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Thread: Using Caves as shelter

  1. #1
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    Default Using Caves as shelter

    Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Does anyone have any experience using caves as shelter?

    Where I do my normal excursions there are a bunch of caves (South East Missouri Ozarks). The other weekend I found one high on a bluff, it was a bit challenging to get to but not dangerous. Before entering any potential wildlife dwelling I always check for tracks, feces, hair, carcasses, and pretty much any sign of anything. There was nothing. The first 20 feet was hands and knees accessible then it opened up into about a 6 foot by 10 foot room that I could stand hunched over in, really awesome stuff. So I want to live in it for a few days. Does any one have any experience with cave shelters, mainly building a fire? I'm guessing it can't be too far inside and should stay fairly close to the opening right?

    Thank you!


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    Senior Member alaskabushman's Avatar
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    I've been in many many caves. I used to be very active in the Caving (spelunking) community here in Alaska, I've traveled to the Wrangell-Saint Elias National park to do cave inventory for the park service. I personally discovered and named 6 caves. We did surveys and mapped the caves we discovered. I also traveled to Hawaii to do the same thing on the Big Island but with lava tubes. I literally live 20 minutes from the largest cave in Alaska. I know and love caves.

    Most native cultures did not use caves as long-term shelter. Caves were used as burial sites or storage areas. The reason for this is because most caves are very damp and do not heat up well. You can build a fire near the entrance, but unless there is a draft the cave will likely fill up with smoke and make for a very unpleasant experience. Generally you want smaller shelters so as to make holding in heat much easier. Caves tend to be large, making heating near impossible. The cave you describe is fairly small, but it sounds like the entrance is long enough to prohibit the passage of smoke.

    Generally caves do not make a good shelter for the long haul. Caves can be a shelter in an emergency, and lives have been saved by crawling into a cave.

    Desert caves may be a different story, but I'm guessing your caves are more like Mammoth cave, which is also damp and drafty.

    But hey? You want to spend a couple days in one? It won't kill you and you are seeking an answer to a question. Why not find out the good ol' fashioned way and just do it? Trial and error is how we all learn at some point.
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    Thank you Alaskabushman for that response. Exactly the information from an experienced person that I was looking for. Seems like you have had a lot of fun. I want to get more into the cave exploring. You are right, it was very damp in the cave. In fact, I ran into at least 5 spotted salamanders, which I believe like the dampness. I will attempt to sleep in one for at least one night, to learn for myself!

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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    Not big fan of caves.....I don't know what the official name is "don't like caves"
    Visisted mamoth cave and a couple of others in that area...just to "face my uneasness".
    So I did chalk up a "been there did that" .......

    Have few in SW Wisconsin....many with primitive drawing on the walls.....
    That is about to only reason I will venture into one any more.. and it better near the exit.

    Shelters ...No...like the wide open spaces, or comfey woods......
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    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I am sorry that I have to offer contradictory evidence of cave use and purpose. We have had many threads on this subject in the past.

    All caves and rock shelters, bluffs with undercut protection, are now protected under the Federal Antiquities Act as archaeological sites. It is illegal to camp on, under or inside of any of these places.

    Every cave, rock house and rock shelter in the eastern US will show evidence of use by prehistoric Native Americans as either permanent or temporary shelters.

    In the west many of the pueblos are located well up on cliff faces and under rock shelters. Many of the earliest archaeological finds are in caves and under rock bluffs. Some of the finds are so well preserved that the casual visitor might take them for historical waste and trash them not realizing that what they were destroying is archaeological media 15k-30k years old.

    Much of the "Basket Maker" culture was found in western caves and recesses, looking as if it had been left only days before.

    In many caves there are signs of prehistoric activity deep inside the caverns, sometimes miles from the entrance. Mammoth Cave is one example with evidence of Indians mining deep inside the cave using reed torches for light.

    Even in southeast Missouri there are sites relating to every phase of prehistory from Clovis to woodland and the largest prehistoric city in the U.S. was located in Missouri.

    Do not take anything for granted when dealing with caves and rock shelters. They are no longer playgrounds and the penalties for trespassing are stiff.
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 04-04-2017 at 01:49 PM.
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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    what dya reckon happened to him?
    Looks like he was eatin' by salamanders.
    Ooh, tough way to go.
    Yeah, they have to gum you a bunch before they kill you.

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    Senior Member Antonyraison's Avatar
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    I have spent a night in a "cave" Most of it was more of a rock over hang
    so yeah the fire was not maybe so much of an issue to where to put it, but yes I agree likely better to put the fire closer to the entrance (depend on how big the cave is) as you dont want that fire burning up all the oxygen.
    The next thing you want to do is really insulate yourself from the ground of the cave, possibly even be off the ground depending on water and water sources and dampness. As you could loose a lot of body heat due to conduction from the cold cave floor.
    Other that.. hmmm made a good emergency shelter and a lovely experience.
    see attached pics. (my profile pic from the same cave)
    11717455_629328693874835_5873995333880264524_o.jpg11754283_629329743874730_445858844861108400_n.jpg11225322_1188145827878325_2601031973132149708_n.jpg
    Last edited by Antonyraison; 04-05-2017 at 03:17 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kyratshooter View Post
    I am sorry that I have to offer contradictory evidence of cave use and purpose. We have had many threads on this subject in the past.

