1. Traveling through a passage your headlamp suddenly shuts off leaving you in the dark. Do you:

  • Rely on your buddy to illuminate your way
  • Start digging through your pack for your spare headlamp
  • Pull out spare batteries from your pocket
  • Turn on the extra light source worn on your helmet

Cavers work together as teams but they must be self-sufficient, too. The answer here is D – it’s important to have an extra light source immediately on hand. Changing batteries or rooting through a backpack in the pitch black is tough. A good motto underground: Fail to plan and you’ve planned to fail.

2. There is a stream flowing through Binkley’s Cave and while deep inside it, you notice the water level is rising rapidly. Realizing that you are likely already trapped inside, you should:

  • Make a quick dash for the entrance and try to beat the rising waters
  • Wait for the water to go down in a day or two
  • Start searching for a second entrance
  • Dig in the ceiling in hopes of intersecting the surface

Running through caves is never an answer, and only a small percentage of caves have more than one entrance (even if it did chances are you would be unable to find it.) Frantically digging overhead is an almost surefire way to cause catastrophic collapse. Calm and patience is the solution, B.

3. When the local townspeople suspected that Jews were hiding out in Priest’s Grotto, they buried them alive, under mounds of dirt. The survivors’ best recourse was to:

  • Start exploring the rest of the cave in hopes of finding another entrance
  • Carefully start moving rock and earth to dig out
  • Select a passage and dig up and out to reach the surface

Priests Grotto is an extremely complex, massive cave system and the survivors were in the pitch black most of the time, so A is not a safe option. Digging overhead invites collapse, which the survivors found out when they tried it. B is the correct choice. After days, they opened the entrance then “played dead,” never leaving the cave for months, to trick the villagers.

4. Inside Rumbling Falls Cave your group becomes helplessly lost. After hours of panicking, arguments break out and a vote is called for. The options are:

  • Wait until civility returns and calmly make decisions as a group
  • Keep searching for landmarks or clues leading out
  • Work by a process of elimination and start marking off passages that you have checked
  • Dig a new entrance like Saul Stermer did in Verteba, the well-known cave that the survivors first hid in.

A group can only search for so long and after arguments and hours of searching, exhaustion will set in. If your group was fresh, thinking clearly, and united as a group B and C are good options. But after heightened emotions and arguments the best choice is A. Once everyone has calmed down, then B and C become options. It is very rare that D is ever a possibility because most caves are too deep to dig out of. The 5-story escape system that Saul built was remarkable.
Next time be more choosy about your underground partners. Arguments have no place underground. Cavers must always work together, come to agreements, and make decisions as a unit. Sometimes lives depend on it. The here answer is A.

5. After emerging from a short swim across a cold lake inside a cave, chills overcome you and soon you start shaking violently. Your best bet is to:

  • Start moving faster to generate more body heat
  • Peel off your wet shirt and replace it with a dry one and continue moving at a steady pace
  • Sit and huddle under an emergency space blanket until it is time to leave.

Caves maintain an even temperature year round. The survivors’ cave is a constant 50F/10C degrees so whether it’s warm or cold out, hypothermia can be an issue underground. Water takes an enormous amount of energy to heat. Wet clothes pull valuable heat away, so exchanging them for dry clothing is always the first line of defense, making B the solution. (Bring a spare change of clothes!) Generating heat by moving faster does work, but in the end you will wear yourself out and still be wearing wet clothing, which will put you back in the same condition that you started in. And sitting down – even under a space blanket – is a surefire way of enticing hypothermia.

6. Deep in Hollow Ridge Cave, John and David find a pool of water. Suspecting more passages on the other side, John dives in but does not reemerge. David should:

  • Assume that John popped out into dry passage on the other side and dive in after him
  • Wait an hour and go for help leaving behind a note with his intentions of returning with a rescue party
  • Leave the pool room and look for a dry bypass.

Cave diving is among the most lethal activities, and free diving like John did leaves little room for error. Unable to find an air pocket for air, divers become easily disoriented and drowning is the most likely outcome. B is the best answer, but if David chose C he should also leave a note at the pool with his whereabouts so John can find him on the off chance he does re-emerge.

