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Not All Trips Go As Planned

Cerro Gordo Mine

March 1 2024. Mark Lidikay

Our Honda Pioneer at Cerro Gordo Mine

We needed to go up to Cerro Gordo to determine why the solar panels were not functioning. The site has a backup power source, but we wanted to make sure everything was functioning before a blizzard that was making its way down the state. So we got up very early and made the long drive from Paramount to Cerro Gordo. We knew the road would be questionable due to the series of storms that have hit California this year, so we took the new ATV (a Honda Pioneer 1000) to make sure we could get through. The trip up there was uneventful. We got to the turn at Keeler and started up the mountain. Part way up, a vehicle caught up to us and we found a place to pull over and let him pass. He stopped to talk to us. It was one of the people that live at the Cerro Gordo Mine. He told us we could park in one of their parking lots to unload the ATV.

Shortly after he passed us, the first problem occurred: a transmission overheat warning on my dash. The grade up to Cerro Gordo is steep, and pulling the trailer as well was a little too much. We had to sit idle for a few minutes to cool down the transmission. When it was cooled down, I shifted to 4 low to take some of the strain off the transmission and we made it the rest of the way to the mine.

We offloaded the ATV and transferred the tools and supplies from the suburban, then started up the hill. As soon as we hit snow, we started having trouble. It wasn’t just snow, but snow on top of a very solid layer of ice. We were determined and tried to get running starts at some of the patches, but kept losing traction. We only got a quarter mile in. The distance is half a mile as the crow flies, but 1.4 miles on the road. Looking at it on site, I thought it would be about a 200-foot elevation gain, so I decided to see if I could hike it. The elevation gain is actually more like 900 feet from where we got stopped. We went back down to the truck to get some extra things I would need for the hike. Along the way, another problem became evident. On the ice, I was not able to steer very well. Mostly, it was staying on the road by bouncing off the banks.

The view part way up Cerro Gordo

After getting back up the hill, I started hiking again. It was cold and windy. It didn’t take long to discover that there was a problem walking on the ice, even with the cables on my shoes. I managed to walk a ways on the rocky hillsides instead of the icy road as much as I could. As I climbed, the wind was getting worse. I would estimate 40 to 60 mph since it was pushing me off balance. I considered walking straight to shorten the distance, but at over 8200 feet, the air was thin, and the rocks would have made it difficult to maintain traction. Assessing the conditions and knowing they were going to worsen as I ascended, I decided it wasn’t feasible to continue climbing up the hill and chose to go back down.

We got back down to the suburb and loaded up the ATV for the trip home. However, we were not done with problems for the day. A flat tire on the trailer, which had no spare, posed a new challenge. We considered removing the tire and going into town, a journey that would have consumed significant time. We couldn’t drive down the rocky road as it was without damaging the rim. Our solution was to unload the ATV so that the other axle could carry most of the weight. Then, I hauled the trailer down while Nick drove the ATV. This was slower than the usual highway speed, but faster than making multiple trips up and down from the mine. We were able to acquire another tire in Lone Pine. We were back on the highway as the sun was setting and the leading edge of the next storm was rolling in.

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