From UkCaving
Jump to: navigation, search

A glossary of terms encountered in caving and mine exploration and used in this Wiki.

Contents: Top - 0–9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Adit: a (usually) horizontal mined entrance to a mine or cave system.

Armchair Caver: one who enjoys his caving through the media of books, films, television, and caving forums.

Ascender: device used to go up ropes (See SRT)

Aven: a vertical extension up from a passage or cave, that doesn't break through to the surface. An aven may lead into higher level passages.


Bedding plane: an original depositional surface within a body of limestone which may be exploited by water in a cave system leading to the development of a wide but low passage, often overcome by crawling.

Bobbin: a descending device consisting a number of metal fixed pulley like deviations around which the rope is threaded to provide friction.

Breakdown: a section of cave passage characterised by a jumble of rocks which have fallen from the cave's original ceiling. Such an area may continue to be unstable and hazardous. Voids can propagate upwards by this process.


Calcite: the crystalline from of calcium carbonate, the main constituent of limestone

Calcium carbonate: the mineral CaCO3 which occurs as the main constituent of limestone or marble but also as a 'cement' in other rocks where for example it may 'glue' together grains of quartz thus producing a calcareous sandstone.

Calcrete: a limestone of non-marine origin being a fossil soil eg the Ffynnon Limestones or Bishops Frome Limestone within the Old Red Sandstone of South Wales, sometimes several metres thick and from which lime-rich springs may emerge.

Capping: a technique used to split rock using nail gun cartridges.

Carboniferous Limestone: a British stratigraphic term referring to the suite of limestones laid down across the British Isles during the early part of the Carboniferous Period (359 - 299mya)

Cave: a natural cavity negotiable by humans.

Cavern: Normally used as part of the name of a cave system (e.g. Peak Cavern), but can also be a large chamber (e.g. Cavern 84 in Pikedaw Calamine Caverns).

Chamber: refers to an area of enlargement in a cave. When associated with a passage with a flat-out crawl, a chamber may be big enough to sit in; when associated with larger caves, they can be of considerable size. For example, Sarawak Chamber in Lubang Nasib Bagus, Borneo, is 700 m long, 400 m wide, and 70 m high.

Choke: a jumble of boulders. Chokes often have to be got through by moving carefully through the gaps between the boulders.

Coe: a small limestone building built near to or even over the top of the entrance to a mine which was used by the miners to keep their equipment and underground clothes in.

Cow's Tail: a short piece of dynamic rope attached to a caver's harness at one end and with a karabiner attached to the other. It is used for safety, and during some SRT manoeuvres.

Crinoid: a fossil common in some limestones of a type of 'sea-lily', typically seen as broken sections of stem which can weather out of the limestone.


Deads: unused rocks created by miners whilst extracting minerals. Usually 'stacked' at side of passageways or up in avens or gaps held back by a stemple.

Descender: a device used to go down ropes (See SRT)

Dig: a site on the surface or underground where effort is being made to remove material in the hope of entering open passage beyond.

Dolomite: a rock formed principally from magnesium carbonate. Calcium carbonate limestones can be converted to magnesium carbonate limestones by a process known as 'dolomitisation'.

Duck: a section of passage where the roof dips for a short distant close to or below the surface of the water. Some ducks may require total submersion to negotiate, whilst others may have a usable airspace.



Flowstone: a deposit of calcium carbonate across the wall or floor of a cave originating from gently flowing water.

Free Dive: a dive through a short sump using a lung full of air rather than diving equipment.



Hanging Death: a phrase used to describe what appear to be precariously poised boulders.



Jammer: A mechanical device for gripping rope. Used in ascending during Single Rope Technique (SRT).


Karst: a landscape incorporating numerous geomorphological features characteristic of limestone areas such as limestone pavements, sinkholes, resurgences, cave systems, dry valleys etc. The process whereby such a landscape comes into being is referred to as 'karstification'. It is named for the German term for the Kras region of the former Yugoslavia where such landscape abound.

