Exploring caves is perhaps one of the most exciting things that a person can do, and there's no denying that there's a certain thrill of descending deeper into the earth. While some are more uncomfortable with this feeling of being secluded and shut-in, there are others whose drive to see what exists there keeps them from panicking. And when it comes to cave exploration, this is a necessary quality in a person.

However, the ability to remain calm while exploring a cave doesn't always mean that a person shouldn't be prepared for the worst-case scenario. There have been many instances when someone was exploring their local cave or even exploring a cave with a tour and has gotten turned around or disoriented. It might be exciting to check out that local cave in the backwoods nearby, but there are also some things to know before wandering in.

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What Happens If You Get Disoriented?

It happens. Just as one can become disoriented while scuba diving (one should always be prepared for open-water diving), it's just as easy to do so beneath the earth's surface. Caves are not an exact science and while their environments can be pretty linear, when every passageway tends to look the same, it's not as easy to navigate as one might think.

To start, here are some tips to maintain one's sense of direction when exploring a cave:

  • On the way in, leave behind markers. These can be in the form of rock piles or even scratches or markings on the wall (something eco-friendly - caves are delicate environments). This way, it's easy to find one's way back by following the guides that were left behind, in the first place. If the cave is dark, consider leaving glow sticks in certain areas and crossroads.
  • Don't go in alone. Even if the cave is small, it's never a good idea to explore any underground system without another person. It's called the buddy system, and it exists for a reason - if one person gets lost or becomes unable to find their way out, it's always better to have someone else there.

Already Lost?

There are ways to navigate a cave without the use of a map. After all, people did it long before our time with only the use of a torch and their keen sense of direction. According to How Stuff Works, more often than not, cave rescues are successful and rescuers are able to locate lost parties in plenty of time. In the event that it does happen, here's how to deal with it.

First Of All, Don't Panic

It's far easier said than done, this much is a well-known fact. However, it's true in any event that a person is lost regardless of whether it's in a busy street or somewhere underground. Panicking will only force the body into fight or flight mode which helps in situations where adrenaline is needed - but not when directions are needed. Remaining calm will delay that response and allow cave explorers to re-evaluate and think about the situation clearly, without a panic-response - which could be running or trying to retrace steps - occurring. Panicking also increases the rate of one's breath which, obviously, is a bad idea in a cave where the oxygen supply is already lower than what it is above ground.

Look For Cave Clues

Believe it or not, caves do give off clues if one knows where to look for them. For starters, it's sometimes easy to find a way out by looking for places where light streams in. This is usually a pretty good indication that even if hikers are lost, they're still close enough to the surface to be seeing sunlight in one form or another. Another tip is to be still enough to detect airflow or any kind of air movement. Usually, the deeper into a cave one goes, the less airflow there will be (which is why most caves are damp and stagnant); any indication of airflow is indicative that the right way out is closer than one might think. A lighter is a good thing to have on hand when exploring a cave because any noticeable flicker in the flame will show where the airflow is coming from.

Pack Layers And Let Someone Know Beforehand

Caves can get chilly, and if a person ends up stuck inside of one, it can get downright cold, fast. Therefore, layers are absolutely necessary. Damp environments mean bad news for someone who's cold and at risk for hypothermia, even if the average temperature doesn't feel all that unbearable.

Additionally, an extra precaution is to alert someone of where hikers plan to go, how long they'll plan to be there, and when they might be returning. This way, if that doesn't happen, someone on the outside knows to alert a rescue service.

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