Out in the Death Valley National Park is Towne Peak with in the Panamint Mountain Range.
From the top of Towne is a ridge dropping in a South West direction.
What's special about that ridge? Well, there just happens to be a plane that crashed into it a long time ago.
On January 24, 1952 the SA-16 Albatross deadsticked into it's current location. In flight one of the engines failed and the reamining engine would not provide enough power to sustain altitude. All crew members safely parachuted and survived with no injuries. The complete story of the ill fated Albatross can be found here in greater detal. It reads like a book that gets the imagination going, a real good read.
As far as the adventure, that included my friend Ken and I, we made the best of it.
On February 20, 2009 we drove to Panamint Springs with a camper in tow and plans to overnight thus hiking the next morning on Saturday. Well, Saturday morning the alarm sounded early at 0430hrs! After the wakeup we had breakfast then we were in the truck driving about 13 miles to Towne Pass, the location of the trail head. I use the term "trail head" loosely as there was no trail and over 90% of our trek was in snow. The depth of the snow averaged between ankle and waist deep. The temps all day hovered in the low 40's(F) with winds around 5mph gusting to 15mph. It felt fairly cold but we were prepared for this and dressed adequately.
Hiking started at 0630hrs and return to the truck was at exactly 1740hrs. This ended up giving us about a 20 minute buffer before headlamps would have be needed. This is a good thing as it would have dramatically slowed down progress since the ground was covered in volcanic rock, mostly very large. This proved to be a treat since stepping through the snow and a foot landing on an unseen lava rock would cause a slip or at times stumble. Nothing serious though and the snow was a comforting buffer for this.
Total distance from start to finish was only in the vicinity of 9.4 miles but took the stated time of 11hrs 10 min. Not much time was taken for breaks along the way, not even on Towne Peak, only at the crash site. We knew the snow was slowing us down big time and kept pushing on the best we could trying to make use of the daylight. We are no strangers to headlamp hiking but this terrain was not the best for it.
Overall we did really good as it turns out since the average hiker doing this route without snow completes it in 11hrs, or more. Why so long for only 9.4 miles? Good question! Gobs and gobs of instant elevation gain. The location for the start of the hike at Towne Pass is about 4900ft and Towne Peak is in the neighborhood of 7240ft. Along the way to Towne Peak are three other hills that require up then down adding to the gain. The crux is from Towne Peak taking the ridge down to a saddle just above the plane crash. This ridge includes a loss of 1000ft to the saddle. From the saddle is a very steep descent to the plane with a los of about 200ft, or so. After the tour of the plane we had to gain that altitude back just to get to Towne Peak. The hike returning to the truck from the peak wasn't all that bad but those three hills along the way had to be answered to.
Waiting for us though, were a couple of ice cold Heineken's for our little celebration.
Now it's time to clean up the gear and prepare for the next adventure!