Vertical caving is a challenging activity that requires specialized skills and equipment. There’s a lot to learn for vertical caving to make things easier and safer. In this article, I’ll give a brief overview of the core techniques for vertical caving and what they involve.
If you are ready to get started caving, be sure to read my Beginners Guide and check out my recommended gear section.
Single Rope Technique (SRT)
The Single Rope Technique (SRT) is one of the most popular and commonly used techniques for vertical caving. It involves using a single rope attached to an anchor point at the top of the cave or cliff. Then the caver descends using a mechanical device, like a descender or rack to control the speed of the descent.
SRT is a versatile technique used in many situations, from small vertical drops to deep caves. It also allows cavers to easily ascend the rope using a prusik or another ascending device.
Double Rope Technique (DRT)
The Double Rope Technique (DRT) is another popular technique for vertical caving. You use two ropes attached to separate anchor points at the top of the cave or cliff. Then you descend one rope while the other acts as a backup safety line.
DRT is a safer technique than SRT as it provides a backup safety line in case of equipment failure. However, it requires more equipment and is usually slower than SRT.
Tandem rappelling is a technique where two cavers descend a rope simultaneously. It’s useful for beginners and cavers who are less experienced with SRT or DRT. It provides an opportunity for inexperienced cavers to learn from a more experienced partner.
Tandem rappelling requires a specialized rappel device, like a rescue eight, that can accommodate two ropes.
Simul rappelling is when two cavers descend two separate ropes simultaneously. This technique is useful for large groups or expeditions where multiple cavers need to descend at the same time.
Simul rappelling requires two separate anchor points and two separate rappel devices. It requires coordination and communication between the cavers to ensure a safe descent.
Free Hanging Rappelling
Free-hanging rappelling is a technique where you descend without touching the wall or surface of the cave or cliff. It’s used when there is no solid surface to stand on, or when you need to descend a very deep vertical drop.
Free hanging rappelling requires a specialized rigging system, such as a flying fox or tyrolean traverse allows you to safely descend without touching the wall.
System assembly is used in vertical caving to create a series of anchored ropes and safety lines that allow you to navigate through difficult or vertical passages. This technique involves drilling bolts or anchors into the rock face and connecting them with ropes or cables.
You’ll need to thoroughly assess the cave or cliff face to identify suitable anchor points. Once identified, drill holes into the rock and insert bolts or anchors. Then you’ll connect bolts are then with ropes or cables to create a series of safety lines and anchor points for navigating through the passage.
System assembly requires specialized equipment, including drills, bolts, and cables. You’ll need to have a thorough understanding of anchor placement, rope rigging, and safety procedures to ensure a secure and reliable system.
This technique allows cavers to safely navigate through otherwise inaccessible, difficult, or vertical passages and provides greater flexibility in route planning.
However, it can be time-consuming and labor-intensive to set up and may not be practical or feasible in all situations. Some cavers prefer to rely on natural anchors and features instead of installing their own bolts and anchors.
If you need to modify an existing anchor system in caving, system adjustment is a technique that you can use to do it. It involves making changes to the rope system, like repositioning anchor points, adjusting rope lengths, and making other modifications to improve safety and navigation.
Carefully assess the existing anchor system and identify areas that need modification. Look for areas where ropes are too tight or loose, and check for anchor points that need to be repositioned. These are just a few examples of system adjustment.
Once you’ve pinpointed the areas that require modification, you can make the necessary changes to the rope system. This might include moving anchor points, adjusting rope lengths, or adding new anchor points as required.
System adjustment is a useful technique for improving safety and navigation in an existing anchor system. But it’s crucial to prioritize safety and ensure that any modifications you make are done in a way that does not compromise the integrity of the anchor system.
Efficient Ascending In Caves
Ascending is a key skill in caving and requires good technique to do it efficiently. The goal of efficient ascending is to use as little energy as possible while still making progress up the rope.
Ensuring that your equipment is properly set up and adjusted. This includes checking that your ascenders are attached to your harness and the rope and that the rope is threaded through them.
Next, focus on your body positioning. Keep your body close to the rope, with your knees bent and your weight centered over your feet. Use your legs to push up, rather than pulling up with your arms to conserve energy and be more efficient.
You can also use techniques like foot-locking, frogging, or rope-walking to make progress up the rope more efficiently. These techniques involve alternating between using your arms and legs to push up the rope and can help you move more quickly and with less effort.
Using the right equipment can also help with ascending efficiency. Lightweight ascenders, thin ropes, and gear with low friction can all make a difference in conserving energy while ascending.
