On June 23, 1943, a B-17 Flying Fortress departed Pendleton Army Air Base in Pendleton, Oregon destined for Grand Island, Nebraska. From there, the bomber would join the other members of the group and continue to England to participate in the ongoing World War II bombing campaigns. Around midnight, the captain radioed that their position was near Powder River, Wyoming. They were not heard from again. After the plane failed to arrive in Grand Island, the plane was declared missing and the Army mounted a search effort with no results. A second search was conducted the following year, concentrating on the Wind River Mountains, Absaroka Mountains and Big Horn Mountains, but still no wreckage was spotted.
On August 12, 1945, two cowboys spotted something shiny on a ridge line in the Cloud Peak area of the Big Horn Mountains. They discovered the wreckage and the deceased crew, and contacted authorities, who conducted an operation to recover the bodies of the crew and return them to their families. It was believed that during earlier search efforts, the paint color of the aircraft blended in closely with the mountain side, making the wreckage difficult to spot. After a few years, the paint worn off, and the shiny aluminum underneath made the plane more visible. No official cause for the crash was ever determined, but it is presumed that malfunctioning navigational equipment, and a moonless night combined with bad weather caused the pilot to not see the ridge until it was too late.
After some petitioning by veterans groups in Wyoming, the previously unnamed ridge was christened Bomber Mountain on August 22, 1946 by the U.S. Forest Service. In honor of the crew members, a commerative plaque was placed on the shores of Florence Lake, 1.5 miles from the crash site.
Bomber Mountain. (2007, August 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:40, September 7, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bomber_Mountain&oldid=153432830
Bomber Mountain is located in the Bighorn National Forest Cloud Pead Wilderness Area
Left to right - Rob, Jason(me), Ricky, Matt, and Chris
Rob, the ringleader, had heard the story of a B-17 that had crashed into the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming during WWII in 1977. His fascination of airplanes fueled his desire to see the wreckage and twenty years later the dream became a reality. The rest of us are all friends and coworkers of Rob’s. We were all entry level mountain hikers at the beginning of the trip, to prepare we spoke to some of the experienced locals and read a lot of hiking guides on the internet. At the end of the trip we all decided that the trip to the Bomber Mountain crash site was a little more than entry level. We flat-landers had no idea what kind a toll a 23 mile hike with a 4000 ft assent trip to a 13,000 ft peak would do to our bodies. Regardless of the problems and disappointments we are already planning to revisit the mountain next summer.
We left at 4:00 AM on Friday, August 31st 2007, and drove to Buffalo Wyoming, an eight hour trip, stopping only for gas. Once in Buffalo we stopped at a sporting goods store to buy a few necessities and had a good meal at a local bar and grill. From Buffalo it is another hour drive to the West Ten Sleep Trailhead. To get there go West on highway 16 until you see the West Ten Sleep Road sign, then go approximately seven and a half miles north to the end of the road. On our trip we took a wrong turn and ended up in a campground where we were greeted by an angry camp hostess for supposedly driving to fast. Once she calmed down she directed us to the correct road and we finally arrived at the trailhead at 2:30 pm.
From the trailhead it is a six mile hike down Misty Moon Trail (marked Trail 63) to Misty Moon Lake. Along the way you will see some of the most beautiful areas in the Big Horn Mountains.
This picture was taken along the trail at Lake Helen, which is one of a set of chain lakes (including Gun Boat, Fortress, Misty Moon, and Marion Lakes) originating from the snow melt of Bomber Mountain.
We finally arrived to lake at 7:30 PM and it was nearly dark, we ate a little supper, set up our tents, and went to sleep. Our campsite was on the south side of Misty Moon Lake near the junction of Misty Moon and Florence Lake Trails, elevation 10080 feet.
At 6:00 AM the next morning we were all awakened when one person of the group was out wandering around when he saw a set of eyes in the light of his flashlight. After he calmed down we decided that the creature was likely a harmless marmot. We fired up the cook stove and made a hot pot of coffee, which is a necessity after a cold night near the tree line. We began the hike to the Peak of Bomber Mountain before sunrise, there’s nothing as tranquil as sunrise in the mountains. Fortress and Gun Boat Lakes are along the trail before you get to Florence Pass, these lakes are correctly named because they are in the bottom of a deep canyon with vertical rock walls. At the crest of Florence pass you see Florence Lake and a beautiful view of Bomber Mountain,
continue down the trail to the east side of the lake. At this point you will see the memorial plaque behind a large rock; we nearly missed the plaque because of its location.
This is where our lack of experience hindered us the most. We walked along the lake to a trail that took us up the face of the mountain as we were told, a mountain none the less but not Bomber Mountain, by the time we realized we were on the wrong ridge Bomber Mountain was nearly straight west a half mile. Not a big deal in Nebraska but this half mile was across a 1500 foot deep canyon with a lake at the bottom. Matt, the person of the group in the best physical condition decided to go on around the end of the canyon to get to the crash site. The rest of us were exhausted and I was feeling the affects of the altitude at 12,300 feet, we decided to turn back and wait for Matt at Florence Lake. Matt arrived at the crash site the same time we got back to the lake and we could see him atop the ridge but he looked like a flea on the side of a Budweiser Clydesdale. Matt is in the center of this picture coming down the mountain as we should have gone up.
Matt was physically and mentally exhausted when he reached us at the lake, we reviewed his pictures kicking ourselves for taking the wrong trail. At this time we needed to get back to camp, pack up and head for the truck. Instead of getting a hotel room, like we should have, we decided to drive all night to get home.
Along the way we found this guy lying on the shoulder of the road, he evidentially had a big night on the town and decided to walk home but wasn’t able to make it. Not to worry the authorities were right behind us and took him home…we think.
Reflecting on our journey we were crazy to try to do so much in such a short time. Nonetheless, we are planning to return to the mountain now knowing the trail, the terrain, and the fundamentals of backpacking.
Remnants of the Bomber
Related InfoUSDA Forest Service Bighorn National Forest
The Book - The Bomber Mountain Crash
Other Trip Reports