Two Trips In One at TAG’s Pettijohns Cave
Oct. 5-6, 2007
by Bob Svercl
I’m just a simple Virginian from MUSG (Madison University Student Grotto) and at the 30th annual TAG Cave-in I was granted the luxury of going on two trips to Pettijohns (PJ’s as some call it) Cave with my ASS (Athens Speleological Society) buddies (yeah, I put it that way). I’ll tell both stories.
Earlier that day a bunch of us had just gone caving to Limrock Blowing Cave, so we needed a break. We were going to go on another trip to Pettijohns, a more popular cave that also was 6 miles long. First things first, we took a break, but that proved to be a bad idea as laziness set in. Eventually there were only 4 of us (Will, J-Watt, Brendan, and myself) who were still ready and raring to go caving.
Four proved to be a good number for exploration of previously unexplored sections of the cave. We headed out that night and entered the cave. I immediately noticed that the corridor we entered was huge. Going through the first part was like walking around a town at night, with each big block like a small building. Also I noticed the fact that I was racing to keep up with the other 3 (who had been there before). I knew I was with skilled people.
Our goal was to reach the Echo Room, a room larger than any of us had seen (and I’ve got some big rooms to compare it to!). One major difference I found between this and the Limrock Blowing cave trip was that this cave was eerily silent. As J-Watt explored supposedly the Volcano Room while Will went after her, Brendan and I noticed the creepiness of sitting in a silent cave with your lights out. We blazed through the cave, with Will checking his map every now and then to make sure we were in the right direction. It was the most fun I’ve had caving in a long time, with being able to go off and explore new parts of the cave and figure out new ways of reaching our goal.
We never found the Echo Room, but did come across the top of the Bridge Room, a section that was very large and the floor below was about 150+ feet underneath us. Scary. Along the way we came across the Floating Pancake Room (near the Pancake Room) where Brendan got stuck in a hilarious yet serious way. I look back at the Pancake Room with a note to myself after getting stuck a few times: when going back, the phrase “stick to the right side, it’s bigger” needs to be reversed! Also we came down (and later back up) a diagonal slope past the Corkscrew that was covered in round knobs (easy to get down “ski style” but difficult to get up slippery style. And then there was the Indiana Jones Swing, a scary exposed climb that just about required the use of the rope that had been put in place.
I was getting tired, but still was having the time of my life as far as caving goes. The only thing I could complain about was the fact that the cave was littered with trash from the locals going spelunking (read: without caving equipment or previous knowledge, a.k.a. stupid) and running into about 30 locals who reeked of alcohol or cigarette smoke (and I found a lot of cigarettes on the floor).
On the way back, we stopped at the only place open in Lafayette (pronounced “Lah-Faye-it” by the locals) which was a Kangaroo gas station where the lady inside didn’t mind Will entering barefoot. We got back past 3 and I found everyone else at my campsite asleep. I was dead tired, and immediately found my sleeping bag and sleep came soon after.
We were chilling at TAG waiting for Will to finish his previous caving trip (the man must’ve spent more hours underground than asleep!). Eventually Will joined up with us and we were ready for another trip to Pettijohns.
As I said before, Pettijohns is 6 miles of cave, and there’s no single passage. With Lee and Jay going for their first time into the cave, Will took us on a path towards 2 waterfalls. Along the way, Lee noticed that the cave smelled really bad, and then discovered it was us who smelled, especially since we didn’t shower all weekend! We went through the Raccoon Room, which required a scary exposed part to navigate around. We then headed to the Squirrel Room which I thought was St. Peter’s Basilica due to two massive holes extending up to the ceiling high above us and the following dialogue occurred:
Me: It looks like it could be St. Peter’s Basilica.
Lee: It’s not St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s the Squirrel Room!
Me: Well, it still looks like it could be.
Lee: (shouting) Bob, why do you have to be so wrong all the time? It’s the Squirrel Room!
Lee is mean.
THEN we got to St. Peter’s Basilica. This room featured two large tubes that stretched more than 100 feet to the ceiling! Along the way, I was “baptized” and then “baptized.” Will in this one little area that featured a “baptismal font” which if anything else further secured my place in hell.
Then it was off to see the waterfalls. In order to get to the waterfalls, we had to go through watery passage, in some parts having to wade up to our thighs. The walls were incredibly smooth and so different from the rest of the cave with having a bluish tint to them. The first waterfall had a rope with loops in it on the side for us to climb. Getting up was very awkward (so was getting down) as each person had to manually slip the loop around a foot while holding on with their other hand and foot to get up to the next loop. The second waterfall required more ingenuity to ascend, as there was a 3 foot deep pool of water stretching out at least 50 feet from it. Luckily J-Watt found a way up, using ledges along the smooth, slippery rock to get to the top of the room and go over behind the waterfall. I made it up, but not without being very slow and cautious with each foot and body placement. After getting past the waterfall, we reached a squeeze that Jay (who had gotten 8 inches in the Squeeze Box) could barely fit through, so I (having only gotten 9 inches in the Squeeze Box) waited with Lee and Brendan while the rest explored on. Will dammed up the waterfall with mud, for which I scolded him, but later let it flow. We later tried to dam up the first waterfall, but even with the 6 of us working together (Will did the other one on his own) the waterfall was too strong for us. We found a white can of spray paint and some new graffiti, so we made sure to clean the walls whenever possible. Stupid idiots messing up the cave! We made our way back to the Corkscrew where we made some “adult shadow puppet theater” then I saved J-Watt’s life by not having her go behind me (think with your nose and you’ll get it), and eventually made our way out.
Back at TAG, we made the most of the night and enjoyed the huge burning fire that TAG is known for (think: log cabin on fire) and the live band.
I’m still finding bruises from those trips, but I’d go back in a heartbeat.