Carroll Cave – Camden County
(webmaster note: As of 2018 the natural entrance is still off limits to everyone including the Conservation Dept., speleobiologists, cavers and the general public. The gate has been breached however for over a decade and there are reports that damage is occurring due to local caver traffic. If you live in the area around the cave or Richland please urge Mr. Pemberton to allow the MCKC to secure the gate barring all access (including us) for no charge or obligation to him.)
The largest wild cave presently known in south-central Missouri is also listed among the state and nation’s most prominent large caves. It was originally known as Traw Cave, but is better known today as Carroll Cave. Recently it became a Registered U.S. Natural Landmark. Although at least 20 miles of its passageways have been charted, some mapped portions have not yet been added to official statistics and unmapped sections yet exist in the complex system.
Carroll Cave must be entered by boat for the first quarter-mile, and thereafter exploration must proceed on foot. The cave’s entrance is gated, locked and currently, access is strictly forbidden.
DON’T EVEN ASK!
Unknown to Missouri cavers prior to 1954, the great cave’s secrets were first tapped almost accidentally by salamander-hunting speleo-biologists. It became apparent to these pioneering scientists that here was a grandfather among caves. They entered it for the first time in a leaky old wooden boat and were soon aware that Carroll Cave could have possibilities far beyond their wildest imaginations.
Serious exploration began in 1956 which led to discoveries that dazzled and excited all involved. The explorers found a cave with a room of mountainous proportions, passages of great width and height, speleotbems that shimmered in glistening white profusion with mass enough to shame many show caves-and all of it untouched, unblemished, never before seen by man.
This writer became a Carroll Cave pioneer in 1957, joining mapping and exploratory expeditions that took us to even greater and more remote underground wonders. Carroll Cave did not have one or two side avenues, it had dozens-all of them fascinating in their own way. In remote underground areas we discovered breakdown so large it had to be scaled, speleothem chambers so magnificent in splendor we dared not enter without removing our shoes lest we soil snow white flowstone floors.
Through knee-deep muck and neck-deep water we pushed further and further inward with each trip. Our journeys consumed as much as 47 hours on one expedition. We often reached our endurance limits without reaching a passage ending. But we returned again and again to see what no man had ever seen before. We discovered a waterfall that roared over its brink into a mysterious mist- hung lake; a haunting “bat graveyard”; a cave with a rushing underground river flowing four million gallons of water daily and teaming with blind fish; new speleothems not previously known or described in scientific literature; and the bones of ancient animals that died tens of thousands of years ago.
Carroll Cave is one of Missouri’s finest speleological treasures and the bulk of its mysteries are yet to be revealed. The exploration of this wonderful cave had been carried on for three decades until a change of landowners and some unfortunate incidents closed the cave to exploration and study. It is hoped that the cave will once again be open for serious caving, but until then, those who have been there will recall some fine memories of the cave.
The cave consists of three main sections:
The Carroll River section which leads from the entrance to the T-Junction where it intersects Thunder River, Upper Thunder River which is the second section and lastly, Lower Thunder River. Each section has several side passages, some over a mile long in themselves.
H. Dwight Weaver
(edited from Missouri the Cave State, 1980)