I could write many stories about Pettyjohn Cave, however I would like to explain here why this great cave is my favorite. For a Horizontal caver like myself, Pettyjohn has plenty to offer. Good climbs, challenging passages, waterfalls, formations, intriguing passages, extreme hard to reach places most of which I have not seen, possibilities for new discoveries and good mud.
For some looking for climbing challenges, the entrance room has plenty to offer. This long room over 500 feet long and averaging 50 feet wide and 30 feet high ceilings, has two easy climbs just to reach the back. Near the entrance there is a good climb up into an upper formation room that connects to the main entrance room at the ceiling level. Most visitors rush pass this area to get to the back of the room or to head off to the main waterfall.
To reach the stream levels there are challenging climbs if you avoid the ropes left there by previous cavers. Some of these ropes have been in place for a long time and should not be used. One especially challenging climb is getting up into the Racoon Room, this large room in the mid level of the cave gives access to most of the middle levels of the cave. Pettyjohn Cave is divided up into three levels, the entrance room which is high and mostly dry, the middle levels which are dry passages making up about 1/3 of the known cave and reaching under the mountain to the north. A difficult climb from this northern section is up into the Echo Room, the largest room in the cave. A 100 by 200 foot room with high ceilings. And the lower stream passages which make up the largest portions of the cave.
The waterfall climb leads to a second waterfall that is much easer to climb and an up stream passage called Schreiber’s Extension that is yet to be completely explored.
From the main entrance room there are many ways to go deeper into the cave and at the start of each of these passages you will have a challenge. The Pancake squeeze on the way to the waterfall, some tight squeezes or hard climbs, depending on which route you choose, to get to the Volcano Room. Each route from the Main room is like a cave of its own. If you like maze’s try The Labyrinth in the southeast lower level of Pettyjohn. If you are looking for real adventure, explore the extreme northwest section called The Outer Limits. And for a good technical climb, explore the rooms above the Double Echo Domes.
If you like underground waterfalls, you will love Pettyjohn Cave. There are two good size waterfalls on the way to Schreiber’s Extension. A loud waterfall about 4 feet high just beyond the Chute and on the way to the Outer Limits. And another one that you have to climb over to enter the Labyrinth.
Formations are scattered through the cave. The Entrance Room contains the largest in the cave. The Signature Room and the passage to it are well worth seeing for the formations. And there is a beautiful formation room just before you get to the Volcano Room. Other nice formations will surprise you along the routes to the many sections of the cave.
The Worm Tube is a long 150 feet crawl that is very tight and leads to the Echo Room and beyond. The Z-Bends is an interesting alternative to the Pancake Squeeze when going to the waterfall or the Racoon Room. There is a down sloping squeeze that is a real challenge to climb back up when you visit the East Stream passage and Crowell Domes. The small hole leading from the Bridge Room to the Mason-Dixon Passage is neat. And the stream canyon passage on the way to the waterfall is fun.
The extreme places are for the hard core cavers that like fourteen hour trips and want to be pushed to their limits. Pettyjohn Cave offers four such areas. The Labyrinth, which I have only visited the start of.
The Discovery Room above the Emerald Pool that you have to use the old existing rope or do a hard technical climb. An extension pole was first used to reach this area. And I understand that there is much to be discovered beyond the Emerald Pool.
The Outer Limits which I am not even sure at what level you reach. I have explored the stream passage to tight muddy squeezes that finally turned me back and high dry passages that could also be the way. These were ten hour trips and I still had not found the Outer Limits. I meet Richard Schreiber once when I was leaving the cave and he was excited about getting back under the mountain and I believe that he was referring to the Outer Limits. I have a copy of most of his survey notes but I think that I am missing one that describes how to get there.
Schreiber’s Extension is a long stream passage with many leads and places to climb up into along the way. The end is a low stream passage which has been dug out and pushed to a second low room blocked by another low stream crawl. This passage continues around the edge of the mountain and takes in water from along the mountain side. The cave is still lower than the valley but under the edge of the mountain.
Possibilities for New Discoveries
The most promising area that I feel could be developed is to the East. There are many sink holes along the mountain east of the entrance and Crowell Domes is the most eastern portion of the cave with the exception of the Labyrinth and Screech Owl Cave. There is a possible lead from the Echo Room that I would like to push some day, but it would require some rock removal. There is also a large sink on the top of the mountain east of Pettyjohn that the water has I believe been traced to the sump below the Entrance Room in Pettyjohn. Pettyjohn provides drainage for most of this side of Pigeon Mountain until you get to Ellison Cave which drains the north end of the mountain. Recent discoveries have been made in Schreiber’s Extension, Discovery Room, and the Anamatosis Room. I have 36,117 feet of level survey plotted, almost seven miles (6.935 Miles) and a total survey length of 7.127 Miles.
Pettyjohn Cave is known for its mud. There are some places that you will loose your shoes in the sticky stuff. Crawl ways that you just slide through in the mud with two slots for your knees from all the traffic. I have seen the lower level flood with the water backing up from the stream canyon passage which is narrow and can restrict the water flow. Always check out the weather forecast before going to the main waterfall. You can read about cavers getting lost in the waterfall area for days and explore parts of the cave by clicking on pictures within the cave by visiting my web page. I also have other links to stories about Pettyjohn on the main page.