Airplane, part one


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can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Apr 14, 2005 - 02:12am PT
I was digging thru the archives today and ran across this article from an old issue of Mountain Gazette (#64/5 Dec/Jan 77/78) I thought you might get a kick out of it. It's kind of long so I thought I would do it in two parts. Anyone here get a chance to smoke any of it?

A Modern Gold Rush
By Kief Hillsbery

"What's it all about?" the stranger asked Craig when she saw his t-shirt

"Oh," he responded, "just a bunch of people you know, Valley Rats. They went into the mountains and got their good tidings."

"That's not much of an explanation."

"Just like John Muir," Craig concluded with a smile.

Valley Rats. People who've spent most of their recent lifetimes manipulating circumstances so they can stay in Yosemite as much as possible. Preferably without working. Camp Four Bums (C4B's, in the Valley vernacular). They gather together in the evenings, after days of fixing lines and showing off on the boulders and scrounging for nickel-deposit aluminum cans. Sometimes the fireside conversation turns to The Big Score. It could be a girlfriend with plenty of money or enough climbs close enough to the edge of impossibility to make a reputation. It could be getting the bucks together for a trip to South America and making the big time with cocaine. A few years ago it was landing an extra's job with Universal Studios and Sierra. The Big Score: some mysterious, auspicious combination of events that would keep them on top of the world forever. Or at least for a while. The idea has always drifted through the collective consciousness of the rock jocks and chronic vagabonds who inhabit Camp Four. But none of them ever expected a planeload of marijuana to drop right into their own backyard.

The Lake. The Airplane. In the early spring of 1977, the authentic Big Score finally came to Yosemite, not for one or two or even ten people, but for hundreds, for anyone with a pack and a pair of good legs. For obvious reasons, it came to be called the Yosemite Gold Rush.

Everyone knew that a Lockheed Lodestar had crashed into one of the high country lakes, and its cargo was hardly a secret. The word was that tons of dope lay submerged in the Lower Merced Pass Lake, just below timberline in the Clark Range. In early Febuary a Customs Service helicopter began shuttling between the lake and Yosemite Valley, and agents unloaded the big, heavy bundles in El Cap Meadow. just a few yards from the road. When the noisy activity ceased two days later, people assumed the operation had succeeded in recovering all the contraband. It hadn't. But no one outside the federal agencies knew this.

No one knew until mid-March, when a friendly ranger suggested to Craig and Nick that they alter their hiking plans. The two men, both in their early twenties, were hoping to find enough snow for ski-touring. In the mild winter of 1977, that meant going high into the backcountry. They were packed and ready to leave when they talked to the ranger, who told them he'd heard there was still a ton of marijuana in Lower Merced Pass Lake. The weather had turned bad the month before, and divers couldn't find the bodies of the pilot and co-pilot. The Feds decided to wait for the spring thaw to complete their mission.

Craig and Nick considered the idea. There would be at least a foot of ice on the lake. If enough air pockets were trapped in the plastic-wrapped bales, the dope would be floating just below the frozen surface. If not, they would need wetsuits and diving equipment. Neither of the two men had the gear, the experience, or the inclination pursue the matter that far. But they both owned ice axes, and they agreed it was worth a shot. They unstrapped their skis and attached Piolets to their packs. They asked a friend, Jackson, to join them, and after hesitating he agreed to come along. It sounded crazy, but maybe....

Two days later they were at the lake. Scattered pieces of wreckage gave the scene a desolate, eerie appearance. It was cold at 9000 feet, and snowing intermittently. The three men set to work.

They'd been chopping away for several hours when the shaft of Nick's ice axe split. He cursed Yvon Chouinard and threw the tool across the ice. "It's all jive," he shouted. "Bullshit! We're not getting any!" Nick stomped over to the shore, cold and angry and burnt out.

"So much for the aesthetics of laminated bamboo," Craig thought, and plunged his own axe back into the jagged surface of the lake. "It was cold, hard work," he said later, "and we weren't really sure we'd find anything. The ice was two feet thick and we were digging totally at random. I was thinking that the bales were probably on the bottom anyway, If they were there at all."

Craig and Jackson were both ready for a break when Nick yelled that he'd found some dope in the woods. There were a few scattered buds, probably dropped during the government salvage attempt. The three men propped up a piece of wreckage on some rocks and got a fire going underneath it "At the time," Craig remembered, "I was more concerned with warming my hands then with drying out the pot. Honestly." They huddled around the flames, bitching and about the cold and the snow and the eighteen-mile hike in. It was all crazy, they decided, stone crazy.

The soggy marijuana finally started to smolder and they broke up the buds. Nick tossed a few of the seeds into the woods. "Maybe we can come back in August and have a real harvest," he said sarcastically.

They filled a pipe and after two tokes a litany was born. it tasted awful. It wouldn't stay lit. But it knocked you on your ass. Within a few weeks, Californians everywhere would be reaching the same conclusions. Craig exhaled a thin cloud of vapor. "Dynamite smoke," he said. It was, too. "High grade marijuana," as the press would later label it. "Airplane," as it came to be universally known. It might have been Oaxacan, Michoacan, Colombian. Someone even suggested Acapulco Gold-how long since anyone'd heard of Acapulco Gold, let alone smoked it? Still, it seemed a possibility.

Not that it really mattered at the time. The gold diggers from Camp Four had about three pipes of moldy marijuana to show for their efforts. Cheered by the fire and very stoned, they went back to work.

Maybe smoking it was the charm, a burnt offering to appease the mountain gods. Less than ten minutes after they wandered back onto the ice, Jackson's quiet determination erupted into a madman's dance. Nick and Craig rushed to the small hole he'd opened up and there it was. Black plastic and sodden burlap, bouyed up by the air bubbles inside. They poked at the bundle and it quivered as if alive. It seemed substantial.

Shouts and whistles echoed off the granite cliffs above the lake's east end. The men were grabbing one another, yelling and babbling insanely. The wild, instantaneous celebration went on and on, and Craig remembered some words from a John Lennon song: "Some call it magic, the search for the grail." Jackson swooped around the ice, bellowing, "We're rich! We're rich!" They had scored.

After half an hour they'd enlarged the opening and hoisted the dope onto the ice. Twenty kilo bales of wet marijuana equal eighty dripping pounds of real weight, and the whole operation was clumsy, sweaty and precarious. Not to mention highly rewarding. Stamped on the burlap were there "X's" and the word Qualidad. Quality. Indeed. The pot was wet and rank, but it was all tops: tight clusters of flower buds shot through with red yellow threads. Even damp it looked sticky.

They pulled up three more bales that overcast day in March. None of them had ever seen that much dope in their lives. It was awesome. They built several fires and stayed up half the night, stoking the coals and turning over the pot. Pieces of the plane provided ready-made drying trays. The three men lounged around the biggest fire, eating and talking and smoking. They ate as much food as the could: they didn't plan on carrying out any the next day.

It seemed pointless to carry out anything but lode from the Lodestar. Pound for pound, cubic inch for cubic inch, pot had the clear edge in value over any gear they'd brought with them. Sleeping bags, tent, stoves-all would be left behind. "We figured we could always make a second trip," Craig said later. "If we felt like it." Whatever happened, the men knew it wouldn't matter much.


After all, the Park Service did know there was a lakeful of marijuana within its jurisdiction. Jackson suggested they walk out to a trailhead on the east side to avoid any confrontations with the law. Craig and Nick didn't like the idea. "Are you crazy?" Craig asked. "Two days, three days hike with these loads? Without sleeping bags and food and tents? Where do we put the dope? Even if I leave behind every piece of gear I've got, my pack won't hold my share. And what about hitching back? Two hundred miles with sixty pounds of pot on your back? No way."

Nice agreed. "Craig's right. We might not be able to make it back up here. The word'll be out. We should get it while we can, get as much as we can. and get the hell out. I'll take my chances walking back to the Valley tomorrow."

Convinced, Jackson sucked on a fat joint and blew a jet of smoke into the flames. "Wayall, Meester Ranger," he drawled, "we just happened to run across all this here illegal contraband and we thought we'd better get down to the Valley straight-away and turn it in to the proper authorities."

"We think," Craig added conspiratorially, "It might be marijuana."

"I can see it now." Nick lowered his voice. "The Feds left hidden cameras in the trees, mikes in the pine cones. They're probably watching us right now, listening, writing down everything we say. And when we get down to the Vally tomorrow night...." "They're gonna BUST US!" Craig and Jackson yelled out in unison, laughing like maniacs. Nick began strumming an imaginary guitar:
Then we came in late and loaded
Feeling like my head's exploding
Lawyers talkin', quoting Jesus,
Judge is staring, sure don't please us.....
He trailed off, staring into the fire reflectively. Craig passed him the joint and he inhaled deeply. "Not bad," Nick said after a minute, "considering."

They filled their packs early the next morning. Despite the drying operation, the dope was still damp and heavy, and Craig was sure his pack weighed ninety pounds. Stuff sacks tied on the packs provided increased capacity but made the loads even more unwieldy. Nick, who'd done some climbing in Nepal, lamented the lack of Sherpas in the Sierra. Before setting off, the three men concealed their gear in some boulders above the lake and smoked a joint for the road. Snow fell lightly as they began retracing their footsteps.

can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 15, 2005 - 02:00am PT
Here ya go Jeff, part 2 of the great Airplane saga.

Part Two:

A few miles down the trail they met two Curry Company employees who'd heard about the crash and decided to check it out. "You guys score?" one of them asked.

Jackson threw down his pack and opened the top flap. The other stranger whistled a long, low note. "What a bust!" he said admiringly. "Anymore where that came from?"

Craig pointed up the trail. "Yours for the taking my man," he said.

The burdened-down trio gave the newcomers their first taste of Airplane and offered some advice. "It's just like going to Mexico," Nick said. "Don't drink the water." The lake was murky with aviation fuel and the three men had melted snow for drinking water.

"Why not?" the strangers asked.

"There's two dead men in that lake, that's why," Craig said, barely suppressing a smile. The other hikers were properly impressed. "You guys find the bodies, then?"

"See for yourself," Craig said, and the three friends laboriously shouldered their packs and headed down the hill.

So the stories were already beginning. Craig, Nick and Jackson were the first swell of a human tide, and as the number of gold diggers increased, the legends likewise proliferated. The lake was haunted. People had peered into the water and stared into the unblinking eyes of the pilot. The dope was opiated. It was laced with PCP. The flight was a Maifa run and the gangsters would be making their recovery bid any day. For a sizable segment of Yosemite's population, the crash and everything it meant was so much larger than life that it quickly assumed almost mythical proportions. "This happens in movies, in books," Craig told friends after returning to the Valley, "not in reality."

The three men reached Yosemite Valley long after nightfall. It was quiet evening, with damp clear air and a half moon bouncing silver light off the Apron and the Arches and catching the gushing stream of Yosemite Falls. No traffic, deserted campgrounds - just the Valley holding its breath before the Easter onslaught and the ever-lengthening tourist season. "We're home," Craig said softly. "We're home free."

They walked to a friend's cabin and happily dropped their packs. "What we've got here," Nick announced, "are three very sore backs. three pairs of aching shoulders, and about two hundred pounds of pot." Their incredulous host, a Curry maintenance man, listened to the story in fascination as a pipe was passed around. In the morning he was gone - he'd called in sick and hit the trail. Craig, Nick, and Jackson sorted out a few of the driest ounces and caught a shuttlebus to Camp Four. It was time to spread the word.

Soon enough, the Yosemite Gold Rush was well under way. The unemployed leisure class of Camp Four had nothing better to do, not by a long shot. People with jobs either found replacements or simply failed to show up at work. A good day at the lake would net what it took four years to earn working for the Curry Company-tax free. Hikers with chainsaws and diving gear were seen on the Illilouette and Mono Meadow trails, suddenly the most popular pathways in Yosemite.

Craig and Nick returned to the crash ten days after their first visit. They couldn't believe their eyes. Campsites surrounded the lake's western end; perhaps thirty people were on the ice. "It was insane," Craig said later. "People were falling in all the time, because the ice was really broken up by then. No one was bothering to dry the pot out - some people filled their packs and left an hour after they got there."

The army of prospectors had discovered qualitative and quantitative differences in the Lodestar's cargo. Some bales, labelled Especial, were much larger than those marked Qualidad, but the pot seemed inferior. The lowest grade marijuana, distinguished only by a stencilled weight, was often abandoned on the ice, along with dope to saturated with aviation fuel to be salable. There was enough Airplane for people to be selective.

Craig and Nick had planned to camp at the lake, but after splitting a bale of Qualidad with some friends they retrieved their abandoned gear and left the circus behind. On their first trip the trail had been narrow and sometimes hard to follow. Not anymore. "Now," Craig observed, "it was wide and obvious, like the Yosemite Falls trail." Between the lake and Yosemite Valley he counted sixteen crash-bound hikers - and an older couple setting out for nearby Ottoway Lakes. The older couple said they'd always heard that the off-season was a good time to avoid Yosemite's backcountry crowds. Instead, they told Nick and Craig, a few miles above Nevada Falls, they'd seen more people on the trail than in ten years of summer hiking in the park. As Nick broke into laughter, Craig explained that the Yosemite Winter Club always held a big pre-Easter campout at Lower Merced Pass Lake. "It's pretty noisy and rowdy," he told the startled visitors. "You'll probably want to avoid it. But I don't think you'll see anybody up at Ottoway."

Another week passed and Valley regulars became convinced that a bust was imminent. Fewer people made the trip, but stories of the loaded lake were on everyone's lips. Young visitors learned of the crash minutes after arriving in the park. Craig was riding a shuttlebus one evening when two hikers, obviously just off the trail, hoisted their bulging packs up the stairs. Within seconds, a familiar smell filled the bus. More than a few passengers noticed. The hikers' packs reeked of pot and dripped resiny liquid from every seam. They got off at Camp Four, leaving sticky greenish puddles behind them. People were getting loose, Craig thought. Definitely loose.

One sunny Monday a group of friends were admiring Jackson's newly-purchased Econoline when the same friendly ranger who'd advised Craig and Nick to change their hiking plans wandered over. "Now this is strictly off the record," he said, "and you understand I can't tell you if there's going to be a raid or when it might be." He paused. "But - I have a feeling that Wednesday won't be a good day to be on the Mono Meadow trail." The ranger looked up at the cloudless sky. "Looks to me like there's a storm front coming in," he said, and walked away.

Two days later there were only a few people working the lake, and they scattered into the woods when the Park Service helicopter appeared. There were two token busts that evening at a Valley trailhead, but charges were dropped the following day. Illegal search. U.S. Magistrate Donald Pitts also expressed doubts about the legal status of contraband left unguarded in the wilderness. Case dismissed.

"Home free," as Craig had said almost three weeks before. But the great adventure was over. Two guards were stationed at the lake, and a sign was posted at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley. It read: "Lower Merced Pass Lake CLOSED Due to Law Enforcement Emergency."

By this time there were many other signs in Yosemite, unofficial but equally revealing, that confirmed the Lodestar legacy. Within a few days after the first Airplane smoke rose above Camp Four, it was readily apparent that something was....well, up. There were countless steak dinners in the resturants and endless rounds of drinks in the Mountain Room Bar. People made the switch from Bud to Beck's, from Beck's to Chivas. One night at Yosemite Lodge a tableful of "Airplane millionaires" traded toasts with a nearby gathering of Curry Company executives. "A few weeks ago you guys were scarfing in the cafeteria," one of the more amiable Company men called out. "Now you're leaving ten dollar tips in the Broiler Room." The Camp Four crowd raised glasses of champagne and offered noisy cheers to the laughing businessmen. "But what happens when the money runs out?" someone asked. "If you've got the luxuries, you don't need the necessities," a drunken climber responded, and both tables applauded wholeheartedly.

Initially, few of the Valley's older, straighter residents realized the extent of the Yosemite Gold Rush. Most tended to regard the whole affair as an amusing lark, and chuckles about "the free enterprise system in action" were commonly heard. Marijuana is simply not the bogeyman it once was. After the lake was finally cordoned off, there was universal derision for the park's embarrassed Law Enforcement Office and its stubborn insistence that only a handful of people obtained crash stash. "And Richard Nixon is still President of the United States," one ranger said scornfully.

In fact, it is likely that more than half a million dollars worth of marijuana was recovered in the unauthorized salvage operation. Airplane sold for $400 a pound, minimum, and the price ranged up to $650 for the best quality buds. Most 'prospectors' made brief trips to San Francisco or Los Angeles and returned with thick bankrolls. Park Service estimates vary, but between 3100 and 4500 pounds were ferried out by the government before and after the Gold Rush. In Yosemite, the latter figure is regarded with as much suspicion as the offical "only four people scored" theory, but it still leaves 1500 pounds of the six ton cargo unaccounted for. At $400 a pound, that's $600,000, an impressive haul by anyone's standards.

Ironically, Airplance quickly became the drug everyone loved to hate. Its taste was too harsh, its high too spacey. Heavy smokers, hopelessly burnt out from the lake pot, turned to "quality smoke:" expensive, exotic grasses from Thailand, Hawaii, and Jamaica. Pounds of Airplane that had been saved for personal stashes were given to close friends or traded for cocaine.

Cocaine was the ultimate symbol of the new affluence. Pot had always been available in the park, but coke was a rarity, plainly because no one could afford it. Now a lot of people could, and the white powder was everywhere. "Nose candy" became the drug of choice in such unlikely places as Camp Four and the Curry Company dorms, and for many weeks there were as many rolled-up century notes in Yosemite as in Aspen at its snowiest. Months later, when asked what they did with their crash money, more than a few people simply placed a finger on one nostril and sniffed.

Even so few of the 'fortunes' were squandered solely on high living and extravagant drug abuse. Travel and material desires were important prior, too. New motorcycles and vans gleamed in the parking lots. The Mountain Shop's large stock of quality gear was gone by the end of April, and climbing hardware left the store as soon as it arrived from distributors. Employees watched knowingly as Valley regulars, who formerly hung around reading climbing magazines, spent hundreds of dollars day after day. As one salesperson put it, "When you sell three Oval Intentions, four or five Robbins Lifelines - all to C4Bs - in one day, you know something's going on."

Camp Four itself was transformed. Scores of brightly colored new tents hinted at a new ebullience among the residents. Camp Four has changed since the glory days of the sixties, and the odd communal feeling has ebbed away with the flood tide of both climbers and hangers-on. There are rip-offs now and more than occasional bad vibes. The Park Service's 'reorganization,' with its numbered sites and neat parking lot, took away a lot of the old chaotic character of the place, and savvy veterans don't live there anymore. They come to Camp Four to deal and scrounge equipment, to downgrade each other's climbs and watch the movies. At night they bed down in the rock caves on the other side of the Valley, secluded caverns comfortably outfitted with wool blankets pirated from Curry Village. "I may be a C4B," Craig admitted, "but I can't stay there. It's too much of a zoo." But for a while at least, suspiciousness and uptightness floated away in a new smoky atmosphere of carefree generosity and congenial good feeling. The Big Score of 1977 made it easy to be mellow.

