By: Ron Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Permission granted to Mike Dallin to make this available on the Rocky Mountain National Park Webpage he keeps. Permission granted to print or file this report for individual not-for-profit use so long as the entire file is kept together.
The Goal: Reach, record GPS coordinates of, and photograph the remaining wreckage of an F-100C Super Sabre fighter jet crash near Mt. Cirrus in the Never Summer range of mountains in N. Colo.
The Site: On 30 Jan. 1967, 2nd Lt. Eldon C. Hart was lost while on a routine training mission. The accident report described Lt. Hart as having gone into cloud and losing control while executing a barrel roll around the lead aircraft to bleed off overtake velocity. He did not eject and the aircraft was not found for months.
Civil Air Patrol listed the wreck at one location, Bill Boyd, whose report about the Never Summers appears in the Rocky Mtn Nat'l Park webpage, reported a slightly different location though he didn't know at the time what he was looking at.
My researcher/historian friends in Estes Park had a site report from a fellow who had visited the site in 1967.
The Plan: Make a 2 day backpack trip out of it with my buddy Thomas.
Preliminaries: Thomas couldn't go. So I packed for a solo effort (meaning that I added the weight of my 2m ham radio and a revolver and carried my one-man tent).
0825 Rolling from south Ft. Collins.
1040 Turnoff from Colo. Hwy 14 at Gould onto USFS roads. (83 miles from home)
1115 After 3 miles of 4WD LO reach Teller City ghost town site. There was a sign at the entrance warning that it would be closed to vehicle traffic and camping someday. Neither of the USFS people in the area knew anything about it.
1225 To Baker Pass trailhead up at the head of Jack Creek Wilderness boundary. Cloudy in the area, it starts raining and hailing before I shut down. 6.4 miles of 4WD LO from Teller City, 4 hrs from home.
1300 Hiking. Two people climb off an ATV at the trailhead and hike too. From Iowa, they spend 1 week per summer here. We shelter in some trees and talk as more hail blows thru. Turns out that they'd been to the wreck a few years ago. Couldn't put it on the map though.
1430 Blue skies, I move along down the old 4WD road to Baker Pass. The road goes over the ridge and down to an old mica mine. Apparently the two rock outcrops here in the lush meadow were worth digging. No structures remain. I head north along the cairned trail. Skirting the rock glacier, it goes into the trees and beelines north. This territory is spectacular. Rocky peaks dropping bright rocks in waves and falls right down onto green grassy meadows. Rock glaciers. Tall peaks, deep green valleys with meandering rivers.... ahhhhhh.
1500 I overtake a solo backpacker on the trail who had come up from RMNP via Baker Gulch. He looks wasted and is tired of being hailed on. (The climb is significant for him. He's surprised that I parked about 1 mile from there.) He is doing some sort of loop from Baker Gulch, north then return. Gotta look at the map to figure it out for myself. I leave him and go on. Briefly stop to put some moleskin on my heels then I proceed. Cross a very large talus slope.
1530 Nearing area for camp. The valley wall sides are timbered and steep. I dump my pack and try to find something campable. It takes an hour to determine that I've done about as well as available.
1700 Skeeters aplenty. The humidity is high, the bugs hungry, the sky overcast with storms in various directions. This depresses me somewhat. I setup camp, such as it is. I put my one-man tent across the roots of a tree - the only level ground. Fortunately the holes make decent hipholes and it's reasonably comfortable.
1820 I take a 1/2 mile hike along the trail to the north. I consider how to climb Mt. Cirrus or whether I should go to the saddle first. Undecided, I head back toward camp and have some ramen for dinner. The skeeters seem to want to die in my dinner. The first couple of days solo are always a bit difficult around dinnertime.
1920 Big storms wander the area. A large bolt seems to blast the area where my jeep is parked. Wouldn't that be the pits?
1950 Into the tent after securing everything for heavy weather. I leave the final flap open to watch the lightning on the distant ridges and write off the possibility of seeing the Perseid meteor showers.
2100 Dozing around the rumbles, dark.
2400 Finally a big blast of wind rattling the tent like someone trying to shake me out of there. Then some hail and rain.
There are 3 separate rockfalls off the ridge during the night. One lasts a very long time. Briefly I wonder if it can go far enough to get me. It doesn't - this time.
0530 Awake and lightly dozing.
0615 Out of the tent into the gray of dawn. Since I'm on the west side, it'll be gray for quite awhile. Clouds and moisture indicated in the skies. Doesn't look good.
0730 Fed, packed, and moving for the daytrip. I head north and decide to go to the saddle between Mt. Cirrus and the big 'tooth' on the ridge directly west. It's a steep, grassy rascal and takes a bunch of zigzagging to achieve.
0900 What airplane parts? None. Anywhere. But there are cairns, huge cairns down in the cirque on the far side. Can't see why. Two pretty lakes must be the ones in Bill Boyd's trip report. Well, what now? Climb Mt. Cirrus, of course.
1030 After getting tired of endless rocks, the rock size turned to chips, the summit rounds off and here's the top. Summit cairn but no register. I take pictures all around and admire the rugged view. The Never Summers really are *rotten* rock. The ridges connecting peaks are ugly jagged messes. Hiking the true Divide would be tough. The view of Lake of the Clouds in RMNP is neat. I mentally place the Nokhu Crags in position and enjoy the view.
