Scouts and Caving, Part 2
Tray Murphy (jgmurphy@RICHMOND.INFI.NET)
Thu, 28 Mar 1996 17:02:01 +0000
NOTE: This is Part 2 of a 2 part post.
Caving and Scouting...Part 2
For the cavers:
As I've said before, the requests to take Scout groups caving is not
going to go away. I do know that some cavers simply will not, under
any circumstances, take a youth group, or even any other non-caver
group underground. In this case, you're wasting your time reading
this, it won't change your mind, no matter what your reasons for your
decision: liability concerns, concern for the caves' well-being, lack
of equipment to loan, etc. Nor am I going to encourage groups to
contact you, or even suggest that you take them caving. What I do
ask, is that you at least consider the possibility, for reasons I'll
set out later.
Not all Scoutmasters are enemies. If you read the section intended
for them, you'll see some of the reasons why caving is such an
attractive activity, and where many of them are coming from when they
contact you and ask for a caving trip. Most all of them are looking
for an activity that is both educational, challenging, and exciting.
Their motives are 99.9% pure: they're trying to fulfill their
commitment to Scouting by providing the best possible environment for
young boys to grow into young men.
Some of the reasons we as cavers should consider fulfilling at least
some of the many requests to go caving are these: 1. We are, on the
whole, better educated about caves, and therefore better able to teach
the conservation and safety aspects to novices in a convincing way.
2. We have knowledge about which caves can safely be visited by novice
groups, and we keep up with landowners' wishes regarding how and when
their caves may be visited. 3. We have the resources available to
teach the general public about caves and cave resources, and dispel
some of the myths about caves and caving \ (and bats, too). 4. We
will undoubtedly have to rescue at least some of the people we refuse
(not that we should accept any and all requests). Some bull- headed
people never learn, and will try to go on their own, without any
preparation, and there's nothing we can do about it.
Probably the best way to explain this topic is to use our grotto's
method of accommodating requests to go caving (by any group, by the
way, not just Scouts). We have had an Education Committee for many
years to handle the requests, from initial contact until the trip
comes off. They also arrange public demonstrations, and schedule our
grotto display for outdoor shows, and other public events, such as
Earth Day. We are _not_ soliciting new cavers, we are merely
educating the public about caves and cave resources, and hoping to
reel in the few that are really interested in caving, and steer them
right from the beginning, as I was at 14 years old. Anyone who calls
our office, or contacts any member of the grotto about taking a group
caving is put in touch with the Education Chairman. The Chairman
explains our policies about age and numbers limits, and a few other
minor things. They also explain that for us to take them caving, we
require an orientation by a grotto member about the trip. Then, dates
are negotiated. The Chairman is responsible for finding a trip leader
(from a pool of cavers who have indicated a willingness to take
groups, and who, in many cases, go out with more experienced trip
leaders to learn cave routes, and techniques for dealing with the
groups). Usually, a new leader will go on a trip as an "assistant
leader" to get used to working with crews of non-cavers.
We require an orientation meeting or two, especially with youth
groups. We have developed a scripted slide show that any member can
present to a group with only a little preparation. It covers
everything from how caves are formed, conservation of resources and
why, what formations are, biota, and the human history of cave
exploration. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to present. Then, we go
over cave safety, more conservation, and give out an equipment list.
Every item is required to be supplied by the participants: proper
clothing, extra lighting, food, water, extra light sources, and
batteries. We, as a grotto, supply helmets with mounted electric
light sources. We are not afraid to refuse to take someone
underground who shows up ill-prepared for the trip. SAFETY COMES
FIRST!!! This orientation usually takes about 30-45 minutes, which is
why we usually take up two Scout meetings. It also provides a
different program for the Scoutmaster for 2 weeks. We never supply
maps, directions to caves, or other information directly to group
leaders. If they make a map to the cave as they drive, there's
nothing we can do about that. Hopefully, the orientation teaches them
that you must have more than just a map to the cave to cave safely.
We limit trips to one per group per year. Usually, we
won't take Scout troops more than once for several years. Participants
with Scout troops must be 14 or older, and _we_ require First Class
rank. The rank requirement weeds out slackers who don't participate
in the Scouting program except when it is "exciting". You get a
better bunch of kids this way. The troop must supply two leaders to
go underground. That way, if there is an accident, the Scout leaders
can deal with the boys, and the cavers can deal with the emergency.
We take a minimum of two cavers, which is why we occasionally stretch
the group limit to 14 total - 2 cavers, 2 Scout leaders, 10 Scouts.