That mellowness did become strained as word - and evidence - of the crash spread throughout California. A steady stream of erstwhile prospectors showed up in Camp Four, asking the way to Lower Merced Pass Lake. The Yosemite Gold Rush largely had been a local phenomenon, despite fanciful media accounts of "men from the inner city with greasy work boots and guns...digging alongside college students and backpackers." Many of the newcomers, arriving weeks after the lake was closed off, were greeted with the same disdain that Yosemite regulars hold for 'turkeys,' the Instamatic army of motorized tourists. Outsiders received directions to Merced Lake, ten miles away from the 'real' lake, or assurances that there was still plenty of dope left for the taking. Reporters, who began appearing in May, fared little better. Correspondents from New West and the San Francisco Chronicle found tightlipped Park Service spokesmen, but crash beneficiaries were happy to provide anonymous, highly inventive accounts of the finders-keepers game in the backcountry. What the resulting stories sometimes lacked in accuracy, they made up for in flash: "Yosemite's Marijuana Treasure Hunt." And, of course, "The Great Yosemite Gold Rush."

Media attention kept the crash story alive throughout the summer. The area was reopened in early June, following recovery of the pilots' bodies and removal of the remaining cargo. Once obscure and seldom visited, Lower Merced Pass Lake became a popular destination for vacationing backpackers, although onoly a small scrap of one wing attested to the lake's notoriety. A penciled inscription dedicated the scrap of gray metal as a memorial to "the two brave men of the American Marijuana Movement" who went down with the Lodestar. In the Valley, t-shirts emblazoned "I Got Mine at Lower Merced Pass Lake" competed the famous Yosemite "Go Climb a Rock" shirts for the tourist dollar. Already transformed from a secret into a sensation, the crash was swiftly merchandised into cuteness.

Most of the original prospectors weren't around to see the transformation. Yosemite Valley in summer is unsettling to anyone with fond, fading memories of Earth Day. To Valley Rats it is anathema. "It's hard for me to define what I mean by 'Valley Rats," Craig said to a journalist one night, "but I guess they're people who come to Yosemite not to find themselves, but to lose themselves." It's very difficult to lose oneself in the wailing tourist winds of midsummer Yosemite, with thirsty thousand other people and then thousand vehicles prowling around what Ansel Adams once called "the great earth gesture of the Sierra Nevada." Escaping this madness is the seasonal concern of Valley regulars, and anyone not tied to a job generally flees to Tuolumne Meadows or farther into the backcountry. In 1977, the Lodestar provided for escapism on a grand scale, for adventures in Alaska, Europe, Nepal or wherever seemed right.

Craig spent most of the summer in Tuolumne, putting up a new route and visiting some remote areas of the high country. Nick and Jackson had left for the Dolomites in June, and Craig expected to meet them in Pakistan at the end of August. Their plan was to explore the Baltoro and then head for Nepal. "I'll be back, though," he said a week before his departure. "And so will most everyone who went up to the lake. There's climbs to do, places to go. I used to live in a place where everyone grew up together, married one another, and lived monotonously ever after. Screw that. Go your own way.

Craig's thoughts underline something about the crash. It was the Big Score, all right, but it was more. There are people in Yosemite who are more then rock jocks, people with a broader attachment to the place. Call them Valley Rats or Camp Four Bums or whatever; they're people who tangibly belong. They give the impression there is nothing else. They hang on for years and put up with all the incredible bullshit of the Park Service, the Curry Company, and each other. Something makes them stay. For a lot of them the Airplane was a symbol more then anything else, an unmistakable confirmation of the rightness of being in Yosemite and doing nothing but playing it as it lays.

Craig didn't like the "I Got Mine" t-shirts. They were tacky, he thought, and too commercial. He designed his own shirt, and carefully silkscreened a few for friends who'd been to the crash. It was a simple idea, really. On the front, over the pocket, a bright green marijuana leaf was encircled by these words: "Lower Merced Pass Lake, Spring 1977, "Lodestar'" The back, in big black letters, read: "GO JUMP IN A LAKE"


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Apr 15, 2005 - 02:21am PT
Yeah, remember that one - we were climbing in Eldorado at the time and were totally bummed to have missed that one and I recall my partner asking "now why is it we don't climb in Yosemite?"

But, as we were from Southern Illinois we were so damn content and amazed at just being there after stopping at the first significant rise off the prairie that we couldn't really complain all that much (and being from Carbondale we were in truth pretty set up at the time for dot, shrooms, and smoke [or at least as well as one could be under such vertically trying circumstances]...).

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Apr 15, 2005 - 03:29am PT
Yup! I lived in the Valley in 1976 and 1978 but was there sporadicaly enough to be in on the fringes of the great gold rush of '77. There are way too many stories surrounding the whole thing. Of course, Largo's treatise was made into a movie and Jeff Long used the idea for a book.

My most memorable moment was being in Camp Four and having a guy dressed up in lederhosen, green felt hat and clunker mountain climbing boots come up and ask me if I knew where he could get some "stuff". It was right out of Get Smart. I told him that we didn't hang out with Customs agents.

Hopefully the statute of limitations has worn off of any crimes associated with "Lodestar Lightening" and the really good stories can come out.


Trad climber
Reno NV
Apr 15, 2005 - 08:47am PT
Don't know about any statute of limitations, but copyright lasts the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.

Apr 15, 2005 - 10:56am PT
Wow, did this really happen?

Trad climber
Slippery Rock, PA
Apr 15, 2005 - 11:30am PT
Nevada Barr's book "High Country" perverts this story into something much uglier than it really was. The basic gist remains the same, though.

I thought that the funniest thing about "High Country" was that she never meantioned Tuolumne. (Thank God.)
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 15, 2005 - 12:13pm PT
So Larry, do you think the author, who I cited, would get his bloomers all bunched up for his docu-drama being read by probably many, many more people then when it was originally published, in an obscure and now almost impossible to find mountain rag? I don't think so, but if he does he's free to contact me.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Apr 15, 2005 - 12:44pm PT
Yep - and damn if that wasn't the one legendary Valley epic all my "experience" imminently qualified me for...

Trad climber
portland, or.
Apr 16, 2005 - 01:45pm PT
This brings back 75', i was a 15 yr old noob ,living in Poway ,learning to climb. My neighbor happened to be a tall, lanky guy that had climbed el cap , and had put up most of the legendary boulder problems at Woodson...later as i learned to climb, we made a trip to Tahquitz...ahh, my 1st 5.10 route...i had never smoked hippie lettuce before, but Rick loaded up the pipe and we smoked...needless to say , it was a mind bender for me....anyway , a couple of years later was my first summer in second day, I was happy to run into the only person i knew...Rick P...just coming down from fixing on magic mushroom i think , anyway it wasn't long before he wandered over to my site with a mason jar of " loadstar lightning" i remember, there were bits of granite mixed in and that stuff would knock you on your ass...those were the dayz !

