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My Favorite Cave, Pettyjohn Cave
I could write many stories about Pettyjohn Caves, however I would like to explain here why this great cave is my favorite. For a horizontal caver like myself, Pettyjohn has a lot to offer. Good climbing, challenging passages, waterfalls, formations, intriguing passages, very difficult to reach places I haven’t seen, possibilities for new discoveries and good mud.
A good climb
For some looking for climbing challenges, the Entrance Room has plenty to offer. Over 500 feet long and averaging 50 feet wide and 30 feet high ceilings, this long room has only two easy climbs to get to the back. Near the entrance there is a good ascent to the upper formation room which connects to the main entrance room at roof level. Most visitors pass through this area to get to the back of the room or to the main waterfall.
There are challenging climbs if you avoid the ropes left by the previous caves to reach the stream level. Some of these ropes have been around for a long time and should not be used. A particularly challenging climb is the Raccoon Room, a large room on the middle level of the cave that provides access to most of the middle levels of the cave. The Pettijon Cave is divided into three levels, the entrance chamber which is high and mostly dry, the middle levels which are dry passages which make up 1/3 of the known cave and reach down the mountain to the north. A difficult climb from this northern area leads to the Echo Room, the largest room in the cave. 100 by 200 feet room with high ceiling. and the downstream passages that make up the largest part of the cave.
A waterfall hike leads to another waterfall that is much easier to climb and an upstream passage called Schreiber’s Extension that is yet to be fully explored.
From the main entrance there are several passages leading deeper into the cave, and at the beginning of each of these passages you will have a challenge. A pancake squeeze on the way to the waterfall, some tight squeezes or tough climbs, depending on which route you choose to go deep into the volcano. Each passageway from the main room is like its own cave. If you like mazes, try the labyrinth on the lower level southeast of Pettyjohn. If you’re looking for a true adventure, explore the extreme northwest section called The Outer Limits. And for a more technical climb, explore the upper rooms of the Double Echo Domes.
If you love underground waterfalls, you’ll love Pettyjohn Caves. There are two good sized waterfalls on the way to Schreiber’s Extension. Beyond the chute and on the way to the outer limits is a huge waterfall about 4 feet high. And another one that you have to climb over to get to the maze.
The formations are scattered through the cave. The entrance room is the largest room in the cave. The signature room and its passages are formations worth seeing. And before going to the volcano room there is a beautiful formation room. Other cool structures will surprise you on the paths leading to the various parts of the cave.
The worm tube is a long 150 foot crawl that is very tight and leads into the echo room and beyond. Z-bends are an interesting alternative to pancake squeezes when going into a waterfall or raccoon room. Climbing back up is a real challenge when you visit the East Stream Passage and Crowell Domes with a steep squeeze below. The small opening leading from the bridge room to the Mason-Dixon passage is neat. And the stream canyon passage on the way to the falls is fun.
Extreme places are for hard core cavers who love fourteen hour trips and want to be pushed to their limits. Pettyjohn Cave offers four such areas. Labyrinth, which I have only visited at the beginning.
The Discovery Room above the Emerald Pool where you have to use an old existing rope or do a tough technical climb. An extension pole was first used to access this area. And I understand that there is much more to explore beyond the Emerald Pool.
The outer limits that I’m not sure at what level you reach. I’ve found stream passages to tight muddy squeezes that eventually turned me back, and steep dry passages can also be routes. These were ten hour trips and I still hadn’t found the outer limits. I met Richard Schreiber once on my way out of the cave and he was excited to get back under the mountain and I believe he was referring to the outer limits. I have a copy of most of his survey notes but I think I’m missing one describing how to get there.
Schreiber’s stretch is a long flow path with many leads and places to climb along the way. The end is a low flow passage that has been dug out and pushed into another lower chamber blocked by another low flow crawl. The road continues around the edge of the mountain and takes water from the side of the mountain. The cave is still lower than the valley but under the edge of the mountain.
Possibility of new discoveries
I think the most promising area can be developed in the east. There are several sink holes on the mountain east of the entrance, and Crowell Domes is the easternmost part of the cave, with the exception of the Labyrinth and Screech Owl Cave. There’s a potential lead from the echo room that I’ve been wanting to push for a few days, but it requires some rock removal. There is also a large sink on the top of the hill to the east of the Pettijon which I believe is the source of the water found in the cistern below the entrance chamber to the Pettijon. The Pettyjohn provides drainage for most of this side of Pigeon Mountain until you reach Ellison Cave which flows down the north end of the mountain. Recent discoveries have been made in Schreiber’s extension, the Discovery Room and the Anamatosis Room. I have a level survey plot of 36,117 feet, approximately seven miles (6.935 miles) and a total survey length of 7.127 miles.
Pettyjon Cave is known for mud. There are places where you will loose your shoes in sticky material. Crawl through all the traffic as you slide through the mud with two slots for your knees. I have seen low level flooding backing up water from stream canyon passages that are narrow and can limit water flow. Always check the weather forecast before visiting the main falls. You can read about the many lost caves in the waterfall area and explore parts of the cave by visiting my web page and clicking on cave pictures. I also have other links to Pettyjohn’s stories on the main page.
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