Underground Texas Grotto

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James Lopez traverses a canyon passage - photo by Peter Sprouse

Caves can be dangerous if you're not properly trained or equipped. Here's how to reduce your risk: 

In emergencies: call 911 and local Sheriff.

1. DO NOT exceed your level of training
The grotto provides free training appropriate to your level of experience, including beginning horizontal caving and beginning and intermediate vertical caving (rapelling, ascending, etc.)

2. DO NOT use a rope unless you have been trained in vertical caving techniques.
Ropework in caves presents some challenges and hazards that are not the same as those encountered in rock climbing and ropes courses. The Underground Texas Grotto provides free training in the vertical equipment and techniques. NEVER get on a rope without wearing a helmet that has a (fastened) chinstrap. Falling rocks are the number one killer of cavers and climbers. NEVER use clothesline, garden hoses, extension cords, boating or utility rope, webbing, or any rope not meant specifically for caving to enter a cave. NEVER use rope without appropriate gear including a harness, and proper descending and ascending gear (because of the grit and mud involved in caving, a figure 8 descender is not appropriate). NEVER go down a rope unless you have ascending gear with which to get back up. Although rope climbing looks easy in the movies, climbing a muddy rope without gear is close to impossible. NEVER "bound" in a cave. It looks cool in commercials, but outcroppings, ledges, and other hazards that you cannot see in the dark can kill you in a cave.

3. Don't cave alone
Since accidents sometimes happen, four cavers is considered the minimum party size. In case of an accident, one caver should stay with the victim and the other two should get assistance. If you are in Austin, the Austin Fire Department has a cave rescue team. For assistance with cave rescue in Texas, call the NCRC Regional Coordinator: DJ Walker, 512-751-6010.

4. Let someone know your caving plans 
Inform someone outside of your group of your caving plans: Where and when. In the unlikely event that you do not return by the allotted time, they can get help. Remember to be conservative in your estimate since trips often run longer than expected. 

5. Carry extra lights 
Since lights often fail, three is considered the minimum. All backup lights should have fresh alkaline batteries and should be checked to see that they work before entering the cave. 

6. Do not cave in rainy weather 
Most caves are formed by water run-off and some are prone to flood quickly. Always check weather reports before caving. Depending on the cave, light rain may not be a problem. 

7. Carbon Dioxide kills!  
Many caves accumulate dangerous levels of carbon dioxide, especially in the summer. Too much CO2 means not enough oxygen. The air in a cave may be fine in some places and deadly in others, and the change can occur in a matter of feet. Learn how to test for sufficient oxygen. The Underground Texas Grotto provides free training in caving techniques. If you are short of breath, dizzy, or have a headache, nausea, or burning sensation in your throat, leave the cave.

8. Dress appropriately for the weather and for the cave 
For wet conditions or cold temperatures, dress appropriately in or out of the cave. Texas caves are typically about 68 degrees F year-round. ALWAYS wear a helmet! Falling rocks are the number one killer of cavers and climbers!

9. Get permission from the land/cave owner first 
Most caves are located on private property. Do not trespass.  Grotto officers can help you get safe and legal access to Austin area caves.

10. Leave caves pristine 
When visiting caves, try to leave the cave as you found it. Move carefully around delicate formations. In addition, bring out what you brought in. So, if nature calls, wait until you exit the cave or, if it is an emergency, use an appropriately labeled plastic "pee" bottle.