Social climber
Pagosa Springs CO
Apr 19, 2005 - 08:18pm PT
I remember meeting a fellow at the base of the Ophir Wall on my way with John Ely to Yosemite for the first time ever, back in the summer of 1977. The guy whose name I have forgotten had a brand new Econoline with a crack machine on top. He showed us an enviable brand new rack of the latest hexes, Titons, new European kernmantle ropes, and all the other stuff you could get back then. By and by we came to know of his amazing adventure in the Yosemite hills...

Social climber
The West
Apr 19, 2005 - 08:50pm PT
-Can't say
"do you think the author, who I cited, would get his bloomers all bunched up for his docu-drama being read by probably many, many more people"

Why don't you ask him?


Social climber
May 2, 2005 - 06:00pm PT

Interesting reading especially because it was my husband in the plane..There are always to sides to a coin-I'm glad there was to this one. There was a lady hicker that wrote an article similar to yours in National Geographic Explorer a few year ago (about 2-3 yrs.) First one to climb the face on the big rock...You wouldn't know her name by chance? Yes those were some high times all right...funny after all thse years to think that good could have come out of what happened....I'm so please. Respond if you feel comfortable in doing so. Thanks for the other side!


Mountain climber
May 5, 2005 - 01:27pm PT
I too find this interesting reading. I know the wife of the guy in the plane.

Pammie...glad to finally have found more information on the crash even if it hurts a bit.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
May 5, 2005 - 01:58pm PT
Hi Pam,

I was not in the Valley during the winters in the late seventies. Only a few of the ST campers were actually around in 1977 much less in the early spring--although we all love the stories--so there is probably not much to add to Hillsery's account. Lynn Hill, in her book, "Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World" has a take on the some of these stories, including some of the sobering down side of too much money in combination with expensive drugs.

Probably most of us have never considered the fate of the people on the plane. I am sure that I can speak for everyone in offering our condolences.

Best regards, Roger

can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 5, 2005 - 03:48pm PT
There was more then one tragedy that came out of the Lodestar Lighting bootyhaul. One guy crashed his rig and unfortunately his girlfriend was killed. The ranger who is generally credited with giving out the 411 on the crash lost his life in an "accident" while on a night-time search/rescue.

not to mention all of us who got to consume that foul weed. Just think brown mexi-buds soaded in fuel oil...mmmmmmm feels so good going down the pipes...ack ack ack


Mountain climber
Atlanta, Georgia
May 6, 2005 - 10:34am PT
Anyone know where I can get a copy of Angels of Light, Jeff Long's account of the Gold Rush of '77? Seems to be out of print. Thanks.

Social climber
May 10, 2005 - 02:37am PT
MJ, I just did a Google on Angles of Light by Long and found his website. This might help you out.

Social climber
May 25, 2005 - 03:47am PT
Sewellymon, email me. Your's of course doesn't work.

Big Wall climber
Jun 4, 2005 - 03:43am PT
If I was asked. . .I would have said okay, just promote my new novel What We Do Is Secret (Villard, ISBN 0812973097;

"Airplane" was the first article I wrote and sold and it led more or less directly to working for Outside for several years as a contributing editor and columnist, then on to Rolling Stone and other magazines and lots of travel. So the legacy of the crash worked positively for some of us at least. A couple of years ago the revived MG published an anthology titled "When In Doubt, Go Lower." "Airplane" was not included, but there's an appendix containing a variety of letters to the editor, including one praising "Airplane" rather extravagantly and calling me a "fine journalist."

It's signed by some unknown hipppie-solunding dude in Colorado named Jon Krakauer.
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 4, 2005 - 09:16am PT
My appologies for not going the extra mile and trying to find you to ask your permission. I'm glad the story segued into better gigs for you.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jun 4, 2005 - 09:11pm PT
Nice story, Kief, but not all climbers in Camp 4 thought, felt or acted like the waifs depicted in your account.

But back then, most of us did smoke weed. Should have seen the flame that would leap off a pipeload of av-gas soaked airplane hemp the moment you put a match to it and huffed hard--like a grease fire suddenly broke out in the corn cobb. The shite so worked my lungs I eventually gave away most of what I had. I remember one friend--who'd humped out some 100 pounds worth-- showing me a bankrool thick as a Presto Log. He started a business he still runs today.

Amazing to think that was 28 years ago . . .


Trad climber
Jun 7, 2005 - 06:36pm PT
It seems that everyone is beating around the bush about this thing. Okay here goes nothing: The rumor as I heard it at the crag was that the plane was full of weed grown in nearby Stanislaus national forest in Northern Tuolomne county by climbers we all know. It was driven down Camp Nine road or I-Bar road to Columbia airport. (that's Columbia California near Sonora in the gold country.) The plane took off from Columbia Airport which led to the silly notion that it was from "Columbia" which is the closest town to the grow. Unfortunately, rumor has it that the co-pilot got into a gunfight with the pilot shortly after take off and may have killed him in an effort to betray everyone and steal the load. The plane tried to return to the airport but crashed into the lake because of damage to the cockpit. Climbers killing climbers over a bunch of fukking weed! A tale of greed, betrayal and murder....Is this what you guys want to be associated with?

And my apologies to those who were so offended by my efforts to discourage mainstream publication of this damaging information. If you want to hear more about the incident go drive out to a place called "Planet Jupiter" just past Mount Knight on I-bar road and start asking questions. The murderous co-conspirators who planned the rip-off are still there today cooking crank and growing via diesel generator operations. You can see the smoke for miles. Bring your satelite phone and relay the info you get to Licky for his book. But dont plan on making it home.

Trad climber
Jun 7, 2005 - 07:37pm PT
dear wbraun, I shared what I heard about the incident as everyone seems to want. as far as the "climbers we all know," they have made themselves known in this forum and i respectfully omit their names because I am only sharing a RUMOR which I made very clear. this whole discussion has been a bunch of unsubstantiated rumors. I never said I know what happened. i said I heard third hand. Why do you get hostile? I'm trying to understand what the point of all this discussion is. Maybe there is no point at all. And please read my apologies to everyone. I am sorry if I pissed you off. I thought the point of this subject was to share stories, rumors etc. however fantastic or wrong they may be. Chill dude. If you dont want to hear it then now you are the one who is trying to censor the conversation. And drive up to planet jupiter yourself if you dont believe me. People from Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia, Angels Camp, Twain Harte and beyond have been telling that version of the planecrash story for years. Why do you have an issue with my relating it? Havent you been reading all the weird stuff on this topic?

sorry if I pissed you off.

Jun 7, 2005 - 07:54pm PT
Your statement says:
the plane was full of weed grown in nearby Stanislaus national forest in Northern Tuolomne county by climbers we all know.

they have made themselves known in this forum

Chainsaw? Where has anyone said they grew this stuff on any of these threads?

And what so called climbers have made any of your so called claims?

I'm not the least bit pissed whatsoever, I'm just seeing some bullshit here.

Please enlighten me with what "climbers we all know" on these threads grew this stuff.

Trad climber
Jun 7, 2005 - 08:03pm PT
I said It was rumored that the climbers grew it. I heard this from several totally unreliable sources so I will not mention any names, although the sources did. It is very likely that these people had nothing to do with anything at all. But it is an interesting story. If you want to continue this discussion please stop addressing me in such a hostile way. I dont like getting crucified here. And yes I'm an idiot for not knowing that the link by my name reveals my actual email address. Most forums and personal sites do not allow access to that info when a "handle" is choosen to protect peoples real identities. But I guess the cat is out of the bag. Just out of curiosity, why are you so interested in that info?

Jun 7, 2005 - 08:12pm PT
I'm interested because I witnessed this whole thing from the beginning to the end.

Chainsaw said: "I heard this from several totally unreliable sources"

And: This is the first time Ive ever heard any of this so called rumor, including the one claiming climbers we all know grew this stuff.

Im not trying to be hostile towards you, sorry if you feel that way, but Ill still call it total bullshit!

Prove it without doubt.

Gym climber
San Francisco, CA
Jun 7, 2005 - 08:37pm PT
ugh ..

i thought we had already dealt with chainsaw ..

bottom line is that chainsaw is totally f*cked up because alot of people in his life got totally screwed up by drugs .. so he blames all drugs for all his life's shortcomings ..

.. sorry your life got messed up by drugs chainsaw ... now go away while the rest of us talk about some funny sheit that happened in the valley about 30 years ago.


Trad climber
Jun 7, 2005 - 08:47pm PT
okay ricardo, have it your way. Sorry i keep pissing you off. by the way, have you climbed purple haze at the leap? I'm trying to figure out if we were offroute there. any clues?
Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Mill Valley
Jun 7, 2005 - 09:12pm PT
Hey Weedwhacker -- you really outdid yourself (if that's possible) by knowingly spreading
bullshit rumors for the obvious purpose of defaming others. You even said your sources were "unreliable". WTF?

If that doesn't fit the definition of libel, it's damn close.

You are way over the top with this nonsense.
Let it go before you make yourself look even worse.
Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Mill Valley
Jun 7, 2005 - 09:26pm PT
Let's hope for his sake yer right...

Jun 7, 2005 - 09:48pm PT
Bullshit rumors with the implied defamation pointed at people on this and the 1977 Airplane Crash in Yosemite thread!

Defamation: communication to third parties of false statements about a person that injure the reputation of or deter others from associating with that person.

It also says look up libel.


Trad climber
Humboldt, CA
Jun 7, 2005 - 09:57pm PT
well, I'm no fan of the weedwhacker, and NEVER heard of a connection between the goings on in Jupiter to "Lodestar Lightening," (but definitely tasted *cough* it), AND haven't lived in Tuolumne County in 25 years...BUT, back in that day when looking for our own...ummm, garden spot, we KNEW that Jupiter was already hot so looked elsewhere. (just saying...) Jupiter was a place to stay away from - of course there was a real gold rush happening then on the Stanislaus as gold prices had skyrocketed, with claim jumping and shootings as if it was 1849. but I digress - and shouldn't even post. forget I said anything...

wadda ya say Licky?

Social climber
Jun 7, 2005 - 10:46pm PT
Well Nibs, I say not much has changed from where I stand. I'm still looking for humorous stories and stories that tell about how people's lives have benefited from the crash. We are trying to find something good out of all of this even though lives were lost, families destroyed, and a ton of headaches that were delivered on platers.

Those that have contacted me via email or phone have heard me and some of my stories. Yeah, I know rumors can be entertaining, but the real question is why spread a rumor in the first place?

Just for those that have followed spray from thread to thread, I am in possession of the death certificate of the pilot, the NTSB's final report, and a few other docs that support our story, not the rumors in the mill. All of this will come out in the book and will be supported.

As for Chainsaw. Well, there ya go.

Social climber
kennewick, wa
Jun 7, 2005 - 11:00pm PT
I have found this all kind of entertaining yet disturbing. In one thread chainsaw was trying to protect the virtues of his athletes hero's by not writing a book of stories from that era. In another thread he is sh**ing on them...Something is rotten in denmark and my great gramps was from there so I otto know...

Trad climber
cayucos california
Jun 8, 2005 - 12:01am PT
Damn if that lake wasnt full of jet fuel I'm sure it would of been fun to swim in! Could of bottled the water and sold it too. It was probaly the largest amount of bong water on earth.

Jun 8, 2005 - 08:48pm PT
What ever became of the wreckage? Was it carried out in pieces, shoved into deep water or left where it was? Is it still up there?

Social climber
Jun 8, 2005 - 09:41pm PT
Thumbs, that's part of the story. The NPS attempted to sue Pam for the salvage costs.

Trad climber
Jun 30, 2005 - 04:13am PT
Hey schmutznick, do you know that the former employer you refer to was found criminally negligent in their management of employee safety? Did you know they were fined? Are you aware that osha shut them down temporarily due to their total negligence of safety? I have copies of the official reports from the consumer affairs division. Did you also know that it was not I but one of their current employees who impregnated a 16 year old co-worker? While at work? Dont throw those stones at me dude. Did you know that one of their auto belays just dropped a kid to the deck unchecked? Want to get in a mudslinging contest with me about that sh#t and see what you get? Those guys are as#@&%es. Plain and simple. Join them since you fit right in!

Social climber
Jun 30, 2005 - 04:54am PT
Ahhh....the drama. This is what keeps "it" alive.

Social climber
Joshua Tree, CA
Jun 30, 2005 - 09:23am PT
Whoa!! Me and BVB had our share of that stuff!! It did pack a whallop!

