14 February 2011

Chapter 50: "Avalanche Aftermath," Pt 2

         Johnny and Cap encountered  the team of four heading up toward the 100 level as they were working down to the Pittsburg adit.   They met the men near the top of the 200 raise, forcing the two to back up to the top.  There was no room with the one ladder for men to move in opposite directions.  Johnny was almost beside himself with anxiety. This was too much. The delay was irritating, especially since they both had to back up the raise into the 200 level to let the others through.  

          “The raise to the 100 level is clear,” Cap told Scott’s team.

          “The raise down to the 400 level is also clear.  No signs of caving.” 

          The men continued down, moving as fast as they could toward the 400 level adit.  Johnny was the first to look out the tunnel.  Two of Scott’s men waited at the portal to help in any way they could.

Marvelous Gulch
Early view of part of the upper Marvelous Gulch before the ML camp was constructed.  The north wall, seen here, is close to a sheer-drop off in many places.  --Lewis Levansaler, UAF Archives

          There was very little to see except a jig-back cable swinging loosely and white dust blowing over a flattened area where a camp once stood.  The debris field which should have been there was covered in fine snow, blowing uphill in a series of new drifts.   Cap carefully looked over the loose cable line.  

          “We can do this, Johnny, but even when we get there, the drifts are still building up.  It’ll be hard to find anyone.”

          Cap looked carefully into Johnny’s eyes.

          He doesn’t look good at all. Sla’cheen has been damaged by this.  Don’t know if he can keep himself together.  It doesn’t help that he pushed the plunger.

          “Johnny, are you sure you’re up to this?  I don’t think there is much we can do from here. Look out there.  Nothing to see.  Who could have survived that?”

          “Cap I’m going down there with or without you.  Come if you want. I’m going.  I have to go. I know that Frank is out there somewhere. I sense it.”

          So do I, Sla’cheen. He’s there.  He’s there. No life force, though.

          Johnny looked past the ruins of the tram terminal.  He could see the snow thrusting itself up in the air where it was striking the steep edge of that small cliff formation just below the camp. 

          “Out there.  He’s got to be out there.” 

          “How do you know?  He could still be in the mines somewhere.  He told Eldon he was heading down into the main Mother Lode mine when he left us up there.”

          “No, I’d like to believe that. But I don’t.  He’s down there somewhere.  I can sense it.”

          Unfortunately, Cap had to agree.  There was a sinking feeling in his stomach that all three  men left behind in camp were down there somewhere buried in the drifts.  Most likely they were dead.  

          “OK, we can do this, let’s go.”  

          Scott’s men did their best to steady the line as first Johnny, then Cap, wrapped themselves onto the cable.  They watched in dread and apprehension.  No one in their right mind would try something so dangerous.

          The men deftly and expertly worked their way down the cliff using the loose cable. Fortunately, the cable was not icy.  The ore buckets on it must have slid all the way down, slicing off any excess ice when the lower end of the tram was wretched loose from the cable.  Neither bucket of the two in the reciprocal system was in sight.

They were buried deep in the snow 200 feet below.  The men succeeded in  working  their way down to the top of the talus slide,  where they could maneuver their way  over solid ground that had served as the slide area. 

          It seemed to be much safer than the rappelling they had just done, but Cap slipped almost immediately,  sliding into Johnny.  The two of them tumbled over a hundred feet before being stopped by the top end of the snow slide accumulations.  
          The wind was still gusting, but it was not as constant.  It was still miserable.  The occasional gusts completely obscured the Indian rescuers’ vision. Up above Scottie’s men watched as the Indians left the cable for the more secure ground.  It was hard to see that far from the 200 level adit.

          “Nothing more we can do here.  No way those men will make it back up by this route,  Oscar. “

          “You’re right about that, Peter.  Can’t even see them anymore.  It’s amazing they even made it that far. Such foolishness. Now we’ll probably have to rescue them as well.   We better get down there with the rest.”

