Cave Trip Planning Guide

Purpose: State & document best practices for the organization of DC Grotto cave trips. This should answer the question: How do I plan and organize a cave trip for the grotto?

Safety: This guide does not address the most important topic of safety, nor of cave conservation. By the time you consider coordinating a trip, it's assumed that you know what you're doing in caves - specifically, in the cave(s) you're considering to enter.

Planning:   So here's guidance on how to best coordinate a trip for the DC Grotto.

  1. Plan your trip well in advance. You might begin three months before the date you're considering.
    • Consult the grotto's calendar. If there are other trips with which your trip might compete, attendance on one or both trips might be lower than it otherwise would.
    • The Limited Cave Access List is on the VAR website.   It doesn't give guidance on what cave to visit, but it's good to get into the habit of checking it before every trip.
    • What's your backup plan: cancellation or another specific cave? You don't have to announce this, but you'll streamline the process if you begin thinking about one early.
    • Chat with the grotto Gearmaster to borrow helmets w/ lights.   Anyone participating on a properly-announced grotto trip may borrow grotto gear.   In case the gear is already promised to another trip, have this chat before announcing your own trip.   Arrange specifically how you're going to get the gear from him.
  2. To help get good attendance, announce your trip well in advance.   When possible, two months of notice is really helpful.
    • Mandate that each caver under 18 years old be accompanied in-cave by at least one of their own parents or _legal_ guardians - not someone else's.   Sitting at the entrance does not count; they must cave.
    • Limit the trip to X cavers.   Tip: Instead of counting X total cavers, it's often best for the leader to count Y inexperienced cavers plus Z experienced cavers.   Initially, limit X to a low, safe number, for which you know you'll surely have enough experienced cavers.   Then, as the signup progresses, you can increase X by a few if you get enough experienced cavers to safely cover the number of inexperienced cavers.
    • If you *don't* announce the meeting time/place, cavers will be forced to contact you to sign up. (That's a good thing.)   Then you can ask them about their experience level, provide any details you left out of the flier, and repeat any details that need emphasis.
    • See the web page for examples.   If you first send your draft to a respected, experienced trip organizer first, he or she will usually be happy to review it.   That often pays off!
    • Post an announcement on the listserv.   From there, the Webmaster will pick it up and add it to the "Upcoming Highlights" part of the main web page.   If it's posted well enough in advance, the Editor will also pick it up from the listserv and include it in the Speleograph.
  3. During signup, discuss with each potential caver his or her experience level and capabilities, unless they're already well-known to you. Experience level isn't just a number ("2 caves") or a word ("intermediate"); it's one necessary way for you to filter potential attendees to the specific nature of your trip. Does he/she have gear? Ask about any medical needs or concerns. You'll need to know from each caver and accompanying parent/guardian:
    • Name;
    • 18 yrs old? (Y/N);
    • Experience level (in your words);
    • Relevant medical needs/concerns;
    • Gear needs;
    • Contact information: City or neighborhood*, email, and regular & cell phone numbers.
    (*  The rough address will help when it comes time for folks to organize carpools.)   When you're satisfied that the caver is a good match for your trip, provide him/her with the exact meeting time and precise location. Arrange how to be in contact with each caver just before departing for the trip, in case of bad weather, etc.
  4. After signup begins:
    • Arrange for a signin/signout person. (This is someone who will be in town during the trip; who will not attend the trip; who knows the contact information of several respected, local cavers who will be in town during the trip; and who has emergency contact information such as cave rescue numbers.) Communicate details such as what cave(s) you'll enter, approximately where they are, the expected dates/times you expect enter and exit the cave, the date/time you expect to contact this person with the expected "everyone's out" message, and the information you collected from each caver during the signup process.
    • If necessary, begin writing good (verified) directions to the meeting place. As with everything else here, if you're in doubt, ask someone who knows.
  5. When the signup is full or, at the latest, about a week before the trip, check the Limited Cave Access List again. Discuss with the Gearmaster how much loaner gear is required, and get it.
  6. About a week before the trip, check the weather. Consider your backup plan. Contact the cavers to confirm their attendance and contact info. Provide the directions.
  7. A couple days before the trip, check the weather again. If appropriate, begin to activate your backup plan.
  8. Just before you go, check the weather again! Contact the signin/signout person with the final information on your plan, state exactly who is attending, and reconfirm the details - especially the date/time you expect to contact this person with the expected "everyone's out" message.
  9. As soon as reasonably possible after exiting the cave, be sure to contact the signin/signout person to state that everyone on the trip is out of _______ Cave (or appropriate communication).

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Page last updated or verified on December 5, 2021