Cave comments from the
Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District
Deschutes National Forest
1230 NE Third Street Suite A-262
Bend, OR 97701
7th July 2000
Dear Mr. Moscoso,
Re: Road 18
Cave Environmental Assessment
As follow up
to the Access Fund's meeting with the Deschutes National Forest
on the 19th and 20th June, we are pleased to submit comments that
we hope will facilitate the preparation of the Road 18 Cave Environmental
comments were prepared in consultation with the Oregon Climbers
Coalition (OCC), and focus on issues identified in our on-site discussions
As you know
the Access Fund is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit conservation and advocacy
group representing the interests of climbers in the United States.
Working in cooperation with climbers, other recreational users,
public lands managers and private land owners, the Access Fund promotes
the responsible use and sound management of climbing resources.
We encourage an ethic of personal responsibility, self-regulation,
strong conservation values and minimum impact practices among climbers.
In our previous
letter to the Deschutes dated 24th May 2000 we described how we
assist resource managers in a variety of ways. For example, the
Access Fund provides grant funding for studies and resource mitigation
projects, consults on policy and planning, helps to organize and
educate local climbers, and networks with other interest groups
and management agencies.
The Access Fund
recognizes the challenging and unusual situation in which the Deschutes
finds itself with respect to management of the Road 18 caves. We
reiterate our support for the proposed management direction insofar
as it would provide for improved oversight of this sensitive area
through a range of measures such as controlled parking, improved
education outreach, and seasonal wildlife restrictions. Furthermore,
we believe climbers will support and comply with this level of oversight,
especially if they retain a stake in the area through preservation
of some climbing opportunities, and if use restrictions are primarily
based on a more site specific analysis of climber effects on cave
resource values, evaluated in context with effects of other recreation
information on climbing opportunities at the Road 18 caves, and
definition of the climbing experiences.
has requested additional information about the climbing experience
at the Road 18 caves.
to the details provided in this submission, The Access Fund recommends
that the Deschutes work with the Oregon Climbers Coalition to obtain
better information about the history of use of climbs in the Road
18 caves, and an understanding about the special qualities and environmental
character that makes climbing at the Road 18 caves areas such a
valued experience in Oregon.
There are two
distinct climbing opportunities that can be experienced at the Road
18 cave entrances. These can be described as sport climbing and
bouldering. Out of the 10 caves included within the Road 18 Cave
strategy, climbing opportunities have been available in three. The
unusual geology and topography of the caves provide a unique climbing
experience. Special characteristics of this climbing include the
rock texture, challenging body positioning, steepness, cool temperature,
protected aspect, opportunities for intimacy with nature, unusual
ambiance, and quiet setting in a high desert environment.
opportunities can be summarized:
Hidden Forest Cave
Sport climbing in main cavern
Small bouldering site at entrance to squeeze hole through to Hidden
Forest main cave
Bouldering site at entrance zone to cave
Charcoal #1 - Note - Currently restricted - 3 sport climbing routes
at left side of cave entrance
experience at the Road 18 caves is a good example of the diverse
climbing opportunities and unique environments that climbers appreciate
in the United States. However, this area is the only place in the
country where this type of climbing opportunity can be experienced.
Despite the fact that the extent (scale) of the climbing is limited,
and that the climbing is so technically difficult, virtually all
the climbers who have visited the caves believe they offer a unique
climbing experience that should be preserved.
of climbing opportunities
The various types of technical climbing are generally defined by
the characteristics of the experience. Sport Climbing emphasizes
movement of extreme difficulty, minimizing risk, and relatively
short and uncomplicated approaches and descents. Sport climbing
routes are typified by bolt anchors and overhanging rock. Not all
sport climbers place bolts - only the first ascent party places
bolts, and all subsequent parties use these bolts. Historically
climbers have been responsible for determining when and where to
place, and replace, bolts. Sport climbing typically involves short
single rope length routes (i.e. < 50 meters). Climbs generally end
at fixed anchors where the sustained difficulty of the climb diminishes
or the character of the rock changes. The climber descends, by being
lowered or rappelling from these top anchors.
Bouldering is the term given to climbing that concentrates on short
sequential moves on rock usually no more than 20ft off the ground.
