A few years ago I was talking to an individual who has spent over 20 years hunting within the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As our conversation progressed he spoke about a downed aircraft he stumbled upon two years ago. His subject forced me to probe into the location of this lost aircraft. After many conversations with Marty and his grandson I now have the approximate location of that site.
The following Thursday evening I had no volunteers to share this hike. The following morning I departed for the trailhead. The drive took only 20 minutes through the winding mountain roads.
My hike started at 7,600 feet at the trailhead with the highest elevation at 9,300 feet overlooking Edison Lake. The morning was clear, with bright blue skies and not a cloud on the horizon.
This section of the mountains has never been harvested by loggers. I’m happy to see this old growth forest is still surviving. With the information from the two hunters, I have to cross one major stream, then when I get to the second stream, backtrack five minutes then turn south and head cross-country. I hiked over an hour before arriving at the first stream. Another 35 minutes before locating the second stream. Now I’ll backtrack five minutes before starting my trek up the mountain.
My first reaction was to mark my progress into this first canyon. I decided not to waste my time, setting markers to locate the trail. On my return all I must hike down the mountain to cross the major trail leading to Edison Lake.
While hiking through the first canyon I noticed a huge Oak tree lying on the ground. Someone many years ago cut this ancient monument and didn’t even use the wood. Continuing through this long canyon I now see why that tree was cut. Someone started to build a cabin but never finished its construction. After a quick search of my topographic map the next canyon is located 500 feet above my present location.
I started my climb and to my surprise in front of me is a game trail. Once at the top, in the distance there is a small lake, reflecting the sunlight between the trees and huge boulders that surrounded its surface. The only signs of life were the tracks of deer and bear. I followed this canyon to its western edge just before it dropped over 400 feet to another canyon and a much larger lake. Even with my field glasses, I saw no aircraft.
Now I’ll double back and hike to the eastern end of this canyon. This is a long, winding canyon that follows toward the second stream before starting to descend to the trail. I checked my map again and cross checked with my compass. If I hiked northwest there are two small canyons with an elevation gain of 150 feet. I searched and climbed the canyon walls, used my field glasses to search the areas I could not physically hike.
I only have two hours of daylight remaining. Most of that time will be used locating the main trail and hiking back to the trailhead. I checked my map again and if I trek east over the next ridge, there should be a small canyon with a stream that should lead me to the main trail. I stayed just above the stream on the high bank. Twice I heard movement within the thick ground cover surrounding the stream.
After following the stream almost 45 minutes I stumbled into a flat area with pieces of obsidian scattered along its surface. This must be a forgotten American Indian camp. Less than 30 yards downstream was the main trail.
Good, the daylight is still holding which means I should make the trailhead before dark. Along the trail I met a friendly gray squirrel who was jumping from tree to tree following me. With only 6 feet between us he just stared at me and chattered. Then I remembered I had a bag of peanuts in my pack. My furry friend and I shared those nuts before I departed down the mountain.
The following spring I searched a second area after Marty apologized for giving me the incorrect directions. This time I located the aircraft, a single engine Piper Cub with tandem seating. It crashed on April 1, 1954 on a chartered photo shoot. Both pilot and passenger survived according to the FAA report.
The aircraft was overweight, flying on an extremely hot afternoon. With its lack of horsepower it failed to gain enough elevation to clear this finial saddle before descending toward the Fresno Airport. Another 35 feet of elevation and this small aircraft would have cleared the mountain.