          Scottie had taken his men over to the vertical shaft only to find that the elevator was stopped due to the loss of power.  They returned to a winze where they could work their way the remaining 200 feet down to the main level.  
          A large group of men from Bonanza, guided by carbide lanterns, were already working down the long wooden stairwell of the main incline to the 800 level.  This was nearly 700 vertical feet down.   It would be a long exhausting day for everyone just walking over to the Mother Lode site and back without the aid of power through the tunnels. 

ML incline shaft

The three-compartment ML incline shaft.    --Curvin Metzler
          Eldon finally caught up with Scottie’s crew at the crushed mine head.  It was distressingly evident that no one had taken cover in the tunnels.  The original group of eighteen miners was now down to Eldon and Scottie,  plus eight others to work on digging out the snow and timbers at the ML portal. The inner door opened into a debris of splintered wood and snow where it had pushed through the roof.  The men would have to work through a mass of heavy, splintered timbers if they were to get through.  The snow was heavily packed and quite deep.  The snowshed was not completely crushed to the ground. It was possible to crawl through the length of it, looking  for survivors.  There were none in the snowshed.  The attached blacksmith shop was buried in snow.  It was the next likely place to begin searching. They had advanced only a few feet when the first party from Bonanza arrived to take over.   It took over two more hours to break free into Mother Lode Gulch.  

          There was almost nothing to see.  Eldon spotted the boiler stack dead ahead.  It was nearly pushed over and pointed in the direction of the main debris field.  Just beyond it, through the raging gusts of heavy blowing snow, the would-be rescuers stood  the jagged, ghostly outline of the destroyed tram building.

          “No one could have survived this, Eldon.”

          Eldon looked in all directions, but could only see blasting snow.  A stronger blizzard had started to brew up, causing white-out conditions.

          Oscar and Peter were both looking for signs of the two Indians they knew had to be out in that storm somewhere.

          “Where are they?  We don’t want to lose them too!”

          Eldon’s strained eyes widened as he saw two shadowy  figures rise from the base of the boiler stack.  It was Cap and Johnny.  They must have heard the rescuers or sensed that someone was looking for them. The Bonanza recovery team waded out through the soft drifts toward them.  They helped the two disoriented Indians back into the tunnel.  Both showed signs of overexposure and hypothermia.  Jack Morris, the head foreman at Bonanza ordered his men to give up the search for now and carry the two Indians back to camp.  They needed heat. There was none here.  Two litters were quickly set up. The Bonanza rescue team began the long trek, working their through the now obsolete and useless Rhodes tunnel toward the Bonanza incline and safety.

          Jack put his hand on Eldon.

          “I’m sorry, Eldon, it looks like the engineer was out there.  We found the elevator cage empty. There was no sign of anyone on the 1250 level.  He would have signaled us by now if he was down there.  I’m afraid we lost him.  You can see that.  I’m sending more men to help recover the two bodies on the 100 level.  I have confirmation that those men had died.   It’s not a good day,  and there is nothing more we can do here without further endangering the men.  Let’s get back to Bonanza.”

          Eldon was in a state of shock, though not nearly to the extent of  Cap or Johnny, neither of whom seemed capable of speaking.   

          It was indeed a bad day.  Probably the worst ever for Kennecott since it opened sixteen years before.  Eldon took a last glance back through the rubble that was once a snow shed portal.  The snow was already piling up in the entry as the wind just kept blasting out there.   One of the men pushed the heavy outer door shut while it was still possible to do so.  It closed with a heavy thud, the tunnel turned completely dark, then the men silently turned, many slumped over, all showing fatigue and mental exhaustion. Up ahead the litter crew was hauling the two Indians with all due speed  back to Bonanza.  Everyone would be looking toward an exhaustive  recovery operation when the storm ended.  There was no hope of finding any more survivors. It would be an excruciating several days for all involved. 

ML projection detail

Profile of the affected section of the ML, including the Marvelous workings, the vertical shaft
and the upper ML incline shaft.

Continue with
Chapter 51: "Coded Telegram Exchange"

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