Trad climber
Estes Park, Colorado
Jul 1, 2005 - 02:24pm PT
The ranting against drug use and users has always struck me as quite interesting. Most of the people I knew in my youth smoked pot and used other "controlled" substances. And yet most of them turned out rather normal (well... as normal as anyone who throws themselves repeatedly against vertical walls of stone could possibly be). I myself gave all that stuff up many years ago. I have also known a few who overdid it and wasted away.
The thing is, those few were highly self destructive individuals and the rest were not. There is a widespread misconception among people (like chainsaw) that drugs destroyed their lives -- TOTALLY UNTRUE -- THEY DESTROYED THEMSELVES.
If I could wave my magic wand and eliminate all controlled substances right this minute, such people would still find a thousand different ways to destroy themselves.... alcohol, paint thinner, violence, psychosis, suicide, rock climbing.... you name it.
I'm very unimpressed by the ranting. Tunnel vision.

Social climber
Jul 2, 2005 - 01:36pm PT
bhilden...if you are still around and reading this, drop me a PM, your email addy doesn't work anylonger.

Boulder climber
a prissy pit
May 28, 2008 - 12:56pm PT
" The ranger who is generally credited with giving out the 411 on the crash lost his life in an "accident" while on a night-time search/rescue. " i remember this part of the story circulating through the valley at the time . the version i heard implicated climbers in the yosar team , but at face-value they would not even have motive . for my own lowly part i only found a piece of the wing when on a backpack trip around the clark range . i wish i'd brought it back to put on ebay .
Meow Now

Trad climber
Emerald City
Jul 9, 2011 - 10:20pm PT
The pot was the crap and produced a massive headache.

I don't know who would have bought this sh#t cuz it was crap; saturated with jet fuel and oil.

At least it went to a good cause. No one deserved it more than the climbers.

Meow Now

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jul 10, 2011 - 12:34am PT
i wish i'd brought it back to put on ebay .

HaHaHa! I bet that woulda brought at least a buck fiddy.

Now, go find Amelia's Lockheed and we'll talk investments.
Linette St Vrain

Apr 21, 2012 - 10:31pm PT
Just wanted to give you yet another side to this tale... I was the Park photographer in the spring of '77. I had just started working for the NPS interp. division on taking slides for the ranger campfire talks and exhibits. A member of the LEO came to me and asked what my photgraphic background was. "I have a BA degree". I replied. So you can take decent photos and attest to their authenticity, he asked. Sure! This was to be my first job in a summer of lots of evidence shots and helicopter rides.
I flew up to the lake the first week in April. to start photographing the operation and recovery. Like the previous author had said, it looked like a surreal landscape. Holes in the Ice, gear everywhere and rangers tagging and bagging it all. I was 23 at the time with no law enforcement experience (none wanted) and I was following the Western Division Chiefs of DEA, NPS, DOJ, FBI and a few other initials I have since forgotten. The Park Service told me not to say anything to anybody when they flew me down a week later and that I was expected to testify in SF later that year. As I walked out of El Cap meadow, people asked me how much dope was still there (lots..) Did they find the pilot (just that day, when I fell through the ice and found the wing) and other stuff that I'm sure the Park Service didn't think anyone knew.
Never heard anymore about it after I turned in the film. Except for one other thing... I took the photos of the recovery of the SAR ranger who died later that year.
John Calkins

Aug 6, 2012 - 10:45am PT
I was the Camp 4 ranger at the time and did not die on a night rescue...My friend, Jack Dorn, a climber on the rescue site did during an early morning rescue at Lost Arrow Direct...

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Aug 6, 2012 - 12:17pm PT
The rumor as told by Chainsaw is pretty laughable, but then we all love a good
laugh. If the weed had been grown in California it makes zero sense to drive
it to Columbia in order to load it into a unique airplane for delivery within
the US. If nothing dope dealers are rational and all about the bottom line.
Why transport the dope in a very expensive airplane with all its attendant risks?
A truck is much cheaper and trucks always fly below the radar. Now the use of
the plane to bring it in from Mexico makes good sense - risky but acceptable.

Trad climber
Aug 30, 2013 - 08:01pm PT
That year, coincident with Airplane money, lots of Valley climbers happened to come to Eldorado Springs. I talked to Vern Clevenger, Kevin Worrall, and Del Johns, in Eldorado Springs. Kevin was staying at Mike Lowe's stone house at the end of the road. I knew Vern and Del from the Valley, and had a picture of Kevin Worrall climbing Stoned Groove just before I did. Del and "Roger" had been with me, I think, on what was probably everybody's first climb one spring.

Del worked at Yvon Chouinard's GPIW. One day around the same time Del was in Colorado, Chouinard himself was at Lowe Alpine Systems talking to Jeff and Mike Lowe. I went climbing with Del in Eldorado Springs and Boulder Canyon. The first day, Del told me about Jack Dorn, from Grand Junction I believe, whom we had known in the Valley. Del also said that Roger, last name forgotten by me, was in prison for pharma grade coke.

Jeff Long was there as well, and he mailed a non-fiction story about California climbers not climbing, to Playboy magazine. I had met Jeff in 1971 or 1972 in a backyard on the northeast corner of CU--he threw the football and our mutual friend George Mainzer and I took turns at receiver and defender. After Jeff had tried that, he changed to fictional story about a Colorado free solo climber, and the rest about the plane crash and Jack falling, as if he had fallen off the wide trail Yosemite Falls, and Lost Arrow.

I wondered if Roger really found much cocaine at a drug store, and how a climber could fall off an atv trail.

Kevin said he soloed Stovelegs on LSD. I never met any good climbers who used meth, though, as far as chainsaw here. Before climbing, I had opted out of everything but a little mj, after using Hawaiian woodrose, STP, DMT, mescaline, psylosibin, LSD, PCP, as a CIA brat. I remember Paraquat, so maybe you can rate Airplane versus Paraquat.

I thought climbers should have money, because we belonged, like eagles in the sky, and bears in the C4S parking lot. I remember that Jim Bridwell got in trouble at the mountain shop, and I did not think of those who worked there as being as worthy of income. When I worked at EMS in Boston, everybody was stealing, including the CEO, who stole the business from a family. When we had a sale at Denver EMS, one of the top insiders walked out with $100k cash and left the checks and credit cards for IRS. Back in Boston, a guy with handlebar stache and an afghan hound and a Bentley, assumed to be above material needs, was removing an equal amount of cash for every credit card slip he ever handled. Three guys started a shop in the Sierras with kayaks and stuff they took out the back door in Boston.

Other climbers worked in the AK pipeline, WY oilfields, at OB and NOLS, Jeff Lowe and Kevin Donald's International Alpine School.

