Friday, February 26, 2010

Cabin Tales From The Darkside

You can't be in the remote building business for very long before you have a story or two about how things didn't work out as planned. This particular event occured in 1985 and is an excerpt from my book.
Ken Bunch from Glennallen sent a radio message to me in late July asking me if I would do some assessment work and cabin repairs at his gold claim at Calamity Gulch in the Wrangell Mountains. In order to keep a mining claim active one must do a certain amount of work on it each year and register the work with the claims office. Many people simply send in a phony assessment work claim instead of doing the actual work. But Ken was a very honest man and wanted to make sure he was keeping up with the assessment work as the claim was in the newly formed Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and he wanted to be sure and keep the claim active. We agreed to meet at the May Creek airstrip and he would try and land me with the Super Cub on the mountain above the claim to save me from a day’s hike.
This trip would be another one where everything went wrong from the first few minutes. The first thing to happen was my newly welded tail wheel broke loose from the tubing at May Creek. Then Ken’s pilot, Bernie, who was flying fuel to May Creek with the 206, forgot the staking posts that Ken had left for him.
Ken decided to fly up on the mountain to see if it was safe to land. When he came back he said it was too dangerous so I jumped in the Cub with him and we flew up to the mine and dropped the staking posts that Bernie had gone back to town to get. I could see that the posts had not landed in an easy spot to find and I wasn’t sure if I could find them when I got there on the ground or not.
When we got back to May Creek I strapped on my backpack and headed for Calamity creek, fifteen hard miles away.
I was on top of the ridge above the mine in about three or four hours and decided to take a shortcut down to the mine. Instead of walking down and around the valley I made the decision to slide down a shale slide, thus saving myself at least an hour. It was so steep I lowered my pack in front of me using it as a front brake. Somehow I stumbled and lost my grip on the pack and it started tumbling down the thousand foot shale slide, bouncing and spinning like a boulder dropped on a steep hillside. All I could do was stand and watch.
Not wanting to end up like my backpack, I slowly picked my way down the slide to where my pack was, lying in a small creek. Great, now all my gear was soaking wet, including my sleeping bag. My pack had been bent up a little but was in remarkably good shape considering what it had been through.
I picked my way down the small creek to Calamity creek, which took an hour or so, to find Calamity creek was raging high and I would have to criss cross down the creek because there was no way to walk on the side. It took another hour or so to reach the mining camp and I had fallen in the fast moving creek several times while trying to cross. I was soaking wet, cold, hungry and bone tired. The cabin was a welcome site and I just wanted to rest. When I got into the cabin I found that someone else had been there in the five years since I had been there. The windows were broken and the door had been torn off but it was better than nothing so I hung up my clothes to dry in the breeze blowing through. I was so hungry but too tired to cook. I had been thinking about the food Jim Kohring and I had stashed seven years earlier in the barrel in the attic. I climbed into the attic, reached in the barrel and the first thing I picked up was a can of stewed tomatoes. I opened the can with my pocket knife and ate the tomatoes right there in the attic. Nothing had ever tasted so good!
Being tired and wet I decided to take off all my clothes and hang them on a wire so the air circulating through the broken windows would dry them out at least partially during the night. I then crawled in my wet sleeping bag and immediately went to sleep.
During the night I dreamt that a breeze was blowing gently through the cabin windows causing my wet jeans to slap against the stove pipe they were hanging near. I soon awoke and realized the sound I thought was my wet jeans slapping against the pipe was a more ominous sound. Something was in the other room of the cabin rummaging around. I knew it had to be a bear. My .44 pistol was lying on a table about six feet away so I lunged out of my soggy sleeping bag, grabbed my pistol and climbed the ladder into the attic in one clumsy motion. Here I was, totally naked, sitting in the pitch dark attic with a pistol while a bear was in the other room. I didn’t have a flashlite but I figured the blast of the pistol would light up the room if only for an instant. I crawled as quietly across the attic until I could see down into the other room which had originally been a kitchen. The wild creature was knawing on something and didn’t seem to hear me. I finally shot the pistol out the window and was able to catch a glimpse of a dark furry animal. At first I thought it was a black bear sticking his head up through a hole in the floor but after some time I realized it was a porcupine. With some relief I climbed down out of the attic and chased off the porcupine and went back to sleep.
The next morning I built a fire in the yard to finish drying out my clothes, while walking back into the cabin I accidentally disturbed a nest of hornets near the door and they chased me back into the yard. After while I was able to get back into the cabin and retrieve my gear. While I was looking for the posts that Ken and I had dropped a day before, I had crawled into the underbrush on the hillside behind the cabin. I saw something orange lying in the brush several hundred yards from the camp. There was no reason for anyone to ever come to this place so I couldn’t figure what it could possibly be. When I finally got to the spot of orange I found it was a small orange back pack with the name “Morehouse” on it. It contained some miscellaneous tools in it and appeared to have been there for some years. It dawned on me that Ralph Morehouse, from the F/V Alaska Eagle had mentioned working a gold claim on Calamity creek and that he had air- dropped some stuff that he never recovered. He was going to be surprised when I returned it to him.
I re-staked the claim and did some simple repairs around the cabin and headed for May Creek where I found that Ken had left me some hose clamps and bailing wire to fix my tailwheel so I could fly home. I fixed the tailwheel, spun the prop and headed home, thankful that all projects weren't like this one.

"You cannot be mad at somebody
who makes you laugh -
it's as simple as that."
Jay Leno

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