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52 Ways to Die in a Cave

As part of the promotion for James Tabor’s book Blind Descent a list of potentially fatal caving mishaps has been making the rounds. (Curious? Read, Boing Boing, etc.)

Having been on some extended caving descents myself, this list made me laugh, reminded me of some close calls, and generally made we want to get underground again. Funny: #32 really wouldn’t kill you. Creepy: #43. Really – this could have happened to us once and we were anxiously hypervigilant to prevent it. Finally, if #52 doesn’t almost happen you then you’re really not having enough fun!

I don’t have any pictures from those excursions back in NY State and Pennsylvania but I do have some recent ones from a beach cave here in Northern California. I’ll post those later.

52 Ways to Die in a Cave

  1. Acetylene explosion (acetylene still used by some as fuel for cave lamps)
  2. Camp stove explosion (white gas or butane)
  3. Fall while climbing rock
  4. Fall while downclimbing rock
  5. Fall while ascending rope
  6. Fall while rappelling (descending rope)
  7. Rockfall
  8. Dig or tunnel collapse
  9. Unplanned detachment from rebelay
  10. Failure to complete change from rappel to ascent, and vice versa
  11. Prusik knots jammed
  12. Prusik knots won’t grip
  13. Ascenders slip on muddy, wet, or icy rope (this one almost got me on a 250-foot drop)
  14. Strangulation in vertical gear
  15. Fall from losing grip on handline
  16. Rope anchor failure
  17. Rope failure
  18. Rope cut by falling rock
  19. Ladder failure
  20. Uncontrolled rappel
  21. Harness carabiner opens during rappel (as with Chris Yeager)
  22. Rappel shunt (emergency brake) defeated during rappel
  23. Unwanted rappel shunt activation
  24. Rappel off end of rope (as with Alexander Karabikhin)
  25. Drop rope
  26. Rope recoils out of reach after rappel
  27. Rappel into pit without ascent gear
  28. Foot hang
  29. Chemical contamination of rope
  30. Animals eat rope
  31. Rappel rack nut falls off
  32. Hair caught in rappel rack
  33. Clothing or chinstrap caught in rappel rack
  34. Sewn sling tears
  35. Exhaustion
  36. Hypothermia
  37. Drowning
  38. Becoming lost
  39. Out of light
  40. Entrapment by flood
  41. Entrapment by rockfall
  42. Asphyxiation by methane, carbon dioxide, blast fumes, etc.
  43. Locked inside gated entrance
  44. Poisonous snakes and insects
  45. Struck by lightning while in cave stream
  46. Struck by lightning while talking on cable telephone to surface
  47. Rabid bat bite
  48. Bacterial or fungal infection: histoplasmosis, etc.
  49. Hyperthermia (some caves are 130F)
  50. Incapacitating injury
  51. Incapacitating illness
  52. Stuck in crevice

BLIND DESCENT by James Tabor is in stores on June 15, 2010 and available for preorder now. Learn more at http://www.BlindDescent.com

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