by Dave

People exploring caves on their date
Does the idea of crawling through mud and squeezing passed tight cracks in pitch darkness sound like a good date idea to you? I hope so, because this is the only way to experience the thrill of caving and see some amazing underground formations. To be honest, you're going to get dirty, you're going to get wet, and you'll probably get tired. But you're also going to see and do things that most people never will. Caving is about that spirit of adventure driving you to explore places that others won't. Anyone can go bowling or eat pizza at the mall, but this...this is something you'll never forget. Try it!

So you're ready, you're excited, and you're wondering "Ok, how do I do it?" The easiest way is to visit a commercial show cave and take a guided tour. It doesn't have the originality or excitement of exploring a wild cave, but it's safe, scenic, doesn't require equipment, and for many people this is plenty. Also, many wild caves are not available to you because they're either on private land or the general public has no idea they even exist. Caving groups, called grottos, tend to protect the locations and only bring beginners to the more accessible ones. These grottos are affiliated with the National Speleological Association (NSS) and can be found all over the country, with members having the training and equipment necessary to explore caves and lead trips properly.

Local grottos can be found through the NSS website and many times have regular beginner trips that you may be able to join. When contacting them, remember that the last thing they want is a bunch of yahoos tromping through their nice, preserved caves, damaging the environment and leaving a mess. Be polite, tell them that you’re a couple that’s interested in giving caving a try and would like to tag along on one of their beginners' days or another suitable expedition. They will let you know about possible trips with their group or may even recommend members that can take you out. You may be required to attend a meeting prior to the trip so that they can make sure you're up to the job before inviting you to join them for an afternoon. If the group doesn't have anything for you in the near future, ask if one of their members would be open to taking you for a tour of an easy, scenic cave, maybe for money. Grottos are handy because not only do they have tons of experience, but they generally have extra equipment to loan beginners. Try to hook up with one if possible.

Many areas have some very basic, well-trafficked caves that may not require an experienced guide. I went through one in Arizona that was basically a big lava tube with a steady stream of visitors and no possibility of getting lost. On the scale, these caves fall halfway between a show cave and a beginners caving expedition. If this sounds good to you, ask your local grotto or cavers about these, but remember that you will still need to make sure someone knows where you're going and when you'll be back out. Also, bring a few sources of light per person (3 are recommended), along with water and a first aid kit. You may not have a helmet to bring along, but at least protect your head somewhat with a beanie, which is also good for the cold, and think about gloves. Always check the weather before caving and never go if it has rained recently or rain is expected.

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You're going to be dirty afterwards, bring water to dampen a few towels to help clean up.

You'll Need

3 light sources/person
Warm clothes
Sturdy boots or shoes
Knee or elbow pads
First aid kit
Garbage bag to sit on when resting


Find a local caving club
List of caves in the U.S.

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