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How are Caves Mapped

PostPosted: Sep 14, 2020 10:34 pm
by spinlessnoob
So I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about caving. I came across the story of the death of John Jones in Nutty Putty Cave. I watched a video of a group of people filming the themselves traversing the cave, moving through a narrow region barely wide enough for a human torso called the ‘birth canal’ which eventually widens into a larger room. I’ve attached a YouTube link if you are interested (old video, poor quality). The cave has since closed for obvious reasons.

So my question is not about this incident actually, but rather how cave systems like this are mapped out. A quick google search reveals a fairly detailed map of Nutty Putty Cave that I suspect was developed after the cave became popular - the cave was discovered back in 1960. Is it likely that people traversed these extremely narrow passages without the knowledge that there would be openings later on for them to turn around in? In modern cave exploration are there specialized tools for testing narrow passages? Are there standardized metrics used to measure the risk of particular cave systems? How do cavers in unexplored areas decide when it is too dangerous to proceed? If you are at all familiar with the story, did poor mapping or signage contribute to the incident?

I’m quite curious about all of this so any information is welcome.


Re: How are Caves Mapped

PostPosted: Sep 16, 2020 6:12 am
by trogman
Hi spinelessnoob, welcome to the forum! (I like the name :laughing: )

You ask a number of good questions, and I will not attempt to answer all of them. With regards to the tragic story of Nutty Putty Cave, it is my understanding that Mr. Jones made a simple and very consequential mistake. He navigated a tight, downward-sloping passage headfirst, which made it nearly impossible to back up once he got stuck. When cavers negotiate such tight spots, most of us know better than to go headfirst, because if you have to reverse course, it is much easier doing so with your arms and head pointing uphill than downhill.
I've gotten stuck a few times in some tight spots in caves, but always managed to work my way out. Gravity is your friend until it isn't. It is so much easier to get into a tight spot going down than it is to try and get out going up! One time I got stuck and wrestled with getting out for ~20 minutes. Finally I realized that my primary sticking point was my pants and my belt. So I did what I had to do to get free. :tonguecheek:
When exploring a new and unknown cave (what we call "virgin" passage), one never knows what lies ahead. That is what makes caving fun and such a great adventure! Think Neil Armstrong or Captain Kirk, who boldly went where no man had gone before. But when doing so, one must always proceed with the utmost caution to minimize risk. Even with modern cave exploration, there really is no substitute for actually going through the opening to see what is on the other side.

Trogman :helmet: