There are caves along the Niagara Escarpment but they are not extensive. Indeed, caving enthusiasts consider them beginner caves. But an incident this past weekend, involving experienced cavers in an Ontario cave system not near the Escarpment, emphasized the need to respect even the “easiest” caves & to enter them only with a clear plan communicated to others above ground, & being properly equipped for a possible lengthy underground stay should things go wrong.
In this case, three seasoned cavers with knowledge of the cave system they were exploring, had planned on a brief 2 1/2 hour trip through part of the cave. One was under dressed in clothing that proved to be not protective enough. No one brought food or water because the trip was going to be short. An emergency whistle was forgotten & not added to a backpack. They did take extra lights & batteries.
They got lost in the cave network, unable to find an exit. They chose to stay together to prevent hypothermia, getting above the wet parts of the cave & huddling together to preserve warmth, confident that friends on the surface would find them.
A search was conducted around midnight but was unsuccessful. A decision was made to wait until morning light to resume a more intense search. At dawn full rescue resources were requested, including from a local experienced caver with extensive knowledge of the cave system, fire rescue and significantly, an ambulance as there was a possibility of hypothermia or injury.
Professional rescue personnel were not able to attempt a search of the cave. The perceived dangers are so serious that it is policy that none are permitted to go underground. A specially trained team was being requested from Quebec but would not arrive for hours. Even then, this team would have needed the Ontario cavers’ help in finding the particular entrance that the lost cavers had taken. It remained to amateur, experienced cavers to conduct the search of the cave, and they did this against the formal recommendation of the OPP.
A couple of hours later the lost cavers were found.
This incident was alarming but ended well, with only minor cuts, no serious hypothermia or dehydration. There is appreciation for our wonderful Ontario health system and rescue services, including the willingness of volunteers to take risks to save others.
It also emphasized the truth of the saying ONLY CAVERS CAN RESCUE CAVERS. No other rescue services are prepared or able to do this.
So do not play around in caves without knowing what preparations should be made. The Toronto Caving Group is a good resource.
Back in 2008 we published a feature on the “beginner” caves on the Escarpment. Even beginner caves should be treated with respect. See our feature at: