The rest of El Prieto

Joined: February 12th, 2014, 9:35 am

April 16th, 2018, 5:47 am #1

Today I went back to El Prieto to see how far up I could make it. As before, the assumption was that this was going to be a pain, and I now know exactly how much of a pain. They should call it pain-in-the-ass canyon.

As last time I started at Millard campground, walked the fire road a bit and dropped into El Prieto. I was surprised to see people down there. Then I was less surprised that they were Sean and Ricardo. They were exploring old trails.

We chatted for a bit, and I went on my way. The newt from the filter box was gone!!! Where could he possibly have gone that was better?? I was also looking for greener pastures, because I moved on as well. The canyon is narrow, has some flow, and a LOT of growth and deadfall. Lower sections look like this:





Initially the game is fighting the growth, and bypassing an occasional waterfall. As you ascend, the growth doesn't go anywhere, but the "occasional" waterfall becomes a "recurring" waterfall. I would encounter small drops again and again, so I'd spend much time fighting brush on the steep, unstable banks. It's slow going. And there's LOTS of poison oak.







At about 2900ft I hit this patch of 3 in a row:



They're kinda hard to see in this photo, but there're 3 waterfalls here, all 3 with water. The uppermost one is actually quite tall, and looks like this:



The flow is just to the right of the cluster of plants at the top. The obvious bypass was on the right, so I climbed up. The map says that soon beyond this drop the main channel takes a right turn, and I could see that turn pretty close ahead, but oh-so-far away. I had already climbed up to the right to bypass the falls, so I decided to just keep climbing the ridge. If possible, I'd drop back in higher up, bypassing the unpleasantness at the bottom. If not possible, I'd go all the way up to point 3981.

Turns out barely anything is possible on that ridge. There's a lot of thick brush. A number of deer trails criss-cross the area, facilitating SOME travel, but no deer were interested in re-joining El Prieto canyon to the North. The animal trails would come and go, and some heavy bushwhacking was happening in places. Even looking over the edge into the canyon was impossible, so I don't really know what I missed. Eventually I topped out on point 3981. There was a decent human use trail on the ridge, which felt like a freeway compared to where I had come from. I dropped down to the 3981-4388 saddle, found an opening back to El Prieto on the West, and dropped down. Once the feeder channels consolidated, the terrain was similar to what I saw before, but without water. After much bushwhacking I emerged at a gully junction, in front of a large waterfall. I climbed around and there it was:



This is what's left of N9598C, a Grumman TBM-3E that crashed here during a fire-fighting mission in 1960. Unlike the other sites I've visited, this one consists of a single mangled blob of metal, instead of discrete, dispersed chunks. I suspect that indicates this was a low-speed collision, but that's just a guess. Most of the plane was made of aluminum, but there was a large iron chunk also, as you can see from the rust. Similarly, the rivets look nice and shiny, but the screws are rusted:



Since everything is in one ball that's now half-buried in the streambed, it's actually somewhat difficult to find the interesting bits to photograph. Still, here's the "Landing gear emergency release" control panel:



The tip of a prop blade (made of solid aluminum) is chipped:



Here's the engine:





Here's a landing gear:



Some sort of electronics enclosure



with a "fuses" box



and a "spares" box



How organized! One of the fuses is missing



Here's some more stuff:









In his book Macha says he found a couch in the back of the plane. Not only did I not find anything like that, I couldn't even tell you where the "back of the plane" was. The only guess I have is that Macha visited long ago, and the thing was less buried back then.

After a break and some photo-taking, I climbed back up to the saddle. The branch with the wreck was a bit too waterfally for my tastes, so I returned the way I came, on the known-painful-but-safe route. This is the domain of bears:



Back at the saddle I half-assedly looked around for the Cessna. My recollection is that it was clearly visible from the saddle, but I didn't see it. To be fair, I didn't try very hard. And I didn't feel like walking to the adjacent ridge to find out for sure. Sean mentioned reports of a chopper pulling out that wreckage, so maybe it's not there anymore.

I kinda wanted to tag the peak, but it was later than I wanted it to be, and I've already been there. So I pointed my nose South, and walked back towards point 3981. Then I followed the ridge to point 2457, and back down to the road, like the last time. I haven't walked this ridge before, but it looked doable, and it was. In fact, it's quite a nice way to bag Brown Mt. There're reasonable use trails the whole way. The brush is minimal between 2457 and 3981. Below 2457 and above 3981 there's some brush, but it's not terrible.

And that's it. I'm surprisingly tired for a 2000ft day.
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Sean
Cucamonga Man
Sean
Cucamonga Man
Joined: July 27th, 2011, 6:32 pm

April 16th, 2018, 6:05 am #2

Awesome, thanks for the report. Any signs of a trail crossing or flat bench around 2500' in the canyon?
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Joined: September 14th, 2012, 11:21 pm

April 16th, 2018, 1:26 pm #3

WOW!! Kudos and 1/2 for this; thanks for your perseverance!
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tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
Joined: April 11th, 2013, 11:07 pm

April 16th, 2018, 4:48 pm #4

Nice find! That was a big price to pay, but at least you got a reward for the hard work. 
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Joined: September 14th, 2012, 11:21 pm

April 16th, 2018, 5:00 pm #5

A couple of shots of TBMs, one being loaded with retardant in 1959 and the second supposedly the same one that crashed with a different FAA number 10-14-1959 van nuys for angeles fire.jpg . TBM.jpg
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Joined: September 14th, 2012, 11:21 pm

April 16th, 2018, 5:05 pm #6

Here are two contemporary newspaper articles re the crash, the first from the LA Times dated 9/27/1960,

LAT 9-27-1960.jpg
the second from the San Bernardino Sun from the same date

San Bernardino Sun 9-27-1960.jpg
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Joined: February 12th, 2014, 9:35 am

April 16th, 2018, 10:05 pm #7

Sean wrote: Awesome, thanks for the report. Any signs of a trail crossing or flat bench around 2500' in the canyon?
Maybe. There was a use trail here and there, and at least one trail did keep climbing up the West bank. None of these were "good", though. And I don't recall any one area where a trail clearly crossed over from one side to the other. 2500' is close-enough to the bottom that you can go back there and check it out without too much sustained effort.
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