Clough Cave Gate Repair

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.


Winter 2019 Board Meeting

The Winter 2019 meeting of the Board of Directors of the Western Cave Conservancy will be held 1 PM, Sunday, January 20, 2019 At

Peninsula Open Space Trust Headquarters
222 High Street
Palo Alto, CA 94551

(If lost: (510) 301-2006)

For those who cannot attend in person, you are welcome to attend remotely:

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:

Or iPhone one-tap :

US: +16465588656,,298523464#  or +16699006833,,298523464#

Or Telephone:

Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):

US: +1 646 558 8656  or +1 669 900 6833

Meeting ID: 298 523 464




  1. Drive US-101 (Bayshore Freeway) north to Palo Alto (exit west onto University Ave.)

  2. Follow University Avenue west to Middlefield Road

  3. Turn right (north) onto Middlefield Road and continue one block to Lytton Avenue.

  4. Turn left onto Lytton Avenue and continue west for 9 blocks to High Street.

  5. Turn right onto High Street and continue for about 100 feet. POST Headquarters will be the left (west) side of High Street.  



  1. Drive south on US-101 (Bayshore Freeway) to University Avenue exit, west .

  2. Follow the above directions from University Avenue.



  1. Take I-880 south to San Mateo Bridge (CA-92)

  2. Cross San Francisco Bay on San Mateo Bridge to southbound US-101 (Bayshore Freeway)

  3. Follow above directions south to Palo Alto-University Avenue, west exit.  



For those in the San Francisco Bay Area, you may take Caltrain from San Francisco or San Jose and points in between to Palo Alto and avoid driving.  Exit Caltrain at the Palo Alto station. Walk east across Alma Street and then about two blocks north on Alma past the fire station. Then walk a block east on Everett Street to High Street, turn hard left (north) and look for POST on your left.  



There is somewhat limited parking at the site. However, there is plenty of parking available on the fronting street.



There will be a selection of light refreshments to keep you alert through the meeting.  Please feel free to re-post this announcement on your local grotto list. Thank you and we hope to see many of you on January 20th.



Call-In For Fall Meeting

Anyone who cannot attend in person is welcome to join by phone or Zoom videoconference:

Topic: WCC Directors
Time: Oct 28, 2018 1:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:
Or iPhone one-tap:

  • US: +16465588656,,298523464#  or +16699006833,,298523464#

Or Telephone:

  •     Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
    •         US: +1 646 558 8656  or +1 669 900 6833
  •     Meeting ID: 298 523 464



Avalanche Cave Reopened

The WCC is excited to announce that a cave that has been closed off for several years is open again. Avalanche Cave, located in a remote, high elevation region a couple of hours drive from Nevada City, is now under ownership of the US Forest Service. Previously it was part of a timber tract owned by Sierra Pacific Lumber Company.  While for a few years we did make once annual multi-grotto trips, the hoops we had to jump through were rather onerous. Then, when negotiations with the Forest Service began, all trips were denied. During this time the WCC provided information to the Forest Service and the Trust for Public Land which assisted with the project. We also committed to assisting with future management in any way that proved helpful. After several years, when the sale was completed, the WCC offered to introduce Forest personnel to the caves, which we were able to do just recently.

We have had two very successful trips to the cave, taking the District biologists who are in charge of the resource, and Joel Despain, the USFS Regional cave specialist. They found these visits extremely helpful as the first step in developing a formal management plan. As it stands right now, due to the remote location, high altitude and difficult access, special protection measures like gating and trip reservations were not felt to be necessary. The Mother Lode Grotto will continue to monitor visitation through their register program and will share this information with the WCC and the Tahoe National Forest.

This cave (and a couple of smaller ones nearby) are not well known and even with GPS can be very difficult to find. The WCC recommends that if cavers wish to visit these caves that they contact either the Mother Lode Grotto, the Diablo Grotto or the San Francisco Bay Chapter, all of which have knowledgeable leaders. These grottos have always welcomed cavers from other grottos to join their trips. This cave is only accessible from late June through September in most years.  In heavy snow years it is often mid-July before it can be reached. Early snows close it quickly. The last 15+ miles are rough dirt road and vehicles with all wheel drive and decent clearance are recommended. Ordinary cars can probably make it but will consume a lot of extra time due to slow travel speeds . The hike is approximately a mile with much of it in extremely steep, rocky and overgrown terrain.

The cave itself is basically horizontal in nature and includes approximately 2000 feet of passage. An extremely narrow connection joins the upper entrance section to the lower entrance portion. While not heavily decorated, there are some nice examples of boxwork and the stream passage has some small but lovely helictites. The lower entrance area is very biologically active and there are historic signatures in two areas.  Being an alpine cave, the in-cave temperature is on the cool side, probably in the low to mid 40’s. The surrounding canyon is really beautiful with some outstanding old growth firs and cedars.

The WCC will continue to work with the Tahoe National Forest and provide any assistance we can to help them manage the cave in a way that protects the resource and allows reasonable visitation by the caving community.



Fall 2018 Quarterly Meeting of the WCC


The Fall Quarter 2018 meeting of the

Western Cave Conservancy

will be on 

October 28, 2018  

All are welcome to attend. 

The meeting will be held between 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Mark and Sharon Bowers

4116 Loch Lomond Way,

Livermore, CA 94551

(925) 583-6042
Remote attendance links will be anounced as the date approaches.