Collecting Extremes; Petersen Mountain
Washoe County, Nevada

By John Cornish
September 3, 2006
(cornish@tfon.com)
 

Words, it'll take about a million of them to tell this tale, and that's with the accompaniment of pictures, geez what a trip! This is the adventure of collecting world class quartz specimens from one of our country's finest deposits, the Crystal Tips No. 1 mining claim of Jon Johnson, on Petersen Mountain. Petersen Mountain or Hallelujah Junction as the deposit is also known, straddles the borders of Nevada and California and is actively mined in both states. For us, the claim we'd be working was on the Nevada side of the mountain, on its eastern flanks. Petersen Mountain rises above the valley floor where the freeway runs that carry's most collectors to this enchanting locality. At nearly 7000 feet above sea level, it's a wild place, an enchanting place, and as I zipped down the highway heading south, going further and further from my home in Washington State, a place I was getting closer and closer to with each passing mile. Ironically, the further south I went, the warmer it got. It'd been raining when I took off on the morning of Monday, May 29th but with each mile, the sun was getting fiercer and brighter, a forecast of things to come for sure! The holiday traffic I'd expected on this Memorial Day was much less intense then I'd anticipated and I was thrilled not to encounter a single accident or traffic jam during my entire drive. At the end of a full day, I'd made it as far as Grants Pass, Oregon. Oh, I could have made it further, but I'd made several side trips along the way stopping at two new mineral localities (not a thing other than data collected) and a third stop at the Crater Rock Museum in Central Point, Oregon www.craterrock.com/index2.html. I've written a report of my experiences and impressions while visiting the museum which can be found at the following link... mcrocks.com/ftr06-2/CornishAugust2006.html . Afterwards, a few more miles and as I mentioned, I stopped at Grants Pass for the evening.

Early the next morning, I hit the road and basically drove straight through to my friend Scott Kleine's place in Reno, Nevada. Scott would be my digging partner during this adventure and together, we were both thrilled by the possibilities this grand time would offer. Starting us out right, Scott BBQ'ed an incredible dinner that first night setting the stage for things to come!

Still, before the fun, there were trials we'd yet have to endure. The first of these would send us east to Elko, Nevada, where Scott and I were enrolled in the two day Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) surface miner training class. The certification we'd receive would allow both Scott and I to be 100% legal for above ground mining operations throughout the entire state. I'll spare you the details of our experience, instead thrilled with our training successfully completed, we high-tailed it back to Reno where the next day, we'd start moving our operation up to the top of the mountain. This would prove quite an adventure!

The hill ascending Petersen Mountain is a real bugger. It's very steep, slick and treacherous. Scars line both sides of the hill from top to bottom offering silent testimonies to the trials scores have endured while trying to reach its summit. When we arrived there to meet the rest of our gang, Jon Johnson, Ed Christiansen, Jim Christiansen (Ed's son), and Bob, a friend of Jon's, we found them attempting to get the equipment to the top of the hill. There'd been some problems sliding and it was a blessing when the backhoe finally crested the hill having made it through the worst section leading up to the claim. Still needing to make the ascent however, Jon's little A-frame style trailer was down below awaiting its first attempt at the hill. This did not go well. The first truck we attempted the run with, "Old Blue", was having problems and could not make it to the top, this necessitated backing the trailer down the hill. What a nerve wrecking exercise this was! This nightmare was repeated over and over as 3 unsuccessful attempts were made. Finally, obvious that the truck could not make it up, we had to shift over to plan B. Chris Rose, one of the claim owners from the California side of the hill was also on hand and was also having problems. Still, he was able to get his rig up and running and then like a true gentleman, he offered the use of his truck, hoping that with it, we'd be able to get the trailer up and in place for our soon to be running mining operation. And like a champion, Chris's truck worked like a charm and while the rocks were flying, there was enough traction and power that finally, we were all heading in with the last of our mining support equipment finally up that damn hill.

From here, while I thought our next moves would be somewhat routine, things went right off the charts crazy! Ya see, when we got to the top of the hill and maneuvered everything into position, the decision was made to have Scott and I come up that evening. No problem, this just meant we'd be cramming for the next several hours packing, shopping, buying gas, etc., and then we'd have to drive up the hill in the dark. O.k., no problem, and soon we were off and running. Several hours later and now in total darkness, we finally pulled up to the base of the hill. Scott took off first while I waited down below, one person on the hill at a time. I waited patiently for Scott's headlights to stop illuminating the satellites and level out once he'd crested the hill and stopped there to wait for me. Seeing everything was a go, I next began my ascent. Things were going fine and I had my little S-10 flying. It was loaded down though, bumper dragging loaded down and as the road got steeper and steeper, the truck began going slower and slower until finally, the truck could do no more and came to a stop on the steepest section of grade about 3/4's of the way up. Came to a stop true, but only for a split second. Then the motor died and I lost all brake pressure and the truck started rolling down hill backwards completely out of control and gaining speed... and it happened just that quick too! Before I could get the brakes engaged enough to stop the truck, it slammed into the edge of the big rutted ditch on the left side of the road and then slowly, so slowly, the truck began to flip over and one of the most intense rides I'd ever endured just went ballistic insane!

