P-MAN VII Update
Saturday, 26 February
We started today by heading back in via the same West Road entry we used yesterday, then pressed south to the end of the ridge. We exited the jungle back onto the West Road and walked back north to about the point of the wing-slot piece, re-entered the jungle, then swept north past the Japanese prop. We found nothing to the south, and only a few new pieces to the north, including a main-landing-gear door and a piece of white belly skin with what appear to be a couple of recognition lights and an electrical connector. We determined that we had managed to cover four tenths of a mile in a little over three hours.
Bradford met us and we rode over to Purple beach on the southeast side for lunch.
While we were eating, Bradford recalled seeing a partially buried propeller a short distance north of Purple beach, so we headed up there to see if we could find it. It took awhile, but what we finally found was a large four-bladed propeller of Japanese design. It was interesting but not relevant to our mission, so we headed back to the jungle.
We re-entered the jungle at the south end of Wildcat Bowl, by the Japanese monument. We had come out this way yesterday, but had mainly explored the east side of this valley. Today, we stuck to the west side of the valley. Much of the ridge wall on this side comprises sheer rock cliffs. We followed the valley north to a huge hole that goes clear through the ridge. It isn't a cave, it's just a relatively thin area of the ridge with a giant hole that goes all the way through. We scrambled up and peered out into the next valley (the south end of Death Valley). We had been looking for a ramp that the Army Engineers had built there to haul an artillery piece up to fire into Death Valley. But this clearly wasn't a ramp. It took a lot more scrambling and some pretty big fallng rocks crashing down into the jungle to get the group back into the valley, but eventually we continued up the west side. A bit farther north we encountered the engineers' ramp, which we followed up into a large cut that passes into Death valley.
A couple of climbers went up on top of the narrow ridge and continued north. The rest of us moved north along the east side of the floor of the valley, occasionally hugging the wall to get past some more of those sharp pinnacles and deep chasms in the valley floor. We eventually reached the spot that we believe was "The Last Command Post," the site of the final organized Japanese resistance. It had an eerie, almost prehistoric feel about it. Evidence of death was everywhere. The ground is literally covered with unexploded ordnance of various kinds. There aren't many places where your rock-climbing repertoire has to include both the ability to check the integrity of each new hand-hold, and NOT to inadvertently grab a live hand grenade instead of a rock. This place is one of them.
We explored a couple of interesting caves on the way out, which brought us back to the Japanese monument at the south entrance to Wildcat Bowl. At that point, a few of us who hadn't yet seen the American monument decided to climb the steps up to the monument. The view from up there is breathtaking. To the southwest you can look across Bloody Nose Ridge toward White and Orange beaches, where so many lost their lives. To the north you can scan across Wattie Ridge, Death Valley, China Wall, and Wildcat bowl. To the northeast, you look out over Horseshoe valley to Pope's Ridge and beyond, up the lobster claw. To the southeast you look across the former airfield, once covered with nothing but bleached coral and blood. To the south, you look across to Angaur and beyond. All of this panorama, once reflecting pure death and destruction, is today completely covered with beautiful, dense, quiet jungle.
We headed back north along West Road to a point even with the beginning of the Baxter debris trail, and spent some time on the west side of the road, basically confirming that the debris starts just on the east side of the road: we found nothing to the west.
We sat in the sand and contemplated the sunset at Orange beach, where so many men died. Mike's grandfather landed on this beach. We contemplated that, too.