Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How to safely explore a cave with children

When exploring caves with children,
first find those with approved, marked
trails, such as at Carlsbad Caverns.
Photo couresy Carlsbad Caverns NPS.

Avoid encounters with wild animals,
mine shafts, collapsing cavern roofs

Ah, the allure of a dark cavern, full of secret passages and maybe even pirate treasure – what child wouldn’t want to explore a cave that you come across as day hiking?

For all their fun and excitement, though, caves can be dangerous places. Fortunately, some of them can be explored…but only with great caution.

If you have a little spelunker in your cave, quench their thirst for adventure by hiking approved, marked trails through caves. This always is your safest bet, as the trails have been designed for safety and park rangers familiar with the cave probably are close by.

Never enter a cave that is boarded or marked with warning signs to not enter. There’s good reason for the boards and signs. Often the caves have mining shafts in them or suffer frequent roof collapses.

Having said this, there are some shallow caves along hiking trails that are marked safe for entry. If going in them, however, follow these basic rules:
g An adult always comes with – A child never should be allowed to explore a cave alone. Buddy up and as the adult watch for potential dangers.
g Always carry a light – You must see where you are going so you don’t fall or stumble into a wild animal. A large flashlight with fresh batteries will do. Have each person in the party carry a flashlight.
g Avoid occupied caves – Bears, mountain lions, poisonous snakes, and bats all makes caves their home. If you hear or see signs of habitation, such as footprints, stay out.
g Never make turns that you won’t remember – With limited lighting, you easily can get lost in a cave if its passageways branch. Oftentimes you won’t see a passage the first time through and so will become disoriented.
g Don’t get into what you can’t get out of – Don’t squeeze down holes or through small openings into another section of the passage. You may not be able to climb out or get back through through the hole.
g Keep to clean cave floors – Don’t hang out in areas with feces or urine from small animals. These likely were left by rats, mice or squirrels and can carry diseases such as hantavirus.
g Watch for instability – Freshly fallen rocks or water flowing through a cave likely means the cave lacks structural stability. Leave immediately before a cave-in occurs.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.