Altar 2004 Day 2: 12-11-2004

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Camp Gumbo to Camp Carne

The night was pretty cold.  Cold enough to make us cover our heads with our coats. The good news is that the wind was minimal.  I had a special Cabela's cold weather bag, so I was OK, but most of the team commented on the temperature overnight during breakfast. I did manage to chisel my ass out of the sleeping bag early enough to get a shot of the sunrise.

Only with a group of Unimogs could you haul so much camp equipment for a couple of days.  Note the bar set up on the back of Mitchell's 1300 on the left. Here, Dave Clark is preparing eggs and sausage burritos.

As we packed after breakfast, Kai went to the top of a nearby dune to play on the face. While near the top, he heard Roberto Espinosa on the radio. It seems that Roberto had finally succeed in getting his truck out of impound and the driver out of jail and decided to followed our tracks at night. He followed those tracks right into the death bowl with no unassisted escape possible. It was only luck that we heard him on the radio as we did not know that he was following us. While we suspected that he might try, most of us dismissed it as being implausible since it would be so crazy. Below, the photo shows several of the rigs on the ridge on the top of the death bowl. My lens was on maximum telephoto (300mm) setting as we had to backtrack nearly 20 miles (90 minutes) to get from Camp Gumbo to assist him. He was very, very lucky that we heard him as he would still be there today if we had not come back to assist him with our winches.

This is the same shot as above, but without benefit of the telephoto setting. The Altar is a ocean of sand, daunting in its scale. The death bowl is just to the left of the largest dune, about 1/3 from the right edge of the photo.

I was the last one to leave Camp Gumbo on the rescue mission and arrived at the scene just as Roberto was being winched. Below, Kai completes the winching and Roberto is at the crest of the dune. Note the strap hooked to the back of Kai's truck. The winching force required was so great that Kai's rig was being drug over the edge rather than raising Roberto up the face.

Rob served as the "dead man" for the winching operation. Note how far Kai was drug from the ditches in the sand.

As Roberto stated to me, "they were not actually stuck with no recourse". While they were awaiting our return, they had a plan to extricate themselves. They were going to use the old four wheeler's trick of using the spare tire as a deadman for the winch. A ton of hard work. Below, the photo shows the hole they dug to place the spare tire. Of course, getting the 250 pound tire up the hill is another thing. And, imagine the suprise of the next group who comes up that steep face into a bomb crater.

Below is a victim of the death bowl. He rolled attempting to get out and abandoned the truck which was later stripped. Indeed, Roberto used brake fluid from this truck for his hydraulic clutch as he was dry. This truck served as a useful landmark because when Roberto called us on the radio he told us that he was next to a silver truck, which could only mean that he was in the death bowl. Happily, we knew where he was from the description.

Roberto and Rob finish up after the rescue. 

As repeatedly stated, these dunes are huge.  Despite the sand tires and very low air pressure, not all paths can be negotiated with the mogs. 

Below Rob attempts a face near the death bowl.

We had many de-beads on the 2450. Each required substantial effort to reseat the tires.

Here Matt and Kai attempt to jack the front of the 2450 to allow reseating the bead. The sand is so soft that if you dig a hole, the sand will shift into the hole, disrupting the jack.

Dan likes digging those ditches.

Dave, Kai and Dan negotiate one of the many valleys between the rescue site and Camp Gumbo.


Finally, a lunch stop and a photo opportunity.

We all got to the pass and then had to execute a steep descent to the next valley.  Shot from the cab of the 1300, you can get a feel for the height of the dune and the steepness of the descent.  This was a sphincter tightening descent as the truck will slip to the side.  Additionally, the remedy for that side slip is to point it downhill and hit the accelerator.  Speeding the descent was not what I wanted.  Also, in the steep sand, the front tires will submarine when you hit the brakes, thereby causing you to lose all steering capability.  I shot this before the actual descent due to the need to have both hands available for vehicle control.

Dan descends the face with Russell behind him.

We stopped at a large, steep face and Dave Lopez decided to try another sand boarding run.

Jay Couch tries descending the face using his butt-pan (a "snow disc"). It did not have a happy ending as Matt is watching him tumble head-over-heels.

Bill's all smiles.

Classic razor-backed dunes that are so common in the Altar.

Roberto suffers another de-bead. Both trucks that did not have the Michelin XM-47 tires had many de-beads, and in one case 3 at once. None of the XMs debeaded.

As we were nearing Camp Carne, we had to go over a very steep face. Below, because Roberto cannot lower his tire pressure any further without risking yet another debead, he has to be tugged over the face. Note the blowing sand, it was very, very windy on the ridge. In the distance, you can see the tundra that stretches all the way to El Gulfo.

Here Kai executes the tow for Roberto.

Setting up Camp Carne.

The Clark brothers set up a cocktail station for bloody mary's.

Kai cooks his famous New York strip steaks (carne).

Branding steaks with the custom Unimog branding iron.

Great chow and red wine served in an empty Bacardi bottle.

You just thought that you were full after the steak. There is cherry cobbler still to go.

Oooh, Don Julio comes to visit. Here, Erin expresses herself using sign language that seems common among lawyers.

Roberto had a tough day, so he just tossed his bag underneath Dan's truck and checked out.

Most of us just threw our sleeping pads out on the sand, the more ambitious disgorged cargo from the mogs and slept in the back.

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