Vertical caving... risks the same or not?

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Vertical caving... risks the same or not?

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Oct 6, 2005 11:36 am

I'm going to throw this out here becuase I adamantly disagree with the nay-sayers of scout vertical caving.
Mainly that the risks to them are no different than to me or any other adult caver.
If supervision is there and is stressed upon safety and care is taken... then the risks are the same.
I've taken two seperate scout groups to vertical caves and we all had a great time and there were no incidents to speak of.

I can understand the tragedy factor is probably higher because it was a teenager (I only cave for 14 and up scouts ... Venture age). Still the risks are there.

It also falls into my philosophy of "catch-em young" in the manner of educating on safe viable caving techniques and conservation ethics. They may not become cavers in the future but they'll know better.

What do you all think?
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Postby Phil Winkler » Oct 6, 2005 12:21 pm

Ralph,

This almost sounds like a question for the Ethicist in the Sunday NY Times magazine.

Horizontal caving has risks even with adult guidance, supervision and training. Scrapes, bumps, broken arm, insect bites, etc.

Vertical caving entails more risk because the potential for greater injury is inherent all other things being equal. Death from a fall.

Vertical caving is riskier.
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Postby filox1 » Oct 6, 2005 2:15 pm

I guess that if you do a careful selection of the participants and you take only responsible and well behave teenagers that wont do stupid things to try to impress their peers as to stand on the edge just to show others that they are really brave or see who can do fastest rappel down. Etc. :roll:

Then been in the USA you will have to worry about the liability in case of god forbid an accident specially been them under age and in your charge, even a non fatal one, there is people up there suing McDonalds for having hot coffee... :roll:
Think what will happen to you if any of the yuts gets hurt. Those parents and the courts will eat you alive and then some. :shock:

Be sides I don’t thing that you will find some company willing to ensure for liability in case of an accident.

After a caving accident of an outing that I was co leading, I learned that everybody things that you been organizing things some how makes you responsible for other peoples stupidity. :evil:
And this was in Mexico, Civil law suits are not a god business down here (T.G.) And there are ways of solving things than wont be possible in your country.

Any ways sorry for the babbling thats only my .02 if you go a head with your projects best of luck and be safe.

Cheers
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Postby Cindy Heazlit » Oct 6, 2005 2:23 pm

For once Ralph, I have to disagree with you.

I've found that children (even teenagers) lack judgment. They have not yet fully formed cause/effect relations. They have not honed their powers of observation. They can't recognize the signs of trouble starting up. They will blindly walk into situations that most adults would stop at. They will press forward when an adult will hesitate. Because of this, they can get themselves deeper into trouble before they realize that they are in trouble.

This is amplified by vertical caving, as the vertical aspect means that the child may be in a position that is inaccessible to an adult supervisor (like 20 feet off the floor).


These 2 factors increase the probability of a severe problem. The consequences of failure is extreme in this case. As such, it should be avoided.

There are of course, teenage and child exceptions to the above generalization.

But the whole point is this:
Risk = Probability * Magnitude of Consequence.

If either probability or consequence is large, I want to avoid that risk.
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Postby NZcaver » Oct 6, 2005 2:45 pm

Ralph - good for you! :kewl:

I agree with Phil's comment too - vertical caving generally has more risks than horizontal caving, no matter what age the participants are. But I think vertical caving can be an appropriate activity for the group Ralph described, if the risks are properly managed by someone who has the time and skills to do so. Incorporating above-ground vertical training and assessing individual aptitudes is a good way to start, along with doing regular horizontal caving trips. Then when the group is ready, bring all the skills together.

Personally, I never went caving as a Scout while growing up in New Zealand - mostly because I left Scouts by age 14. But later I assisted with Venturer Scouts (similar to US Venture Scouts, ages 14 to 18 ), and their activities do include caving. I helped lead a number of vertical trips in caves and disused mines (stable mines - not like the ones in Nevada), and the kids had a great time. In fact, there is a National Scout Caving School that has been going in NZ since 1978 - http://www.scouts.org.nz/schools/caving.htm They teach vertical caving, and I know a number of dedicated cavers who got their introduction to caving there.

I've also helped out with Scouts and other youth organizations on caving trips in the US. No vertical caving per se, but there was some above ground climbing/rappelling incorporated in one program. Most kids had fun, some couldn't wait to get back home to their Playstations, but one or two might grow up to be actual cavers. On one trip, a child's father had more fun than his kid, and decided to come on some grotto trips!

