Rockbridge State Park Cave Trip by Ken Wigger WD9GNG


Primary – Paul Lowry – Columbia Alpine Shop
Secondary – Barry – From Rock Bridge State Park


Ken from Stl Alpine Shop
Tom Clifton
Lee French
Matt Heuser
Ted Lohr
Philip Newell
Richard Orr
Ken Wigger

Potential Hazards:

Injury due to a fall
cut, bruises, and possible inflections
capsizing your canoe
waiting until high water lowers
being stuck in a tight passage

Our visit to Devils Icebox was one that’ll be remembered for years to come.  The day started out at the park office at 12:00 where our trip leader, Paul Lowry, began with an orientation on a brief history of the cave and where we will be going on this trip.  We then filled out release forms.  The park provided a small emergency pack including trash bags, a lighter, and a candle, for those of us that needed them.  They also provided the canoes and life jackets.  

We began our adventure by carrying a 65 lb canoe one quarter mile uphill, over a boardwalk, then down a set of stairs to the cave entrance where we maneuvered the canoes through a tiny entrance into the water.  We then boarded our canoes and started down the quarter mile stretch of water passage where we had to lay flat in the canoe several times, to pass through spots where the ceiling was low, and pass using our hands on the ceiling to maneuver through.  This was a fairly tight squeeze going into the cave with the possible hazard of swamping the canoe.  When we reached the area where we beach the canoes and start out on foot there was a water gauge that measured the water level with a red line to indicate when the water level was too high to enter or exit.  The level at this time was a few inches below the red line.  

We started our tour on foot passing through the icy cold stream several times ranging from ankle deep water to chest high water (neck high for some).  Some of the areas along the stream were steep, wet, slippery mud banks that were a bit of a challenge to get through without slipping into the stream which was as deep as 60 feet in some areas (possibly deeper).  The cave was not overly abundant with speleothems.  They did exist, but were isolated throughout the cave and you had to work to find and appreciate them.   

Along the way we found a marbled salamander, cave salamander, pickerel frogs, and several bats including Indiana bats, Small Brown bats, Large Brown bats, and Eastern Pippistrels.  This cave is home to the federally endangered Gray bat as well, though I don’t recall seeing any of them.  They Eastern Pippistrels seemed to be extremely light in color.  At one point we thought they may have been albinos, but upon closer inspection, noticed areas of melanin on the sides that verified they were not albinos, just very light in color.  

We hiked the cave to a very large dome that was just amazing, which is much further back in the cave than the normal tour would take you.  Water lightly fell from the top of the dome in two spots adding to the intensity of the room.  Just past this room were chirt bridges that we did not get to see this time due to time and exhuastion of a few of the group members.  

After enjoying this room for a nice relaxing rest, we started our way back to the canoes.  This time while passing through the water it seemed a bit higher than it was during our walk in, though nobody realized just how much higher.  We made it back to the canoes where we sat with lights out for a few minutes to rest and take a few photos.  While we sat on the mud bank, there was a large Brown bat on the wall making quite a bit of noise and fluttering his wings.  I think he was trying to tell us it was time for us to leave.

We began to load our canoes back into the water for our paddle out when Paul noticed the water gauge, that was stuck in the mud when we entered, was now floating.  Upon checking the water level it was noted that the water was now above the red line by a few inches meaning the water had risen just under 12 inches.  For a moment there was concern we would have to spend the night in the cave until the water level went down.  We decided to give it a shot and see if we could make our way out anyway.  

As we started out down the stream the current was much stronger and the wind was rushing in through the passage much more than it was when we entered.  The first few low spots were tight but we were able to maneuver through them by laying flat and squeezing ourselves and the canoe through.  The last low spot, just before the entrance/exit, was much tighter than the rest.  We actually had to remove our helmets while laying flat in the canoe and push the canoe further down into the water.  For some of us this meant taking water into the canoe as it rushed in from the sides while we pushed and walked the ceiling with our hands scraping our face along the way to get through.  Amazingly we all made it out just fine.  A couple of the group members were a bit hypothermic, but other than that and a few bumps and bruises everyone returned unharmed.  This was definitely an adventure to remember.  

Once everyone made it out of the cave we carried our canoes back to the parking lot and loaded them on the trailor.  We drove back to the park office where we washed down the canoes and went inside to change and discuss the trip.  Paul lowry, our trip leader, commented that this was the highest he’s ever seen the water rise in such short of time since he’s been leading trips into this cave.  He also said this was the most exciting trip he has lead in this cave.  The time now was 20:27.  After changing into some dry, warm clothes, Paul filled out his trip report then we left the park and headed into town to get some much needed warm food.  We stopped at a pizza place recommended by Paul called Shakespears Pizza, Very good Pizza!, then started our journey back home.  Several pictures of the trip were taken by Rich Orr, Tom Clifton, Ted Lohr, and Myself which will be posted soon for all to view.  This was definitely one of the most enjoyable caving adventures I’ve been a part of.

Matt Heuser – KC9ATL
EMT / Herpetoculturist
Metro East Search and Rescue
Metro East Cave Rescue Task Force
Stygian Grotto / Windy City Grotto


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