Blackfathom River Cave – Ste. Genevieve County
Missouri’s Seventh Longest Cave
In 2018, a 50-year lease agreement was signed between the MCKC and the land owner for Blackfathom Pit. The 113’ pit entrance puts cavers into the main trunk line of Blackfathom which is the largest and most heavily decorated part of the 7.14 mile long cave system. This entrance requires a 150’ rope and 5 carabiners to rig. A traverse line must be rigged entering the pit area because the approach is hazardous. When approaching from the gate, it is possible to fall into the pit if not tied off.
This entrance was dug into on September 29, 2012 with the help of a cave radio location which showed a depth of 12 feet on the surface. The MCKC is leasing 1.3 acres surrounding this cave entrance, which is located on a steep hillside and at the edge of a wooded area. Primitive camping will be available in the future after a new gate and gravel road is laid down to the area of the entrance. As it is, a 4×4 is needed to approach this cave entrance, during dry weather only.
Once at the bottom of the pit, cavers will travel down the breakdown slope to a waiting room where gear can be removed out of the fall zone, just above the main river passage. This is actually a 4-way junction where the main cave goes upstream, easy walking with a climbing area up a massive flowstone choke and up onto the “Cat Walk” before getting back down into the stream. One can travel approximately 1.5 hours upstream, walking at a moderate pace, with a wetsuit.
Downstream starts as walking, to stoop, with short segments of crawling over breakdown, in the water, and through a heavily formation choked area as the stream eventually loses out of the left wall and becomes too tight to traverse. After several minutes of navigating through this dry section, one scrambles up some breakdown and into the Pillars of Hercules, where the East and West Coral Reef passages intersect the main trunk line. Climb ups are required to get into the West Coral Reef via the Deep Throat. Main Stream continues as crawling, and eventually links back up with the West reef at Basecamp. Continuing downstream past this point starts out as crawling and dry, but eventually requires a full wetsuit.
The East coral Reef can connect back up with the pit entrance junction area via a 500’ belly crawl on the clay floor. This route has some exposure on a climb up and is also an old trunk line segment that fills up and shuts down, with only new piracy stream routes traversable.
While some of the cave in this area can be explored without a wetsuit, it is highly advised to wear one due to the amount of water, the depth of the water, and travel times. Every survey trip that has been done through the other 3 entrances to the cave have required wetsuits, and only the actual survey of Blackfathom Pit and its side passages, did not require wetsuits.
See this article that the NSS News published about the cave: NSS News December 2015
Blackfathom River Cave Visit Permits
A permit is required to visit this cave with advance notice of 2 weeks. Poor weather will cancel trips into this cave as the bottom of the pit will flood with 40 feet of water, and there are no known safe areas of the cave during flood events. Trips are advised to cancel if the chance of rain reaches 30% and be limited to upstream of the pit only if there is a 20% chance of rain.
You can request a permit to explore this cave through our online permit system (beta). If you have questions or trouble with your permit, send an email to email@example.com. Trip request must be made at least 2 weeks before the desired trip date.