Tampa Bay Area Grotto

New Member Orientation:

Welcome message from the president:
Thank you for your interest in caving.  Whether an experienced caver, or new to the sport, we welcome your participation.  Below we have prepared some general orientation materials that may be of assistance.  Take a look at your leisure, and welcome to the group.

Formed in 1983, the Tampa Bay Area Grotto (TBAG), affectionately called “teabag” was the 295th member of the National Speleological Society.  Our Newsletter, the Tampa Bay Caver, was first published in June of 1983.  Over the years the grotto has had varying levels of activity including, teaching seminars on bats, cave fauna, horizontal and vertical caving, as well as numerous activities relating to cave preservation and hosting statewide cavorts.

To promote interest in, and further in any and all ways, the study and science of speleology, the protection of caves and their natural contents, and to promote safe caving and fellowship among all interested parties.

Our meetings are held every other month at various members homes and typically alternate between Hillsborough and Hernando County.  Meetings/Programs start at 7:30pm and run about 2 hours.

Meeting minutes are posted on our YAHOO Group site.

Once your application has been accepted and processed, you will be contacted via e-mail to join our on-line discussion group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TBAGrotto).  This yahoo list-serve is our primary means of ongoing communication.  For this reason, an e-mail account is a real must to effectively stay in the loop between meetings. YOU CANNOT ACCESS  ALL OF THE YAHOO DISCUSSION GROUP UNTIL YOU HAVE RECEIVED AN ELECTRONIC INVITATION TO DO SO.  Membership in this group is limited to members in good standing and remains a confidential source of information.

Our newsletter, the Tampa Bay Caver is published and distributed electronically.  You can view older copies when you join the YAHOO Group./

Learning to Cave:
Unlike ‘Spelunking’, considered by many to be an untrained and unequipped “flashlight” style hobby, ‘Caving’ is intended for the more serious hobbyist and professional alike.  It means learning to cave safely by trained and experienced people.  We recommend that you start at the novice level cave (Withlacoochee,  for example, has a host of novice caves such as Boy Scout Cave, Dr Dames cave, Peace Cave etc)  These will give you a safe vehicle in which to learn and test yourself underground.  Likewise White Cliff is a more extensive cave system in Ocala that would be a step up in level of difficulty while still staying within the realm of a Novice cave.  From here your options will open up as grotto members lead trips to various caves throughout the state.  Vertical caving requires additional skills, and climbing techniques can be learned and practiced at grotto meetings.  In addition to Florida, trips go to other states throughout the year, with more extensive and skill laden caves.  Although not for everyone, it can be a fun hobby that more and more people are beginning to experience.

Each year, one area grotto in Florida hosts a caving get-together.  This is typically a Friday night through Sunday camping experience with activities throughout the weekend.  There are usually multiple cave trips set up, as well as other activities, competitions, and general fun for all.

Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia are commonly referred to as the TAG states.  These states collectively have well over 10,000 known caves and more are being discovered all the time.  There is an annual TAG meeting as well and trips to TAG which come up throughout the year.  These tend to be larger caves than we have in Florida, and many (but not all) require vertical climbing skills.

The group is committed to safety and expects all members to wear helmets in the caves.  We have 10 loaner helmets for your use while you decide on purchasing one yourself.  In addition, three equivalent quality light sources are a must.  At least one will be mounted on your helmet.  Many cavers have the second and/or third light source similarly mounted on their helmets.  You should also have backup batteries for your light sources.

In terms of trip planning, cavers should let someone top-side know where you are and when you expect to be you out of the cave.  Cell phones and the like will not work underground (although compasses often do) By leaving a plan with someone topside you assure that you will be missed in the event of a major accident or getting lost.

You should have at least three (prefer four) people to enter a cave.  If an accident occurs, one to stay with a victim and one to go for help.  As you will likely be going with organized trips, the topside plan and minimum number of cavers will likely not be an issue until you begin to explore caves on your own.

Because of the inherent dangers of cave exploration, we do require that all members and participants sign a waiver to enter a cave.

