The other day I came across the word speleology which refers to the scientific study of caves. For some reason the word stuck with me and then connected when I read that a spelunker was someone whose hobby was caving or potholing. Looks like the brain still works …
Caving, it seems, is part of man’s innate need to explore. The world’s greatest mountains have been conquered and the depths of the oceans have been reached. Although flying above Earth’s atmosphere isn’t available to just anyone, Google earth has mapped our whole world and images from the Hubble telescope or a Mars mission reach beyond. Perhaps that’s why exponents of caving get into the sport, knowing that they can reach places that no other human has been and that no satellite could ever see.
Potholers and cavers seem to be uniquely aware of what their sport offers – both in reward and risk. There is apparently much to learn about your physical and mental capacity when you’re wedged in a crawl tunnel, face down in mud that hasn’t been disturbed since the Jurassic period and only barely able to move your ankles to propel yourself forward, backward, or anywhere to safety. Panic at this moment and your breathing rate increases, your lungs fill with what air you can suck in, making your whole chest cavity expand; suddenly, that fear of being stuck is a reality.
This isn’t a sport for the weak of heart and it is definitely not a sport for those led by sheer adrenaline or bravado. Cavers and potholers always work in teams, understanding that collective effort and support will get them all in and out of the earth safely. That teamwork philosophy should also extend to your backup plan if you’re travelling or in unfamiliar and remote terrain with this sport. Remember that insurance policy you thought was good value? Well, it could be useless in some instances when you’ve survived the 52-ways to die in a cave (yes, a list has been made) and need a specialist and potentially costly move to get treated or to safety.
Finally, some unusual but important advice from a potholer-blogger on getting into the sport.
‘If you want to be taken seriously as a caver, avoid the words “spelunking” and “spelunker” at all costs. Using the word “spelunking” is the equivalent of asking how many points a team scored in a baseball game. Technically, it works, but it immediately marks you as a novice. Think of it this way: “spelunk” is the sound someone makes when they fall through a hole and land in a puddle.’
Splash. Get down.