28 Jun 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!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Ask me for cave (and hike) recommendations and I’ll happily give you pointers!