As you start into the sport, you can get by with a minimum of equipment.  As you learn more and more, you will likely purchase and acquire additional equipment.  Your helmet and redundant light sources are the principle pieces of equipment.  Often beginner cavers retrofit helmets from other sports and jury rig lighting systems.  There are many manufacturers and suppliers of quality equipment.  We suggest you not skimp on this aspect of the hobby as falls and failed light sources can become serious issues in a subterranean environment.

Some common light sources and helmets are made by Petzl, Black Diamond, Pro Tech  and others.  A commonly used helmet is the erin rock, but many other varieties are available.  Climbing equipment, such as is used by arborists, is also acceptable gear.

Vermeer and Bill Jacksons each sell some equipment locally.  Also, Inner Mountain Outfitters and Karst Sports are two excellent on-line resources. (See below)

Additional considerations would be gloves, a small preferably waterproof backpack, knee pads, and elbow pads.  Finally many people like to take cameras into the caves. While cave photography is a large topic unto itself, suffice it to say that this sport is hard on equipment and particularly hard on expensive camera equipment.  A hard waterproof case, such as a Pelican or Otterbox, are necessary items to protect your investment and can now be purchased at most sporting good stores.

Finally, climbing gear is a significant consideration for the serious caver. This is well beyond the scope of this brief primer.

We keep cave locations confidential in order to protect the cave systems themselves as well as to avoid having untrained people risking injury or death.  Thus cave locations are something that you will learn one by one as various trips are set up.  As you become of aware of these systems, we ask that you likewise not disclose their locations to those that might damage or recklessly enter those locations.

There are inherent risks associated with both dry caving as well as cave diving.  While we take all precautions to try to minimize those risks, accidents do happen.  To participate on our trips you will be required to sign a consent document and waiver to participate.

Your annual dues are $10 for the first person and 1 dollar for each additional family member.  The first year there is also a one time $5 fee to help us with the cost of our equipment and processing.


Other Agencies:
The National Speleological Society (NSS) has a web site and produces a membership catalog and monthly magazine.  You can join on-line and will have access to a host of additional resources. The web site has a nice primer on responsible caving at http://www.caves.org/brochure/grc.pdf

Web Site:
Our web address is http://www.caves.org/grotto/tbag/

We have a president, secretary, and treasurer elected by conventional vote.  These individuals constitute the executive committee and are listed on our web site.  Their phone number addresses and e-mails are similarly listed.

Medical Considerations of Caving:
There are many myths associated with caves and caving.  Attack bats, monsters, lions, tigers, snakes and bears.  Of course there are a number of real medical considerations.

First and foremost are injuries.  From bruises, contusions, up to fractures and head trauma.  Falls and traumatic injuries are amongst the most commonly reported medical considerations of caving.  Other issues include bad air (hypoxemia) , inhaled infections agents (histoplasmosis), hypothermia or exposure, and dehydration.  Proper knowledge of the cave and safe techniques will help minimize these and other risks.

Bad air can be assessed by lighting a match or lighter in the cave.  As the oxygen concentration decreases, the flame moves farther and farther from the source.  This is an indication to leave the cave and report the finding.

Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection that can give individuals flu like symptoms.  Those with underlying lung damage (smokers for example) can actually get a chronic form of the infection.  Experienced cavers know which caves have this fungus growing.  While not a large problem in Florida, it is something to be aware of.  Bat droppings harbor the fungus that is then inhaled by the unwary caver.  In caves where this is known to exist, respirators are needed and other special precautions.

Hypothermia is a condition of the unprepared.  Carrying water into the cave and supplies to sustain yourself for a brief period will minimize this risk.  A plastic bag kept in your helmet can be used as a thermal barrier in the event of exposure and is also good for cleaning up garbage and the like.

Finally, cavers should carry a small first aid kit into the caves.  Duct tape flat packs are handy for a multitude of make shift repairs.

Written by Bruce Flareau, Edited by Dennis Carney

We care about caves, their contents, and the safety of all who visit them.

Copyright 2013, Tampa Bay Area Grotto of the National Speleological Society
Last Updated April 2013