5 things to know if you’re interested in exploring caves in Huntsville

Southeastern Cave Conservancy
Learn how to cave like a pro. (Southeastern Cave Conservancy / Facebook)

You’re probably familiar with Huntsville’s great mountain views, but did you know that the Rocket City has an extensive network of caves, too?

Huntsville is also the headquarters for the National Speleological Society, a group dedicated to promoting safe, responsible caving across the nation. Here’s what the NSS has to say about getting involved in caving:

1. Do it safely

Cathedral Cavern cave
My experience with caves is limited to this 2019 trip to Cathedral Caverns in Scottsboro. (Emily Phillips / Hville Blast)

The NSS has safety tips regarding all types of potential safety hazards, from environmental impact to personal injury. Here’s a summary:

  • Clean your caving gear before and after going into a cave to avoid spreading White Nose Syndrome, a disease that affects cave bats in several states.
  • Never cave alone. Always go with a group and stay together.
  • Have three points of contact between your body and any uneven surface you’re attempting to move across.
  • Have an emergency plan. Things to plan for include getting lost, hypothermia, flooding, falling rocks, losing light and falling.
  • Tell someone your plans in case of emergency.
  • If there is an emergency, call 911. Local authorities should be your first point of contact.

2. Be responsible

Cave frog
Be mindful of the wildlife that calls the cave home. (Southeastern Cave Conservancy / Facebook)

Caves are rich ecosystems abounding with plant and animal life. As such, they should be treated with respect. The NSS has published caving guidelines for explorers looking to limit their impact on the caves they explore. These guidelines include:

  • Use freshly washed, soft gear
  • Do not leave behind any trash or waste
  • Do not disturb bats or other wildlife
  • No smoking, recreational drugs or alcohol
  • Do not light campfires inside caves or near the entrance to a cave
  • Wear gloves
  • Stay on the trail
  • Touch as little as possible
  • Do not take anything from the cave

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy is another organization working to preserve cave ecosystems in and around Huntsville. Their site has information on cave ecosystems, endangered species, historical and archaeological finds and more.

3. Get the right equipment

Check out the NSS’s equipment checklist for the full rundown of what you should bring caving. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Helmet
  • Helmet-mounted light
  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • Gloves
  • Knee and elbow pads
  • Drinking water
  • Whistle
  • First aid kit
  • Cave map
  • Compass
  • Backup batteries, lights and lightbulbs

4. Learn about cave rescue

HCRU cave
The HCRU will train you to execute important rescue missions. (Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit / Facebook)

The Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit is an all-volunteer nonprofit that provides cave rescue training to groups and individuals in the greater Huntsville area. The HCRU is not an emergency medical agency, but does provide assistance to local authorities in emergency situations.

The HCRU teaches regular classes on cave rescue, the single rope technique and hauls + lowers. Here’s the info on upcoming classes:

Rescue Technician: Cave Rescue I/II

Or, head to a weekly hands-on training session with the HCRU. Trainings typically happen on Tuesday evenings but locations and topics vary, so email training@hcru.org to find out where the next one will be.

5. Join the local grotto

Huntsville grotto cave
You might just find your new best friends. (Mark Ostrander / Huntsville Grotto Facebook Group)

The NSS has grottos all over the nation that will help you get connected to cavers in your area. The Huntsville Grotto schedules two trips each month: a beginner-friendly “Horizontal” trip, and a “Vertical” trip for more specialized cavers.

Join the Huntsville Grotto’s public Facebook group and keep up with the grotto’s website for all things caving in North Alabama. The group also holds meetings at the NSS every month. Here are the deets:

Memberships to the grotto are $15/year for individuals and $20/year for families. Apply to join now.

Are you ready to get caving in Huntsville? Share all your subterranean photos with us by tagging @hvilleblast and using #hvilleblast.

Emily Phillips
Emily Phillips
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