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Recent Bulletin editorial stereotypes Road 18 Cave climbers

The Bulletin, Wednesday, October 10, 2001
Recent Bulletin editorial stereotypes Road 18 Cave climbers

By Robert Speik 

I want to thank The Bulletin for its continuing coverage of important Environmental Assessments and Decisions issued by Ranger Districts of the Deschutes National Forest. Regrettably, the recent editorial “Protect Caves from Climbers” fails to research all sides of the issue of preventing a small group of very expert local sport climbers from continuing to enjoy their traditional access to our public lands while permitting hundreds of others to continue to degrade the Road 18 Caves.

Our society is striving to avoid stereotyping and generalizing in all aspects of human relations.

The editorial states “Spelunkers frequent the caves to enjoy a cool change of pace from life topside.” Spelunkers are defined as those who make a hobby of studying and exploring caves. The Road 18 Caves, little more than shallow lava tubes with collapsed roofs, are so worn and used after 100 years of visitation by bootleggers, ice miners, loggers, artifact seekers, trash dumpers, and the curious general public that there is little or nothing of interest left to “study or explore”.

“The caves are home to sensitive native wildlife such as bats and are adorned with Native American pictographs that date back thousands of years.” There are no such pictographs in the Road 18 Caves. Only one might be identified on an open wall more than 100 feet from a cave entrance. The walls of one of the climbing caves are adorned with the smoke from 26 open fire pits improved with sitting stones pulled together on the floor. The fire pits are from myriad parties that have taken place in the caves over 50 years of urban interface. The bats and critters that remain are more than urbanized; sport climbers visiting once or twice a year in groups of two or four have no effect on the bats.

“Climbers threaten the beauty of the caves by embedding bolts in the walls for ropes and by using hand chalk that damages walls and wipes out pictographs.” Clearly the editorial writer for The Bulletin has never been to the Road 18 Caves! There are no bolts in the walls of the caves. The traditional sport climbing routes are on the entrance ceiling of two of the caves, 40 feet above the floor and lost in the angles and shadows of the blocks that make the shattered roof. There are no pictographs on the walls of the subject caves.

The natural beauty of these worn old holes is more threatened by the bent and broken 1950s vintage steel stairways with pipe banisters that give access to the general public in some of the subject caves. They are a product of a time when natural objects were exploited as tourist attractions in the public lands. Indeed, rock concerts were a permitted use in one Road 18 Cave not to many years ago! Complaining about the visual impact of the few hidden climbing bolts is an appalling display of hypocrisy.

Climbers have not damaged the caves as declared by one individual in your Cover Story by John Cramer ‘Forest Service May Prohibit Cave Climbing. There are no pictographs on the 40 foot entrance ceilings where climbers must use hand chalk to cling to the volcanic rock. Hand chalk is magnesium carbonate, a very natural occurrence in these caves. Hand chalk can’t be easily detected among the natural deposits.

Over use for parties, liaisons, and un-interpreted, un-supervised and un-controlled general visitation has degraded the caves over the past 50 years.

Local sport climbers and mountaineers became concerned with the bias of the original EA in 1998. There was little improvement in the generalizations and stereotyping by July 2000. The Access Fund and The American Alpine Club came to Bend from Colorado and Portland for a meeting with the Forest Service EA team, for tours of the Road 18 Caves and several hours of discussion. No mention of these lengthy meetings was made in the Decision. Preferred Alternative C which permitted traditional sport climbing in the two caves concerned, was the result of these meetings. The Access Fund and the American Alpine Club offered to enable significant interpretive signage at the site of the single pictograph identified on a wall on the approach to one of the caves and oversee an interpretive program for climbers.

We are dismayed that Preferred Alternative C which permitted sport climbing, has been overturned by a Decision based on the following statement: “I did not select this alternative because of tribal concerns and to be compliant with Executive Order 13007 for Sacred Sites and the National Historic Preservation Act.” Due process was not used. “Tribal concerns” were not a part of the Environmental Assessment or discussions.

Robert Speik, Oregon Climber’s Coalition

Robert Speik is the current President of Cascades Mountaineers Alpine Climbing Club and a member of Oregon Climber’s Coalition, The Access Fund, American Alpine Club, Mazamas, The Mountaineers, Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, Bend/Ft. Rock Trails Users Group, etc.