|The Mystery Of Clair Camp
Panamint Press Winter 2001
someone was out there ready to grab me
off to Hell never to be seen again. I
went into the metal house, where I saw
the figure of a head on the wall, so I
quickly crawled inside my sleeping bag
where I stayed the rest of the night...
(© International Copyright Laws)
temperature had dipped to 12-degress. Bits of
snow had begun to filter in around us making it
difficult to actually realize that this place was
just a few miles west of Death Valley proper.
January was the time of year and we were working
the western top end of Pleasant Canyon, which is
located in the central sector of the Panamint
Range. It would be an attempt to reach the site
of Hungry Bill's, over and across the ridge,
crossing by way of Porter Peak or there abouts.
Our small band of three men and one woman would
take refuge halfway up the western slope... the
abandoned mining/town site of Clair Camp.
I was the first one to
reach the 25-30 acre rock-canyon spread. Roughly
15 out-buildings ran the gamut from "just-plain-trashed"
shanties to heavy-duty monstrous mining-mill
machinery, housed in makeshift, factory like
timber structures. All the buildings were in a
deteriorated condition, to one degree or another,
except for one. There was a building that had a
side room that appeared to have been cleaned
recently. It had a main room that spanned roughly
20 by 30 feet. and showed off a hardwood flooring
with tin-top patched walls and an open two-by-four
ceiling. Window slots were glassless the vertical
openings from the outside. A functional door led
to the outside at one end, a shaggy curtain
draped a small hallway opening at the other...it
would be our home for the night, we wouldn't have
to hassle with tents.
Prior to nightfall, the
other two men, Gale & Al, along with myself
and the woman of our party, Reney, had each taken
separate corners of the room for sleeping. In the
meantime, we had started a small cooking fire
just outside the doorway. We would eat a quick
supper, warm-up as best we could, then retreat to
the warmth of our sleeping bags. All of us were
worn from the daylong hike from Ballarat, and as
could be expected for January, it was cold!
After dark, during the
course of supper, I left the fire area briefly to
fetch more wood. While collecting throw-away
pieces of lumber, there was a commotion back at
the shelter, and at my distance, my first
impression was "laughter" and just
plain 'cutting up'. It proved to be quite the
By the time I arrived
back to the others, things had pretty well
settled down. In fact, it was suddenly unusually
quiet. The two men were still sitting by the fire
the same positions as when I left. Reney,
however, was gathering up her cooking gear,
getting ready to retire for the night to her
sleeping bag back inside the room.
Once Reney was inside
and out of earshot, Gale and Al related to me
what the commotion had been about, Reney had seen
something in the dark!
She too had left the
fire same as I had, but going in the opposite
direction to take care of bathroom needs. Shortly
thereafter, however, she returned abruptly back to
the fire---on the run!
While out in the dark
she had proceeded to dig a squat-hole, she always
carried a small spade. She claimed that a figure walked up behind her and stood, motionless, as if
watching. Not unnerved at this point, she moved
to a second location. The figure reappeared. With
concern she moved to a third location, where the occurrence happened again. It was at this juncture
that she ran back to the fire, thus the
disturbance I had overheard.
To set the record
straight, let it be clear that Reney was a tough
lady. In her late thirties, attractive with black
hair and a sun swept olive like complexion...agile,
slight of build, not one to be afraid of the
dark, or things that go 'bump in the night'. She
was well trained in the basic concepts of
survival as she has attended a number of my
survival workshops the past couple of years. She
was well trained physically, this was her fifth
tough trip in as many years. She was not an
amateur when it came to hostile environments.
So when she headed for
her sleeping bag, early on that cold January
night at Clair Camp, and not wanting to talk
about what had just happened, that In itself was
not so unusual, but seeking solace, as in
retreat, was unusual, especially for Reney. And
because of a series of strange transpirations
that would take place the next several days, it
suddenly occurred to me that this particular trek
was definitely going to be one out of the
ordinary. I was to be even more convinced as
mysterious events continued that night and beyond.
During the course of
that evening all of us had gone back-and-forth
through the one door of the building, from
campfire to gear, inside the room and out again.
On at least three or four occasions, I had to
remind the others and myself to keep the door
closed. The door would be closed, I'd turn around
and it would be open again. And it was functional
with a doorknob. latch, etc. During the late of
night, after I had personally re-braced the
galvanized pieces of sheet metal up against the
window openings, one section fell loose,
awakening us all with a racket as it fell to the
frozen ground. Getting out of my bag, and going
to the outside, I re-braced the metal once again,
there was no wind, just a light snowfall, it was
a cold still night in the Panamints. Morning
came, we packed and headed on.
Several nights later we
sought shelter in an abandoned mine shaft along
an isolated wind-swept ridge. We had to crawl
through a narrow opening to get to the inside.
