Caving: Follow the Rules! A Reactionary Post.

Have you ever been spelunking? How about cave exploring? They are one in the same!

Major newspapers have recently written and posted articles about an ordeal a young college student in Indiana had while spelunking. Reading these articles prompted me to post on this subject, having been spelunking several times in my life.

My first time caving was when I was about 30 weeks pregnant after our move to Wisconsin eighteen years ago.  Being a self-proclaimed science nerd, I was more than willing to go in an effort to explore our new mid-western surroundings and check out the stalagmites and stalactites. After all, we already had a precocious five-year old who was ready for some Earth Science.  It would be a great experience for him, too.  So, off we went one hot summer day to Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minnesota. It was very cool and although the experience ended for me more quickly than our group (I got a little claustrophobic and diaphoretic, having to ascend before the tour was over), I went back two more times over the years – always with kids in tow.

Other than memories of dank darkness, narrow passageways, dripping water, and cool temperatures (which are a relief from summer heat whether you are pregnant or not), I remember being told the rules.  First and foremost, the one repeated several times was to stay with your group!

This brings us back to the publicized articles found in the digital editions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal about the recent incident with the Indiana College Student who was left alone in the cave when his group exploration was over.  Yes, he was left. The buddy system did not work. Obviously, numbers (bodies or students – whatever you want to call them) were left unaccounted. It sounds like the pressure of our overscheduled days reigned over getting the group out and on their way to their next obligation or activity. There were a lot of safety checks not performed. He is lucky. I am glad he was found and is alright. But, you know what really gets me is that the articles totally gloss over the fact that HE LEFT THE GROUP!  It is mentioned once in the New York Times article but then, that is it!  Where is his responsibility in the incident?

You do not leave a group in a cave! He was not an experienced spelunker. The light shines on yet another great example of our youth being so focused on their own needs and wants that safety for themselves and others becomes an afterthought.  This focus could have had dire consequences. Yeah, you are not enjoying that part of the cave, your back hurts, etc., etc.. Stay with the group!  It will be over soon.

I am sorry but I think the newspapers do some disservice to us all in telling this story in the way the details were shared.  HE LEFT THE GROUP.  I think it demanded repeating, at least once, if not more.

Obviously, the student leaving the group with which he was exploring to find the other group was a huge mistake. It was his mistake. His mistake was compounded by the mistakes of others in the group for failing to account for him upon exiting the cave.  Luckily, for all, the situation was not fatal.  I am really not sure which – the group or the student – bears the greatest weight of the responsibility for his being left behind. Again, you do not leave your group! Ever.

The moral of the story? Spelunking is fun. Kids love it. You can experience awe and wonder about our earth and how it forms in any number of caves across the country. It is generally a safe activity.  It is the type of activity I would, and have, highly encouraged for enriching our youth. But, there are rules. The rules are there for safety – yours and others.  Follow the rules and. most likely, you will not have to find yourself in a situation that could threaten your life, or leave you considering crickets for your next meal.




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