Skip directly to content

Letter To The Editor: Hell’s Hole Hysteria Irrational ... Proposed Action Unreasonable

on January 27, 2019 - 1:26pm
Los Alamos
Following the publication of articles regarding the perceived hazards of a well-known cave known as Hell’s Hole in White Rock Canyon, culminating in this one, a  group of local adults hastened to investigate before Los Alamos County destroys and makes unaccessible some unspecified fraction of it.
Our party was a subset of a loose-knit local community of what might be best characterized as outdoors persons, with interests ranging variously over rock climbing, canyoneering, caving, hiking, boating, etc. Some of us had been in Hell’s Hole before, but none to the reputedly hazardous exit. I consulted with a former local teenager; his memory was remarkably good for not having done this since he was in high school here in LA decades ago, as have generations of high-schoolers before and since.
Not only did we find the exit, several of us were able to negotiate the increasingly tight squeeze and exit onto the slope that is the west wall of White Rock Canyon. While it is steep, none deemed it particularly dangerous, subjectively similar to the “hazards” one routinely encounters scrambling outdoors. The actual hazard is not returning the way one came; this is obvious to a casual observer. At the same time, the view from that vantage is truly fabulous, and accompanied by a definite sense of satisfaction of having gone the whole distance, emerging at the other end instead of reaching a dead end there are already plenty of dead ends down there. A good time was had by all.
Ah, but there have been unfortunate accidents, not just there, but elsewhere in White Rock Canyon, in our national parks everywhere, really, where there is rock, ice, snow, caves, hills, mountains, cliffs, canyons, ravines, arroyos, woods, rivers, etc., etc. Two skiers who died recently in an avalanche in Taos come immediately to mind.
If Hell’s Hole is to be partially destroyed via institutionally-sanctioned vandalism, then to be even-handed we must similarly circumvent equivalent or worse local popular hazards. An impenetrable wall or fence between White Rock Canyon Rim Trail and the edge of the canyon should be mandatory after all, walking it one is but a few steps from an unprotected precipitous drop in many places. This would serve a dual purpose by also severely curtailing other notionally hazardous activities in WRC, including such horrific extreme sports as rock climbing, canyoneering, hiking in loose and broken terrain, and boating.
Taking a step back, in perspective teenage driving is far more hazardous than teenage Hell-Holing or rock climbing or just about anything else, and far worse, hazardous to other innocent victims. As most such driving is essentially recreational it should be summarily banned. Adult driving isnt particularly safe, either as outdoor-persons are fond of reminding themselves, the drive to the activity site is statistically more dangerous than the activity itself.
There was a skateboarding fatality in Los Alamos a few years back. Ban skateboarding in LA County! Biking injuries are innumerable, ban biking of all kinds! Hikers have been injured and killed in Bandelier, close it! People have drowned in the Rio Grande, seal it off! Our most famous national parks suffer numerous fatalities every year, close them down and wall them off, or at least restrict access to walking through padded tunnels! One could go on forever, it's an endless slippery slope. Generally speaking, danger-mitigating obstacles are only ethically justifiable for human artifacts (e.g., roads, bridges, mines), not naturally-occurring earthly features. Consider: the overlook platform at the Overlook has a railing, the cliffs and precipices below do not, this is right and proper.
The summary thought was that outdoor hazards are consciously and wilfully self-inflicted, you know, for enjoyment or edification, and that that should be a personal choice, not that of a nanny state, or in this case nanny-state county. A small sign in the spirit of this one at the entrance, or perhaps a memorial outside the contentious exit, of Hell’s Hole is more than enough diligence.  It’s pretty rich that a supposed caving authority opines that it should be closed off, only after, of course, he’s gotten to go through it, or at least had the opportunity to. This initiative is armchair activism with mob mentality.