Area below Overlook Park in White Rock not far from Hell’s Hole Cave. Photo by JoAnna O’Neill
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess is slated to make a presentation to the Los Alamos Parks and Recreation Board this evening on the possibly gating of one entrance to Hell’s Hole Cave. There is no action item on the agenda.
The purpose of the chosen suggested closure would be to prevent visitors to the cave from using a particular entrance as the returning climb is particularly exposed and its use is believed to be the cause of prior accidents/deaths.
Those who have tragically died in the Hell’s Hole area are Trevor Matuszak, 19, on July 24, 2017, and David Dickens, 18, on May 7, 2003. Matuszak was an adventurous young man who loved the outdoors and Dickens was an avid hiker who had planned to climb the Grand Tetons with his father the summer he died.
The agenda package for tonight’s meeting state that while recognizing that there are many natural hazards in Los Alamos County, Trevor Matuszak’s parents, Mick and Karen Matuszak, approached County staff requesting that the County consider eliminating the hazard by either blocking the specific entrance to the cave or by other means.
The agenda package indicates that County Manager Harry Burgess, a caver for the majority of his life, met with the Matuszaks to discuss their concerns and potential suggestions. Following this meeting, Harry and his son Garron visited the cave, assessed the hazards, and took many pictures of the concerning areas.
A local caving group, Pajarito Grotto, offered it’s support in determining a solution which would protect the cave and its visitors and in November Burgess and group members visited the cave, took photos and initial survey of the entrance of the cave.
The agenda packet cites the purpose of the discussion this evening to be obtaining input from the committee and the public regarding the appropriate solution. At present, the suggested action would be to close/block the southernmost entrance to the cave, as this entrance provides access to a particularly exposed ledge – roughly two feet wide and covered with pea-sized rocks (rendering the ledge slippery) – that overlooks an approximate 400-foot drop.
The cave has several other entrances that are safer to utilize (albeit still exposed), and therefore a blockage of this particular entrance would not prevent normal visitation of the cave, the packet states.
This issue brings forth numerous other considerations, including:
• Should the County be altering the natural landscape in its open-space areas?
• What are the liability concerns of addressing naturally occurring exposures?
• Are there other similar, necessary improvements for public safety?
• Does the County need to develop a policy for memorials within open space areas?
• Are there other, less-impactful remedies such as signage (others?)
• Would this activity negatively affect the cave or wildlife it harbors?
It is hoped that through a discussion, these concerns and any others may be identified and expanded upon in order to inform any potential solution that is considered.