Robinson Ladder Cave Description

The following is reprinted from the BIG Newsletter, Volume 14, No 4.

D Black, S Frushour, D Stahl

Formation: Ste. Genevieve Limestone


The entrance to Robinson Ladder Cave is located in a small sinkhole on the west side of a large ridge. At the bottom of this sinkhole a canyon passage can be seen. To reach it one must do a 13-foot climbdown on a flowstone wall. A handline makes this climb easier. Once on bottom, one walks a short distance through a canyon to a dome. On the right, 15 feet off the floor, is a passage. To reach it one must climb another flowstone wall. This is the main passage of the cave. It starts as a hands and knees crawl, but soon enlarges to walking dimensions.

Halfway through the cave one encounters two dome-pits that intersect the left wall of the cave passage. At the bottom of the first are three passages. The left-most passage leads to a low, muddy breakdown room. The right-most passage is a crawl that takes one to another dome-pit. Past this dome-pit the passage continues and intersects the second dome-pit off the main passage. The middle passage leads to a 10-foot climbable pit, at the bottom of which is a 44-foot pit. The entrance to this pit is a narrow slot that immediately opens up into a nice pit. There are no leads at the bottom as reported by the few people who have descended. The bottom of this pit is still 100 feet above base level and some small overlooked canyon could lead to another drop and a stream passage.

To continue past the dome-pits one must crawl through a hole in breakdown. This opens into walking passage. The passage continues as walking and crawling until a room is reached. A tight crawl of six feet leads to the terminal room. This room is 10 feet in diameter with enough room to sit up. A breakdown filled canyon continues from here. This is the best lead in the cave and should (with a lot of digging) lead to more upper level cave.1


Robinson Ladder Cave has been known and explored for nearly a century.2 The earlier explorers left a record of these visitations by leaving their signature and date of visit. The earliest period of visitation was 1882 to 1885. Totten, whose family left their name to the nearby bridge over the Blue River, visited the cave in 1883.

The next period of visitation was 1920-1930 with only a few dates. Then in the 1960's, the Schotter family visited the cave several times, leaving their names in the Graveyard, an area in the main passage where people have piled up slabs of rock to look like tombstones.

Mr Guthrie, the current owner of the cave, reported that an average of two groups a year have visited the cave in the four years he has owned the property.3


Robinson Ladder Cave is developed in the Ste. Genevieve Limestone member of the Blue River Group. The main passage shows two stages of development, a phreatic tube approximately two feet high and 10 feet wide and a canyon downcutting from this tube. The depth of this canyon increases to the east. A third stage of development is demonstrated by the dome-pits which accidentally intersected the main passage.

The cave, because of its elevation and phreatic development, must have helped to drain the valley to the west in an earlier stage of valley development. When the Blue River was lowered, conditions changed from phreatic to vadose and a free running stream started to form a canyon. When another underground route for draining the valley developed, the stream abandoned the upper level of the cave.

With the retreat of the sandstone cap on the ridge, dome-pits started to form. These dome-pits are in the entrance area and halfway through the cave. In both areas, water enters the cave in heavy rainfall and immediately sinks into breakdown. The water should come out of the northernmost spring shown on the topo overlay.

1 Digging is not permitted under the management plan.
2 This account was written in 1979.
3 Walter and Aleta Guthrie sold the property to Mel and Dianna Carver on January 4th, 1988 who then sold it to the IKC on March 4th, 2005.

Return to Robinson Ladder Preserve Home Page