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Trips to find the Pingree Park (Stormy Peaks) B-17

 

My first official finding of an airplane that had been "misplaced" after the meeting with the others was the so-called "Stormy Peaks B-17". Larry Carpenter had been to the wreck many years ago and gave me some general notion of where it might be found. The CAP list put it inside Rocky Mountain National Park on an area called "Skull Point" which certainly sounded ominous, and one of the gathering had passed around pictures of their visit to the site many years before. Unfortunately, they’d been escorted to the site and had no better idea of the actual location than did Larry.

In some ways it was good that this wreck was so vaguely located. It gave me an opportunity to practice persistence, endurance, and the use of all the clues and my GPS in order to find the wreck.

The wreck occured on Oct. 18, 1943 when the aircraft was heard in the Pingree Park area at an alarmingly low altitude headed south. Several ranchers were concerned about it but no one heard the crash. The following day a smoke column was seen in the Pingree creek drainage and local ranchers set out to ascertain the cause. There was snow on the ground and the going was not easy but they found the wreck, found that there were no survivors and put out the remains of the fire. These men then went home and contacted the Sheriff and reported the crash to the Army. An interesting sidelight was that a Rocky Mountain National Park Ranger, alone, had been trying to make his way to the site from the south near Lost Lake but had had a problem when his horse ran away. The Ranger was none the worse for the ordeal but he also couldn’t say he’d been instrumental in any part of the subsequent location, investigation and body recovery.

The wreck became a destination for hiking trips from the nearby Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp and bits and pieces of the airplane migrated down the mountain in the hands of generations of campers.

Trip #1:

I began my search during my annual jeep trip in 1994. In most of the last 15 years I’ve set out alone for a 1 to 2 week solo jeeping/camping trip. I tried to hike to the Civil Air Patrol coordinates but found that once up on the ridge tundra overlooking Lost Lake, there was no sign of the wreck.


Trip #2:

Then, during the month of February I tried again, this time with info from Larry Carpenter and the wreckchasers. This is not normally a good time of year to be searching for airplane parts but, truth to tell, I just needed the excuse to get up in the mountains and go snowshoeing. The general area I began with was the Twin Lakes Reservoir on the Pingree Park Road. This destination is about 1.5 hrs from my house and therefore was not an excessively long way to go for a day of snowshoeing. I was equipped with Sherpa snowshoes, ski poles, proper clothing and backup gear, and a Garmin GPS-40 GPS that I’d bought as a returned unit from Cabela’s in Nebraska.

I parked my Cherokee at the SW end of Twin Lakes R. TLR has been drained dry for many years and has a reasonably passable 4WD road circling its perimeter. I was able to get up the hill and to the 4WD road and park fairly near to a trail leading into the wilderness area and tending in the general direction of the search area. I worked along carrying my snowshoes at first since there wasn’t complete snow cover and carrying my GPS-40 held out in my hand like a Star Trek Tri-Corder. (mistake) The trail was really an old logging road that went up the face of a saddle to a higher level before it continued on to the SE. At the top of the saddle I was in deep enough snow to put on the ‘shoes and this made travel much slower.

Since I was "searching" I began to try to conduct a "search pattern". I stomped along at a constant elevation on the hill for about 150 yards, then zigged uphill and stomped parallel to my first track about 15 yds away and so on. I zig-zagged my way somewhat up the hill skirting around trees, trying to avoid air holes in the snow and generally working up a tremendous sweat while not going very far.

But one thing was sure - I expected to see airplane parts RIGHT THERE AT ANY MOMENT!

After several hours of this tedium, the day was getting late and I had to turn back to the car.

In some respects I was disappointed because I’d not found what I was looking for. In another respect I was satisfied with having had a good day’s exercise by myself stomping around in woods the temperature of a refrigerator and was feeling exhilirated that I was out here while others were probably home watching basketball games. (I’m not a professional sports fan. If it’s something I don’t personally participate in, it just doesn’t catch my attention.)


Trips #3,4,5

On the subsequent 3 weekends I tried again. I tried searching approximately the same hillside as before though I also did a round-trip from the intersection of the Twin Lakes Reservoir (TLR) road and the Pingree Park road where I went south along a logging road which circled up to the same areas at the hillside where I searched before . Then I descended to TLR, the 4 WD road and back to the jeep. Still, I didn’t find any sign of airplane parts.

On the fourth weekend I tried again. This time I thought that since I hadn’t found anything but woods when searching at the X on the map, I’d think a bit about the terrain I’d seen in the pictures of the site. The pictures showed the wreck being in a rockslide area and fairly steep but with trees on the sides and bottom of the site. This suggested the very fringes of timberline where timberline isn’t really a continuous line of trees at constant altitude but is more of a discontinuous series of openings where in some places there is enough soil and moisture to grow, and in others it’s too rocky for trees.

This time I thought, I should cruise at timberline and look DOWNHILL to see the wreck.

From the previous trips I’d learned that the quickest way to the search area was up via TLR so I found the road passable (barely) and parked at the same place and scurried up the saddle and then slogged uphill to timberline. At timberline I then transited at the margin of the trees heading east. It was a cloudy, windy day and this was not really very comfortable. But I was heading downwind mostly and was still having an enjoyable day.

As I travelled, I’d look carefully downhill at every rockslide but saw nothing of interest. This went on for quite awhile and I was getting discouraged. It seemed I’d far overshot where the wreck ought to be and it was getting colder and starting to snow. As I trudged east I came to a rock outcrop that marked the edge of a gentle gulley. I decided to head back to the car. With my trusty GPS fix for the car I felt very confident that even if visibility got bad with the snow, I’d still have no trouble getting back to the car.

I started down the hill making a fairly short zig-zag path going perhaps 50 yards east and then reversing back to the rocky spine at the edge of the gulley. I descended perhaps 500 feet this way when visible in the snow was the profile of a radial engine. I’d found the wreck.!

(Click on pictures to get enlarged image)
radial engine buried in snow
Engine in the snow.

The snow was coming down harder so I hurried with the picture taking and GPS fix-taking but the feeling of satisfaction was very strong. Not very much was visible since there was at least 2 feet of snow on the ground so I knew I’d have to come back here in the summer but having a set of real-live GPS coordinates so I could put THE X on the map was a great high.

I headed back to the car without trouble and marked that as the day I "bagged" my first wreck site.

I delivered the X on the map and a set of photo prints to Duke Sumonia. I emailed the coordinates to my CAP contact and that was that. I was hooked.

In succeeding years I returned to this wreck three different times, sometimes with different people- my father, and Thomas - my occasional 15 year old (then) hiking buddy.

one of 4 radial engines turbocharger housing misc. more debris
An engine. Turbo-supercharger Misc. more

tailwheel hub & strut Pingree Park rd from crash site aerial view. Site is opening low center
Tailwheel hub Pingree Park Rd from site. Site from air. Lowest opening.

It is noteworthy that this site has a view of the Pingree Park road and can be seen from the road but the reverse view, road-to-wreck, is extremely challenging because the 50 year old aluminum and steel look identical to the surrounding rocks when viewed from a distance.


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Last Modified: 4/2/2001