7. The longest recognized continuous stay underground is:

  • The Survivor’s 344 days in Priest’s Grotto, Ukraine in 1943-1944
  • 205 days by French caver Michel Siffre in Midnight Cave, Texas, USA in 1972

There are no documented, uninterrupted stays that come close to the survivor’s of Priests Grotto. So while you’d think the answer would be A, Michele Siffre in 1972, joined a joint NASA-French experiment looking at how man would react in space. He attempted to spend 6 months in isolation, in an underground cave where he was given all the supplies and food necessary. He lasted 205 days before he needed to get out. The experiment and experience are documented in Beyond Time (McGraw-Hill, 1964).

8. Before entering Priest’s Grotto, your party wants to devise a plan to successfully get out of such a complex system of cave passages. After discussing options your team decides to:

  • Leave pieces of colored flagging tape Hansel and Gretel style
  • Mark arrows on the walls
  • Leave little piles of rocks at significant intersections

Caves are wonderful places to explore, but trips in them must not create lasting damage or leave litter. The cavers’ motto is: kill nothing but time, leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.
Resorting to vandalism is not a way to cave, so B, drawing or spray-painting arrows on walls is not an option. A is a good answer, but many parties leave the flagging tape behind after they leave and it becomes litter. C is the best option. Build little piles of rocks, called cairns, 3-4 rocks at each junction. On your way out simply scatter the rocks.

9. You’ve gotten separated from your cave team. Your best course of action is:

  • Try to retrace your steps
  • Start shouting
  • Sit down and wait
  • Light matches and wait for others to smell the smoke and come to the rescue.

Smoke won’t travel far in a cave and even at a loud shout, sound does not travel far underground. Retracing your steps can make matters worse if you get lost deeper in the cave. The answer is C. Eventually your team will realize your absence and mount a mini-rescue to find you.

10. In Blowing Cave you turn a corner and see the reflecting eyes of an animal in the dark. Quite alarmed and with your heartbeat racing, you remember that:

  • The animal is likely more scared than you are and backing off will solve the situation
  • Wild cats like to live in caves and you need to leave immediately
  • Throwing rocks will distract the animal and ensure your safety

Other than roosting buzzards or raccoons entering for a drink of water, large animals rarely visit caves, so B is not correct. C will only cause confusion and perhaps incite the animal, so A is the correct answer. Leave the animal alone so it can leave on its own.

11. In a vertical cave where you have to rappel up and down on a rope, one of the standing rules of rope work is to:

  • Send the most experienced caver down the pit first
  • Use approved descending devices
  • Tie a knot at the end of the rope

The most experienced person likely rigs the rope, but he/she does not need to go down first. There is no group that approves descenders or other pieces of caving gear, leaving C the answer. Without a stopper knot at the end you could rappel off the end of the rope!

12. After a long approach hike to Old Goat Cave your friend, Kristen, realizes that she has forgotten her helmet back at the car. After a moment of contemplation she decides to:

  • Strap a headlamp on her head and enter the cave without the helmet
  • Go caving in a ball cap and carry her flashlight
  • Get the helmet from the car

A helmet is as essential to a caver as a headlamp. In fact, the two items are usually fastened together, because one is useless without the other. Caving without a helmet results in head injuries, and ball caps are no better, eliminating A and B. C is the only choice.
Caving is a contact activity and it must have bruised the survivors moving through Priest’s Grotto in the dark. Bashing shins, shoulders, knees and heads was likely common and quite painful until they learned to move through the cave by slowly feeling their way along the increasingly familiar corridors.

13. The Stermers’ survival depended upon being able to gather enough food, supplies and wood for cooking to sustain their family. But they had to venture far from the cave in the dark of night, so as not to give up their hiding place and put everyone at risk. How did they get heavy loads back to the cave?

  • Nissel Stermer stole a horse.
  • Saul Stermer was good at construction and built a collapsible sled, using no nails, only cut timber.
  • They carried weights well over 100 pounds on their backs.

A, B and C are all correct!

What did the Stermers think of the Chilean Miners’ Survival?

It was a profound coincidence, we landed at the Munich Airport on the way to Ukraine with the survivors, just as the 33 Chilean coal miners, trapped underground for 69 days, were freed.

See the Reuters report from that day