Cave Maps

One aspect of caving I’ve considered sort of odd is the unspoken rule that if a cave exists it must be surveyed and mapped.  Sure, not all cavers are into mapping, but if you talking in a group of cavers and mention a new cave inevitably someone will ask whether it has been surveyed or when will the mapping start.

There are legitimate reasons for mapping:  to measure the length and depth, helping to figure where passage might connect, a guide for rescuers, etc.  Beyond that, some cavers just can’t sit idle until a survey is done and a map created.  Survey trips aren’t “fun” caving.  They can be long and slow, boring depending on your task and even frustrating.

Survey accuracy is often the metric for success.  Getting a one degree compass foresight/backsight agreement in an awkward muddy crawl can lead to tension.  And waiting for the sketcher to do all the bookwork while laying in a wet passage isn’t fun either.

At the end of the day, good data and sketching leads allows a good map to be created.  But here’s one of the secrects of cave maps:  you don’t see what went into it:  poor loop closures, passage wall sketches that don’t line up, poorly scaled features, etc.

It just looks pretty on paper.  As one long time caver in our area said “A cave map isn’t a literal representation, instead it’s the cartographer’s best interpretation of what the cave might be like.”