Caving or Potholing is a relatively new sport, being practised for recreational purposes only within the last 100 years or so. Caving is growing in popularity in the UK and is a great way to keep fit as well as providing an excellent opportunity to explore the countryside both at home and abroad. Due to the risks of exploring underground in dark, wet and sometimes unstable conditions, caving is often classed as an extreme sport.
There is a variety of equipment available for keen cavers but only basic gear is needed for those getting started. A helmet with attachable head lamp is essential to protect yourself from bangs on the head and light the way while leaving your hands free for climbing and balance. Specialist clothing is available but any old clothes will do to start. Dress warmly and wear thick socks. Avoid clothing that becomes heavy when wet like denim jeans. A waterproof oversuit or separate trousers and jacket should be worn on top of your clothes to keep you dry. Good boots are also essential – Wellington boots with non-slip soles are usually the best type of footwear for caving.
For caving routes with steep or high ascents and descents, a climbing rope or ladder and other climbing equipment such as harnesses, carabiners and figure-of-eights may be needed.
For safety reasons, all cavers should also carry emergency equipment such as a first aid kit, food, spare head lamp and a whistle.
Although caving is classed as an extreme sport by many, the risks can be minimised by taking sensible precautions. The main risks involved with caving are flooding, falling, injuries due to falling rocks and exhaustion
Cavers need to make sure that there is no risk of flooding during the expedition. It is generally not a good idea to go caving if heavy rain is forecast. You should never attempt a caving route on your own – small groups of four are more are safest as if someone is injured this allows one person to stay with the injured caver while the others seek help. You should also let people know of your expected return time so that they can raise the alarm if you are significantly late.
Novice cavers can easily become lost or fall so be sure to cave with a more experienced caver if you are unfamiliar with the route or techniques needed to complete it. Rope and climbing techniques can be practised above ground before attempting them while caving.
Despite the potential dangers, caving accidents are fairly rare and the sport is a common one for school children as an outdoor education activity.
The Cave Rescue Organisation published statistics for 2006 show that they attended 12 caving accidents during the year. Three incidents were due to floods, two to falls, two to exhaustion and the rest to equipment failure or cavers becoming lost. They have attended a total of 620 caving accidents since 1935 which shows that the risks of caving are actually very low when compared to many other sports.