course this involves a level of effort not unlike that of lobotomizing an elephant in a phone booth. Can’t do it, huh? Well, then I’ve got some bad news. Hope you can take it. I wish you could sit. You – and everybody else behind you – will have to crawl backwards for 1300 feet through that tube to a wide spot where you can change places with someone. You will discover new realms of discomfort, for you have no light and no helmet. When you’ve changed places and crawled all the way back, and someone with a light has retrieved your hardhat, it is extremely likely that you will be made to eat it, carbide and all.
Makes a sweltering 95 degrees look good, doesn’t it?