Bob Carmichael, NFL Films, tried to break into TV with a pilot for PBS called Outside the Arena. He supported a lot of climbers for a month in making that pilot.

Greg Lowe was making 16mm film to take to Hollywood, or Robert Redford, Greg having been a stuntman in Grizzly Adams. Greg's film showed him and myself demonstrating free solo climbing in Colorado and Idaho, hopefully for a movie of some sort. I raised about $100 toward that venture, by hosting Greg's freestyle ski films in Denver and Boulder.

Canning and scarfing, and maybe it's a home, and not a minivan. Nils Anderson of Everett WA let me stay in his VW bus after wet snow collapsed my plastic tube tent the first time I went to Yosemite. Later I read his obit in Mountain, saying his name out loud. The cashier said he had been the last one to see Nils, and said don't go up, there's a storm coming in, toward the Matterhorn. "Maybe it's not really a minivan", cowboy in the Pontiac Montana commercial sure looked and sounded like Mike Weis.

Kevin Donald was Cabela Man and Volvo Man.

Bev Johnson made $5000 on a Mountain Dew commercial. She came back to the Valley after two years smoke jumping. After using up a one-way plane ticket to Fresno, I was hitch-hiking toward a rock. A brief interview profiled her as ready to lead Lunatic Fringe. She bought the drinks afterward. "Something to write home about", she said. She was back, not just geographically, but she was back to "stoked". Climbers always come back, we said.

Jane Wilson was a National Geographic centerfold, for about the same as scarfing and canning money.

The first honest real money for canners and scarfers, or eagles and bears who belong, might have been John Bachar's rumoured $100k/yr for Fiere and all.

Lynn Hill says "karma", and look at her. My nanny word at the time was, drug money is Pandora's Box. On the other hand, mj laws are like a backup knot.

Sep 16, 2014 - 06:28pm PT
i was there easter sunday 1976 i was there with two guys from san fran and i was busting holes in the ice.

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
Sep 16, 2014 - 06:32pm PT
You must mean Easter 1977. The plane crash was in December 1976. I heard that a chainsaw was used on Easter 1977.

Sep 16, 2014 - 06:34pm PT
might have been 1977 but i always thought it was 76 oh well could have been all the bud !

Sep 16, 2014 - 06:45pm PT
I know it went down in dec 76 i was a local read about it in a small artical in the fresno bee but my birthday in jan so i'm always confused about what year it is.

Sep 16, 2014 - 06:54pm PT
lodestar lumber, "I got mine at lower merced lake"

Trad climber
British Columbia, Canada
Sep 16, 2014 - 06:57pm PT
I was told by an older friend (who knew the person in question) that a certain well-known Canadian climber was among the first up there, and it was supposedly he who used a chainsaw to get through the ice. The story i heard of how he got his "wares" back across the border to Canada was equally entertaining. Any Squamish climbers that could confirm this, or know who I might be referring to?

Sep 16, 2014 - 07:10pm PT
Names are very hard to remember from so long ago and such a crazy time. but no one ever said they were from canadia, but the names dave and liz may help.

Sep 16, 2014 - 07:30pm PT
If you doubt me I will discribe my first view of the lake. When i came upon the north shore of the lake i could not see anything but i knew something was different because there were big slabs of ice stacked upon each other like pressure ridges. as i steped onto the lake and walked about a hundred yards i could see around the bend in the lake it was then i saw a tail of an airplane sticking out of the ice and two people waving me off my course i learned later they were trying to guide me past holes in the ice.

Mountain climber
Sep 20, 2016 - 03:10pm PT
while I find this story fascinating, I fear it's going to be a let down when the books and movie finally comes out. All these prideful climbers all wrapped up in bull instead of focusing on simply telling the story.

Cumberland Plateau
Sep 20, 2016 - 06:42pm PT
Interesting stories. Several have mentioned jet fuel. It appears that the Howard 500 was powered by two Pratt and Whitney R 2800 Double Wasps. Badass engines! As far as I know they are run on avgas though and not jet fuel. Must have been harsh smoking the stuff!

Social climber
Wise Acres
Sep 20, 2016 - 06:43pm PT
Drinkin the bong water!


Ice climber
Sep 20, 2016 - 07:12pm PT

1 Air Force pilot killed, 1 hurt after ejecting from U-2 spy plane in California

Jon Beck

Trad climber
Sep 20, 2016 - 07:33pm PT

DOUGLAS, Ariz. - Mexican authorities believe that a stolen van outfitted with a cannon and parked near the U.S.-Mexico border was used to launch items into Douglas, Arizona.

Federal police found the van parked in a street in Agua Prieta, Mexico, which borders with Douglas, last week. The van was reported stolen out of Hermosillo over the summer.

Photos provided by Mexican authorities show a black van with a giant cannon coming out of it.

Drug smugglers have used similar methods in the past, including using catapults to literally send drugs flying over the border.

Border Patrol spokesman Vicente Paco said the most common method is throwing softball-sized marijuana packages over the border fence that are picked up by smugglers on the U.S. side.

He said finding cannons is rare and only happens every couple of years.

Boulder, CO
Sep 22, 2016 - 09:14am PT
wonder how much is coming over in drones now? I just did an upgrade to my controller for my P4 and now get a five mile range. Actually, more, much more on the signal. It's the battery that's the limiting factor.

The DJI M600 gets 34 minutes of flight time and can travel at 60mph with a 5lb payload.

what's 5lbs of coke worth on this side of the boarder?

Big Wall climber
the otherside of the crack
Sep 22, 2016 - 10:40am PT

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Sep 22, 2016 - 03:19pm PT
Nature, just make sure to wipe your fingerprints before flying in case counter-drone activities are successful ;)

And look into spread-spectrum or frequency-hopping transmitters, and change your physical location during transmissions, and be based in an area with lots of plausible deniability!

And hire an intermediary for customer-facing interactions, and make sure that intermediary has no way to personally identify you in case they are tortured.

Ice climber
Sep 22, 2016 - 08:20pm PT
By far the most illicit drugs come across the border by the usual means, bribing and/or coercing the inspectors.

The tunnels, drones, cannons etc. are either amateurs or just used to divert attention from what's really going on.


Mountain climber
Sep 22, 2016 - 11:06pm PT
The WWII plane was heavily loaded to the max weight flying over sierra

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 2, 2016 - 10:07pm PT
Funny that Kevin still refers to 'jet fuel'. Back then it would have been high lead content 101 octane' - not real good for you, not that jet fuel would be any better. :-/
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