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The Night of the Triangle Paperback – October 6, 2016
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About the Author
The author has spent a good part of his life (over half-century) exploring, on foot with backpack, a large portion of the Great Southwest: California to Texas to the High Sierra Range, and points in between, desert to mountain, Northern Nevada to the Mexican Border. This includes a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps during the bitter Korean Conflict, 1950's. It was during the brutal winter of 1996-1997, that Bergthold, along with a second companion, trekked for 35 days, 350 miles, in subzero conditions in hopes of finding 'survival routes' that the ill-advised Donner Party could have considered instead of attempting the High Sierra during the winter of 1846-1847 which culminated in the loss of many lives. "In our case," concluded Bergthold, in regard to the 1996-1997 winter trek, "we could've frozen to death on that trek that took us from Battle Mountain, Nevada to the northern boundary of California's Death Valley. We survived, but not without extreme difficulties." During the winter of 1999-2000, Bergthold, along with two other companions forged their way south, on a second 35 day, 350 mile cross-country excursion that took the trio from Death Valley to the Salton Sea, thus this present book, The Night of the Triangle. "It was tough enough going cross-country through the heart of Death Valley," said the author, "but the real challenge was pursuing further: The Panamint Mountains, the Wingate Wash, the Owlshead and Avawatz Mountains, then the Devil's Playground, the Bristol Dry Lake and into the Pinto Mountains, and south to the Sea." That wasn't the end. The author, along with three companions, went back into Utah (Donner Springs), then worked their way back, cross-country, to Battle Mountain, Nevada, another 350 miles in 35 days. "That will be the fourth book," states the author, "The Hastings Cut-Off, a deadly shortcut that cost the Donner Party many lives." To this day, the author keeps up an active teaching regimen, including a robust outdoor schedule, exploring seldom-seen, far-away places, long forgotten and totally isolated. "You learn to survive in such prehistoric places," continued the author. "The dried up lakebeds, the playas, the mesas, the never-ending loneliness. I trod upon ancient seabeds that eons ago were water-ways for human beings who resided there thousands of years ago. It piques ones curiosity. What's out there that we don't know about…to go back in time, it's ancient."
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He does solo hikes – some, for ten days. One needs an extraordinary amount of courage to overcome fears, loneliness, and the nights when the mind plays tricks on what one perceives and feels.
Beyond these, the real measure of Bergthold’s fortitude and what draws people to his public presentations and admiration for this man, are his grueling 350-mile and 125-mile cross-country treks. The latter took him and a fellow hiker from the lowest (Badwater Basin in Death Valley) to the highest point (top of Mt. Whitney) of the lower 48 United States. He was in his 60s and 70s when he did many of these treks. He’s now in his 80s, and still hikes in the backcountry and leads groups, while teaching full-time as a tenured Professor of Photojournalism and Photography.
The Night of the Triangle is his biggest book at over 500 pages and includes pictures. It tells the journey he and two other experienced hikers, Tina Bowers and Al Caler took from the northern border of Death Valley heading south for 350 miles until they reached the Salton Sea, 35 days later.
Who hikes in Death Valley?
Lee Bergthold does. He’s explored areas including the Panamint Mountains most of us will never see. His mission on this lengthy trek was to determine if the Donner Party could have survived taking a more southerly route instead of their ill-fated attempt to cross the Sierras.
What makes these hikes intriguing? One thing is that he doesn’t use any of the modern conveniences we’ve grown to depend upon. No mobile or smartphones. No GPS. “What happens when technology fails?” he asks. “People have died out there.” With old-time paper maps like the explorers of yesteryear, he and fellow hikers carry on using earth’s natural landmarks and the sun and moon as guides. Their biggest challenge is water… finding water in the desert.
They carry everything on their backs, including a ten-day food supply. They also have two previously arranged points. On this hike one food drop-off point was at ZZYZX, near Baker, California. Here, they picked up their meticulously in-advance prepared food supply.
His thoughts are often drawn to the ancient seabeds filled with water. His mind drifts to life in prehistoric times or how early inhabitants survived off the land. He writes of being lulled to sleep while hiking.
I didn’t want this journey to end. I walked with them—well, in truth I lay in my comfortable bed as I read pages from this book. When we lost power, I felt empowered, “I can do this. These trekkers are sleeping outside in freezing temperatures. I can deal with the loss of power when the temperature in my home falls to 52 degrees.”
It’s an inspiring testament to survival. And to Lee’s skill in keeping focused on what matters, because nature always wins.
The Night of the Triangle refers to a periodic phenomenon that the hikers did not expect during this journey. It disoriented them. They ended up walking the same area twice. OUCH!
There are a few laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book. A curious fox tries to make off with Tina’s boot during the night. Al’s hearty laughter after Tina tells him, “Lee’s been talking to his lizard.” (You’ll have to read that for yourself!)
Three unique individuals cooperate and succeed.
What an achievement, only few people can claim!
Panamint Mountains in Death Valley - Avadian photo 2002
Lee Bergthold in Northern Nevada (Donner Springs, Utah to Battle Mountain, Nevada - Berghtold book forthcoming) - Avadian photo 2006