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The Boys Guide to Spelunking

Every boy crawls into a cave at one time or another. The author started out like any other, a rank novice. Through months of exploration in area caves, countless backyard experiments, and a small mountain of D-cell batteries, he has joined the ranks of the experts. For him, caving exploring is not just a hobby, it is a way of life. Truly, he has earned the proud title of SPELUNKER.

This book is dedicated to Billy, Davey, Ronnie, Kenny, Harry, Robbie, Stevie, Randy, and Johnny, who were my friends.

Finding a Cave

Caves are easy to find. You probably know of some already. Later on, you’ll want to find some new ones. Here’s how to do it.

Go outside just after sundown and hang around a street corner, looking around for bats. Bats like to fly around street lights, and as everybody knows, they live in caves. When you find a bat, just keep him in sight. Around dawn, he’ll head for home and lead you right to his cave.

My friend Billy, who went looking for caves one night and must have found one, because he never came back, told me about this trick. I never have gotten to try it, because my mother won’t let me stay out past dark.

batman drawing

Spelunking Equipment

One of the best things about spelunking is that you don’t have to spend a lot of your allowance on equipment to get started. You’ve probably got the basics right around the house: a flashlight from the hall closet, a stout pair of tennis shoes, and some old work clothes. (Don’t go spelunking in your school clothes. It works okay at first, until your mother finds out.)

Anyway, that’s all you need to get started. Later on, you’ll probably want to invest in more exotic gear, like candles, a knotted rope, and high-top tennis shoes.

Finding Your Way

This is important: Always find your way out of a cave. If you don’t, you’re in for trouble.

The big problem is that everything looks totally different when you’re on your way out of the cave. Most people don’t realize that. Those are the kind of nerds who have to use spray paint and string, which is fine for beginners, but here’s a better trick. The best way to make sure you’ll be able to find your way out of a cave is to carry a pocket mirror, and use it to glance behind you occasionally. That way you’ll know what the passage will look like on the way out, and you won’t get lost. Plus, you can use the mirror to signal planes and send messages when you’re out in the woods.


Getting Stuck

Everybody gets stuck, sooner or later. Fat kids usually get stuck sooner. That’s why it’s best to send the fat kids in first. I had a real fat friend I tried to take spelunking once. He got wedged in the passage and I thought we’d never get him out. We had to call the Fire Department.

The thing to do when you’re stuck is to scream real loud. I don’t know why, but that usually does the trick. We tried conducting experiments at home with my little sister to find out why, but my mother made us stop.


As everybody knows, caves sometimes cave-in. This happens very rarely, not like on TV, maybe once a year or so. Novices don’t know this, so they’re easy to scare. You can spice up any spelunking trip by making little remarks like, "Gosh, this big crack in the ceiling wasn’t here a minute ago!" and "Boy, I hope the weatherman is wrong about that earthquake today!" That last one really works well on my little sister.


Avoid bats. I used to think bats were neat. If my little sister was along, I would sneak a bat into her hair and watch her do the old bat dance. Bats were a lot of fun.

I had a friend I took spelunking, Robbie. One time I spotted a bat just flopping around on the floor of a cave, making funny little squeaks, and I thought it would be fun to put that bat down the back of Robbie’s shirt. Robbie was doing a bat dance like no other, screaming and thrashing around. A few weeks later, Robbie died of rabies, and I learned my lesson: Avoid bats. tombstone

Bottomless Pits and Deep Holes

Pits and deep holes are for experienced spelunkers only. I had a friend who wanted to try spelunking, Davey. We went to a bottomless pit one day, and Davey started down my knotted rope. He got to the end, and just hung there for a while. When I pulled up the rope, he was gone. It was my fault, really. He just didn’t have any business on a knotted rope.

What kind of knotted rope is best? Forget clothesline, extension cords, and barbed wire. Avoid using ski rope. I had a friend, Ronnie--he could tell you a few things about climbing down ski rope. That is, if he were still around to tell you about it, I’m pretty sure he’d say it’s a bad idea.

Backyard experiments have proven that the best knotted ropes are made from good old fashioned manila. The reason? Manila just "feels right' in your hand. Nylon rope is too slippery, and sometimes makes you spin around like a top. In one experiment, I spun my little sister around real fast while she was hanging onto a nylon rope. Sure enough, she fell off, and had to get twenty-eight stitches in her forehead.


