Tips to stay safe while exploring caves in the summer

Summer is one of the best and most popular times of the year to explore the many caves that Kentucky has to offer, including Bowling Green’s very own Lost River Cave. With all the beauty these caves have to offer, its easy to forget the dangers that can come with exploring caves as well, something evident by the recent news of a Thai soccer team that was trapped in a cave for ten days before being rescued. That kind of situation poses a question, though, to any one who visits caves, especially here in the Commonwealth–what should you do if you find yourself trapped in a cave? 

"If you were to get in there and find that maybe the waters are rising, you should immediately start heading towards your nearest exit," said Lost River Cave Nature Center Director Annie Holt, who has 26 years of caving experience. "If you find that you are blocked in, finding high ground would probably be the best."

There are several precautions Holt says people should take into account before embarking on an adventure in one of their local caves.

  • Be familiar with the cave/area you’re exploring
  • Travel with an experienced caver/someone who knows the area
  • Check the weather forecast – especially for heavy rain
  • Alert friends/family as to when/where you plan on caving, and when you expect to be back
  • Pack snacks and water

One of the common misconceptions about being trapped in a cave is that it’s normally caused by rocks collapsing and caving you in. However, the likeliest way of getting trapped stems from flooding during periods of heavy rainfall, which leads to the water levels in the cave’s rivers going rising up more than normal.

"During the rainy times, especially during the winter, when we are closed for tours, it’s going to be because of high water conditions," Holt said. 

Holt added that Lost River Cave has established several protocols, including checks of the river basin and the cave water levels, and holds bi-weekly safety meetings for all of their staff to ensure that were a situation in which guests were to get trapped, they’d be prepared to handle what would be a challenging situation to deal with.

"Our procedures are very precise," she said. "The staff is trained. They’re in there so often, and they are also very familiar with the mechanics of the dam so that they can keep an eye on those spillways, and know when it’s time to alert the entire staff."

If trying out caving and learning more about exploring caves is something you’re interested in, Holt recommends joining a caving grotto, which is a type of club that offers training and expertise in the field of caving, and offers the chance to meet more seasoned cave explorers who can be your guides through your local cave systems. The one grotto in Bowling Green is called the Green River Grotto