I remember thinking as the truck slowly, oh so slowly, began going over on its side quite calmly, Oh, this isn't good! But what could I do, I was along for the ride and slowly, oh so slowly, the truck went over. Everything went flying in the cab as the truck turned up and then miraculously, unbelievably, stopped. I was half hanging from my seat belt partially buried by all the crap I had in the cab and must have just sat there for a second waiting, waiting for the truck to keep on rolling, it was hanging so far over. My adrenaline was pumping and my heart was thumping and somehow, again calmly, I noted that the ignition was still engaged and that the fuel pump was still operating. Like invisible moving through the air, I moved my hand up to turn the switch trying to be 100% neutral so as not to shift my weight and thus the load of the truck. With that done, it became very obvious that I didn't want to be in the truck any more. In fact, I wanted out now, but slowly, oh so slowly!

And so, once again moving as carefully as I could, I disengaged myself from the seat belt and swapped my legs around and half-kneeled on the passenger door window and began turning the window crank and rolling down the window of the drivers door. And slowly, that's exactly what I did, a mellow and yet an intense thing, way over the top intense! The truck was hanging way over towards the down side of the hill and as I finished my task and slowly rose to stand on the window, the true precariousness of my position became very evident. I didn't know why I'd stopped, but truly it was a miracle, the truck was hanging so far over. In fact, it was scary, what to do, stay there in the truck or try to climb out, possibly throwing the trucks center of balance off, likely with me half way out the window, only to continue rolling down into the black below. Damned if you do and damned if you don't! A fine place to be! Still, it was time to make a decision and I wanted out! Slowly I climbed up and pulled myself through the window and then leaped free from the truck like a Phoenix rising.

Once my heart had backed down into my chest again, I paced a bit beyond the danger zone and looked at my poor baby. She was in a bad state, but my, oh my, it sure could have been worse. And then I saw it, the thing that had saved me, the bars that straddled my canopy, they were my saviors! You see, I've got two one inch steel bars that cross my canopy top as rests to attach my canoe and ladders to. These extend beyond the canopy's sides and it was these that had ground into the road and had stopped the truck from rolling completely over. But not by much, the truck was hanging way over and I was lucky, so very, very unbelievably lucky.

At the top of the hill I met Scott, he'd figured something had happened and yet had no idea of the severity of the situation and had just dug out his flashlight and was making his way towards me. Together we both headed down and surveyed the damage. Not knowing what else to do, I requested he head up to camp to alert Jon while I stripped my truck, pulling my necessities free so that I could haul them up to camp in the other guys rigs. And so there, alone in the dark on the side of that hill, I very carefully began unloading my broken truck. Before I got too crazy doing this however, I found some solid supports and braced the truck, trying to prevent any further mishaps. Still, I kept myself from being too enthusiastic and just flat had to leave some things inside. My ice chests, sleeping bag, digging tools, my clothes, etc., it was all scattered among the bushes beside my ailing rig. Its fluids were pouring out, the gas, the brake fluid, tranny fluid, engine oil, power steering fluid, radiator fluid, it was all pouring out and making a black muck of the road below my rig.

With most things pulled free, I finally had the chance to take note of the evening and my surroundings. The crickets sang and the stars above winked and twinkled while a soft breeze blew the smell of sage about me. It really was a beautiful evening.

When the guys arrived, we assessed the damage again and came to the obvious conclusion that we couldn't do anything in the middle of the night safely and that we'd be better off reassessing the situation in the morning when we could see. Being too exhausted to even comment much, soon we were all loading up my "must haves" for the trip up to the claim where we'd all crash, getting some much needed sleep. Tomorrow would be another day and thus far, I'd not even been on the mountain for a full day yet!

The next day, just a hair longer then six hours later, we were all rumbling our way towards my truck. Jon, the claim owner and a heck of a nice guy, was along with Scott, really coming to my rescue. Jon was in his 555 John Deere Dozer and with it, we were going to right the truck and get it down the hill. With this and Scott's chains and Come-A-Long's, we were ready to take on the hill. Jon powered down the steep grade and slowly maneuvered the Dozer into position and then dropped the ripper blades and locked 'er in. Using the blade and the many anchor points available on the underside of the truck, Scott and I first secured the chains and then began working the two Come-A-Long's in tandem. A little here and a little there until we had to move our anchor points and start all over again until finally, the truck flopped partially over twisting in an agonizing way that just flat hurt to look at. It was partially straddling the big rut, high centered on the bank and pointed the wrong way with only three wheels on the ground, but it was over. We resecured the truck with new anchor points and again began pulling as one in order to ease that wicked twist, we pushed against the rear drivers quarter panel and physically manhandled the truck straight. It was a team effort, but finally everything was pointed in the right direction.