We do not camp underground. Our trips stress safety, conservation of
cave resources, and education about the cave. If it's exciting, too,
great. Usually, they boys are so engrossed with the formations and
other pretties, or so busy slogging through whatever fun the leader
has found now - a nice mud crawl, or a belly crawl through a stream,
that they are having fun, whether they realize it now or not!
Picking the proper cave can be a chore. It's a good idea to pick
something with relatively large passages that a group can move through
fairly easily. Tight crawls slow _everything_ to a crawl, and the
guys in back get cold and anxious waiting their turn in the barrel.
The cave should _not_ be vertical at all. Some low exposure is OK,
but avoid slippery ledges that pitch off into a bottomless chasm.
Remember, these guys don't have the cave savvy that we cavers have to
move easily over the tough stuff. Belays really aren't much good with
an inexperienced group unless you are going to take the time to rig
them properly, and supervise the crossing of the heights. It's easier
and safer to find another route with less danger. Excitement doesn't
necessarily have to mean dangerous places where sure injury or death
can occur on a misstep. See my description of "simple novice
activities" in the Scoutmasters' Section of this paper for further
guidance. Base your selection on your best judgment of the groups'
capabilities and desires.
What about liability? That's a question best left for the lawyers,
but this what little I know about it. If you do not accept money to
take someone caving (and we do not even solicit a "maintenance
donation" for helmet use), you're only liable in cases of negligence,
i.e., where you go off and leave the group behind, or quit supervising
them, or take them somewhere they clearly don't belong (like the edge
of a 200 drop without vertical gear and training).** Of course,
anyone can sue for anything, and if little Johnny gets hurt
underground on your trip, someone will probably sue you for it.
Proper safety training can go a long way towards alleviating that
risk, witness our grotto's perfect safety record (and mine, too). You
can't ignore all, or duck all risk, just taking a group underground is
risky, and if you aren't comfortable leading groups because of this,
by all means explain this to a Scoutmaster. If you are a registered
Scout leader, working within your training and experience, and within
National BSA safety standards, they will help defend you, unless it is
clearly negligence or worse. Get yourself a copy of the Guide to Safe
Scouting from a local Scout Service Center, along with a copy of the
Venture Scout pamphlet Caving, and the Scout Fieldbook, both of which
have sections on caving in them. Also, get the NSS guidelines.
You'll know the rules, and if nothing else, you can fend off the
Scoutmaster who insists on taking the 11-year-old muchkins along with
you on the trip. Our grotto has helmet users sign a liability waiver,
but no state allows you to sign away your right to sue. The waiver
basically says that caving can be hazardous, and the participant
assumes these risks. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)
has an assumption of risk form - unlike a liability waiver, it spells
out in plain English the risks associated with caving, and tells
participants they must take responsibility for their actions in the
activities they engage in. Whether a judge will throw out a suit
against a leader if the plaintiff has signed such a form remains to be
seen. So, there is a risk involved in taking other groups caving, you
can't avoid it. It is a consideration. **Like I said, I'm not a
lawyer, if you are really concerned about this, contact a liability or
personal injury lawyer for more details. The liability lawyer will
give you the case law, the P.I. lawyer will tell you he'll sue no
matter what the merit of the case - you have to balance the two.
If you've made up your mind that neither you nor your grotto will take
non-caving groups underground, at least use a little tact when turning
down Scoutmasters or other group leaders. Part of the friction
between the groups stems from Scoutmasters insisting that they should
be taken no matter what, and the cavers insisting they won't, without
providing any further information. At least return the call, or send
a form letter _"We regret to inform you that we do not take outside
groups caving because_blah, blah, blah". Then, maybe the hostility
will not turn into an alt.caving or rec.scouting shouting match. If
you won't do it, explain why. A simple courtesy call saying "we're
afraid of being sued" at least does not promote the idea that we are
"elitists" of some sort.
Cavers and Scouters can co-exist. As with any outdoor adventure sport,
it will continue to grow. Scoutmasters can try to understand cavers'
fears of too many people heading underground, and cavers can try to
understand a Scoutmaster's desire to provide a vibrant, exciting
program to his troop. Working together, cavers can tap a huge reserve
of conservation-minded folks like themselves to help spread the word
about caving and the natural resources associated with caves. Scout
leaders can find a whole new adventure just waiting for his charges to
learn about and try out as a new learning experience. Let's just
douse the sparks, and keep the lines of communication open.
For more information:
Your local Scout Service Center
The National Speleological Society, Cave Ave., Huntsville, AL
The NSS Home Page: http://www.caves.org/
My home page, with links to other caving and Scouting resources on the
written by: Tray Murphy
Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 891, Bon Air, VA
Richmond Area Speleological Society, Richmond, VA
National Speleological Society, NSS#29211 Life member
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City