It's a pity there isn't a similar caving school for Scouts in the US - but I guess that would just give lawyers a feeding frenzy. It's a shame when a little common sense and basic risk management can't be trusted any more, and instead the poor little children have to be sheltered from having any adventures in the real world... :roll:
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Postby Sean Ryan » Oct 6, 2005 3:34 pm

I've done vertical fundraising ropework twice now for a local Cave Day. We run a rope 30 feet up a tree, hook up Ropewalkers to whoever wants to go, and try to get as many people safely on rope as possible. It's one of the main attractions of this fund raiser (others include a squeezebox, hay bale maze, and a live bat show). It's overwhelmingly little kids who want to do this, so we're always readjusting our bungees and harnesses to fit four-year-olds, then seven-year-olds, then more four-year-olds.

I've been very nervous about it, liability-wise. We charge for having each person on rope, which I'd love to do away with entirely. Raise the entrance price a few bucks and put people on rope for free. Charging for it - especially the paltry $3 we charged this year, which at least was better than the paltrier $1 last year - implies a legal responsibility. Any one of the dozens of kids we got up there could sue me or the other people running ropes if their parents think they were psychologically damaged by having a chest roller strapped to them. God forbid something actually happens one of the times we do this. We could get the pants sued off us, possibly go to jail - all for trying to raise $3 for cave conservation. To me, the liability seems too great to do it - but I end up thinking that this ropework will happen if I'm there or I'm not, so I might as well be there and make sure it runs OK.

I've taken scout groups caving, always to easy horizontal caves. If a group of scouts had the perseverence to learn vertical gear, I wouldn't mind being on a trip with them - but all the scout trips I've seen are flashlight crews wearing bike helmets, so that's just a theoretical.
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Postby Ralph E. Powers » Oct 6, 2005 10:53 pm

Thanks for the replies everyone, looking forward to more, please.

While I understand the liability issue in this "law-suit-happy" country of ours, I still think the risks are well worth it.
Case in point; A group of scouts had their scout master approach one of our grottos, he and I sat down and chatted. He had the scout-caving hand book out and was going over it "play by play". Got the impression that he wasn't going to involve "his boys" until he found exactly what the handbook prescribed. With our grotto he did.
With the help of still another grotto nearby the venture aged troop got the best vertical training (above ground) they could get, from one of my own instructors (way back when). They did a few horizontal caves at first, and then we did a trip to a fairly popular vertical cave (60 foot entrance drop). All but a couple of them had no problems negotiating the ascent with their prussik knots. The other two were quickly fitted with a frog system and were told to get more (above ground) practice.
Next vertical cave and everyone of them shone brightly, I'm proud to say. With their third (vert) one even better.
This troop of 8-12 boys ranging from 15-18 yrs old have taken the safety aspects of vertical a lot better than most of the adults that I've seen/trained.
Another troop has done likewise just as well, mainly because they've experienced canyoneering beforehand and thus got their rappelling experience that way. Ascending for them was just as easy.

I agree that it takes a special kind of kid to take seriously the hazards presented with vertical caving (let alone horizontal). I've seem to be lucky to be running into these talented, more mature for their age than the average- young individuals. I've also trained a few non-scout kids and have had good success with them as well.
I've found what is important is to stress (not exaggerate) non-too lightly the dangers that are involved. Doing it above ground and imagining just how much hurt they'll experience if they screw up just this |-| much, helps. Also instructing them in "self-rescue" techniques goes a long way too. Change-overs, knot crossing, and learning proper steps in getting clothing out of one's gear and other techniques.

Yes, I appreciate very much how easy it is for a hyper-protective parent to scream bloody murder that their kid got a small scratch while camping out in the woods on a three day hike. How much more so when they got the scratch in a deep dark hole in the ground.
Which is why I encourage the scouts to be sure to tell their parents how much fun they had when they get home. That, I can assure you doesn't take much effort at all. I've met a few of the parents of these kids and they've expressed a lot of appreciation for the smiles their boys came home with after a previous trip. They also appreciated the care and attention to (safety) detail we provided on each and every trip.
Several of them are well aware of the risks that are involved. It was a matter of trust. One has to earn it in most cases I think.
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Postby amaddox » Oct 7, 2005 11:49 am

Ralph,
I think your going about it the right way. A few things to keep in mind. BSA has specific regulations on supervision when youths are more than shoulder high. There must be are least 2 registered adult leaders preferably one with a current "Climb on Safely" certification and one with a BSA or equivalent Climbing Instructor's certification. I understand that there are certain provisions for being "on rope" with an approved vertical caving instructor. But I haven't had that well defined yet. The Troop or Crew should provide these folks. They should be listed on the Tour Permit as well.
These BSA certs are not really all that hard to get and I would encourage you, if you plan on working with Scouts on a regular basis, to get these certs yourself and be registered with a BSA Troop or Crew. This would pretty much cover all the bases if something unforeseen happens. Basically, if you do things the BSA way, they will back you up legally if necessary.
Just a thought,

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Postby cave rat » Oct 12, 2005 7:04 am

I generally do not take scouts vertical caving just because I do not have the manpower here to do so. Plus, I am not a Certified Unit Climbing Instuctor yet.

