The best way to get started is to attend a PSC meeting. The club holds meetings once per month in Arlington, Virginia. At the meeting, you can meet cavers and learn about upcoming events, including caving trips.
Membership in PSC has many benefits, besides the opportunity to meet other cavers and go caving. There is a printed bi-monthly newsletter and access to the PSC fieldhouse and a separate fieldstation, both in West Virginia. PSC has a vast library of caving publications going back more than 60 years, which is accessible to members.
Keep in mind that few caving organizations have long lists of upcoming trips. Being a caver requires networking and persistence. “Organized caving,” which means PSC and clubs like it, are the only way to up your game as a caver. “Independent cavers,” those who do not belong to a club, tend to visit the same few caves over and over again and soon lose interest.
Why Go Caving?
Caving is great exercise and a fun way to meet new people and enjoy the camaraderie of a good trip. Caves are beautiful and challenging. In West Virginia, most are located in remote rural areas with scenic beauty and bucolic charm. More advanced cavers find and explore “virgin” caves—caves that have never been seen by anyone, ever. Genuine exploration is rare these days anywhere on earth, from the Antarctic to the Himalayas, let alone a few hours’ drive from Washington, D.C. Many PSC cavers have gone on to participate in weeks and months-long expeditions to caves in places like Mexico.
Types of Caving Trips
Tourist trip: Walking around, or crawling around, in a cave looking at things, just for fun.
Survey trip: Cavers map caves using compasses, tapes, and clinometers (which measure a vertical angle), or with electronic versions of these instruments. Someone takes notes in a book and later, uses the data to make a map. If cavers discover a new cave, the ethic is to map the cave as you explore it. Although some folks find surveying tedious, surveying a virgin (unexplored) cave can be very exciting. PSC cavers will teach you how to survey if you are interested.
Ridgewalking: Walking around on the surface looking for undiscovered caves. Since most caves in the East are on private property, finding and cultivating the landowners is a major part of this process.
Digging: Trying to extend a cave by removing mud, gravel, and rocks from plugged passages. Also, cavers try to find “new” unexplored caves. These are typically caves with a natural entrance that is either blocked with fill or too small for people to enter. There is no technology that can reliably detect caves from the surface, but geology and water flow can provide clues. The best indicator is cold air blowing out of cracks in the ground. Most digs are fruitless, but the results can be spectacular. In 1999, PSC cavers found and dug open a cave in West Virginia that is now (as of 2016) 26 miles long.