Reney refused to sleep near the entrance even
though I was concerned with "bad air"
further in. Instead, she opted to sleep as far
back into the end of the tunnel as she could,
roughly about 75 feet.
traversing the Panamint Ridge through frozen snow
and near zero temperatures, we dropped down into
Johnson Canyon in search of Hungry Bill's
abandoned ranch. We ran short of water, and time,
thus we returned to the upper ridge snowline
which would suffice for a water supply. In the
meantime we did manage to locate a small spring
that seeped blackish looking water, due to the
leeching of root debris. By necessity and using
an empty film canister that was just small enough
to dip water, we all drank some of the dark-colored
foul smelling liquid. On the last night out, at
the Porter Mine, Reney asked me to walk to an old
outhouse that was still in use. She asked me if I
would wait a short distance away and would I walk
her back to the fire. This was not the usual
feisty up-beat Reney.
When we finally arrived
back at Ballarat seven days later, Reney, keeping
her thoughts mostly to herself, finally confided
in the rest of us that indeed "something"
or "someone" had been following or
"haunting" her for those past seven
days. The figure/s of a man at Clair Camp, being
afraid to sleep near the cave entrance on that
one particular night for fear of someone coming
in and taking her away. Her asking me to walk her
to the outhouse at the Porter Mine....indicated
that she had definitely been fearful of someone
or something.....and rightly so.
Two days later....Reney
died! Writing in her personal Journal during the
trip. and for me to examine those notes after her
death, I was struck by what she wrote.
'Scary experience last
night before retiring. Went out to use the
bathroom. It was so dark and was scared to death.
I saw someone walk out of a vat (?). someone in
the old building. My imagination went wild. I
thought someone was out there ready to grab me
off to Hell never to be seen again. I went into
the metal house, where I saw the figure of a head
on the wall. so I quickly crawled Inside my
sleeping bag where I stayed the rest of the night...'
Yes. Reney had been frightened severely. Scared
to death? How should I know? How will anybody
ever know? But the series of events, the
speculation, the mystery of an isolated camp, the
cold night....a ghost town!
Had someone else lived in that Clair Camp room?
Who cleaned it up and why? Did someone, a spirit,
ghost, apparition really follow Reney from that
point on and thus the rest of us across the
Panamint Range and beyond? Was it just Reney's
imagination, just her psyche?
Just why did the door keep coming upon at Clair
Camp, and the crash of the galvanized metal
during the night? And again from Reney's journal:
was there really a figure on the wall? A wall
that we all slept at the foot of?
Logically.....and following the explanations of
human nature, others will attribute all of this
to pure imagination. There will be those too, who
will admit, that, they also are privy to similar
personal incidents. Some claim the effects of
"altitude" as being the culprit, but
after all, most of the Panamint Range is only
8500 feet or less. And when the argument lapses
over into the question of high-altitude research,
the journals are loaded with experimental facts
pertaining to the causal effects of altitude and
how it influences the functioning at the mind-brain.
But there are many occurrences that take place
even at sea-level, and all levels in between, and
almost always during the night-time....same as
its been for thousands of years. Men and their
caves, their fire-torches....their imaginations.
Granted, there are other factors at work as well.
Solitude, isolation, altitude (hypoxia), fatigue
from lack of sleep, hunger, low blood sugar
levels, upset adrenal activity and the like.
Consider other parallels, ego-driven. domineering
rulers such as Hitler, as well as others of the
same ilk, would harangue large gatherings of
people in huge squares....always after dark.
Lynch mobs and other lawless gangs operated under
the same feverish nighttime premise, with the
addition of torches and bon-fires, which
definitely added a primordial affect. Rock groups
too follow a similar pattern. A day-light
performance? Nothing compared to that of the
In Korea there were the 'bugle charges', Korean
and Chinese infantrymen charging over snow-laden,
sub-zero frozen hills accompanied by the sound of
blaring bugles and loud-speakers, along with
phosphorus flares bursting from above....the
Night-time would suddenly transform into a
nightmare. You can imagine ( or can you?) what
affect that had on this young Marine's mind and
One last factor....What about the blackish water
we drank in Johnson Canyon? I'm okay. and so is
Gale and Al.
Upon returning home from the Panamints, Reney had
gone alone to her apartment. Evidently, she had
trouble sleeping, still afraid, still being
followed? She had even sought relief from a
physician. When she did finally sleep, she never
awoke....heart-attack! At least this is what the
medical report states.
In the minds of men, past and present, the
deepest of these mysteries still persist and
certain mind-game techniques are still being
applied to this day and age. Voodooism, brain-washing,
subliminal suggestions, mountain lions screaming
in the night, TV, staring at a fountain of water,
a stream, creek, being told that you're
terminally ill, cemeteries after dark, haunted
houses, watching waves crash upon a sea-shore....watching
clouds. etc. Thus, we find a plethora of 'man-verses-nature',
and\or the supernatural.
You know all is well of what I speak. In varying
degrees, these manipulations affect everyone, one
way or the other, depending on the individual.
and/or how severe the deprivation, hunger, thirst. fatigue, isolation, etc. But this doesn't account
for Reney's death. Her real death.
Certainty it was a heart attack. When the heart
stops....yes! It's final! But what medical expert
is realty going to know the real story?
Yes again. Hearts do stop. But what of the soul?
The spirit? We'll be thinking about these things
all right, as we crawl into a cave or mine shaft,
or as we begin to set-up in an old abandoned
By instinct, primal fears
return. We'll swear we hear things....'things'
win begin to move along the ridges and across the
meadows and valleys. And, God forbid...-the ghost
camps... True stories never die....