So I stick to horizontal caving for now. I have had troops ask me in the past to take them to a vertical cave and I have turned them down because of the safety factors involved even through I am a experienced vertical caver and have done every thing here in TAG that a 300' rope will allow you to do.

Not to many vertical pits in TAG that is over 230' you can do with a 300' rope. Plus I do not like passing knots, even though can pass one if it came to it.
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Postby George Dasher » Oct 12, 2005 10:04 am

What is Certified Unit Climbing Instructor?

And who is doing the certifying?
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Postby speloman » Oct 12, 2005 10:29 am

The BSA has a "rappel master" That is what he was called in my counsle. any one leading a Rappelling trip or climbing trip had be be a BSA certified instructor. I used to be when I work at a BSA camp on the rappell team. But I let it laps. That was my counsle I don't know about others
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Postby amaddox » Oct 12, 2005 11:14 am

You may want to check out;
http://www.nhcosa.org/ (New Hampshire Climb on Safely Association Boy Scouts of America)
The web is under construction right now, but, I've e-mailed back and forth with one of the instructors there who is a caver. I am planning on taking the Climbing Instructor certification there either this spring or next fall (2006). Not that I'm planning on taking Boy Scouts climbing or rappeling, but to have the cert holds a lot more weight when you tell a Scout Leader, "No, we're not going to do that and here's why." I think it also will be fun, but that's besides the point. To know the langage and the limits that BSA has on it's program and to be able to bring this back to the units you take caving is priceless :-).
Many BSA Councils have this certification. Unfortunatly some do not. Oh yea, you have to be a registered BSA adult (I think over 21y/o) to take the course.

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Postby cave rat » Oct 12, 2005 9:25 pm

A Unit Climbing Instructor is one that is a Scout Master that is registered with the Boy Scouts of America, a local troop, and has gone through the Climb On Safely course through the BSA. You have to be certified for up to 2 years to be a Unit Climbing Instructor, to take any Scout Troop with boys that has received the Arrow of Light or be in the 5th grade and up. This certification must be on file with the local Council before you take any scout troop rappelling or climbing. You also must have gone through the BSA Adult Leadership Training and the Youth Protection Training which I have already taken in 1991.

There is differant levels of the climbing training you can go through with Unit Climbing Instructor being the lowest level. Cost for this training can be between $20 to $100, depending on the Council. You can take this training through any local Council that offers it.

But, if you want to be certified as a Climbing Master, you must attend the week long Camp Course in Texas. This course can run you anywhere from $300 to up to $1000, depending on how far you want to go in the training.
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Leader Responsibilities to Parents

Postby Patricia Bingham » Oct 25, 2005 4:44 am

Consider the parents' perspective. When my son was in BSA, I knew the leaders had certain requirements to meet and preparations to make. I felt safer sending my kid with BSA because of the requirements that I assumed (correctly) were being met by the leaders.

If you take any youth group underground, especially vertical caving, I think you owe it to the parents to meet all the requirements of the national youth organization. Yeah, the youth group leaders should be ensuring this is done anyway, but that is another discussion.

Be aware that no local council may lessen national requirements, no matter what the local council may say. This is according to the BSA national headquarters folks.
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Postby Landon Parks » Sep 9, 2006 11:25 pm

Vertical caving for older scouts is fine; IMHO no one under 15 should be taken to a vertical cave. Training in SRT on the other hand is ok for younger children, just be sure you have a fail safe way to rescue them really easy.

A Boy Scout troop from Kansas made a caving video not that long ago called "A Scouting approach to wild caves", in which they had a whole section of Vertical caving techniques. Some of them had dropped some really nice pits, most where probably no more than 16 or 17.

IMHO, I don't like to generalize people. Saying that "Teenagers and children lack judgment" is not the right way to go about it. At 14, I was just as mature as any Adult I went caving with, and I started doing vertical at almost 15 years old.

The younger they are when they learn, the better they will get at what you’re training them in.

This doesn’t mean stick your 9 year old daughter in a wimp walker and send her up Fantastic pit (Unless she really wants to... Then make sure she knows what shes doing before you take her there!)... I'm just saying; don’t profile ALL children and teenagers because of the way some act.

They make Harness's for children as well, so it must not be THAT uncommong to take kids vertical caving (Petzle makes a full body harness for ages 5-9 I think).
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