Typically falls are very short (a few feet) and usually inconsequential,
unless the climber lands awkwardly, or on a tree root or protruding
rock. Each climbable sequence of moves is called a boulder
problem, and each boulder problem varies in difficulty. Boulder
problems are given different grades of difficulty. Climbers typically
will try difficult moves many times before succeeding on a given
boulder problem. Some use bouldering as practice for bigger climbs:
others pursue it exclusively as a rewarding sport in its own right.
Bouldering requires relatively little equipment other than rock
shoes, chalk and sometimes the use of a bouldering 'crash pad'.
Bouldering pads (4' by 3' and up to 5" thickness) may be placed
below climbs to soften falls and lessen risk of injury from accidental
bad landing. Bouldering embraces a greater degree of risk than sport
climbing, and a sense of freedom that derives from the focus on
pure movement rather than on equipment.
powder (chalk) is used by both sport climbers and boulderers
to improve contact between fingers and rock. In steep, technically
difficult, humid environments, the use of chalk is widely considered
as essential for the activity. See Appendix A for further discussion,
as well as the Access Fund's comments on use of hand drying agents
in earlier correspondence dated 24th May.
of climber representatives.
The Access Fund
recognizes that the issue of climbing in the Road 18 caves has been
difficult in part because there has not been a consistent voice
speaking for climbers. In any discussion concerning recreational
use management and natural resource protection, communications are
facilitated by working through an organized and representative user
group. To this end the Oregon Climbers Coalition has been set up
as a registered climbers organization. All correspondence can be
Chairman - Larry Brumwell
Address: 550 SW Industrial Way #39, Bend OR 97702
Tel: 541 388 6764 Fax: 541 388 6764 E-mail: Larry@inclimb.com
The Access Fund
has more than ten years experience in organizing and working with
local grassroots groups of climbers, and we are pleased to help
OCC become established. In addition to our two organizations, the
regional chapter of the American Alpine Club (Oregon section), and
the Bend-based climbing club the Cascades Mountaineers are available
for consultation on climbing management and resource protection
of climber effects on natural resource values of the Road 18 caves.
The Access Fund
remains concerned about the analysis of climber effects on natural
resource values in the Road 18 caves. Specifically, we think the
analysis has not been comprehensive enough to provide a good basis
for making decisions about visitation restrictions. As we have stated
in previous discussions, we do not think the relationship between
climber effects on the resource and the present status of cave values
is clear. Our impression from the June site visit is that there
are significant impacts in the cave entrances caused by other users.
As the information is currently presented in the Cave Strategy and
Road 18 Caves EA, effects from climbers and those caused by other
users are sometimes confused and not always separated. While we
recognize that the Deschutes has already invested considerable time
and effort in preparing the Cave Strategy document, we think there
needs to be additional examination of how and to what extent climbers'
impacts on natural resources affect cave values.
analysis for cave resource values
The cave strategy document addresses resource values for the Road
18 caves by considering the ten caves as a whole. Without examining
each cave on a case by case basis for each of the values listed,
then relating how the specific pattern of climbing activity in a
linear zone specifically interacts with or affects the resource,
we do not see that there is necessary baseline information to guide
a management response which is the least intrusive to public use
and enjoyment of the resource, as mandated in the Forest Service
Manual. We suggest that a way of addressing this concern may be
to complete additional survey/evaluation work in the areas where
there is an information shortfall. This would entail site-specific
surveys in the linear climbing zones in Charcoal, Hidden Forest
and Skeleton Caves. Once the pattern of climbing activity is fully
understood and examined in terms of the contact zone of the activity
with the specified resource values, will there be a clear understanding
of user effect. If the Deschutes will have difficulty finding the
resources to accomplish this additional analysis, the Access Fund
may be able to provide assistance through our environmental grants
of cave values and integrity of sites
It is difficult to understand the sensitivity of cave values, and
the integrity and need for restoration of cave resources in the
Road 18 area, when these caves are considered as an isolated group
and not in the context of the extensive cave and natural resource
values found within the broader Newberry volcanic area. Comparing
the resources of the Road 18 caves with the condition of cave resources
throughout the region would provide a better sense of how threatened
are vegetation, fauna, and cultural and archeological resources
by human influence and other factors. It may be that certain natural
resources found in the Road 18 caves, which have been adversely
affected by human use may be plentiful and vigorous in other caves.
