Sierra Star Columnist Shares P-40 Hunt Adventure
Columnist Tony Krizan of the Sierra Star, a local paper in Oakhurst, California, recently wrote about his adventure in trying to find the remains of the last P-40 aircraft piloted by Lt. Lenard Lyden.
Final missing airplane remains a mystery
The highest point of our adventure is Cinder Col Pass at 12,170 feet. No trails to follow, just pick a line and maneuver over the bare rock surfaces leading to South Guard Lake at 11,760 feet — the origin of Cunningham Creek.
While climbing around the east side of this huge lake we discovered our next obstacles — patches of snow within the canyons leading to Cinder Col Pass. Once reaching the pass more than five feet of snow still remained and the angle of descent was much too dangerous to proceed. Our only alternative was to climb to a higher elevation to bypass this obstacle.
This maneuver was successful and we descend into the canyon that will lead us to our next camp site at Big Brewer Lake.
This is another large mountain lake with steep sloping sides and the remains of an aircraft could be hidden within those natural canyons.
Throughout the day’s trek and with the help of my field glasses, I searched the mountains for any sign of the last missing aircraft.
I was hoping for a reflection from the aged aluminum skin or a silhouette on the mountain. After 69 years, many searchers attempted to locate Lt. Lenard Lyden’s P-40 aircraft and failed. Again, no sign of his fallen bird.
By morning we descend to Little Brewer Lake at 9,735 feet to our originally planned base camp. We even took a few side hikes searching along the canyon walls again hoping to locate that missing aircraft hidden somewhere within these rugged rocks.
After setting up camp at Little Brewer Lake, we split up and climbed the surrounding mountains searching a few more hidden canyons for any trace of the P-40 aircraft. After a full day of climbing, boulder hopping and ridge running, we struck out again.
I felt sad that evening relaxing around the campfire, knowing in the morning we’d start our departure. Even though the last P-40 still remains a mystery, we were successful in relocating and identifying the exact quadrants of Lt. West and Lt. Longs P-40‘s.
During breakfast the following morning, we decided to change our plans and continue through another unknown area. If we hiked directly west, eventually we’d cross the Avalanche Trail, which will lead toward the Roaring River Ranger Station.
According to the map we hike toward a log cabin built by Shorty Loveless, a colorful trapper who made his living during the early twentieth century trapping for pelts.
We could not find his cabin or the remaining aircraft. The foliage during this three-mile cross country adventure was very dense with many downed trees, which made for slow trekking. Once we located the Avalanche Trail, we followed the trail south just below the Moraine Ridge until the trail rose over the saddle dropping to the Roaring River Ranger Station. We did manage to spend a few minutes with park ranger, Cindy Wood.
Now for the six-mile climb to Sugarloaf Meadow Campground before dark.
Our next destination is Rowell Meadow — our final camp site. With 1,800 feet of elevation gain, we follow part of the same trail we hiked 12 days earlier. This alternate trail to Rowell Meadow was lightly used compared to the main trail.
After 12 days without rain, the skies waited until the final evening and for more than two hours we had thunder, lightning and hail as large as dimes that covered the ground like a snow storm.
All was bright and clear the following morning to start our final push from 8,855 feet to 9,100 feet then back to 8,380 feet at the trailhead.
We hiked more than 54 miles in 13 days, found two of the three missing aircraft, which crashed 69 years ago. Maybe next year we’ll take a second visit back into this area and if we have any luck — we’ll find and solve the mystery of the P-40 that vanished.