Caves and Karst
There is a secretive underground organization lurking in the bowels of the earth for more than 75 years.
Members of the National Speleological Society (NSS) are passionate about the exploration, study, and conservation of caves and karst —our out of sight and out of mind subsurface resources.
On any given weekend, hundreds of cavers can be found crawling in caves throughout the country, digging in sinkholes, rappelling into pits, crawling and swimming into springs.
Few of the 9,000 enthusiasts in the United States get paid to do this.
The Rewards of Caving
It takes a special kind of person who would dedicate the time, energy, and expense to develop the skills to explore deep pits, swim in passages with low air space, and crawl around and over blocks of fallen rock.
Many of the members of the NSS dedicate long hours to explore, map, and document cave resources.
However, the rewards can be great.
Caves offer one of the last areas of Earth yet to be explored and are even accessible to the weekend warrior with limited time and budget.
They offer untold challenges.
Cave Safety Rules
However, caves do have their dangers and cavers of the NSS have a number of safety rules they follow:
- Always tell a responsible person where you are going, when you are expected back, and who to call if you’re overdue;
- Always wear a helmet with chin strap;
- Carry three sources of light;
- Wear proper clothing for the cave;
- Respect private property;
- Don’t enter a cave that floods if the weather is threatening;
- And the caving mantra: kill nothing but time, take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Cavers have also played an important role in conserving caves and educating the public about the need to protect our cave and karst resources.
Caves are basically a hole in the ground large enough for someone to enter.
Karst is the landscape that forms most caves.
It is characterized by soluble rock such as limestone, sinkholes, sinking streams, springs – and of course, caves.
Cavers have spent thousands of hours removing trash from sinkholes and cave entrances and removing spray paint from walls.
Many of our members also work to help manage caves, or as geologists, hydrologists, and biologist that study caves and work on hazards associated with the karst landscape such as sinkhole collapse.
Join a Grotto Near You
Most states have a number of commercially operated caves, state, and national parks that feature caves.
With almost 200 chapters (called grotto) of the NSS in most cities in the U.S., there is a caving club close by.
And please join us for our national convention this weekend in Rio Rancho, N.M.!
Geary Schindel, P.G., is the President-Elect of the National Speleological Society. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, and wrote this guest column for The Voyage Report.
–>PODCAST: Cave Exploration:
We descend into these underground cathedrals with the National Speleological Society. Incoming president Geary Schindel shares with Mark Albert his love of caving, the best caves in the United States and around the world, and how to get into caving for free in your local community.
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Have you been caving? Where did you explore? Share your favorite tips in the comments section below!
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