All lower berg caves should be booked in advance if you are planning on using them to overnight in. The escarpment caves are unfortunately not bookable and it’s usually on a first-come, first-served basis due to their low usage and the fact that the occupants may have started their hike in a different section of the berg.
You should not overnight in a cave when you have not booked it, especially if another group has already booked it, unless it is a dire emergency like extremely bad weather, flooded rivers or illness. If the rightful occupants are already in the cave when you arrive it is just good manners to ask if you could share the cave, that is if there is space available. Remember that they have the right to say no and you should accept that. If they agree to share you should be considerate towards them.
If you have not booked a cave and arrive at the cave before a group you know that has booked, you should wait for the group to arrive and allow them to occupy the cave first and then should ask if you could stay, however it would be better if you find alternative accommodation.
Sometimes it does happen that a cave gets double booked and then you are forced to share a cave – if there is space. Report any double-booking incidents to the office where you booked the cave on your return. This will also allow you to establish for certain that it was a double booking and not that the other party was just trying their luck without having planned ahead properly. If the latter is the case, then they need to be made aware of the booking procedure and etiquette involved in using caves, otherwise they should rather stay out of the mountains than put other groups at risk.
It is also a good idea to carry a tent with you especially if you are not familiar with the exact location of a cave or if the weather turns bad and you are not able to reach the cave then you can still have adequate shelter for your group.
There are only a few things more disgusting than arriving at a cave to find it littered with rubbish and the area surrounding it littered with human waste and toilet paper. People who do these things should not be hiking at all. All human waste and toilet paper should be properly buried in the open where the rain can assist with decomposition, and put a rock on top of the place where you squatted to reduce erosion and prevent animals from digging up the spot. All rubbish must be brought back down with you – do not bury anything as wild animals will dig it up.
Avoid wetting areas of the cave which might be used by other hikers the night after your departure, and don’t spoil the cave for other hikers by leaving spilt food around in the hope that birds and other animals will clean it up for you. Always leave the cave in the same condition that you would like to find it in when you arrive.
Remember that you are NOT ALLOWED to make any fires in a cave and only gas or liquid fuel stoves are allowed to cook on. Remember that if you make a fire the soot not only blackens the cave roof but the fire pit is unsightly and will lead to other groups wanting to make fires and soon all the plants around the cave will be destroyed to provide fire wood.
Always carry your receipt where you can prove that you have booked a particular cave. It has happened to me personally. We were on a 5 day hike and we had made our booking through a particular office and due to an oversight the relevant information was not relayed to the other offices. We arrived at a cave we booked not knowing that it had also been booked by another group. Luckily we could accommodate everyone in the cave but there were a few tense minutes as the other groups leader was very reluctant to share the cave until we showed him proof that we had also booked the cave.