Sunday, January 10, 2010

Caliente Camp Part 7: Getting Stuck in Pennsylvania Canyon

Shortly after the first truck misadventure of 1978 - with the helicopter still out of commision - four of us took off in two trucks for a kind of piggyback form of recon. From Caliente, we drove east up Clover Creek, entered Barnes Canyon from the north, drove past Tepee Rocks, then eventually crossed over into the south end of the large Ash Canyon drainage at the place I lost my way while driving through last summer. We finally arrived at a well-remembered saddle, the divide between the north-draining Ash Canyon and the the southwest-draining Pennsylvania Canyon.

From the saddle at the north end of the drainage, we looked down Pennsylvania Canyon toward the Meadow Valley Mountains beyond Elgin. We couldn't really see the day’s work laid out in front of us because a bend in the canyon blocked our view, but we could see a long ways.

We dropped Floyd off at the saddle - he would sample his way down Pennsylvania Canyon on foot, about 4 miles of drainage. We then drove down the steep upper part of the canyon in two trucks, into the main part of the canyon, heading toward a juncture where the remaining three of us would split up. This juncture was the turnoff I looked for but didn't find last summer, the place where the main road leaves the canyon. From there, Stuart and I would walk and sample one drainage each; these were between 2 and 3 miles in length and drained toward toward the main road south of camp. Pete would take one truck toward camp, sampling along the way; he would then pick Stuart and I up later in the day. We would leave the second truck in the main wash of Pennsylvania Canyon close to the point where the three of us split up, and Floyd would pick it up and drive it to camp at the end of his day.

On our way down the canyon, the three of us turned up a side canyon to look at some prospects. We dinked around a couple old mining cabins, inspecting them inside and out, a required exploration pastime. One shack showed signs of fairly recent use, signs that were verified by dates on the most recent newspaper and a wall calendar. We took mental note of all the miscellaneous supplies and gear strewn here and there, and found a large spool of shiny-new, thick copper wire. Then we moved on, making our way to the point where we would part ways.

Is it the hill in the foreground, or the hill going out of the next wash?

We left the truck for Floyd in the main wash, that large sandy area in the foreground of the Google Earth image, and then we drove up the side road in the truck Stuart and I had used the day before. Either right at the turn out of the wash or a short way in, we came to a steep hill that the truck couldn't climb. Our driver, Pete, backed down, Stuart and I got out, and Pete tried running the truck at the hill to get up as much speed as possible. The back tires spun: the truck clearly wasn’t in four-wheel drive, even though the transfer case was in 4H and the hubs had been rotated from free to locked. After several attempts and some miscellaneous head-scratching, we finally determined that the driver’s side hub really wasn’t in the locked position; not only that, we couldn't persuade it to go in, even with the judicious use of a rock hammer or two. The truck didn't have operable 4WD.

After we discussed our options, Stuart eagerly went on ahead to traverse and sample his drainage, starting from the bottom of the hill instead of the more convenient, and half-mile-away, top of the hill. Pete and I were left to deal with two trucks, one that had a useful 4WD option, and one that didn't. We turned the funky truck around and started back up the main road in the wide and sandy Pennsylvania Canyon dry wash. Maybe we could trade trucks and leave Floyd with this one; afterall, he wouldn't need 4WD to get back to our starting point at the saddle.

Uh, no. As soon as we got very far into the sand of the sand wash - soft, roiled sand had constituted the road for the last hundred yards at least - we were stuck. Both trucks had come down through the sand just fine. The damaged truck had come down in two-wheel drive without operable four-wheel drive - it would not make the return journey upstream through the sand.

To be continued...

NOTE: Most names in these stories have been changed, on the advice of dubious council consulted friends and colleagues, to protect the innocent other geologists and related field-demented posers.

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