Another “when to cave” is never when you’re alone. Travel with at least one other companion, preferably a couple more. And until you’re experienced, make sure that your party contains knowledgeable cavers, who know what’s foolish and what isn’t, who can read the signs of hypothermia and other dangers, and who know what to do in an emergency. Some of the greatest cave explorers in history have caved alone — and some of those never lived to explore their greatest caves. The tragedy of Floyd Collins is no doubt well known by now, but it bears repeating. Caving alone as was his custom (in part to protect his commercial interests), he was searching for a profitable connection between Sand Cave and his own Crystal Cave in the Flint Ridge area of Kentucky. Passing through a tight crawl on his return his foot dislodged a small rock (it weighed fifty-five pounds by some accounts) that pinned one leg and immobilized him. Unable to reach the rock to free himself he lay and waited for rescue. It took a day for would-be rescuers to find him, once it was realized he was missing, but no one could reach past Floyds body in that confined space to move the rock. Attempts to haul him bodily out of the crawlway nearly dismembered him. In the meantime, other attempts at aid and rescue where hampered by the macabre circus in progress above ground — tourists, gawkers, souvenir-sellers and assorted ghouls. Rescuers began to sink a shaft from the circus to reach Floyd from above, but a cave-in in the passage ahead of him sealed him off from food, water, and warmth. When the shaft finally broke through, on the 15th day of his internment, Floyd Collins was dead from exposure. He had been dead for approximately the same length of time it had taken to find him in the first place. Thus the value of companions. If a fellow caver can’t help instantly, by rolling a small rock off your foot, he can go for help and lead rescuers straight to the scene. The caving fraternity has vowed that Floyd’s experience shall not be repeated, and teams of trained cavers exist nationwide to take efficient and informed charge of cave rescues.
But don’t go in alone.
With the right equipment and knowledge aforethought, that’s how. A basic caving rig is wondrously cheap. Caving is one of the two sports for which you can outfit yourself almost entirely out of the war-surplus store. (The other is imperial aggression.)
A set of coveralls is the fundamental garment. Beneath these, one wears normal clothes — i.e., jeans and workshirt. Underground you’ll never stay dry, but you’ve got to stay warm, so wear long underwear. If you plan to get good and soaked, wear woolen underwear — wool maintains its insulating properties even when it’s wet. Some cavers wear more than this ensemble, some less — too many clothes mean overheating and you already know about too few. One must determine a comfortable working rig for oneself. Some cavers substitute denim jacket and jeans for coveralls, claiming greater freedom of movement — some cavers like mud down their pants.
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