How to Keep A Cave Pristine... for as long as possible?

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How to Keep A Cave Pristine... for as long as possible?

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Nov 19, 2009 11:57 pm

Recently someone found a new cave nearby another popular cave. From the description(s) it's a relatively easy vertical cave and apparently was virgin when it was found as all the formations are pristine, clean and unbroken.
Question is how to keep it that way... even with cavers visiting it.
According to the description one of the rappels (there are two) has flowstone which have to be traversed to go down the drop. I dunno if a rebelay will redirect the rope out of the way (I've not seen it... yet) but the only thing I can think of is instead of going down using feet/boots to keep a caver upright one could possibly use their knees in lieu of the feet. I've done this for a drop where there was ice along the drop and it kept myself (and others) from slipping because the feet are tucked under the butt and the center of gravity is less affected.

Flagging taping a trail for the horizontal portions sounds at the present the best idea but how long would it last? How long before folks ignore the taped trail and start tracking their own paths?

Of course the best way to keep a cave as pristine as one found it is to tell NO-ONE but that is just being selfish isn't it? A find should be shared but by the same token a find should be cared for by all present and future visitors. Yet eventually "spelunkers" will find it and all conservation ethics go right out the window, not by callousness but most likely from ignorance of proper movements through the cave and adhering to established trails.

Just looking for suggestions.

I've known one cave that was ALMOST pristine when cavers found it (miners discovered it first and tried to commercialize it but it didn't pan out because of the remote location yet there was prior damage from their visits). After about 10 years the cave has shown wear just from cavers visiting the cave after it was gated and a MOU with the land owners was established and cavers managing the cave. Visits were regulated to once a month and limited to six visitors per trip... but as I said 10 years of this practice and one doesn't see the same cave now that one saw on the first visit years ago.
There is going to be some wear and tear no matter how careful cavers will be, I'm sure Lechuguilla has shown similar signs of repeated traffic in spite of adherence to conservation practices.
Yet what would be the best long term preservation (barring gating and abstinence... for want of a better term) that one can suggest.
Without the possibility of death, adventure is not possible. ~ Reinhold Messner
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Ralph E. Powers
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Re: How to Keep A Cave Pristine... for as long as possible?

Postby Anonymous_Coward » Nov 23, 2009 11:02 am

If the trail is built reasonably and responsibly, there will be no reason for cavers to use a different path. Even if a few do go there own way, the vast majority will still use the trail, confining most impact to a discrete area.

As far as rappelling down flowstone with boots on, it totally depends on the situation. There are many places where this might be appropriate. Of course, if the flowstone is white, or is preceded by a muddy area, it may be more appropriate to use clean shoes or clean kneepads as you suggest.

It all comes down to defining what type of travel is appropriate for this particular cave, and communicating that in the most efficient way possible. For a basically un-managed cave, maybe a register soon after entering that explains the unique conservation measures would be appropriate. We have to accept some level of impact, or we might as well all just stay home. Limiting and confining the impact to a trail is a good step.
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Re: How to Keep A Cave Pristine... for as long as possible?

Postby Leclused » Dec 2, 2009 10:15 am

Some basic protection suggestions can be found here : ... nglish.pdf


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