The entrance to Frick's Cave (Photo by Alan Cressler)

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Gear kits for cave climbers

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Along with the items above, both kits come with the following essentials, which Green says he has found to be the best of the best from his decade as an expedition caver and five years as a rope technician. His search has led him to four foreign suppliers, including MTDE and AV, whose products aren’t sold anywhere else in the U.S., he says. » Petzl Omni Carabiner » Petzl Spirit Carabiner » Petzl Croll Ascender » AV Chest Harness » DMM Phantom Carabiner » Dynamic rope for making cowtails

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We asked Green…

How do skills carry over between caving and climbing?

“When you’re going deeper into a cave, you’re pushing your physical limits and mental limits. That’s really similar to getting out on a wall. You have to have the mental stamina to keep yourself calm and conduct yourself well so that you can achieve your goal.”

Why would you need different equipment for two things that sound so similar?

“In rock climbing, you’re interacting with the rope more, and the equipment that you have is to protect you from falling. In caving, we have sophisticated equipment that clips onto the rope. So you’re essentially climbing the rope and not rock climbing.”

What’s your favorite caving spot near Chattanooga?

“Ellison’s is a real beauty cave. It’s got some of the deepest pits in the U.S. — one called Fantastic, about 600 feet deep, and the other, Incredible, about 500 feet deep. So you’re rappelling down the equivalent of a 50-story building.”

What advantages do climbers have in caving?

“There hasn’t been a lot of dome climbing [like traditional climbing but with bolts] using rock climbing techniques. My friend and I got some of the same equipment a traditional rock climber would have and used hammer drills to bolt our climb to the top. A lot of times, we’ve stumbled upon miles of cave that nobody has ever seen before by doing rock climbing techniques underground.”

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. may be celebrating 25 years of existence, but all its members' hard work means little if you don't explore the caves they've fought to keep open to the public.

Luckily, Mike Green, owner of new local sporting goods retailer Elevated Climbing, has several ready-made gear kits to give aspiring spelunkers all the tools they need to tour the Scenic Undercity — whether they're planning to just test the sport or really dig in deep.

ULTRA LIGHT KIT ($360): When adventurers can no longer resist the call of the cave's depths and crawling is no longer optional, every ounce counts. The Ultra Light Kit cuts down the weight cavers have to carry, making weaving through tight tunnels easier and trudging long distances less tiresome for expedition cavers.

MTDE Club Harness: Sticking to the bare essentials, this lightweight harness strips its design down to nothing but a seatbelt. A solidly built, fully adjustable, cost-efficient seatbelt.

Petzl Basic Ascender: Don't let the word "basic" fool you; this compact ascender comes crammed full with a large lower attachment hole for two carabiners, a self-cleaning toothed cam and a stainless steel finish to combat corrosion.

AV 25L Pack: Though included in both kits, this pack is especially vital to the ultra-light bundle. Aside from its durable build, the pack is waterproof, preventing subterranean rivers from doubling its weight while easily offering enough room to house all your gear with room to spare.

COMFORT KIT ($400): Rappelling into caverns might not be your idea of "cozy," but Elevated's cushioned kit might just change that. Geared toward beginners as well as longtime cavers planning to spend a lot of time on the rope, this kit fills every descent with unparalleled luxury.

MTDE Picos Harness: What this deluxe harness adds in weight, it makes up for with durability and comfort. The padded PVC harness features wide straps for a snug sitting position, and it redistributes weight across the entire structure to keep its wearer from being pinched into any one spot.

Petzl Handled Ascender: Power and comfort collide with this ascender, whose molded handle increases grip in wet conditions and keeps its user's hands from sliding to the bottom.

Elevated Footloop: A premiere addition to both kits, this Elevated exclusive is unlike any other foot loop on the market. The lightweight, waterproof accessory is crafted from spectra cord, making it impervious to abrasion, and its adjustable design makes it hassle-free.