I could write many stories about Pettyjohn’s Cave, however I would like to explain here why this great cave is my favorite. For a horizontal cavers like me, Pettyjohn has a lot to offer. Good climbs, challenging passages, waterfalls, formations, intriguing passages, extremely hard to reach places, most of which I haven’t seen, possibilities for new discoveries and good mud.
For some looking for climbing challenges, the entrance hall has a lot to offer. This long room at over 500 feet long and averaging 50 feet wide with 30 foot high ceilings, has two easy climbs just to get to the back. Near the entrance there is a good climb to an upper training room that connects to the main entrance room at roof level. Most visitors rush past this area to get to the back of the hall or to head to the main waterfall.
To get to the creek levels there are challenging climbs if you avoid the ropes left there by previous cavers. Some of these strings have been in place for a long time and should not be used. An especially challenging climb is reaching the Racoon Room, this large room in the middle level of the cave gives access to most of the middle levels of the cave. Pettyjohn Cave is divided into three levels, the entrance hall which is high and mostly dry, the middle levels which are dry passageways 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 to the Echo Room, the largest room in the cave. A 100 by 200 foot room with high ceilings. And the lower stream passages that make up the largest portions of the cave.
The ascent to the waterfall leads to a second waterfall that is much easier to climb and to an upstream passage called Schreiber’s Extension that has yet to be fully explored.
From the main entrance room there are many ways to get into the cave and at the beginning 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 mazes, try The Labyrinth on the lower southeast level of Pettyjohn. If you’re looking for a real adventure, explore the far northwest section called The Outer Limits. And for some good technical climbing, explore the rooms above the Double Echo Domes.
If you like underground waterfalls, you will love Pettyjohn’s Cave. There are two good sized waterfalls on the way to Schreiber’s Extension. A mighty waterfall about 4 feet high just past the Slide and on the way to the Outer Limits. And another one that you have to climb to enter the Labyrinth.
The formations are scattered throughout the cave. The entrance room contains the largest in the cave. It is worth seeing the signing room and the passage to it by formations. And there is a beautiful training room just before you get to the Volcano Room. Other beautiful formations will surprise you along the paths towards the many sections of the cave.
The Worm Tube is a 150 foot long run that is very narrow and leads to the Echo Room and beyond. The Z-Bends are an interesting alternative to the Pancake Squeeze when going to the waterfall or the Racoon Room. There is a downhill squeeze that is a real challenge to get back up when you visit the East Stream Passage and Crowell Domes. The little hole that runs from the Bridge Room to the Mason-Dixon Passage is clean. And the creek canyon pass on the way to the waterfall is fun.
Extreme places are for cavers who like fourteen hour trips and want to be pushed to the limit. Pettyjohn Cave offers four of these areas. The Labyrinth, of which I have only visited the beginning.
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 discover beyond the Emerald Pool.
The Outer Limits, which I’m not even sure what level you get to. I’ve explored the stream passage to narrow muddy squeezes that eventually turned me back and high, dry passages that might as well be the trail. They were ten-hour trips and he still hadn’t found the Outer Limits. I met Richard Schreiber once when he was coming out of the cave and he was excited to be back under the mountain and I think he was referring to the outer limits. I have a copy of most of his survey notes, but I think I’m missing one that describes how to get there.
Schreiber’s Extension is a long creek passage with many tracks and places to climb along the way. The end is a low current passage that has been dug out and pushed into a second low room blocked by another low current drag. This passage continues around the edge of the mountain and takes in water from the mountainside. The cave is still lower than the valley but below the edge of the mountain.
Possibilities of new discoveries
The most promising area that I think could be developed is the east. There are many sinkholes along the mountain to the east of the entrance and Crowell Domes is the easternmost part of the cave with the exception of Labyrinth and Screech Owl Cave. There’s a possible Echo Room track that I’d like to push someday, but it would require some rock removal. There is also a large sink on the top of the mountain to the east of Pettyjohn that I think the water has been traced to the sinkhole under the entrance room in Pettyjohn. Pettyjohn provides drainage for most of this side of Pigeon Mountain all the way to Ellison Cave, which drains the north end of the mountain. Recent discoveries have been made at Schreiber’s Extension, the Discovery Room, and the Anamatosis Room. I have plotted 36,117 feet of level survey, nearly 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 where you will lose your shoes on sticky stuff. Cruise down paths where you just slide in the mud with two knee grooves from all the traffic. I have seen the lower level flood with water backing up from the creek canyon pass, which is narrow and can restrict water flow. Always check the weather forecast before going to the main waterfall. You can read about cavers getting lost in the waterfall area for days and exploring parts of the cave by clicking on the pictures inside the cave by visiting my website. I also have other links to stories about Pettyjohn on the front page.