Throwback Thursday: The Great Yosemite Pot Heist

Mexican Red Hair Cannabis

If you want to look back and examine the past, you better be ready. Like it or not, the past is never past. Look back with aplomb and revel in it, good or bad. There are lessons to be learned if you can unearth them, if you can dredge them out of the frozen waters of your mind and guide them to the surface. Like the 50 bales of Mexican Red Hair hauled up from the depths of Lower Merced Pass Lake in the backcountry of Yosemite in California, extracted from a downed airplane in the winter of 1967 and smoked with abandon amid gassy fireworks at Camp 4.

Nirvana

To the victor belong the spoils. When there is no one left standing but yourself, you either take what is left behind or you leave it. Up to you. But you cannot repeat, cannot let good pot go to waste. No way. So you take as much as you can carry and run. Free pot, come and get it. Bales and bales. Just waiting for you to get your hands on it. Nirvana, right? Oh shit, yeah!

Throwback Thursday: The Great Yosemite Pot Heist

6,000 Pounds

The climbers living at Camp 4 in Yosemite during the winter of 1976 became aware of an airplane crash high up in the mountains at Lower Merced Pass Lake. A plane laden with bales of pot went down in the mountains on a drug run. 6,000 pounds of marijuana was stashed onboard. Or so legend has it. The climbers weren’t the first to find out, though. The Yosemite park rangers and the DEA learned of the crash and, before the winter got too severe, went up in a helicopter and decided to confiscate the contraband. Like the remnants of dinosaur bones, part of the wreckage lay strewn along the shoreline where the plane hit, then tumbled into the lake, sinking up to its nose.

The strand was littered with bales of pot, and the rangers collected these first and stashed them in the helicopter. Then, with chainsaws in tow, they ventured out onto the frozen lake and cut holes through the ice near the plane and managed, with the help of divers, to extract a few more gunny-sacked bales of marijuana. When the weather began to deteriorate, the rangers had to abandon their mission. But their job was far from over. More bales remained lodged in the submerged fuselage of the plane. They intended to return in the spring to pick up the remainder of the pot, thinking no one in their right mind would dare venture up into the backcountry in the dead of winter. The rangers left the wreckage and the two dead pilots in the ice and took off with what they had gotten. They stored the stash at the Yosemite firehouse, which also served as a jail, and went about their business as usual managing the park.

Lodestar Lightning

Some say the plane that crashed was a Lodestar Lightning PV-1 Ventura. Others say it was a Howard 500. Seems no one really knows. Myth has a way of verging into truth, and vice versa. Regardless, the aircraft originated in the Baja in Mexico, bound for the Black Rock Deserta hundred or so miles from Reno, Nevada. When the starboard engine fell off as the pilots throttled up over a ridge in the High Sierra, the plane soon followed the engine and crashed into the lake.

Throwback Thursday: The Great Yosemite Pot Heist

Dope Lake

The Stonemasters found out about the crash and the incredible amounts of pot stashed inside the plane. So after the rangers had finished, they began to make trips up into the high country. Being top climbers in top shape, they were well-conditioned to survive the inclement winter weather. Still, the winter had been warmer than usual, and this helped them in their quest to score the bales of pot. After their first visit, they consequently named Lower Merced Pass Lake “Dope Lake.” Trip after trip, in secrecy, saw them haul back bales of pot out of the backcountry. Some say 200 bundles of the magic stuff was removed, each weighing around 50 pounds.

The Heist Masters

The Stonemasters had to cut through the ice after they reached their destination. The holes the rangers had cut were now frozen shut. Using ice axes — and regular axes — they got through and were able to pull out bales from the fuselage. The going was rough, though. Airplane fuel saturated the water around the plane. One by one, the bales were removed and taken back down to Camp 4, hidden carefully where the authorities couldn’t find them — if they came looking. Which they didn’t.

The Yosemite Gold Rush

Most of the climbers, if not all, were dirt poor. Some of the Stonemasters called themselves the Dirtbags. But they reveled in their poverty, throwing off all pretense about money, choosing to live like they lived — out on the edge. Questioning authority at every turn. This is where they wanted to be — in Camp 4, not beholden to society at large. Still, money is money, money is power and money buys material goods such as climbing gear, which is expensive. Money also buys time, as well. Some of the climbers took their pot and went down to LA and San Francisco, where they sold their wares. With their newfound wealth, some ended up buying houses, others used it for college tuition, some gave it away. Others smoked their shares down to the sticks and were left with nothing except the experience, which, to them, was the whole point of the operation.

Throwback Thursday: The Great Yosemite Pot Heist

Fire-Brewed Pot

When they got the pot down off the mountain, they of course partook of the stash, the Mexican Red Hair, blowing the tops of their heads off in more ways than one. More than a few of the bales were saturated with airplane fuel, but that didn’t stop the Stonemasters from having their due. When they lit up, the joints would sometimes explode or flare up, singeing the smokers’ hair and beards. The pot tasted of gasoline and tar, but this didn’t thwart the Dirtbags. It still got you off, adding to the wild experience of living on the edge,living around the campfire, partying with friends. Or attached to a rope on the vertical walls 2,000 feet up on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan, lighting up the fuel-laden joints that exploded around their heads. From the base you could look up and see the flares, and you knew they were having a good time. 

Smoke it if You Can

No one was ever caught or prosecuted. The rangers never found the climbers’ stash. By the time they learned the bales were missing, the climbers had already smoked or sold it. The Stonemasters had beaten the rangers and the DEA at their own game. To the Dirtbags belong the spoils of a good high — and the money to go along with it. Like a pirate wreckage plundered by the inhabitants of a coastal town in the 1600s, the plane was stripped of the contraband and distributed among those at Camp 4. They dared to look down into the icy waters and find fortune smiling back at them in bale after bale of Mexican Red Hair, ready and waiting to be smoked or sold. It is as true today as it was back then. The past is never past. Go and smoke it — if you dare.

 

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