What to know before heading into an Illinois cave
Two weeks into the efforts to rescue a youth soccer team in Thailand, area cave experts are stressing the importance of cave safety in Southern Illinois.
“In the case of the cave in Thailand, the kids have been fortunate to be in a warmer climate. That would not necessarily work out so well in this area,” said Dan Lamping, board member of the Illinois Speleological Survey and president of the Missouri Speleological Survey.
Caves in Southern Illinois are typically around 58 degrees.
“Not moving around, hypothermia could set in fairly quickly, especially when one is wet, and most of the caves around this area are wet.”
While touring a mile-long cave located south of Millstadt, Lamping spoke about the sinkhole plain and how it is a natural drain for the surface water of Southern Illinois. There are about 1,000 caves located in Illinois, whereas Missouri has over 7,300. Most of those Illinois caves are located just southeast of St. Louis in Southern Illinois. Monroe County has about 380 documented caves, St. Clair County has just less than 100 and Union County has a little more than 100.
Lamping warned that area caves can flood with water quickly.
“There isn’t necessarily a lead-up time where one can have this safe window of opportunity to see a gradual rise and know they need to exit,” he said. “Instead it tends to be a wall of water that comes. So this is the last place a person would want to be in the event of a rain.”
He said even cave explorers are still cautious about how they approach a trip.
They watch the weather closely, and in a cave like those located in Southern Illinois, any chance of rain will cancel the trip.
Despite all the possible hazards, for those properly educated, cave exploration is generally safe and is a valuable way to learn more about subterranean resources, he said.
Lamping encourages new cavers to seek out experienced cavers and organizations. The National Speleological Society maintains a list of grottos, or caving clubs, for each region in a state. Illinois Speleological Survey and Meramec Valley Grotto are two active area organizations.
Cave safety tips
- Make sure you have three sources of light.
- Have a helmet with a mounted light.
- Explore with a minimum number of four people.
- Have a contact on the surface that knows your location and your in and out times.
- Check the weather beforehand.
- Have permission from landowners to enter the cave.
- Know about the cave you are entering.