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Caving for Beginners

Posted on: March 10th, 2020 by Lost Earth Adventures

Descending into Darkness, Caving in Yorkshire

Group take part in caving for beginners courseIt’s only natural for us to have very rigid ideas about something we’re afraid of. These ideas are seldom generated from real-life experience, instead formed by horror stories and word of mouth. As with anything, if you dare take the plunge, the reality is much more rewarding.

We sat down with relative Lost Earth Adventures newbie, Glenn, who took us through his recent caving experience. We discuss caving for beginners, Goyden Pot, and the descent into darkness.

What is the Difference Between Caving, Pot-Holing and Spelunking?

First-things-first, what are we actually doing? These words all seem very different, but are they?

The word Pothole comes from Scandinavian origin and has similar meaning to a pit. It generally refers to a circular/cylindrical shaft in the ground or a bump in the road that can annoy motorists! Generally most Pots are abseiled into due to their shape, but this rule is not hard and fast. Goyden Pot for example can be walked into and does not have a cylindrical shaft like appearance. Goyden Pot can also be abseiled into by a tight rift or into lower sections once the pot has been entered via a large horizontal, circular tube known as a phreatic passage. Some people refer to potholing as a vertical endeavour, but at Lost Earth Adventures we believe all cave trips to be potholing trips and all potholes to be caves. We also think that all potholing and caving trips are spelunking trips, as that’s what our friends from North America call it. Phew, I’m glad we’ve got that out the way!

Caving for beginners: A first-hand account

How did you find your first caving experience Glenn?
It was a definite eye-opener. You have this idea in your head that caving will be all about squeezing through tight crevices and feeling claustrophobic and trapped, but it’s not the case.

Let’s rewind. How did you enter the cave?

Group of beginner cavers pose in Yorkshire cave
Our group headed down a field towards a clear stream. You see the cave opening for the first time. It looks quite small and it’s a daunting prospect, knowing you’ll be going in, but the excitement to explore surpasses all other emotions at this point.

The water is crystal clear, too. We clamber over huge boulders as darkness shrouds us. The first thing I notice is how clean everything looks.

I had visions of overgrown moss everywhere and slippery rocks and watery mud baths. But down here, no moss grows. Craig, our guide, eagerly explains the cave’s geological past with such enthusiasm, but it never feels forced or uninteresting. There’s a great balance to it all.

Team of beginner cavers explore cavesDid caving feel dangerous to you?
Surprisingly, no. Our group were all kitted out properly and we all felt comfortable following Craig. You could see Craig mentally scouting ahead to check for possible obstructions. I think it’s called a dynamic risk assessment, so we always felt safe even as caving beginners.

After a moment or two, our group were all working together to help each other down higher descents, showing each other where to place our feet. I think the exhilaration of exploring something so secret is what motivated us all the most.

How do you mean, secret?

Man exploring tight tubes in caves
When you descend into a cave, there’s this overwhelming feeling of exploring something most people never have or will. It’s like an alien planet down there. Maybe it’s the enclosed feeling or the darkness.

It feels like the last true wilderness. You don’t have your phone or any other distractions. It’s you and your friends, working together in this place. It felt quite liberating.

You went caving after some bad weather, right?
That’s right. Craig told us that parts of the cave may be unpassable and we’d use another cave if so. At one point, he stopped the group at a crossroads with two possible paths. ‘Which way do you think we go from here?’ Craig asked us. We guessed which way, but we were all wrong. It wasn’t left or right but straight down! He was perched over a tight crevice in the ground with a tree branch wedged within. None of us could believe it!

Incredible! And did you go down it?
Because of weather the previous few days, we took a route that was safe from flooding. That’s what surprised me, I guess. How many possible routes you could take. Craig asked us beforehand if we were all comfortable with tight spaces, water and getting on our hands and knees. Where we went in the cave depended on what we were comfortable with, which is perfect.

Anyway, the passage we took narrowed and we had to crouch, climb down huge boulders before the passageway opened up to a gigantic chamber. For me, this was unbelievable and so unexpected.

A big chamber in the cave?

Caving beginners in large cave in Yorkshire
Yes! We heard water flowing and the echoes of our voices definitely made everything more atmospheric. We gathered around Craig on a boulder and listened intently as he explained how such a chamber was formed. You could barely see the roof of the cave, it was that big.

It was hard for me to get a shot of the chamber without it simply looking like blackness, but our group were genuinely staggered. You don’t expect to see that in a cave.

Group attempt vertical caving for beginnersAnd you tried your hand at vertical caving?
Yes! The instructors set up the abseil, we harnessed up and took turns to shimmy across a high rock ledge, then we abseiled down into the chamber. Descending like that with only the light from a few head torches was simply sublime, it’s hard to put into words.

And again, I was so surprised by how accessible vertical caving was, even as beginners.

Would you go caving again?
Absolutely. Without question! If you haven’t tried caving before, you must. I’ve already got another caving trip planned in the months ahead.

Do you have any advice for beginner cavers?
For people like me who didn’t really know what it caving was like, I’d say: don’t be tricked into thinking it’s all about tight spaces, water and battling claustrophobia. Those extreme caves are there if you want them but it’s your day, so you tell the instructor what you want to experience and they’ll deliver. It’s magical!

Caving with Lost Earth Adventures

Man caving tight crevices on extreme caving trip
As Glenn mentioned, caving with Lost Earth Adventures is ultimately about you.

You decide whether you want to cave for half a day or a full day, or whether you want caving for beginners or an extreme caving experience.

You decide whether to add ropes, ladders and harnesses into the mix in vertical caving. The choice is yours.

How Much Does Caving Cost?

Our caving sessions start from £49 per person in our Open Group sessions. Private sessions and Vertical Caving depend on group sizes. All prices include equipment and excellent client to staff ratios.

Where to Go Caving

The UK is one to some truly epic caves. Our two primary locations are the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales, arguably the best places to go caving in the UK. Our locations are suited for caving beginners to very experienced cavers. You can browse all caving locations on our website, see our caving and potholing courses, or contact us if you have more questions.

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