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The importance of conservation, safety in caving

Eliot+Krams+stares+down+a+tight+passage+preparing+to+crawl+through+in+a+cave+Sept.+23.%0A
Collegian | Photo by Adam Carlson
Eliot Krams stares down a tight passage preparing to crawl through in a cave Sept. 23.

A constant and stable environment with consistent temperatures year-round, and no one is telling you how to get there.

Caves are entirely void of light; they are mazelike and claustrophobic. People die every year in caves. There is nothing in a cave worth going in for, yet caving is a hobby for many.

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Despite every reason not to go into a cave, people will still enter. The fragility of the environment drives secrecy among cavers. The landscape is full of formations that will stop growing just from the oils on a hand. Every formation took millions of years to develop, so any loss of a formation is a loss of history about how the Earth formed.

The ecosystems in caves are a result of millions of years of evolution. Creatures existed on land and entered caves, where they then developed what they needed to live in dark, niche environments. This results in endemic species, which refers to animals that solely exist in one environment. In caves, they are called troglobites. These species may be found exclusively in as small as one cave.

This life is very fragile, and the loss of an endemic species as a result of human intervention can be devastating for the environment. Humans can introduce new land-borne bacteria that, if exposed to a cave, can kill the living organisms inside. In short, a person’s presence can destroy the ecosystem.

With so many things to consider, caving is not an activity for the masses. But for those interested, executing a successful caving trip can be simple and easy.

One of the first things required for anyone who wishes to dive deeper into caving is a conservation mindset. If you have no consideration for the environment, you can and will destroy irreplaceable parts of our world that take millions of years to form and develop.

Another consideration goes toward yourself and your comfort levels. Caves can get tight and claustrophobic, so both panic and overconfidence might result in an accident. Caves can humble a person with ease, and it is the job of cavers to understand and protect this.

Caves are not meant for people. They are dark, muddy, slippery and cold. Entering a cave without proper light preparation is a complete disregard for one’s personal safety. People who lose their sources of light are in grave danger of getting lost and even dying. 

If you want to enter a cave, find a grotto or experienced cavers. Do research in advance, and go with people who can navigate the complex mazes underground. Going with qualified cavers gives you access to an important range of knowledge that is required to be safe.

Cavers are known for their secrecy, but it does not mean they will never share their experience with you. If they trust that you are entering with good intentions and are prepared, they will likely take you. 

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Cave formations are full of information about how the world has changed over time, and they tell stories to those willing to listen. The surface is otherworldly and feels straight from a movie. The silence is jarring and harsh. If you are not making a sound, there is no sound to be heard. If you decide to turn your light off and sit in the darkness, it is one of the most isolating places you can be. The deep underground offers a place of peace for those willing to embrace this underground world — an experience unmatched by anything on land.

Reach Adam Carlson at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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