Trips to find the Mt. Yale C-47

Trip #1: 1999

After dinner I study the Civil Air Patrol listings I have looking for any interesting wreck sites anywhere near me. This is a problem because the CAP coords have been anywhere from 0.1 to 24 miles off. I see one that implies some recent info and put it in the GPS. It was about 5 miles away from Cottonwood Pass summit but could be accessed from two different drainages. I decide to go to N. Cottonwood Creek trail which is also the trailhead for people who climb Mt.Harvard (a 14,000' peak).


Monday I'm underway at 0800 headed uphill. Taylor Reservoir has a light fog overhead with broken sunshine. Very pretty. I have to decide whether to park at the Denny Creek trailhead on the Cottonwood Pass road and hike to the coords or to try approaching from N. Cottonwood Creek trail and maybe camping there. I decided to go to the N. Cottonwood Creek area since I'd never been there. This put me on the east side of the ridge so I head into Buena Vista to get some groceries and more gas. When I come out of the grocery store there is a couple gawking at the truck. They're friendly and want to know all about it so we talk awhile. Finally I gave them Dirk's email address since I didn't have anybody else's info (See Chris? You should have given me your cards!)

Then I head off for N. Cottonwood Creek. When the road turns to graded dirt, the truck slows WAY down. The climb is fairly vigorous and I have to crawl along in 3rd. It's warming up and there is no wind. I turn on the boost pump early and leave it on as I watch the temperature climb.

The road eventually reaches a circle amongst the trees that is the trailhead. I dithered for awhile trying to find a good level spot to park and camp. Once parked, I change clothes, eat some lunch then set out up the trail to do some recon to see what the coords might lead toward. The CAP info had a comment "aluminum blowing on hill."

Two hours up the trail with intermittent checking of the GPS it became apparent that the "hill" was probably going to turn out to be a 13,000' ridge with no trail to it and a long ways from where I could reach in 2 hrs hiking. Considering the inaccuracy of the CAP coords and the amount of effort that would be required the next day to reach the ridgetop, I  decided that the hike wouldn't be worth it. I turned around and went back to the truck.

A little over an hour later I was back at the truck with plenty of daylight left so I started it up and went back downhill looking for a far better campsite. Found one. Had dinner, did the post-dinner slow walk with trashbag collecting litter and then to bed.


Trip #2: 2000

DAY 3: Thursday. After a good night's sleep and cold overnight temps (22F!) we pack up and head out. The run toward Buena Vista (US 285/24) is pretty though the anomoly along the road is the dense RV park with lots for sale. Hard to understand what would attract folks to buy a trailer spot lot jammed in with others here to look at the spacious empty view across the valley......

We start down the hill to BV and hear on the CB that there is a load spilled in the road down a ways. I hold the speed down knowing that there's a problem ahead and am aggressively passed by a chump in a Grand Cherokee just as we come onto the mess. Oh well. We stop at the overlook and take pictures and sort out the 14,000' peaks.

After a grocery stop in BV we head northwest of town to find N.

Cottonwood Creek and follow the road as far as it goes to the trailhead.

(San Isabel NF; FR 365) Trailhead is for those who want to climb Mt. Harvard and Mt Columbia (both 14'ers) as well as those who want to go to Kroenke Lake and is an alternate approach to Mt. Yale (14+). My interest here is to locate the wreck site of a C-47 cargo plane that the Civil Air Patrol has coordinates for. I'd been here last year but was daunted by the liklihood of having to climb 3,000' up to the ridge where (given past history of CAP coords) there was no wreck.

We set up a level spot in the parking lot and rig up to fish the creek. While it is great trout habitat, it's difficult fishing because access to the creek is tough. We fool with that then go back to the truck and then take a slow hike up the trail to see what tommorrow will bring. We encounter a guy who turns out to be a hunter who'd hunted Mt. Yale and gave me directions to find the wreck quite easily in the morning. (YAY!)