I had a friend I took spelunking, Randy. We came to some deep water way at the back of the cave and I talked Randy into swimming across. He had been swimming lots of times in his cousin’s pool in Indiana and the water was real cold, so he was used to it. Well, Randy lost his flashlight in the water, and never even got to the other side. It was real slippery and Randy kept falling back down in the water, which was a real riot. On the way out, he started stumbling and talking nonsense, and before long he was sacked out on a rock, sound asleep. I had to leave him there in the cave. I hated to do that, because it would have been fun to spend the night in the cave with him, but I had to get home on account of my mother's real strict.

Right after that I decided not to fool around in caves without the proper equipment. I went right out to Walmart and bought a neat raft, and it works great.

Camping in Caves

Camping in caves can be really neat. You can stay up all night, horsing around, and then sleep late without your mother coming in to get you out of bed. That is, unless your mother is really determined.

One hint: Be careful with campfires. I was camping in a cave once with a friend, Harry. We had a nice roaring fire going, and I went outside to get more wood. When I came back, Harry was passed out from smoke inhalation. It wasn’t as much fun camping alone, and it was getting hard to breathe anyway, so I just packed up and went home.


Experienced spelunkers know to carry food when they go in a cave, in case there’s a cave-in and they’re trapped for a few days. What’s the best food to carry? Me, I like bananas. The only problem is that they sort of turn into a liquid after a few hours of hard spelunking. Bring a straw along, just in case.

Organized Spelunking

I heard once that there’s a national organization of spelunkers, the American Spelunking Club, or something like that. They meet once a month or so to organize trips, compare maps, and talk about the latest in knotted ropes and flashlights. You can probably contact your local club by looking in the phone book under “spelunking,” or something.

Advanced Spelunking



Sometimes a cave passage gets too small to fit through, but you just know it gets real big on the other side, and leads to all kinds of neat stuff. This is when the advanced spelunker gets serious. This is when he manufactures some explosives.

You can make a nifty cave bomb out of a piece of pipe, gunpowder from fire crackers, match heads, and stuff like that. But be careful. I had a friend I took on a blasting trip, Stevie, whose job was to carry the pipe. He went around the corner and the next thing we knew, there was a big explosion and lots of smoke and stuff. Something had gone wrong, but we never did figure out what. We tried to ask Stevie what had happened, but he didn't answer and we were all too chicken to go around the corner and see.

Underwater Spelunking

I had a friend, Johnny, whose father was a scuba diver. Johnny’s dad had explained to him how all the stuff worked and all. One day Johnny and a bunch of us took his pop’s diving gear to an underwater cave, a deep blue hole we all knew about. Well, Johnny got in the water and sank like a rock. He never did come up. Later I figured out that we had put too much weight on his weight belt. You can imagine what his dad said when he found out we’d taken his stuff without permission. Boy, did we get it that time.

So if you’re going scuba diving in a cave, be sure not to use too much weight.

cave map


Sooner or later every spelunker gets the urge to make a map of a cave. It’s really not all that hard. Get your father’s measuring tape, the most expensive one he’s got. In a pinch, the one your mother uses for sewing will work. Then, get your little sister’s school notebook, the one she uses to hand in all her homework.

Always start surveying at the entrance. That way, if there’s a cave-in, you won’t have wasted your time mapping passages that no longer exist. Anyway, pick out a feature of the cave ahead of you and calculate the distance to it. Use your little sister’s notebook to make a sketch as you go along.

When you get home, use your sketch to draw up a nicer map, one without the mud and dirt on it. You can steal your little sister’s crayons and add color, if you want.


This is maybe the most dangerous kind of advanced spelunking: underground photography. I had a friend I took spelunking, Kenny. I talked him into hauling his father’s camera in the cave so we could get some pictures for my science project. Well, I accidentally dropped that dumb camera into a pool of water, and even though we dried it off real good, it never did work after that. Kenny had to run away from home, and he hasn’t ever come back.

To make matters worse, I never got any of the pictures we took that day, not even the ones of my little sister in the bathtub.

Safety Rules

  1. Never spelunk alone. Always bring a friend with you to send in first.
  2. Never tell anyone where you’re going, especially your parents. They’ll probably throw a fit, so keep your activities top secret.
  3. If your ma is like my mom, you don't want her to see your clothes after you come home from a cave. Whatever you do, don't put them in the dirty clothes basket. She's sure to find them. I've been hiding my muddy clothes for years in the crawl space under our house (Mom hardly ever goes down there).
  4. Know your limitations. Do not attempt to climb down a 200 foot pit on a knotted rope on your first spelunking trip. Start with something easier, like a 150 foot pit.

The Boy’s Guide to Spelunking was published in extremely bad taste by Fancy Dogs Press of Kimball, Tennessee. Any resemblance to actual spelunkers or spelunking techniques is accidental, as is the entire book. See for actual advice on how to cave safely.

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