Outdoor Adventures

Caving: Ladders and Lifeline Training at Pamitinan Cave

Ladders and Lifeline training was conducted on Dec. 12, 2015 at the Pamitinan Cave, Brgy. Wawa, Montalban, Rizal as part of my Gaia Exploration Club (GEC) membership application. As the name suggests, the training aims to teach participants how to use ladders and lifeline (ropes) during caving expeditions.

The training involved introduction to the different equipment and how they function, identifying the most ideal spot for anchoring and setting up the ladder, knowing how to use a belay device, how to belay, and familiarizing with commonly used knots such as the Munter hitch, double eight and water knots.

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Nori teaching how to coil a rope- alpine style
Because there were 20 of us, we were divided into four groups where each has to find their own spot to practice anchoring, using the ladder, and belaying. We first practiced outside the Pamitinan cave where most of the groups used the concrete railings outlining the resting station as anchor spots.

Because of the many equipment, anchoring was a little confusing so I just watched the guys look for the ideal anchoring area and learn from them. After, the narrow caving ladder was set-up and then we were ready to climb.

It was hard climbing up and down the ladder as the holds are narrow and we have to negotiate snapping the carabiners of the “cow’s tail” every 2-3 steps for additional safety precaution. I immediately thanked myself for being interested in wall climbing as the skills needed in the sport like conserving energy while on climb and belaying is thoroughly needed in our activity.

Belayer ready!

We had a brief lunch after the simulation then we proceeded inside the cave to do the ladders and lifeline training proper where our group was assigned to set-up a ladder down a 30 ft. vertical rock wall.   I was assigned to help with the rigging and anchoring- a task I enjoyed as I get to practice how to select the ideal anchoring spot and see again how rigging is done. I also set-up a lifeline for my teammate’s safety and got to practice tying knots in actual caving activity.

Rigging is a rigorous task. For the activity, the rigging almost took us 15- 20 minutes as my partner test the best spot to anchor. What I learned here is to bring extra equipment like carabiners, webbings, rope protector and rigs as we don’t know the physical nature of the rocks inside a new cave- it is time consuming to go back and look for extra equipment outside. We also have to test if the rocks we used as anchor is stable and strong enough to bear our weight.

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Belayer feeding rope to a climber inside the Pamitinan Cave
Climbing up and down the ladder inside the cave proved to be a very technical activity. Unlike in our simulation outside where the ladder is set-up near the wall, our ladder inside the cave swings back and forth. It is only towards the middle of the climb that the ladder finally rest upon the vertical face of the wall. Also, it was hard to climb as we need to negotiate 30 ft of slippery mud covered ladder holds.
We stayed inside the cave for almost 3 hours. When we went out we were all covered in sticky mud, wet and weary for a whole day of mentally and physically draining activity. We were all glad to finally see the light again!
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 Awesome view outside Pamitinan Cave. Hello, Light!

In Retrospect

Though draining, ladders and lifelines training is an activity I enjoyed much. We learned many things and I am grateful to my helpful and jolly co-applicants. After 5+ trainings on developing our caving skills I can see that we are now getting to know each other more and how each one work or will work in future caving activities.

One of the comments raised during our post caving debriefing is the importance of communication between belayer and climber while on the ladder. We will definitely remember this in our caving activities next time:)

Another thought is that while I have a bit of training in wall climbing and is familiar in belaying and climbing, the cave environment and caving equipment are worlds different to that of wall/ rock climbing. Even the harness and the belay device in caving is modified to suite the harsh caving environment.

I am still not that comfortable inside caves but I am very excited to know how far I will go with GEC and the people I met during our trainings. I hope I go far in discovering the wonders of the subterranean world.

Thank you to all our trainers!

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