Cold Winter in Colorado Mine Shaft

Jim M



Often think about the year I spent living in the middle of White River National Forest. Summer of 1964 to spring of 65. I thought I was fully prepared to handle the winter residing in two mine shafts I had picked out for cold survival. There were some cold spells that were so bad that I thought I might freeze to death. The hundreds of open mines that were available made it unlikely anyone would ever find my frozen corpse. Not recommended for those of you who are not used to six months of winter conditions.


My first ship was the USS Forrestal based out of Norfolk, Virginia. I wanted to be based out of the west coast Seventh Fleet and so marked it on my 'dream sheet'. Of course you usually get the exact opposite which I imagine is funny as hell for those who were filling the billets. My only reason for the 7th fleet is the trip home to visit is a lot shorter and less expensive than the 6th fleet post. My time on the 6th Fleet 'bird farm' was pretty much filled with events of fun, foreign ports, never ending sea stories and the fear of war when we went through the Cuba Missile Crisis. Scared the s--t out of me! Even while it was happening I was not fully aware of how close we came to a full scale war and a possible nuclear exchange!


After the war scare was over the government decided that they would save some bucks by giving those who were close to their discharge dates a early out. So I got about three months lopped off my first enlistment. Not knowing where else to go I returned to my old stomping grounds in the Colorado mining camp. One can only mooch off your parents for so long. There were no jobs so I got six months of unemployment, after that no income at all, nothing zip zero! So I had to make some decisions and quick since winter was fast approaching, snow would soon have me locked in if I waited too long. Collected cardboard from behind the grocery store, makes a pretty good temporary shelter inside the mine shafts along with any food I could collect. A old 22 rifle and fishing pole helped supplement my meager food stocks, rabbits were pretty skinny and ice fishing did not yield a lot of trout. In the early fall I was able to pick off some grouse with my 22 revolver, never knew that I could hit a bird in flight with it. Turns out later on I was pretty good with a shotgun too.


During the early fall of 1964 I was living in a abandoned cabin on top of Battle Mtn just north of the mining camp. In my younger days I was really pumped up, all my senses were always full on. Which is why I felt and knew something was wrong. Grabbed my gear, got the hell out of the cabin and moved to the edge of the tree line. Sure enough three current enemies of mine came over the ridge and proceeded to fire their pump 22 rifles into the old cabin I was at. Briefly thought about killing them right there since I had my M1 with me. Elected instead to move my camp about five miles away to avoid any further face offs. Probably a good idea since they were threatening to kill me if they found me out on the highway on my motorbike. I guess they didn't like me waving my pistol in their face when they were trying to block in my car down at the theater. Sure motivated them to get out of the way, such is life in those camps. We settled scores ourselves, no one ever called the cops. Besides the nearest lawman was 30 miles away in the town of Eagle, Colo. This type of life is not something any of today's young people would understand. Living today is nothing like it was in the mid 60's, especially in Colorado. The old home town didn't exactly welcome me back.

When spring finally broke over the mountains and I found myself still alive but grossly underweight I was really wondering what to do with myself. Went down an applied at the Climax mine near Leadville. Took one look at what I would be doing an elected to head the other way. I would have to work as a mucker until I could get into the electrical gang, no thanks already had too much time on the end of a shovel. I had pretty much run out of options when I got a letter from Denver. It was the Navy and they wanted me back since I was in a critical rating. They also told me I would get my E5 crow back, an they would bridge my more than one year break in service time. The recruiter at Denver told me that this would still count as a first enlistment and signed me up for two years which would allow me to re-up at sea for about 10to12k dollars tax free. It was a deal I couldn't pass up, especially since I was doing nothing anyway and didn't fancy another starving winter in White River. This time it was no problem to ask for an get a aircraft carrier out of Alameda, I was wanted and better still, I was needed. Next stop USS Hancock CVA19, 7th fleet.

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