Practical tips for Carpathian caves visitors

If you plan to visit a cave you should take some advice regarding the safe planning of a trip and adequate preparation.

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A few facts for starters

Caves, as geological forms, can be divided into two types. Primeval caves are created along with the development of rocks (volcanic caves are situated on lava, water caves on coral reefs).Secondary caves are created after the rock is fully developed as a result of various geological and geomorphological processes. The majority of the caves in this group are dripstone caves - they are created as a result of karstic processes, i.e. the chemical and mechanical influence of water on karstic rock (limestones, dolomites, gypsums). Another type is tectonic caves.

Taking into consideration the orientation of corridors one may distinguish two types of caves- oriented vertically or horizontally. The first type constitutes caves whose corridors are on the same level. Corridors of vertically-oriented caves are on different levels and may go up or down or constitute downward-oriented (wells) or upward-oriented (chimneys) vertical parts. These caves require using climbing equipment: ropes and other elements to help us move and keep us safe.

In caves there are narrow and low corridors where you have to crawl or squeeze into fissures. Sometimes they are so narrow that it is difficult to go through them. These features are called clamps.

Visiting caves can cause problems with orientation in the case of people who are not familiar with that kind of environment. Available plans allow you to get to know the corridor system even before entering the cave. Using them in the cave excludes unpleasant surprises. The crazy stories about the lack of air in caves are totally untrue. Even in every one-entrance cave we can observe a breath of air, although, it seemingly has no wider contact with the surface.

The longest cave in the world is the Mammoth Cave System in USA, with a length of nearly 600 km. In Poland the longest and deepest cave is Jaskinia Wielka Śnieżna in the Western Tatra Mountains, with a length of 33 km and a depth of 824 m. On the Slovakian side of the Tatra Mountains is Cień Księżyca cave, with a length of over 30 km and a depth of 451 m, whose entrance is situated in the High Tatra Mountains on the slopes of Horwacki Wierch summit.

Equipment for caver-amateurs

When planning a visit to a cave we must remember especially about proper light. The best solution is a headlight torch. It allows you to move freely around, especially in those places where we need our hands to manage through more difficult passages. It is good to take a spare source of light - another headlight torch or a hand torch. Moving around without light even in a small cave is very dangerous or even impossible.

Another important element is a helmet protecting the head. You may use special cave and climbing helmets, bike helmets or those used in industry. Except for the fact that it protects the head in the event of of hitting a cave vault it is suitable to install your headlight torch there.

You must remember about proper clothing. Cavers use special one-piece suits. For visiting places suitable for tourists normal warm clothing is enough on condition that it protects us from cold and grazes, especially in caves where we plan to move on our knees. It's good to have gloves.

Safe visiting

Remember! Passing through caves that are not suitable for mass movement may be dangerous. Visiting vertical caves without proper equipment and experience in using it may result in a serious fall and even in a deadly one!

When planning a cave trip you should remember a few basic rules

Regardless of the size of caves (small or bigger) you plan to visit - you must never go there alone.Tell somebody about your plans, give the name of the cave and its location, and tell them at what time you plan to come back.If you can you should take a map of the cave.Never enter unknown or unmarked parts of the cave if you are not well prepared. Squeezing into unknown corridors, especially those heading downward, is very risky. Don't overestimate your strength as coming back might prove very difficult or even impossible. This is why it is safer to pass through these parts with your legs pointing forward - this technique significantly limits your field of vision but it allows you to go backwards with no bigger problems.Vertically-oriented caves are the most dangerous ones, especially if they go along vertical, deep and narrow fissures where subsequent levels create shelves and bridges from trapped blocks and stone debris.When going up the vertical elements of a cave there is always a danger that some stones may be knocked off, which is why the rule must be applied that other participants remain beyond the reach of those stones.When visiting a cave you must strictly obey the rules of nature protection. It is unacceptable to destroy deposits in any form or to put inscriptions on the walls.You should remember as well not to disturb the bats living in the cave. In winter, from November until April, some of the caves are closed to tourists.When visiting a cave within the area of a national park you must obey the rules of the given park. Within the area of the Tatra National Park the following caves are accessible to tourists - Mylna, Mroźna, Obłazkowa, Raptawicka and Dziura. You can find information about other caves on http://www.tpn.pl/pl/zwiedzaj/taternictwo/news/111/Taternictwo-jaskiniowe
In the Pieniny National Park visiting caves is forbidden. http://www.pieninypn.pl/?id=30297&location=f&msg=1&lang_id=PL

If you want more

Organising climbing trips to more difficult and more vertically-developed caves requires using climbing equipment. Going down requires rolling equipment, while going up requires different types of clamping equipment. Both when going up or down, specially-designed gear made of nylon tape is required (different from the one used in wall climbing) Disregarding safety rules and exploring vertical wells without proper preparation and equipment constitute serious danger to the health and life of the trip participants. Skills may be acquired under the watchful eye of an instructor during approved adequate courses where you can learn cave and alpine techniques, spotting, self-rescue, and first aid in both summer and winter. During such courses, participants take part in at least 8 caving activities, including at least 4 of them in vertical caves and at least 3 in winter conditions. The courses are organised only by schools and clubs associated with the Polish Alpinism Association. They last about one year. More information on www.pza.org.pl.

 

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