Conversely, a contextual analysis could reveal that certain resources
found in the Road 18 caves represent the only or most viable populations
in the region, which would compel a different management response.
* See Appendix
A for examples of how further analysis would aid understanding and
clarification of climber effects on Road 18 cave resource values.
for a management alternative to preserve a limited climbing experience
at the Road 18 caves.
In our meeting
last month the Forest Service requested that we make suggestions
for alternative management scenarios and strategies that would achieve
cave resource protection objectives while preserving some climbing
opportunities in the Road 18 caves. There are a number of examples
of climbing and resource management in other federal land areas
that might provide useful guidance. These examples are grounded
in a comprehensive education and outreach effort, and have achieved
high levels of awareness and compliance among climbers. Two such
examples are found in the backcountry access policy at Canyonlands
National Park, where visitors must complete an orientation process
and obtain a permit to camp, and at Rocky Mountain National Park,
where climbers must also read educational materials and obtain a
permit before camping in the alpine environments which typify the
backcountry of this park.
has expressed concern about the challenges of a management scenario
in which climbing would continue in the Road 18 caves. In particular,
questions were raised about how to promote better awareness and
personal responsibility among visitors, how to encourage or enforce
compliance with rules and regulations, how to make visitors accountable
for their violations or mistakes, how to keep climbers within defined
spatial limits, and how to determine and enforce the carrying
capacity of the caves for climbers over discrete time periods.
All of these concerns are legitimate and can be addressed through
collaboration between the Forest Service, the climbing community,
and other stakeholders. Any management proposal which would preserve
climbing opportunities in the Road 18 caves should emphasize minimum-impact
techniques and principles advocated by cave experts and the Leave
No Trace, Inc., educational program. These principles include individual
responsibility for one's conduct, well defined management guidelines
and expectations of visitors, and an unambiguous and tailored code
of conduct based on the analysis of cave resources and values
and climbers' effects on these values.
The Access Fund
encourages regular communication between the OCC and the Deschutes
National Forest regarding the development of a management alternative
that would preserve some climbing opportunities in the Road 18 caves.
It is our understanding that local climbers are ready and willing
to discuss limits on climbing, and are now more organized to help
with studies, cleanups, and other actions to benefit the caves.
We have been assured that the OCC is eager to work with the Deschutes
on developing guidelines and a code of conduct specific to the resource
protection requirements of the Road 18 caves.
possible management alternatives should draw on:
1. Identification of areas where climbing opportunities can be permitted
on a trial and review basis. This could include a restriction on
some climbing routes but not others based on their proximity and
how climbing activity affects specific cave resource values.
2. An orientation/briefing process for climbing visitors to the
caves so that they can be informed and personally responsible on
special use requirements.
3. Improved education outreach about the sensitivity of the area
as a whole and the cave entrance areas through signage at trailheads
and information sheets provided in local climbing outlets or through
an orientation process. Outreach could cover specific guidance on
issues such as parking, seasonal wildlife closures, vegetation sensitivity,
restrictions on camp and stove fires, camping, domestic animals
(dogs), access and approach paths, not leaving quick draws or other
climbing equipment, respecting soil, rock and other cave resources,
respect to other visitors, noise, human waste disposal. * Examples
of outreach materials and signage are attached to this submission
4. Consideration of allowing hand-drying agents in limited areas
subject to whether the primary concern about their use is visual
or physical effects. Consider alternative products and practices
to reduce effects.
5. Camouflage existing permitted anchors though assistance from
6. Establish protection zones around sensitive vegetation communities,
boulder accumulations and soil deposits to reduce disturbance from
general visitor use using techniques such as signage, natural materials
and path diversion where appropriate.
