About Imperial College Caving Club
Imperial College Caving club is a relaxed, easy-going club dedicated to caving and canyoning in the UK and abroad. We go on regular trips during term time, with the emphasis on having fun away from the hassle of lectures and work. Founded in 1962, we are well equipped, experienced, and always eager to meet, teach and cave with new members. We have a yearly expedition to Slovenia to discover new cave passages, and we occasionally run expeditions elsewhere, such as to New Zealand and Morocco.
We mostly focus on caving (going underground), with a sideline in canyoning (abseiling down waterfalls and swimming across drop pools down a ravine) and via ferrata (mountaineering with in-situ metal cables). Caving offers a breathtaking variety of underground wonders, from vast vaulted grooves studded with milk white stalactites, to fast flowing underground streams spraying over cliff edges to form thundering waterfalls. We approach these challenges with good humour and camaraderie - caving is a team sport in which everyone works together to tackle the terrain safely and enjoyably. You don't need to be a particular shape or size to be a caver - over the years we have taken a huge variety of people caving. It isn't necessary to be especially fit, as you'll develop the strength and technique you need for caving by joining our trips.
Your First Year Caving
At the beginning of the year, we offer trips aimed at new cavers, to cave systems that are challenging but offer incredible sights within reach of the complete novice. Back on campus. we begin to train freshers in 'single rope technique', the method we use to descend and ascend safely out of deep cave systems. Building on this training and your new found confidence underground, we begin to look further afield to the deep caves in the north of England. By the end of the first term, you'll be abseiling into caverns five or six stories tall, and pushing deeper and further underground than you ever thought possible.
We cement your new experience with our Winter Tour, a week of caving over the winter break, usually in Yorkshire. In the next term we tackle a variety of exciting and increasingly challenging caves, building your skills and giving you the opportunity to learn advanced skills such as rigging or cooking dinner for twenty hungry cavers. Our Easter Tour is often to some glorious sun-drenched part of Europe, where you can ignore the looming exams by experiencing the best caving the Continent has to offer. After exams are over, we usually squeeze in a short trip back to Wales, where you can astonish yourself with how much easier the caves seem, before we head off for our summer expedition to Slovenia. This is a truly incredible experience which you have building up to all year long - a hollow mountain, filled with undiscovered cave passage hundreds of meters below the earth, just waiting for you to discover.
When you return to the UK, you will be an experienced caver - now it's your turn to lead new cavers on their first trip underground, through the same passages you first stepped into only a year ago!
We meet informally every Tuesday evening at the Union bar for a pint and some outlandish tales. At the beginning of the year we usually have a caving helmet with us so new members can find our group. Please stop by and say hello - you can get information and advice on all aspects of caving, and some of it might even be correct.
We run trips every two weeks during term time. Trips leave at 6 pm on Friday and return around 11 pm on Sunday. We drive to a caving cottage in a minibus. The caving cottages have bunk rooms, toilets, a kitchen and showers, as well as somewhere to dry your caving kit. We buy loads of food for the weekend on the way there, so you don't need to bring any. If you want to sign up for a trip, come along on a Tuesday evening to the Union and we'll sort it out for you.
What to Bring
We provide all of the specialist equipment you need to enjoy your caving experience. All you need to do is turn up at the Union wearing some clothes, with a sleeping bag and (optionally) some wash stuff - we stay at caving cottages that usually have showers so you can get clean before returning to civilisation. As you become more experienced you might think about buying your own equipment, and we can offer advice on the best equipment.
For the first two trips of the year, the best training we can offer can be found inside a cave! We also provide training in single rope technique (SRT) every Wednesday afternoon during first term. This is informally known as 'tree training' because we throw a rope over a tree branch in Princes Gardens and show you how to safely ascend and descend a rope. You can then practice these skills on the next weekend trip. Check our Facebook group and email list for further details on tree training.
South Wales is characterised by its large cave systems, with beautiful formations and underground rivers. Beginners trips usually visit Ogof Ffynon Ddu, the deepest cave in Britain and over 45km long. There are many trips for all standards.
The rolling Mendip Hills in Somerset are home to some of the most interesting caves in Britain. The varied and ever-changing nature of the caves makes this the perfect area for both introductory and more arduous trips.
North Yorkshire is the classic caving region in Britain for vertical caving, including probably the most famous cave entrance Gaping Gill a massive 110m shaft. The rugged beauty of the moors provides a stunning backdrop to an enormous choice of exciting potholes. A favourite with existing members for practising rope skills.
In the grim, mud clogged darkness of Derbyshire, no one can hear you scream.
- Where is caving stores?
- How will I see where I'm going?
- Will I get wet?
- Will I get cold?
- Will I get stuck?
- Will I get lost?
- Can I breathe that deep underground?
- How long will I be underground?
- What skills will I need?
- What clothes will I need for caving?
- Do I have to be an undergraduate or a fresher?
The club has a lots of bright helmet mounted LED lights which provide light for a long time.
Most caves are a bit damp and have static pools, many have streams and waterfalls, from which you'll get spray. Some caves you have to walk along rivers and climb cascades. For those inclined, you can do caves that require short sections of swimming + even a little free diving - but these trips aren't for everyone!
Possibly - even though caves in the UK stay at a constant temperature all year round, if you get wet, or if your group moves slowly, you may begin to get cold despite the thermal layers provided. The most important thing is to keep moving, and if you feel cold, particularly in wet caves, tell the leader and they will head out. Beginners trips will usually be in 'dry' caves and not too long.
No. Unless you feel inclined to go through tight caves, there are plenty we can show you that are explored by just walking, or crouching.
No. Caves can be complicated, but it is hard to get lost. The more experienced club members lead the trips and know the caves. We also have maps and descriptions for caves if you are doing them for first time.
Usually, strong drafts ensure a fresh supply of air. We don't go to caves where the air can get stagnant or toxic.
Anywhere between 1 to 5 hours normally. For those inclined, we occasionally run epic UK trips of above 11hrs. During the summer expedition, we make a camp deep within the cave, allowing for up to 3 day trips, with two 'nights' spent in the perfect darkness.
Most importantly a sense of adventure! In horizontal caves you generally you do what works, regardless of how graceful or good it looks. When it comes to climbing a ladder or abseiling on a rope, we'll teach you all you need to know and let you practice in the trees and easy caves until you are more confident.
The club has all the kit you will need to borrow for caving. You wear the 'furry' fleece base-layer right against your skin - even when wet, it provides thermal insulation. However, it is best to avoid cotton underwear, and to not wear a t shirt under your furry.
No, the club is open to all members of the Imperial College Union, regardless of whether you're a final year PhD student or a first year undergrad. If you missed the first few trips of the year, don't worry - you can pick up all the skills you need very quickly. Just get in touch and we'll make sure you can come caving with us.
If you join the Summer expedition to Slovenia you will more than likely tred where no-one has gone before. Perhaps more poignantly, when you discover passageway that reaches a dead-end; you may well be the last person to ever visit that particular place in the world.
Jan Evetts, Jarvist Frost and Jack Hare
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.