Lucky me, I'd get the funest job of all next, I'd get to ride in the truck as it was being brought down the hill towed by Jon's 555. Uggh, lucky me! It would have been an easy enough thing in a perfect world, but here, on the back side of Petersen Mountain, more or less out in the middle of nowhere, oh yay, just think of the good times we're going to have! And so, while I can't speak for Jon, for me, this was an all white knuckle experience! Here, let's paint a picture, there's no brakes, the chains are as secure as we can make them and we're partially stuffed into a truck eating rut and we've got one shot to get me down before we're heading off road to big trouble. Oh, did I mention the Dozer had been on the hill for sometime and that it wasn't running near up to par, in fact, it only had power enough to get itself down the hill and was so under powered that were it to be needed, it would not be able to back itself up, not an inch! We had one shot and then that Dozer will have done all it could. It can dig a way down for itself if worse came to worse, but me, suffice to say it wouldn't be good! Thankfully I had complete faith in Jon and as I gripped the steering wheel, the blood draining from my clammy fingers, I nodded for Jon to give 'er a go and off we went. I can't say a word negative about our efforts as a working machine that morning, we all worked flawlessly together and while there were a couple of moments, soon we were down on the flats at the base of the hill nearly none the worse for wear! Later back at home, I was able to use my friend Mike's tractor to pull out the back bumper with chains and smoosh in the front bumper that had almost ripped completely free of my truck as we jerkedly came down off the hill and now, heck, a person can't hardly even tell my rig was ever rolled over, well there is the oil all down the side of the truck, the busted mirror, the rippled 1/4 panel, the cracked windshield, yup, ya can't even hardly tell!

Several days later, I had the chance to work on the truck out there among the sage. Ed and his son Jim had picked up the much needed fluids I'd spilt on the hill combined with a new set of spark plugs, PCV valve and an air filter. I'd brought my tools and had Scott drop me off at the truck while he split for a town run. Over the next several hours, I breathed life back into my baby. I checked for obvious breaks/ leaks in everything and then ran through the fluids checking for contamination and bringing things back up to level. From there I replaced the ruined PCV valve and the oil soaked air filter and cleaned all the pooled oil, gas, etc., from all the little nooks and crannies where it sought to hide away. With that accomplished I pulled all the spark plugs and cranked the engine over, blowing the excess oil that had accumulated in the cylinders out through the spark plug holes in a splattering mess. With that done and things mopped up again, I rechecked things for leaks and installed the new spark plugs, fitted the wires, said my prayers and cranked 'er over... and she started up purring like a kitten! Yay! Elated, I wiped the cascading sweat from my brows and opened a new cold water from my ice chest. I was half way there!

When Scott returned, gallant like a knight, bearing fresh Chinese food (!), I put him to work and together we bled the brakes. With that accomplished, there was nothing else to do but give 'er a spin and off we went. I took one of the back roads that brought us around to the California side of the mountain and really put 'er through 'er paces, dropping into 4 wheel drive and pulling some rough and gnarly grades up into the upper parking lot. There we espied another victim of the mountain, a Subaru wagon. It lay rolled and smashed half way down the north side of the hill where it had come to rest after some others unfortunate experience. As I drove by, I was thankful my vehicle had been recoverable! Afterwards, uneventfully, we drove back to the base of the hill and parked beside the Dozer and there my S-10 sat for another several days until eventually we were able to make another town run off the mountain. With me in my rig and Scott in his behind me as support, we headed out towards the Highway for a run to the repair shop where I'd already made prior arrangements to have the truck checked out more thoroughly by professionals. But, problems arose again, on the way out I smelled gas and pulled over. Down low and partially hidden by the lower radiator hose, I found a torn leaking fuel line. Pulling my tools back out, more repairs were made until once again we were back on the road.

After that, the trip into town went fine and the truck ran like a charm. While we relaxed back at his place, Scott graciously offered to use his truck, a rock steady 1979 Toyota 4 x 4 that proved more then adequately powered and geared to take on the hill as our primary rig and leave my S-10 back at his place. Having ridden in Scott's tank-like truck, I gladly accepted his offer. Scott's truck was one of the most important pieces of mine support equipment we had as far as I'm concerned and I'm very thankful for Scott's generosity!

And so, with that little chapter of my story finally concluded, it was time to get back up to the top of that mountain and find some crystals! It'd been rough, but quit? I want to go home? No way! It'd never even occurred to me. I had a job to do and there were more adventures ahead, many more!


Report continued . . . . . . .

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