The Great Adventure


It was a pleasant Saturday, October 27, 1990, good weather, the weekly chores under control and a perfect day for a transmitter hunt. My partner and fulltime son-in-law Gary was to meet me at the start point on Palos Verdes at 10 AM. The Suzuki Samurai was fully equipped for T-hunting, with several two-meter radios (4) and 220 MHz radios (2), and the usual off-road supplies, tools and such. We had teamed on several previous allday class hunts and felt fully prepared for any eventuality (little did we know). I arrived early at the start point and had hunkered down in the choice spot on Crest road. There were two simultaneous hunts that day and we chose to go on the "No complaints" alternative hunt (how innocent this all seems now).

We left the start at about 10:30 and after a slight diversion to Bakersfield (actually we only got to the bottom of the Grapevine before turning around), we proceeded to Libre Mountain and found the hidden transmitter without any further problems or diversions. This doesn't sound like much of an adventure but the fun was just ready to begin.

As is becoming very common for "all-day" type of hunts, this one had multiple hidden transmitters. A note on the one we found told us to listen on another frequency for the second one. We did and sure enough we had a bearing to the NE. The road we used to get up the mountain was from the NW. The road went on to the SE. We didn't want to go either direction, we wanted to go NE. This turns out to be a need that should have been ignored.

About 200 yards east of the hidden transmitter there was a dirt road going north. We perused our maps and concluded it was the shortest way off the mountain to a paved road that went off in the general direction we wanted to go. The map did show it as a "trail" but as any fool could see it was a "good" mountain road and should be no problem for 4©wheel drive vehicles. I wanted to do some 4©wheeling anyway as the road up to the 1st T was a "50 MPH" dirt road and could have been driven by most any car or truck. Well that was a mistake.

About two miles down this road there is about 300 ft of rather steep downhill but we bounced down it without mishap. About another mile the road narrowed to a path. The Samurai is not very wide and we followed the path for another half mile before the path started down a cliff and the level place was too narrow for even the Samurai. With some effort, we got turned around and started the adventure.

We searched each inch of the road for some other way out and consulted all our maps of the area for some nearby road we could maybe cross-country to, but all was for naught. No choice, we had to go back up the hill and take the 50 MPH road to the SE. We chugged back up the road until we got to the 300 feet of steep stuff. In 4-wheel drive and with all the get-up-and-go that the Suzuki could muster, we could only get up about 50 feet of the steep part. The ground would break-up and the wheels would just spin; lots of wheels would spin.

It is now about 5:30 in the afternoon. We tried putting rocks, sticks, leaves and branches under the wheels. We tried digging with our shovel. Finally we tried using my snow chains and this did help, we got up to 75 feet from the bottom. This only left 225 feet to go. Well, it is hard to give up and admit failure especially when it was my decision to go down this "road" in the first place. It was getting dark and we couldn't go up and going down wasn't possible so at 8:30 I put out a call on the frequency used by hidden transmitter number 2 (which we could clearly hear from our hillside). It is so embarrassing.

Jensen, WB6ZFU, was near #2 and responded. He didn't have any way to help himself but he contacted Clark, WB6ADC, who was somewhere in the San Bernardino mountains and he in turn contacted Scott, N6MI, who was at Big Bear, some 60 miles away from us. Due to the mountains we couldn't hear Scott but Jensen could and relayed our plight. Scott has a Nissan truck with 4-wheel drive and most important for our situation, A WINCH. There were scrub oak trees near us and if Scott had 100 feet of winch cable, 30 feet of tow strap, our 10 feet of come-along cable, and our snow chains, it should be enough to reach at least the steepest of the steep parts.

Scott was involved in finding #3 when we called him and it was decided that as we were in no danger that he should go on and finish and then come over and get us out. We set up an hourly check on a simplex frequency to keep track of Scott's progress and our status and we settled down to sleep until Scott arrivedin 4-5 hours. At 3 AM on Sunday we were getting worried as we haven't heard from Scott since 8:30 and after saying goodnight to Jensen at 10:00, we haven't heard from anyone. Dawn came, but Scott didn't.

We had slept as well as one could under the circumstances. The Samurai didn't have a top, just a half©top over the seats but was open in the back. We were at about 5000 feet in elevation and the temperature was in the low 50s. Normally this wouldn't be cold, but it is cold if you are trying to sleep without blankets. We had jackets, gloves hats and even my earmuffs. But it was cold. I ran the engine every couple of hours to insure that the radios didn't wipe out the battery and to get a little heat. But with no covering in the back, it didn't heat much beyond our legs.

About seven Sunday morning, Scott and Ron, WA6FAT his partner, showed up at the top of our very own steep part. They walked down to us and viewed the situation. Scott decided to come on down about 100 feet of the steep part and winch us up to near him. Then move up to the top and winch us on up to the top of the grade. Such a good plan. The sun was up, they brought some fresh Orange juice, and had even slept a little between #3 and us.

