Proper cave etiquette

Proper cave etiquette

Lava Beds National Monument | Summer 2021 | Blog #4

Cover picture: A backcountry cave with a “do not trespass” sign for those who may happen to stumble upon it. Apparently that pile of sticks is an owl’s nest, according to one of our cave files (I’m not sure which species). People shouldn’t be here anyway because the trail and the area to get to this cave is closed!

Prior to working at Lava Beds, I had only been in one pretty amazing cave. In 2018, for my 23rd birthday, my parents took me out to California Cavern in Calaveras County (in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, for those more familiar with California terrain.) California Cavern is the state’s longest cave system, and we did a very family friendly tour which only required us to layer up to accommodate the cold temperature of the cave. My partner, brother, and I had discussed plans to do one of the more challenging tours when all of our schedules align at some point in the future and maybe get my partner’s brothers to join in too!

Family pic from 2018 🙂 Highly recommend visiting California Caverns if you want a family-friendly introduction to how cool caves are!

Now, for this internship, I gear up when I enter a cave: helmet with extra batteries, a mask to lessen the dust I breathe in, thermal gloves to keep my hands warm, pocket warmers if needed, kneepads, elbow pads when needed, a pair of sturdy boots dedicated to caving only in this area, and a coverall (that I affectionately call a onesie) to not only keep me warm but also help protect my clothes instead of getting them torn up from the crawling and duck walking done to navigate in the caves.

I swear I’m wearing my Mosaics in Science long sleeve under this onesie. I’m trying to protect my clothes!

What is proper cave etiquette?

Should you ever find yourself in this area for caving, and after you receive your cave permit from the visitor’s center here are key tips (that I’m reiterating from the Lava Beds website, admittedly) to keep in mind:

  1. Screen for White Nose Syndrome outside the visitor center! You are required to do this before receiving your cave permit. White Nose Syndrome is a fungal disease that has been a detriment to bat populations. The fungus for White Nose Syndrome may be carried in on boots and other clothing material—especially if you have previously visited other caves or areas that have bat populations. If you have visited other caves outside of Lava Beds, please go to the visitor’s center to decontaminate your boots and gear.
This is the area where you would sanitize your boots! A quick ethanol step-through should kill any possible white nose syndrome spores that one might possibly have on them.
  1. You are highly encouraged to wear a helmet for the sake of your own safety. Bring a bike helmet and flashlight from home, or buy a helmet and rent a flashlight at the visitor’s center. Flashlight’s must be returned before the visitor’s center closes. Also, wear clothing that you’ll be comfortable tearing up or mending because tears are inevitable in the more challenging caves.
If you plan on taking your cave adventuring a step further, you’ll be doing plenty of duck walking and crawling through narrow passages. Wearing a helmet will protect your head from some potentially hazardous ceiling bumps, and a strong light will allow you to appreciate the depths of the cave and its features more. Don’t forget to bring spare batteries!
  1. Please, for the love of the bats and immediate environment, respect the signs. Lava Beds currently has a number of caves closed to protect the maternal bat colonies and their pups from human activity and disturbance. Some trails around the park are closed due to post-Caldwell fire surveys, assessments, and maintenance.
A publicly-accessible cave currently closed to help protect bat habitat. Cave closures are common. Some caves are seasonally closed for when bats are rearing their pups or when the colonies are hibernating. PLEASE respect the bats by reading and obeying the “do not trespass” signs. We have trackers in some caves that show if people have entered the caves, and unfortunately many caves show signs of human entry.
  1. Other notes about cave etiquette: stay on trail to protect the cave environment (we’d rather you not accidentally step on cave bugs); take your trash out because nobody loves a litterbug; do not eat in the caves because you’ll introduce nutrients that should not be there in the first place—this might affect the cave invertebrate populations and cave animal interactions and dynamics; don’t graffiti the walls because no one asked you to leave your mark via desecration (if you want people to know what you were here, please just upload pictures on social media and tag Lava Beds and NPS.) I feel like I’m missing other cave etiquette notes. It’s weird to spell out things that I assumed would be common sense, but these are reiterated on signs for a reason.
My picture doesn’t do justice to show how deep Mammoth Crater is (this crater is the creator of about 70% of Lava Beds’s landscape and basaltic rock!) Rails (which are present but not shown in this pic) send an obvious message of, “DO NOT CROSS THIS AREA OR TRESPASS.” Imagine accidentally falling down this deep crater and trying to get back up, or having a rescue team fish you out from there. They’re gonna have a pretty good idea of how you got stuck in there.
  1. Stay hydrated. Last year’s Caldwell Fire burned 70% of the park and, as a result, many of the trees that provided shade aren’t here anymore. (Frankly, juniper trees shouldn’t be as present as it in the landscape right now because they outcompete native plants and trees. unfortunately, losing these pesky trees means losing shade.) Many trails are unshaded, and lava rock retains heat which may make traversing the landscape and the path to the caves a little more miserable, so please make an effort to bring plenty of water to keep yourself cool and hydrated during your festivities here.
Picture from Heppe Ice Cave. The difference in temperature between the sunny areas and the shaded of the cave are very noticeable! This would be the place to go and cool down after trekking through an all-sun and no shade trail.
Do you see shade because I sure as heck don’t! When in doubt, do your hikes in the mornings, late afternoon, or on cooler days—whenever those come around. and, of course, please follow the signs and hike trails that aren’t closed.

Ask me for cave (and hike) recommendations and I’ll happily give you pointers!

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