Speleologists from All Over the World Tour and Study National Park Caves

ICS participants enjoy a guided tour of Slaughter Canyon (New) Cave. NPS photo.

The 15th International Congress of Speleology, themed “Karst Horizons,” has been going on all week in Kerrsville, Texas, and will conclude Sunday. The Park Service not only co-sponsored this year’s meeting, but also offered visiting cave enthusiasts and scientists the option to participate in field camps and guided excursions in various NPS units with caves.

Sponsored by the International Union of Speleology, an organization with 62 member nations, the ICS is a once-every-four-years gathering that attracts people from all over the world who have a passionate interest in caves and karst landscapes. Scientists and other serious cave enthusiasts know that ICS programs and activities give them outstanding opportunities to learn more about caves and to swap stories and promote and share ideas about all aspects of cave research and enjoyment. There’s cave exploration, cave mapping, cave science, cave microbiology, cave management, caving equipment and techniques, cave diving, cave rescue, cave photography, caving sociology, and … well, you get the picture. If you want details, have a look at the master schedule for the 15th ICS.

This 15th edition of the ICS was held at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas, with the National Park Service and the National Cave and Karst Research Institute serving as primary sponsors. The event, which concludes Sunday, attracted more than 1,300 registrants from at least 49 countries.

Kerrville was an apt choice for the ICS venue. Being located northwest of San Antonio in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Kerrville is situated in a karst landscape of vast size and offers ready access to plenty of caves, sinkholes, and other things that karst fans love to get up close and personal with. Kerrville also offers a fairly central location from which to travel to various major and minor karst areas of the Western and Midwestern U.S. as well as northern Mexico.

The latter locational advantage is important. It’s common practice for scientific conferences to offer participants the option to take part in off-site activities such as field trips, workshops, and demonstrations. The ICS is no exception, and of course the off-site options are activities that take place in caves.
That brings the national parks into play. There are more than 4,000 known caves in 81 NPS units, so there are plenty of choices.

Some ICS participants opted for guided tours and week-long field camps based in or near national parks and scheduled either before or after the conference. When ICS registrants visited the parks they went along on cave excursions guided by park employees and volunteers and accompanied by geologists, microbiologists, explorer-cartographers, and other specialists working in NPS sites.

Participants in the “Scientific Rambles through Southeast New Mexico” and the “Caves of the Guadalupe Mountains and Surrounding Area, New Mexico” field trips (pre- and post-Congress options, respectively) visited visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park and took on- and off-trail trips in Carlsbad Cavern, Spider Cave, and Slaughter Canyon (New) Cave. Those who signed up for the “Exploration and Science in the Mammoth Cave System” got pretty much what you’d think -- a week-long diet of several cave trips per day, mostly in Mammoth Cave National Park. The “Caves of the Black Hills, South Dakota” pre-Congress field trip included cave tours in Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. The “Lilburn Cave: California's Marble Masterpiece” post-Congress field trip features three days of camping, backpacking, and challenging sport caving in a Sequoia National Park cave (and scientific preserve) that the Cave Research Foundation has been studying for 25 years.

Postscript: We’re aware that many Traveler readers have been conditioned to interpret ICS as “Incident Command System,” and we hope that ya’ll haven’t found this particular connotation of ICS too discombobulating.