Who We Are
First and foremost we are a caving club, and our main emphasis will always be on enjoying known caves, and searching for, exploring, and mapping new discoveries. Our membership is spread across the province of Alberta (and beyond), spans all age groups, and encompasses experience levels from beginner cavers to old hands. Some of our members are extremely active cavers while others support the club passively.
The Alberta Speleological Society has become the primary authority on caves and karst in Alberta, because of our well-documented activities in the Rockies, the scientific and practical expertise of some of our members, and our ability to network with cave experts in other parts of the world. We are also the province's major special interest group on cave issues.
What We Do
Executive members handle most of the boring political and organizational stuff, while our members focus on going caving. However we generally have very few formal club outings - each year we might schedule one or two trips for members, and may occasionally organize an expedition to a remote area for experienced cavers, usually advertised in the newsletter. Most activities are informally arranged between members of similar interest and ability levels who make their own trips. You might hear about them at the pub night, or read about them afterwards in the newsletter, or not hear about them at all. A new member should therefore not expect the trips to come to him/her, but should be willing to take the initiative to find out what's happening, or organize their own trips. Executive members can help out with information or permit applications, if required, for caves that are within your experience and abilities. They can also help you get started if you are a beginner.
Technical equipment ('tackle') is available at no charge to any member in good standing; contact your tacklemaster to see what the local arrangements for sign-out are. All tackle must be returned promptly after use in a clean and organized state (some facilities have rope washing tools), and must be signed back in so the club can keep track of what's where. Tackle stores typically include ropes of various lengths, steel cable ladders, survey equipment, rope protectors, rope bags, carbide (when we can get it), and some also have digging tools, scaling poles and miscellaneous stuff, but we do not lend personal equipment such as lights, helmets or harnesses. Some tackle stores also have a 'bash kit', designed to provide emergency comfort and basic first aid to an accident victim; however, cave rescues will often be handled through the Alberta Cave Rescue Organization (ACRO). As a precaution, bash kits are designed to be left in the car trunk or base camp until needed. There are also emergency locator beacons available from ACRO and British Columbia Cave Rescue (BCCR) for remote expeditions; see your tacklemaster for details. It is the responsibility of the individual caver, not the Alberta Speleological Society, to ensure that borrowed tackle is in good shape and is used properly and safely. All caving equipment is potentially dangerous if misused. If you are not familiar with caving technique or have spotted a piece of equipment you're not sure about, contact your tacklemaster for advice.
Some chapters hold informal pub nights, where most of the club caving activities are planned. Nonmembers are very welcome. Dropping by is a good way to meet cavers, tap into the information pool, and have an enjoyable evening too. Lethbridge and Jasper do not have regular meetings at present.
The Alberta Speleological Society has a small library of our club newsletters and special interest items. If you are interested in signing something out or just want to browse, please contact the Librarian. Items can also be mailed, or photocopied upon making prior arrangements. There is no charge for members using the library unless mailing/shipping arrangements have been made. A quarterly newsletter (the Journal of Subterranean Metaphysics) is mailed free to each member in good standing.
Under our bylaws, we must have one Annual General Meeting per year, usually in late November or early December; we often also have a Semi-Annual General Meeting in June. At both the AGM and SAGM, club business is discussed and motions are made and voted on. Executive and committee members conduct the day-to-day business in between. We always have a social event after each general meeting, usually a very informal dinner for a nominal fee (as a fund-raiser) followed by a party often including slide shows and sometimes a squeeze machine or other caving activities. It's a lot of fun and a great way to meet other cavers. You don't have to be a member to attend any part of this, but you must be a member to vote.
Periodically the executives hold Board of Directors' meetings to discuss club business. Although not intended for the general membership, attendance by interested members is generally not a problem. Contact the secretary for meeting details.
What We Believe In
Although we do not actively promote caving to the general public, the Alberta Speleological Society is receptive to new members, provides information to organizations and individuals, and works with federal and provincial governments on cave management issues.
Our ethics prohibit damaging the cave environment or collections of any kind; photographs are much more meaningful, and most cave formations lose their lustre and appeal when taken from the high humidity environment anyway. Spray painting, scratching, chipping or other permanent or semi-permanent markings for identification, direction finding or other reasons is unnecessary vandalism. Littering or dumping of spent carbide underground is thoughtless laziness; we often remove the litter of other inconsiderate visitors. Some caves have decorated or delicate floors, requiring keeping to a low-impact path or removing boots altogether (not too many in the Rockies though). A few caves contain delicate ice crystals, so carbide or open-flame light sources are inappropriate and visitation should be limited because of body heat. Many caves house hibernating bats, which should not be disturbed as a premature metabolism change could result in their death. There are some exploration priorities that, though controversial, have a conditional acceptance amongst cavers, including digging and breaking of barriers. It must be stressed, however, that each instance is considered on its own merits, none are undertaken lightly, and damaging the cave is considered an extreme measure that is only undertaken when the probability of a significant discovery greatly exceeds the damage required.
The Alberta Speleological Society does not hold formal training sessions for new members. Most cavers learn their skills by seeking advice and visiting the easier caves with more experienced companions, working through a range of difficulties over the years. There are also private and university courses in beginner caving available. Some of the most valuable caving traits are self-reliance, level-headedness, and common sense.
The Alberta Speleological Society has never claimed responsibility for cave rescues. We believe that safety is the responsibility of each individual caver within their underground team, and that in the event of an accident it is the individuals involved, not the club, who are responsible for their actions and any costs associated with a rescue attempt. Self-rescue, where possible, is most strongly recommended, unless moving the victim would result in further injuries. Rescues requiring outside assistance are coordinated by the local RCMP who may engage ACRO or BCCR. The Alberta Speleological Society has no obligation to provide assistance to a cave rescue, but each individual member has the option of volunteering their assistance, if they wish. If you want to learn more about cave rescue, contact ACRO or BCCR.
Caving is a sport that, like science, very much builds on the achievements of others, in terms of equipment and technique development, but also in terms of surface searches, surveying, and making new discoveries in existing caves. For these reasons, cavers everywhere document their new finds. In Alberta, written descriptions and surveys of new cave passages, and sometimes surface searches, should be submitted to our newsletter, the Journal of Subterranean Metaphysics. Original or transcribed survey notes should be retained (personally or in the club library) even after the survey has been published, so that subsequent extensions to the cave can be added to the data. Any discoveries thought to be of wider interest should also be submitted to The Canadian Caver, Canada's national caving journal. The Alberta Speleological Society and other clubs provide limited financial support to The Canadian Caver, and encourage all cavers to subscribe.
In the happy but rare event of discovering virgin cave passage, some basic courtesies should be followed. It is considered poor ethics to partake in the enjoyment of exploring a new discovery without participating in the often-challenging task of surveying and documenting. It is also unfair to be the first to explore someone else's discovery without their knowledge or consent - far better to be part of a team exploring together. Caves and passages are usually named by their discoverers and surveyors, but are almost never named after them ("Bob's Cave") or, for that matter, after any living person. Exceptions are caves that already have local names, which should not be changed. The permanence of the 'first name' is why cavers should take care to name their discoveries artfully and well rather than frivolously and without forethought.