    All caves and rock shelters, bluffs with undercut protection, are now protected under the Federal Antiquities Act as archaeological sites. It is illegal to camp on, under or inside of any of these places.

    Every cave, rock house and rock shelter in the eastern US will show evidence of use by prehistoric Native Americans as either permanent or temporary shelters.

    In the west many of the pueblos are located well up on cliff faces and under rock shelters. Many of the earliest archaeological finds are in caves and under rock bluffs. Some of the finds are so well preserved that the casual visitor might take them for historical waste and trash them not realizing that what they were destroying is archaeological media 15k-30k years old.

    Much of the "Basket Maker" culture was found in western caves and recesses, looking as if it had been left only days before.

    In many caves there are signs of prehistoric activity deep inside the caverns, sometimes miles from the entrance. Mammoth Cave is one example with evidence of Indians mining deep inside the cave using reed torches for light.

    Even in southeast Missouri there are sites relating to every phase of prehistory from Clovis to woodland and the largest prehistoric city in the U.S. was located in Missouri.

    Do not take anything for granted when dealing with caves and rock shelters. They are no longer playgrounds and the penalties for trespassing are stiff.

    Thank you for this information. I definitely respect and support the preservation of history, and other than possible dangers, one of the first things I looked for was making sure I wasn't trampling on artifacts or other things of significance.

  10. #10

    Default Not true

    I am sorry but the statement above - "All caves and rock shelters, bluffs with undercut protection, are now protected under the Federal Antiquities Act as archaeological sites. It is illegal to camp on, under or inside of any of these places." is not correct.

    I am a retired archaeologist, having worked 41 years for the National Park Service, and much of my work involved caves and rock shelters. In addition, one of my outdoor pursuits was caving, and I have done a fair amount of exploring and mapping,in both public and private lands.

    While many caves, particularly near the entrance, and rock shelters show signs of past human activity, and are therefore protected, this is certainly not true of all of them. You would certainly be prudent to looks for archeo material and avoid disturbance. This is often possible. if you can camp on or near the site and not disturb anything, you are fine. Disturbance is the issue, not non impact camping (LNT!!) Federal law does not apply to caves, and sites that are privately owned, for that matter

    Many caves and rock shelters provide superb accommodations. i would prefer a good rock shelter to any tent, given the choice. My best accommodations have been in rock shelters. Many folks in the past must have agreed with this opinion, because there are caves that have been heavily occupied for long periods of time.

    A good example is a site that I excavated for four seasons (June-August). Facing easterly, the site received early morning light, chasing away nocturnal chills. By noon, the shadows had expanded and nearly all of the site was in shade. We usually left reluctantly, returning to a much hotter house trailer back in the housing area. In this area, habitation sites were oriented to the east, while rock shelters facing to the south were often used for food storage and the like. And even in this place, where rock shelters were used extensively, not all caves were archaeological sites.

    If you find a cave that works for a camp, use it and be grateful. Do be mindful that you might not be the first person to do so, and avoid disturbance to earlier material. Enjoy a restful night.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Antonyraison's Avatar
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    Most historical sites here that hold archaeological significance are national museums, or active Archaeological dig sites.
    It's highly highly highly unlikely I ever even allowed to be staying over the night on those properties..
    As for the other lands we use for survival training, these are generally privately owned lands/farms and we have the permission to use the land.
    If by some Form of act of god, you stranded and you dying or close to dying and all you have close by is a cave for shelter, I am pretty sure your saving your own life trumps whatever significance the cave may hold.
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    We have a few caves down here. They (smaller shelter type caves) are likely dangerous to go in much less stay in because of "cave ins". The others have another even less attractive feature. Bats, and of course bat guano. Those little migratory bug eaters take up residence in anything that even appears to be cavelike and then return there every year. Personally, a cave would be one of my last choices for getting out of the elements and then only as a last resort or until I could do something else.

    Alan

  13. #13

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    I guess that caves in Texas are just not of the quality you encounter elsewhere in the southwest (AZ, NM, CA).

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    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I realize that hikermor pretty much flamed me on that post but if one looks up the rules for dispersed camping on all federal lands they specifically prohibit camping within 100 feet of a cave or rock shelter.

    It is a Federal law and included in the dispersed camping regulations of every federal park/wilderness area. this is the information for DBNF but it is not specific to this area.

    https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/dbnf/...fsbdev3_032555

    In some areas it has not been stressed or enforced, and apparently the staff has not been exposed to it, but it is there and it is for a purpose.

    It is also illegal to camp within 300 feet of any flowing waterway and that one is pretty much ignored too, but they can ticket you for it and do other unpleasant things.

    as for other areas of the world and the resources they contain, there ma not be laws but the sites are still valuable for historic study.

    If you come across a good campsite anywhere on earth the chances are that someone else was there first.

