About CWS
Contact Us
The Mystery Of Clair Camp
Panamint Press – Winter 2001
“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...” 

– Reney Enguita 
(  International Copyright Laws)

By Lee Bergthold

The 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 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 contrary.

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.

Finally, after 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 night-time.

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 the author's.

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 building.

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....

Last Update
March 6, 2021

(661) 947-5153