Code blue! You need to bug out. You head for the hills. You find a cave—can you stay in it? In the event of an emergency, it’s quite possible that a cave can offer a prepper a temporary place to stay and wait out the situation. To find out more about using caves as a refuge, we contacted Roger Brucker, cave explorer and author of the books “The Caves Beyond” and “The Longest Cave.” Read on to find out what he has to say about this valuable source of shelter.
The importance of stability
Safety is a No. 1 priority if you want to take refuge in a cave. It’s imperative that you’re able to recognize whether a cave is safe to enter. People often think that mines can be caved; however, mines pose a serious safety hazard due to instability. “The reason mines are unstable is because they have been dynamited and blasted through tunnels, and as a result, the shockwaves tend to crack the rocks around them,” says Brucker.
Caves, on the other hand, are generally created by moving water. When the water leaves the cave, anything unstable leaves the cave with it in the form of breakdown. This leaves the cave as typically being extremely stable, Brucker says. “You may find that erosion has caused surface issues around the entrances,” he adds. “We often say ‘entrances are being created and closed all the time through erosion,’ but if it’s open, then you can typically assume the cave is sound.” Getting out and caving can go a long way in helping you should you find yourself in a bug- out situation that requires you to find shelter; you’ll know the ropes already!
Lions and tigers and bears
If your first vision of a cave involves a four-legged squatter who doesn’t want you to go inside, you may believe in fairy tales. “The fact that caves are often home to furry creatures is a myth,” Brucker says. “I suppose, in some climates, there may be caves in which bears hibernate, but that’s only in an area with bears. I have never encountered something furry upon entering a cave in all my years of cave exploration,” he adds But just because a cave is bear-free doesn’t mean it’s ready to be inhabited as-is. “When it comes to naptime, sleeping in a cave is deemed safe, but keep in mind that you should bring along a sleeping bag for comfort and warmth,” Brucker says. “In addition, make sure you have potable water, which won’t typically be available in a cave.”
In a clutch, a cave can provide safety and a temporary dwelling. Just remember to choose carefully and take appropriate supplies, and you should be able to wait out a disaster in relative safety.
- If all of your lights fail, sit down and wait on the spot for help to come.
- Avoid jumping. Cave floors are seldom level, and a short jump may result in an injury.
- Carry a small first-aid kit. A large garbage bag or poncho will make a good heat tent using the heat from one candle or carbide lamp.
- If an immobilizing injury occurs, treat for shock (keep the injured caver warm) and contact the local rescue organization.
- Sitting still for long periods of time can cause hypothermia. Get moving, initiate activity.
- If you get lost, panic is your worst enemy. Remain calm, conserve light and if you followed the rule about leaving word with people, you will likely be OK.
If you’re planning on checking out caves for a day trip or you think you might need to bug-out in one, make sure you have the following equipment:
- Helmet: A hard hat equipped with a chin-strap and mounted with your primary source of light is required. The hard hat should be of good quality and meet UIAA standards.
- Back-up lights: At least two sources of backup light with spare parts are mandatory for safe caving; waterproof flashlights are a good choice.
- Footware: Shoes should be sturdy hiking or work boots with non-slip, lug soles with ankle support.
- Clothing: The temperature inside caves can get cold, so layer for extra warmth.
- Gloves: These will keep your hands clean and help minimize cuts and scrapes.
- Cave pack: A fanny pack of substantial strength or an old military pack is helpful in carrying needed extra equipment (water, food, flashlights, batteries, etc.)
- Food: Carry enough high-energy food for the length of the trip; it’s wise to carry some extra in case the trip takes longer than expected or in the event you become lost.