Before dinner we try fishing the creek again. Dad found a good sized trout under a bridge not far from the parking area. After dinner we go for an evening mosey and find a parallel road across the creek (over the bridge above) from the trail and follow it until it's too dark.

DAY 4: Friday. (The day before Labor Day Weekend ) After a good night's sleep we saddle up and go up the trail. I'm carrying my usual airplane wreck site pack (GPS, camera, and stuff to hike all day with) while Dad carries fishing stuff. We both have the Talkabouts attached and each are carrying a survival signal mirror - the kind with an aiming hole.

0900 we part at the bridge crossing N. Cottonwood creek about 1 mile from trailhead. I head south and uphill into the woods headed for the next avalanche chute west. Dad continues on up the trail to the north side of the creek.

0915 I find the 1st airplane part at around 10,000'. Man, that hunter sure made this chase easy! I report in by radio and start following the debris up the hill looking at parts and taking pictures of the identifiable stuff. As I proceed upwards, occasionally Dad and I exchange mirror flashes across the valley. He even records some of these on video tape. Of course he's comfortably parked in the shade on some grass down there while I am exerting myself climbing this very steep (and getting steeper!) chute.

(Click on pictures to get enlarged images)
avalanche chute has debris up to meadow
View from across valley. Chute

in the middle leads up to shelf where

wreck is.

I go on upward, zig zagging across the chute checking out the parts.

engine cylinder engine with some cylinders prop pitch gear
Cylinder thrown clear. Engine crankcase Prop pitch gear

Dad can see me thru binoculars and I tell him what I find. (engine, propellor blade, cylinder, crankcase half, tailwheel strut, etc etc etc. 1100 I am at 12,000' and have found the impact zone. It's a north facing tundra slope that is above an area where a slide area necks down thru a creekbed. It appears that snowslides over the years have carried airplane parts down 2,000'. Then again, the Army is known to have dismantled airplane wrecks using dynamite to scatter the parts and probably did so here as well. Anyway, at the impact site is a mass of burned aluminum, wires, tubing and small pieces. Nothing lies above this.

view thru vid cam from across valley signal mirror flash from site across valley point of impact with debris in a heap
Zoom from across valley of site. Mirror flash from Ron. Impact point.

1200 I've dug thru the pile just looking and have decided that the weather is so fabulous I should climb the rest of the mountain. So I do.

1300 I'm on the ridgeline. Dad goes down to the creek and starts fishing. He does pretty well. These are big fat dumb cutthroat fish. We go to hourly radio check-in routine and I trudge on up the hill.

1400 Pretty close to the summit ridge.

1430 On top of Mt. Yale resting, eating and drinking and enjoying the awesome view. What a fine day! No thunderstorms, almost no wind. Perfect.

1500 I check in with Dad. Though I don't have a direct line of sight, the radios still work. Then I head down.

1610 I'm back at the ridgeline ready to descend down to the wreck again. Dad can see me skylined from the bottom of the valley. (This takes pretty good eyesight since it hardly shows up on the video, even in fully magnification.)

Boy! This "mountaintop experience" stuff isn't all that it's cracked up to be. (This is my 9th 14,000' mountain) The weather has turned awfully tired now.

I ease my way down to the wreck, exchange flashes with Dad though the sun angle is just about at the limit and descend in a different path than I'd taken going up in order to hopefully see new parts.

1800 I am down by the stream and reach the bridge and we meet up again.

pulled back view from across valley Ron emerges from the woods
Skyline up to Yale. Chute center. Ron emerging from the woods.

The mile back to the Mog takes a long time. But it's worth it. Another wreck site located (#16 total and #5 for this year) and a 14'er climbed in the package. This sure beats working!

fatigue after a good hike
I'm tired!

Dad cooked me a dinner of beef stew while I remained collapsed in a chair then we both hit the sack. During the night the 'peak-baggers' started arriving for the 1st day of a 3 day weekend. Thru the night the parking area filled up.

Home Moggie!  


Last Modified: 2/2/2008