Clough Cave Gate Repair
January 13, 2019

by Marianne Russo and Steven Johnson

Clough Cave (located in Sequoia National Park) is highly significant due to its very unusual ecology. It is said to have one of the most diverse groups of cave biota in California and in addition is favorite roost for local bat species. Since its location is very close to areas of frequent public access, gates were installed in 2011 to help protect this resource and its inhabitants.

A few months ago, it was discovered that both the gates protecting Clough Cave had been breached. The WCC was then contacted by Matt Bowers, who inspected the gates with Joel Despain. Since the WCC had put together two successful weekends when the current gates were installed in 2011 (replacing an earlier breached gate), Matt and Joel thought that we would be able to organize volunteers and food service to make the needed repairs. After getting approval from WCC President Bruce Rogers, Matt took the lead in working with Sequoia National Park, organizing the volunteer welders, ordering supplies, developing menus and doing the myriad of other tasks needed to get the ball rolling. Marianne provided lots of advice since she had been a primary organizer in 2011 and she would be in charge bringing the cooking equipment and a variety of other supplies for the field camp. The Park Service was incredibly helpful, providing a porta-potty, all the ice we could use, extra tables, two large tanks of potable water and rigging gear for the high line needed to move the generators up to the cave. A generous and bountiful supply of food was provided by donations from FoodMaxx and the Sequoia Parks Conservancy, who also paid for all construction materials for the welding job.

On November 1st, Matt and Marianne, along with Steve Ruble and Barb Maeso Ruble arrived at South Fork campground by early evening and spent a couple of hours trying to fit all the food into the bear boxes. The next morning, Nov. 2nd, other volunteers started arriving and the camp began to take shape. We set up one of the big Western Region tents to house all the cooking equipment and food service area, unloaded the weekend supply of firewood Marianne brought and spent some more time reorganizing the abundant food supplies. Ernie Maier and Barb Maeso Ruble assisted Marianne over the afternoon in grooming the trail up to the cave. While Marianne trimmed back all the poison oak and low hanging branches, first Ernie and later Barb, raked away the loose dry leaves that made the trail very slippery. Here and there Marianne cut steps or leveled off sloped places.

Meanwhile, Roger Mortimer and Jerry Nickelsburg, with the assistance of Ernie Maier and John Bowling, worked on setting up the highline needed to haul the repair equipment up to the cave entrance, along with a safety line for a short section of exposure near the entrance. Fortunately, the amount of heavy gear that needed hauling was much smaller than when the gate was installed -- only a couple of generators and some welding equipment were large or awkward enough to require such attention -- so a simpler haul system was used, just to get the gear up past the steep part of the trail. (The replacements for the damaged portions of the gate were small enough that they were just hauled up in a backpack.)

By Friday evening the campground was very full. Along with 16 WCC volunteers who were present for the gating work, Joel Despain and his class of fifteen CSU Northridge students were settled in, plus five SFBC cavers (who were there for a trip to Soldier’s Cave on Saturday) were setting up camp. This weekend was chosen so that Joel would be there to assist a little with an evaluation of the cave to determine if the vandals had done any visible damage, which thankfully they had not. Since he lives so far away now, near Redding in the far north part of the state, we chose the time when he already had plans to be there with his students.

Saturday morning, bright and early, we were up fixing eggs and bacon for everyone’s breakfast and getting ready to move the welding gear up to the cave. Park staff were also very concerned about fire safety and provided us with four backpack water sprayers for fire suppression. We were obliged to have two volunteers on duty at the cave when welding was being done and two at the trailhead where the steel cutting was undertaken. Fortunately, the welding work to be done at the cave entrance was in a location that was recessed enough to be away from vegetation or other flammable debris, but open enough to reasonably dissipate fumes from the welding work (keeping it safer for the welders and fire observers), helping minimize the danger; nevertheless, the fire observers had to be vigilant, as the nearby brush was as dry as you’d expect for early November in California.

John Norman and Bill Roberts cut and prepped the replacement bars for the damaged gate pieces in a parking area near the trailhead; meanwhile, two small generators were hauled up to near the cave entrance. John, Bill, and Vincent Clark took turns doing the welding work, as the location was a bit cramped and awkward. Fortunately, everything went quite smoothly, and the repairs were declared finished by late afternoon.

During the afternoon while the welding work was being done up at the cave, several WCC volunteers assisted Joel in teaching his students some basic vertical skills. Ropes were rigged to the bridge over the river and each student got a chance to rappel and climb. By the end of the afternoon all the gate repairs had been accomplished and as it was getting dark the equipment came down the hill and the highline was decommissioned. Then it was time to help with the big Saturday evening dinner. Matt prepared kabobs with a variety of vegetables and meat and Marianne did stir-fry asparagus with onions, mushrooms and walnuts. The SFBC cavers joined us in exchange for doing clean-up after dinner. We also required that Alan Chern, a member of that group, give a presentation of how he discovered the Soldier’s key that Joel lost down the first drop in the cave. Quite the hero, he was!   We spent a long evening sitting around the warm fire roasting marshmallows or making “S’mores” and telling caving stories.

Sunday, Nov. 4th, was the day to pack everything up and head for home. Some folks who had not been able to see Clough Cave on Saturday took an opportunity this morning to visit this relatively small, but beautiful cave. By the afternoon, however, almost everyone had left. Matt, Marianne, John Bowling and Julie Booker were the last ones to leave, taking two Park Service vehicles to drop off at the headquarters on their way. This should be the end of the story, but unfortunately one of the front axles on Marianne’s truck broke just as she got back on the pavement a few miles from the campground. This ended up being a huge inconvenience, to say the least. We unhitched my trailer and John towed it out to the headquarters. After leaving Marianne to wait for the tow-truck driver in Three Rivers, John, Matt and Julie went back to collect everything out of her truck and to pick up John’s trailer with the region’s tents. Then while the tow truck was collecting Marianne’s poor truck, Roger Mortimer met up with Matt, John and Julie and transferred Marianne’s trailer and all her gear to his SUV which he loaned to her for a few days so she and Matt could get back home with all their gear.

We want to end this story with a sincere thank you to all the WCC volunteers who so willingly spent their long weekend helping to insure the success of this project and see that Clough Cave is once again protected. We also thank the SFBC cavers for their kitchen help entertaining company around the campfire.

The volunteers:  Julie Booker, Matt Bowers, John Bowling, Vincent Clark, Mike Dillon, Joel Despain, Steven Johnson, Ernie Maier, Amanda, Nathaniel and Roger Mortimer, Jerry Nickelsburg, John Norman, Bill Roberts, Barb Maeso Ruble, Steve Ruble, and Marianne Russo.

The SFBC cavers: Natasha Burroughs, Alan Chern, Sonya Meyers, Dominik Nadolski and Elaine Scott.

We also want to thank the Sequoia Parks Conservancy and FoodMaxx for their generous contributions which fed the whole crew over this long weekend.

Article originally appeared on Western Cave Conservancy (
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