It’s important to remember that efficient ascending requires practice and experience. Start with short ascents and gradually work your way up to longer climbs as you build up your strength and technique.
Self-Management of Bottom Tension
This technique helps to maintain proper tension on the rope while ascending or descending and helps prevent accidents and increases efficiency.
To manage bottom tension, start by ensuring that your equipment is properly set up and adjusted. This includes checking that your descender is properly attached to your harness and the rope and that the rope is threaded through it correctly.
Next, focus on your body positioning. Keep your weight centered over your feet and use your legs to control your speed by pushing against the rope. This can help to maintain consistent tension on the rope and prevent sudden drops or jerks.
You can also use techniques such as bouncing or feathering to adjust your tension while on the rope. Bouncing involves gently bouncing on the rope to maintain tension, while feathering involves releasing tension from the rope in small increments.
It’s important to remember that managing bottom tension requires practice and experience. Start with short descents and gradually work your way up to longer ones as you build up your technique and confidence.
In addition to proper technique, using the right equipment can also help with managing bottom tension. A descender with reasonable friction control and a dynamic rope can both make a difference in maintaining proper tension.
Self-management of bottom tension in caving requires proper equipment setup, good body positioning, and the use of appropriate techniques. Maintain consistent tension on the rope and use the right equipment for safety and efficiency while on a rope.
Downclimbing allows cavers to safely descend steep or difficult sections of cave passages. Here are some tips to improve your downclimbing technique:
Choose your route carefully by looking for secure hands and footholds and plan your route before you start. Consider the angle of the slope and the distance between the hand and footholds to ensure a safe and efficient descent.
Maintain three points of contact with the rock at all times. This means always having two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot in contact with the rock to help distribute your weight evenly and maintain control.
Use your legs to control your speed while downclimbing and keep your weight centered over your feet and use your leg muscles to lower yourself down the slope, rather than relying solely on your arms.
Aim for secure, weight-bearing hand holds rather than small or loose ones. Take your time and don’t rush, especially in difficult or exposed sections of the cave.
Communicate with your fellow cavers and use appropriate gear like helmets and harnesses. Make sure your ropes and anchors are secure before descending.
So choose your route carefully, maintain three points of contact, use your legs for control, and communicate with your team to ensure a safe and successful descent.
Descending (including techniques for managing friction)
Managing friction is crucial for a safe and efficient descent. Here are some techniques to help you manage friction while descending:
Choose the appropriate equipment for your descent. Confirm that your rope and descender are suitable for your weight and the conditions of the cave. A thicker rope provides more friction and control, while a thinner rope allows for a faster descent.
Use proper technique while descending by keeping your body weight centered over your feet and using your legs to control your speed, rather than relying on your arms. Keep your elbows in and your body close to the rock to reduce air resistance and improve control.
Use a braking technique to manage friction and control your descent speed. Braking includes a variety of techniques like adding friction with your hand or glove or using a specific descending device with adjustable friction.
Another way to manage friction is to use natural features of the cave, like ledges or bumps on the rock, to slow your descent. This requires careful route selection and awareness of your surroundings.
Be aware of your body position and weight distribution and make sure your weight is evenly distributed by avoiding twisting or turning, which will cause rope friction and reduce control.
Descender lock-off is a technique used to stop the descent of a caver on a rope. It is important to master this technique in case of emergencies or to take a break during a descent. Here are some tips to help you perform a successful descender lock-off:
Verify that you’re using a descender appropriate for your weight and the cave conditions. A descender that’s too small may not hold your weight, while one that’s too large may be difficult to control.
Ensure that your anchor is secure and that the rope is rigged correctly to prevent any unnecessary movement or slipping during the lock-off.
To perform the lock-off, bring the brake hand down and away from the descender while maintaining tension on the rope. Use your other hand to pull the rope towards your body until it is locked in place against the descender.
Maintain a firm grip on the rope with your brake hand and release your other hand only after you have verified that the lock-off is secure.
To release the lock-off, let go of the rope with your brake hand and allow the rope to slide through the descender. You can also release the lock-off by slightly lifting the rope with your other hand and releasing the tension.
Practice the descender lock-off technique in a controlled environment before attempting it in the field.
Mastering these techniques is crucial for ensuring a safe and efficient descent into a cave. You must be qualified with the necessary skills to assemble and adjust your equipment and be able to ascend and descend with maximum efficiency.
Self-management of bottom tension, downclimbing, and the use of descender lock-off techniques are essential components of successful vertical caving.
By developing an understanding of these techniques and putting them into practice, you can safely and effectively explore the depths of a cave.
When you’re ready to get started caving, be sure to read my Beginners Guide and check out my recommended gear section.