7. Rock art Identification of extent of rock art at Hidden
Forest Cave and discreet signing showing boundaries of protected
zone. Suggest use of Access Fund/OCC names to indicate user group
support of restricted access. In addition consider possible diversion
and identification of alternative approach path at Hidden Forest
8. Establishment of regular climbing liaison meetings between Deschutes
National Forest and OCC to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness
of a permitted climbing arrangement.
9. Establishing a record of climber/volunteer activities and initiatives
to record site meetings, efforts to look after the cave environment
through litter cleans ups and outreach initiatives.
10. Consider additional funding sources such as the Access Fund
Environmental grants program to assist with funding costs for some
of the above initiatives.
5. Agency contacts
for climbing and resource management.
inquired whether the Access Fund could provide agency contacts and
management examples of similar situations involving cave values
and climbing management.
The situation in the Newberry volcanic area is unique, and the management
direction needs to be tailored to the specific conditions of this
The Access Fund
cannot provide examples of similar situations involving cave entrances,
although some of the issues such as cultural resources, wildlife,
and vegetation sensitivity are commonly experienced by resource
managers in other areas. We have worked closely with the Forest
Service and other federal agencies on related issues around the
country. The following contacts are representative of some recent
collaborative work and may be able to provide useful feedback to
inform the Road 18 caves decision-making.
1. Donnie Richardson
District Ranger, Stanton Ranger District Daniel Boone National
Forest, KY Tel: (606) 663 2852 Coordinated Forest Service interdisciplinary
team in turning around a divided user group/agency situation into
an established agency user group working relationship and effective
management program (issues – access, archaeological sites, vegetation,
trails, fixed anchors, education outreach).
Cecile Ison Archaeologist, Daniel Boone National Forest,
KY Tel: (859) 745 3138
2. Joe Pollini Recreation Manager, BLM Proposed Wilderness
study area Volcanic Tablelands, Bishop Field Office, CA Tel: (760)
872 4881 Rapid growth in popularity of a bouldering area
issues included cultural resources (rock art), minimal publicity
policy for agreed climbing areas, code of practice for use of sensitive
3. Tom Skinner Wildlife Biologist, Coronado National Forest,
AZ Tel: (520) 670 4535 Turned around a divided user group/agency
situation into an effective management program - issues - seasonal
4. Lori Denton Recreation Planner, Coconino National Forest,
Peaks Ranger District, AZ Tel: (520) 526 0866 Coordination of climber
visitor and use surveys, trails.
The Access Fund
again thanks the Deschutes National Forest for the opportunity to
comment on the management strategy and proposed environmental assessment
for the Road 18 caves. The climbing opportunities in these caves,
while quite limited, are unique and compelling enough to merit a
comprehensive analysis of the importance of the opportunities to
climbers, and the effects of climbing on cave values, both on a
cave by cave basis and in the context of the regional cave resource.
We hope our remarks are received in the spirit of cooperation with
which they are submitted, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss
in greater detail planning alternatives and possible scenarios under
which some climbing could be preserved in the Road 18 caves.
Ranger - Bend Fort Rock Ranger District
Forest Supervisor - Deschutes National Forest
Chairman - Oregon Climbers Coalition
Executive Director - The Access Fund
how further analysis could aid understanding and clarification of
climber effects on Road 18 cave resource values.
Of the 10 caves
considered within the Road 18 Caves EA we suggest the following
additional analysis at the three caves (i.e. Skeleton, Charcoal
#1 and Hidden Forest) that have climbing recreation opportunities.
Any analysis should also take into account effects from other users,
and cumulative disturbance affects from past history of non-climbing
use. We also suggest that effects from climbing are evaluated following
a schematic approach. This method has proved helpful for analysis
of climbing effects in other public lands areas.
of the stages of a climbing visit
1. Approach path to the climbing area from the trailhead
2. Base of climb (staging area)
3. The vertical part of the climb (linear climbing zone)
4. The descent from the climb
5. The exit path from the climbing area to the trailhead
Unless there has been a detailed survey of what species are present
at each cave on the approach path taken by climbers, other visitors,
and at the base of the specific climbs we are unable to assess what
effects climbers versus other visitors are having on the vegetation
communities and consequently what measures may or may not be necessary
to mitigate trampling effects and allow restoration efforts.