Scott got stuck. Although he was 60 feet above me, it was clear that it would do no good to winch me up to him as he couldn't back up the hill. His winch was in the front so to winch himself out he would have to turn around to face uphill. We got him turned around, but by that time he was about even with me. There we were, both stuck and side-by-side. We made a new plan.

Scott would winch himself up about 20-30 feet above me and then connect the two vehicles together with the tow strap and winch then out in tandem. The winch cable broke before this plan could be implemented. Using the shortened cable, the tow strap and the tire chains, we managed to get Scott's truck up the 250 feet by 12:00 Noon. The poor little Suzuki hadn't moved since 5:00 PM the previous day, and was still well stuck. We tried to use my come-along, the 40 feet of winch cable, the 30 feet of tow strap, and the tire chains to manually pull the Samurai up the hill. We developed a clever way to belay the cable on the oak trees to optimize the use of the come-along's short pull. Scott ran the belay, Gary operated the come-along, I ran the Suzuki and Ron worried. By 2:30 we had moved the Suzuki some 15 feet up the hill and came to a realization. By the time we got the 'zook up the grade it would be well into Monday and Gary would have muscles like Hulk Hogan. Defeat is a bitter pill.

Scott spoke of getting a D-11 Catapillar tractor, Gary spoke of eating (we hadn't eaten since lunch on Saturday), and I wanted to get home to mow my lawn (starvation was affecting my thinking). Scott had eagerly taken videos of my Suzuki stuck in the middle of the road when he first arrived. Its amazing how the camera never appeared when he got stuck. Such is the bitter pill.

We decided to go home and leave the 'zook for another day. I packed up all my radios, tools and little stuff. I figured that if someone did wander by they weren't about to pack my wheels or battery some 2 miles and 1000 feet up the hill or 5 miles down the hill. But they might pick up something that would fit in their back pack. It was the heart of deer hunting season and I had a real fear of some discouraged hunter having visions of the 'zook with antlers on the hood and I would return to find a piece of swiss cheese where a car used to be. We loaded all my junk in the back of Scott's truck and made a nest in the back for Gary and me.

Well, you haven't lived until you have bounced up two miles of 4-wheel road and 15 miles of 50MPH dirt road in the back of a pickup truck. I still have bruises two weeks later. We had a nice steak dinner in Gorman and then another 50 miles in the back of the truck to Santa Monica where Gary had parked his truck. Then another 75 miles to home and my lawn.

The adventure continues. After mowing my lawn, I slept. On Monday I bought a portable winch with 50 feet of cable, 75 feet of tow cables, a snatch block and battery cables (in case I had to winch from behind the 'zook). Scott had left his winch cable and tow strap so we now had sufficient stuff to reach the top of the rise.

On Tuesday, Gary and I went back to Libre mountain. We took his 1990 1-ton Chevy truck with a big V-8 and 50 watt stereo. We parked it at the top of grade and in two and a half hours we had the 'zook past the Chevy. We cheered. No bullet holes and it was up the hill. We cheered. But we are not yet done with this adventure. The Chevy was stuck. On the flat, it was stuck. This ground is not to be believed. We shoveled, we put in rocks, we used all 350 cubic inches of that V-8, but it was stuck.

Well, little 'zook came to rescue. We hooked up the Samurai with the tow cable and it pulled with all of its 1.2 Liters; all of its little wheels spinning. Its exhaust was singing, "I think I can, I think I can", and it pulled that big old truck out of the hole it had dug. We cheered again. By the time we got the Chevy up to the 50 MPH road poor little 'zook had given its all.

We were out of the "killer" road but 'zook had lost his clutch. The road to Gorman was mostly down hill. 'zook could get up to 30-40 MPH downhill but was limited to 5-10 MPH uphill. We got into Gorman and I found that on the Freeway the Samurai could do about 35 on the level and coast on the downhills and drop to 10-20 MPH on the uphills. I got home in only 4.5 hours. We were a rush hour hazard on the 5, 210 and 10 freeways going from Gorman to Fontana, some 125 miles. Got great gas mileage though.

The writing of this adventure may seem to take the assistance offered by fellow hams for granted. Such is not the case. Much thanks to Scott and Ron, who not only spent a day and much effort trying to get me out, but came to get me rather than go after the fourth and final transmitter. To Jensen, without whom we would still be yelling on the radio from the north slope of Libre mountain. And to Gary my full-time son-in-law, who isn't even a ham. (Note, that insanity is expected in all hams but is unusual in non-hams). Can't make the November Hunt because of other commitments, but will be back after the wily T in December with a new clutch and eagerly searching for more adventure.

Bob Thornburg, WB6JPI