    I once owned a farm that had an old cabin on a hill overlooking a spring that flowed into a larger creek 100 yards away. The cabin was rough hewn and probably 200 years old. It had a huge slab of natural rock as a front step.

    I was sitting on the step one evening waiting for deer to come to the spring, as they did each night. I was absently digging with a stick and flipped a large, flint, half spearpoint out of the soil.

    From the form I knew it was Ancient Archaic, probably 5000-7000 years old, and apparently some one in the past had sit there where I was sitting and had taken the old broken point off their spear and replaced it with a new one, probably after he had made a kill at this same spring, 5000-7000 years earlier.

    That specific spot had 5000 year old history, 200 year old history, and the present day, all in one 50 square foot spot.

    That broken point is what I use as the flint for my favorite primitive F&S fire kit to this day.

    And humans have presumably only been in the New World for 15k-20k years. Imagine the litter one could find in a place where humans hunted for 2 million years!
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 02-01-2018 at 02:23 PM.
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  15. #15

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    Most of our FL caves are underwater. They are otherworldy.

  16. #16

    Default My apologies

    It was certainly not my intent to "flame" your comment about camping in rock shelters. I was simply trying to remedy an incorrect statement. Your reference cites a local regulation for the Daniel Boone National Forest which doesn't cite any federal statute, usually a common practice. I googled and ran across the "Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988" (16 US Code 63)which does indeed prohibit vandalizing, disturbing, or disrupting material within caves, but it says nothing about camping in caves. I think we would all agree that use of caves or rock shelters should be as low impact as possible - probably a good idea outside the cave as well.

    All archaeological sites on Federal land are protected, and have been since the Federal Antiquities Act of 1906, as well as by more recent legislation. They are protected whether or not they are within a cave or rock shelter. Again, none of this would apply to sites or caves that are not in Federal ownership.

    So I am really at a loss about your claim that camping within any cave or rock shelter is prohibited by Federal Law. Could you please cite the relevant legislation? I am honestly puzzled....

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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    Everything cave related in the Midwest is pretty much forbidden currently because of white nose syndrome in bats. I would check regs in the Ozark region as well because of the same. Even very small "cave ettes" may be included.

  18. #18

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    I googled again with the same results, but I did run across this interesting piece which details NPS policy on caves. There is not a mumbling word concerning camping in caves or rock shelters. https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2008/5023/pdf/01pate.pdf

    There is a significant point here. Regulations governing conduct on federal lands depend upon democratically processed laws which in due course lead to explicit regulations. There regs are what the smiling, friendly rangers enforce and not just something they think is a good idea (even if it is a good idea). Been there, done that. As an NPS archaeologist, at one time i held a federal law enforcement commission. A high point in my career ws giving extended testimony is an antiquities case which resulted in what for a very long time was the largest ever fine levied against a perpetrator. So I am glad to see those who plunder sites and otherwise violate valid regs get their just desserts.

    But you can't just make assertions about "rules.' They must be grounded in legislation passed by Congress and signed into law. There are limits on the Feds, as there should be. Ungrounded assertions about what is or is not forbidden don't help matters. I suspect that this is where a lot of discussion about law enforcement overreach stems from.

    Show me the legislation (actually, don't bother - I am now retired) or show it to any current federal officer and they will perform. Barring that,no deal

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    There's a nice big cave (cavern) up in the hill country. Natural Bridge Cavern. I've never been there. I've toured some caves up in MO.

    On our property we have a place that we call "The Indian Cave". It's on the bank of a dry creek bed and amounts to a 5'Deep x3'Highigh x6'Wide hole hollowed out of the caliche right at the top of the creek. I found two hand axes up there. About once ever two or three years we'll climb up there to check on it. There are numerous initials carved into the lichen covered caliche. Some type of animal beds in there. Probably a Bobcat or a Mountain Lion. Never have found any tracks. A person could probably get out of the rain in it but I would not go in there because I can see large flakes of the rock starting to separate in the ceiling. Even a small flake (50 or 60 pounds is more than I would want to fall on me while resting.

    Alan

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    Senior Member Antonyraison's Avatar
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    Bare in Mind I live In southern Africa, So your laws and our laws are vastly different concerning caves,
    Also historical sites here generally are Tourist attractions, and are highly guarded, monitored, with controlled access.
    Areas I may find myself in that may have a cave, most the time are going to be either no-man's land effectively or is a privately owned land that the owner knows we already on, and we have permission to do whatever it is we want to do.
    I am part of Wilderness survival school, and we take people out in many parts of southern Africa for the purposes of Training, and practicing skills that we would have taught them in more controlled environments in various more basic type courses.
    So yeah we go out as a small group, we have radio coms to a base location (in case extraction is needed) we have people like myself accompanying students, to aid and assist them or attend to minor injuries etc.. it is still very tough and gives them a taste of what it is to live in the wilderness in a "mock" survival situation, and gives them the opportunity to test and try skills in practice in the real world.

    As for caves making the best digs, I would beg to differ.. They make ok shelters.. but there are many ways I prefer spending a night in the bush other than a cave.
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