Sean Lewis and Ellie Thoene surveying in Pozo de Panqueque in the PEP area - Picture by Joe Datri (2009)
So how do I get started?
When you feel like joining one of the trips, and you have read through the
"new caver training" portion of this website, go to the
UT Grotto Calendar and pick a Whirlpool trip
(usually on Fridays). Click the link to find out the contact information for
the person or people leading the trip. Contact that person and arrange
everything with them.
What if I have to cancel?
Seriously, notify your trip leader as soon as possible so that someone from the
waiting list can take your place. If you sign up for a trip and don't show,
you won't be allowed on future trips.
How large is the group?
For Whirlpool, I like to keep a soft limit of 12. This varies
depending upon how many experienced cavers come along to assist
What sort of headlamp?
I have been using an inexpensive Energizer headlamp that can be purchased at
Wal-Mart or Home Depot for about $13 $10!.
It has two white LEDs and one red LED. The red LED is nice in a cave when you are resting because it
conserves battery life and keeps light out of people's eyes. Click
to see a review on this light.
This is a great starter headlamp. It is great for other uses, like camping
or night hiking.
Where do I get kneepads and elbow pads?
Academy Sports has what you need. I recommend using volleyball style kneepads
worn under your jeans. Seriously, under your jeans. They slip less.
Avoid kneepads with a hard shell on the outside. The hard shells tear off quickly.
For elbow pads, adult-size shin guards are great. Click here
to see the brand Academy carries. These are $5.99. If your arm is smaller, try the child-size shin guards.
These elbow pads last from 8 to 12 cave trips.
Should I bring a camera?
I have brought a camera with me into both Whirlpool and Maple Run caves, and
numerous others. I store it in a soft camera bag, then wrap it with a spare T-shirt
or towel inside my backpack. These caves are dirty, dusty, and humid. These are
not optimum conditions for any camera.
Note that you won't be wearing your backpack/pack very much because you will
be going through squeezes, lying on your stomach, etc. Bringing a pack
means that you carry it in your hand, often plopping (not throwing) it and
pushing it along. This sort of activity isn't always the best for cameras either.
For your first caving experience, a throwaway camera (with flash!) may
suit your needs best.
What kind of pack?
To carry spare batteries, lights, snack, and water, you will want to bring
some sort of pack. Because some areas have tight squeezes, you will typically
not be able to wear a backpack, but rather pick it up, push it, drop it, etc.
Zippers on packs get dry dirt in them. This tends to gum them up and make them
not work well afterward. Washing a backpack gets rid of the dirt, but removes
any zipper lubricant. Real caver bags use FasTek fasteners, not zippers. Bring
an old, ratty pack that you don't mind getting dirty or gummed up.
Longer term, consider getting a vinyl kayaking bag from REI. They're rugged
and have a FasTek buckel at the top.
How long does the tour last?
This depends upon how many people are in the group and their skill level. Expect
3 to 3.5 hours.
Introductory trips means there are more breaks, discussion of etiquette, and
slower going through tight squeezes like the "birth canal" in Whirlpool Cave.
What clothes should I wear?
Wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty or ripped. Old jeans and a short sleeved
T-shirt work fine. Some people prefer a long-sleeved overshirt, but note that
it is very warm in the cave (72° F and very humid). Boots are best, old sneakers will
work. No sandals! Caving is very hard on clothing. Expect to get significant
wear and/or tears. Maple Run is harder on clothing than Whirlpool Cave.
Don't wear jewelry. Don't bring in your cell-phones (they don't work underground
anyway). Don't wear an expensive watch as the bezel may become scratched.
Bring extra clothes to change into after you are done caving. At a minimum, bring a
towel to put on your car seat. Sometimes a clean rag in your bag is useful for
cleaning your face and hands.
No sandals! No shorts!
Can I bring a friend?
Have your friend(s) contact the trip leader directly!
Trip group size is limited for safety and to give a
good experience to everyone involved. Trip leaders will turn away people starting with those
without proper equiment followed by those who were not signed up.
Is it dangerous?
Security and safety are a high priority, however there are risks associated with
caving that you do not encounter in everyday life.
You will get dirty. You may get scratches, abrasions, and bruises.
Which cave should I do first?
Whirlpool should be your first cave. Try Whirlpool Cave to see if caving
is right for you. Once you have cut your teeth on Whirlpool, ask your
trip leader if you are ready for Maple Run.
More information on the caves we do.
What is the temperature in the cave?
The temperature in the cave is the average annual surface temperature.
I generaly just say 72° F. It is also quite humid in the cave. When
the tour is fast paced, I am drenched in sweat.
In the winter, it's nice and warm. In the summer, it's nice and cool.
Either way, you win.
What else should I bring?
I always bring a change of T-shirt for the ride home as well as a towel to
cover my car seat. You will get dirty. You may get sweaty.
I also bring a rag to wipe the sweat out of my glasses when I wear
Contacts or glasses?
I have found that contacts are much better than glasses. Glasses fog up, and
you may get sweat in your glasses.
Also, you will get dust on your glasses, and trying to "dry-wipe" your
glasses will probably scratch them. In fact, I know a guy who ruined a
really cool pair of glasses that looked like Buddy Holly glasses by wiping
them inside Whirlpool.
How deep do we go?
I have heard that the Travis County Room in Whirlpool Cave is at a depth of 54 feet
below the surface. I have also heard numbers that the Edwards Aquifer is 254 feet
below the surface. Since caves do not form below the water level of the Edwards Aquifer,
that is approximately the maximum depth of caves in Austin.
What is the age limit for beginners?
In general, we have no limit on age. However, minors must be accompanied by a
parent, and children are expected to be well behaved, listen, and follow directions
given by the trip leader(s). Contact the trip leader for more details.
Is it "Caving" or "Spelunking"?
The folk at the UT Grotto call themselves "cavers." When I tried to find out
why, I was told "cavers go in to rescue spelunkers." If you bring up a topic
like this, you will get a flurry of opinions. Personally, I go with "caver"
because it is more intuitive.
Why is it called the Travis County Room?
Bill Russell had this to say about the Travis County Room.
"The Travis County Room in Whirlpool is likely the largest room in Travis County in floor area. [....]
The name comes from the excitement we felt when we dug into the Travis County Room. After the
small crawls we thought this must be the biggest room in the county, but we were a little euphoric
at the time."