So where're the airplane parts? I try to match the xeroxed photos to any of the ridge profiles I can see. Not this mountain, not directly north or south. Only thing close is the extension of the ridge beyond the 'tooth' and around the corner. I am deflated. That's a pretty good long ways from here. And I can't reasonably conserve elevation.
I leave the summit angling southwest toward grass slopes I know I can descend and planning to cross a circled X on the map placed there by someone who visited the site nearly 30 years ago.
That X doesn't match the photo and doesn't have any airplane parts. I trudge on. Sometimes I can scree-slide but mostly I downclimb on grass. It was a long way above the trail.
1200 I regain the trail about 300 yds from camp. Back to the north we go.
1225 I sight a chunk of aluminum all of about 15 minutes from where I'd turned around last night. I look up to the ridge. THERE! It's all over the place up there! A steep, dark rockslide decorated with shiny bits. As I get closer to the last trees at the base of the cirque, I find a whole elevator assembly standing leaning against a tree. Yup, this is the place.
I drop my pack, take a GPS fix (13T 0422126,4476509), sling the camera and commence to exploring the site. I go from big piece to big piece taking pictures and going up the slide. The bits are all the way up to higher than I care to climb (nearly the ridge crest). I ease north and start down again. I found the 20mm gun a rusty mess with a bent barrel. I found the ammo ballast, main gear struts, nose strut, the radio, engine core, other elevator, the rudder with its Air National Guard paint intact, a 2 foot stretch of canopy rail, the radio, the airplane drogue chute (not pilot's chute), hunks of tubing, hanks of wire, a wheel with tire mounted to it, twisted scraps of hand-sized aluminum by the dozens, etc etc.
What a pretty place to crash. Lt Hart surely was vaporized instantly.
I've been very fortunate today. The weather holds drier than yesterday. No significant clouds interfering or causing me to worry about maybe packing up and going home tonite.
1400 I head back toward camp. I feel like heading home today although I'm pretty weary from climbing Cirrus unnecessarily. Unnecessarily- not really. I said I wanted to climb it while I was in the area anyway. The views were terrific, the pictures should be good, the orientation I got from the terrain is worthwhile.
1430 I am back at camp. A short squall blows in with hail. I cover up with the poncho, put a ground pad under my butt and sit up against a stump until it passes. I take off my boots - oboy. Big nasty blister on the R heel. Hardly felt it. I root thru my pack looking for the 2nd Skin. Can't find it. I'm SURE I packed it. I even changed the AAA battery in the mini-lite that rides with the misc emergency stuff in the baggie. But I can't find it.
I smear on some anti-biotic and make do with more moleskin. (Note- It was there, just mashed to one side. I found it at home.)
Then I pack.
1530 As I am nearing departure, two hikers emerge from the trees about 100 yds away heading uphill. They get to timberline, drop their packs and hoot and holler at the views. I quietly finish packing. Last item is to go to the creek and pump 2 qts of water for the trip. I am dry from the morning's hiking so 1 qt wouldn't do it.
I am pumping water when one of them comes over to me. I know him!!! It's Shane from work! He and his buddy came uphill from the Michigan River and are going to spend 2 more days in the area. I describe the terrain seen from Mt. Cirrus and explain my mission. They were there to hike and fish. (good fishing way down there in the river).
They talk about getting to Lake Agnes far to the north then cross-country back to the truck down in the Michigan R drainage. I shake my head at the ambition.
1600 I head out. It's not very far but there is some gain to be done from the pass to the crest between there and trailhead. I turn and look back frequently to find that I can pick out the rockslide where the plane is. It's dark rock with sparkly bits in it. I move slowly with fatigue. Thru the shady woods, to the rock glacier it's fairly level. Then from the rock glacier it's uphill to the pass. 10 steps, rest 10, 10 steps, rest 10. Man, I'm tired. While this is pretty, I'm too tired to appreciate it. 10, 10 , 10, 10, 10 , 20 , 10 (20 is too much), 10. Finally, the pass. Now there is a strong S wind blowing. Get out the fleece. Find the road/trail near the mines, follow it as it climbs. 10, 10, 10, 10. Onward. Endlessly.
I crest the hill. Downhill from here. What a view! The whole set of valleys in westerly sunshine. The crash site is crystal clearly visible as sparkly bits on a dark patch 2.5 miles away. Woof, I'm tired.
Down to the wilderness boundary sign. I drop my pack and get the camera. Several photos of the valley, being sure to include the sparkly slide.
1810 There's the car. 2 vehicles at the trailhead now. A full sized 4WD pickup and an import pickup with a guy apparently cooking his dinner on a Coleman stove.
I doff the boots, change my t-shirt, swill some water, sort out some food to eat on the way home and prepare to depart.
1830 Started up and heading home.
I am fatigued to the point of the chill/sweat/shiver routine in the car. I'd forgotten to guard against that. Eat, drink, don't get out of the car or you'll go into deep shivers.
2145 Home. Safe. Shivering. Cheated death again. Mission Accomplished.