Krab: an informal name for a karabiner or carabiner. A metal loop with a sprung or screwed gate for linking ropes and vertical equipment.


Limestone: a rock formed principally from calcium carbonate, a mineral which is slightly soluble in mildly acidic water, hence its importance in cave development.

Limestone pavement: a flat (or relatively flat) expanse of limestone which has undergone a greater or lesser degree of erosion and chemical weathering and is typically composed of clints (upstanding blocks) and grykes (fissures).


Magnesian Limestone: name formerly applied to the Permian age limestone belt of Northeast England



Oolite: a limestone composed largely of 'ooliths' (literally 'egg stones') or 'ooids'- small rounded grains of calcium carbonate. Common in limestones of both Carboniferous and Jurassic age in the UK. Ooliths more than 2mm in diameter are known as 'pisoliths' ('pea stones') or 'pisoids'.


Phreatic: relating to water below the water table eg 'phreatic tube' - a cave passage formed beneath the water table, typically round in cross-section. Contrast with 'vadose'.

Pitch: a vertical section of cave passage. Usually negotiated with the aid of rope or ladder.

P-Bolt: also referred to as Eco-bolts. A type of fixed, resin-mounted anchor often encountered installed on pitches in popular systems.

Pothole: a vertical entrance to a cave system; a term commonly used in the north of England but less prevalent elsewhere in the UK.

Pull through: a trip which involves abseiling through a system and pulling one's rope down as one goes, hopefully exiting through a second entrance.



Rack: a descending device consisting a number of bars around which the rope is threaded to provide friction.

Reef knoll: a carbonate build-up (on scale of tens to hundreds of metres) formed by growing corals etc, erosion of which which gives rise to 'knolly' landscape such as are common in the Peak District.

Rift: a vertical fissure within a cave.


Shaft: a man made vertical entrance to a mine. or a prominent vertical feature in a natural cave (e.g. Gaping Gill Main Shaft).

Simple: the brand name of a Bobbin descending device manufactured by Petzl.

Slant: an entrance passage to a mine which is angled to the horizontal.

Slickenside a lineation on a fault or bedding plane caused by the frictional movement of one rock body against another. The plane may be coated by a mineral, often quartz or calcite, which itself shows striations in the direction of movement. It also the name given to a variety of galena.

Sough: (rhymes with 'cow') an underground channel for draining water out of a mine. The term is closely associated with the lead mining areas of Derbyshire.

Squeeze: a constricted section of passage, either horizontal or vertical, that may require some effort to force your way through.

Speleothem: a cave formation eg stalactite

Stemple: a piece of wood, often of dubious quality and great age, that holds up stacked rocks in mined passages or has been fixed across passages to allow progress at a high level. The latter technique has been used by both miners (as seen in Stemple Highway in Peak Cavern), and by cavers (as in the Meanders below Cairn Hall in the Gouffre Berger).

Stop: a descender produced by Petzl, basically a Simple (or Bobbin) with the addition of a 'braking' handle.

Stromatolite: a fossil, layered mound-like structure produced by cyanobacteria

Stylolite: an irregular surface within a body of limestone, broadly parallel to the bedding, where dissolution of the minerals on either side has taken place under pressure, often leaving a small residue of insoluble material. Stylolites are typically seen as an intricately wiggly line in the side of a cave passage where the plane of the stylolite is intersected.

Sump: a section of passage full to the roof with water. Some sumps may be free-dived, normally following a heavy duty line, others may require diving apparatus to explore.

Survey: a map of a cave or mine system. A survey may include a plan, one or more elevations, and passage cross sections. There are recognised symbols for plotting features such as sumps, sediments, water flow directions, and drafts.


Through-trip: a caving expedition which enters a cave or mine at one point and exits at another.



Vadose: relating to water above the water table eg 'vadose canyon' - a gorge-like cave passage formed by water in an otherwise air-filled passage. Contrast with 'phreatic'.





Personal tools