The boulder accumulations within the cave entrances and further
back into the caves are stated as important habitat for invertebrates.
Clarification is required on what species are present in each of
the 3 sites where climbing has taken place, and which areas are
more sensitive than others. Unless this level of information is
available we cannot assess how climbers versus other users maybe
affecting invertebrate fauna viability, and consequently introduce
management measures such as zoning to protect sensitive populations.
3. Bat populations
The Access Fund is supportive of seasonal climbing restrictions
to protect bat populations, although usually there is an emphasis
on maternity colonies. In our organization's support of seasonal
wildlife closures we standardly share information (as much as it
is available) with agencies on species sensitivity to disturbance,
breeding success and population viability for the area in terms
of local, state and regional context. In the Road 18 caves situation
we have not been able to gain a thorough understanding of the situation.
We understand that in Stookey Ranch Cave the bat population represents
over 60% of the Central Oregon population for that species.
We would like to ask what percentages of the cave resources do the
different bat populations and species require. If their protection
is driven by Threatened and Endangered species listing under federal
protection laws this should be made clear. However if there is a
balance to be achieved between percentage of resources protected
and visitor access to other sites, this requires further discussion
in terms of regional USFS bat protection policy.
4. Cave soils
Cave soils have been highlighted as a special value associated with
the Road 18 caves. However we were unable to obtain a clear understanding
as to which caves held more sensitive deposits than others, where
these sites are located within the caves, and how much their value
and site integrity had been changed through previous human use and
disturbance of the sites. Unless this information is available we
cannot ascertain how climbing affects soil values, by relating where
any trampling or disturbance from climbing may take place in relation
to the sensitive areas.
The Access Fund recognizes that there are confidentiality issues
in discussing sites with sensitive cultural and archaeological values.
However, without some broad degree of information sharing on these
issues, we cannot identify how climbing might be affecting resource
values. For example at Charcoal Cave #1 it was not clear what agency
or organization is conducting the current archaeological survey,
nor the time scale for completion. Without information about what
sections of the cave are being examined we cannot correlate how
climbing activity may be affecting these values. The Access Fund
standardly supports zoning off areas to protect cultural interest.
However these situations focus on specific sites rather than an
entire area unless there is justification about disturbance to warrant
complete restrictions on access.
6. Chalk and
The Access Fund would encourage a more thorough analysis of the
effect of chalk on geology and visual values for the three caves
in question. There is limited information about how chalk interacts
with rock surfaces. The study by Donnie McGowan in Climbing magazine
(April 1987) that is sometimes referenced in these discussions has
been questioned by subsequent authors (Stuart Swineford, August
1994, Rock and Ice magazine).
For each of the caves we recommend clarification over whether chalk
is a visual or physical effect concern. At Skeleton Cave, a past
history of fires and soot blackened walls questions concerns about
use of chalk affecting carbon dating potential. At Hidden Forest
Cave, natural calcite secretions can be confused with chalk deposits.
If chalk or climbing activity is affecting fragile geologic features
we recommend that individual climbing routes be surveyed within
their linear zones. OCC would be able to provide roped assistance
so that someone with relevant expertise could closely examine the
cave walls. At Charcoal Cave #1, chalk use would not be apparent
to public users due to the distance of this site from the public
The Access Fund welcomes working with the Deschutes to examine options
that reduce visual effects of chalk through regular chalk clean
ups following prescribed agency guidelines, methods to minimize
chalk use and spill such as use of chalk balls, and potential use
of hand drying agent alternatives for the most visible sites.
7. Fixed Anchors
Fixed anchors are standardly used by cavers to access cave systems.
Any discussion of climbing use of fixed anchors in cave entrances
should not lose sight of this fact. In terms of potential damage
to the rock, an evaluation needs to be made of total rock area affected,
whether fixed anchors affect rock integrity, whether their placement
damages any fragile geologic structures. In terms of visual intrusion
this discussion should also be placed in context with other features.
For example metal ladder access to Skeleton Cave. Fixed anchors
can be effectively disguised by camouflage techniques. The Access
Fund does not condone leaving quick draws in place after climbing
use and the climbing community would be expected to take away all
removable items of climbing equipment after a visit.