January 28, 2008 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
Several years ago Brian Lickman returned again to the mountains he loved in quest of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Brian had hunted this elusive mine for more than 30 years, visiting with many of the old timers who lived in the mountains in [the] past and listening to their stories.
He especially enjoyed sitting around the campfire and talking to Al Morrow in Needle Canyon. His experience in the mountains, both hiking and searching, compares with any other Dutch hunter. Brian is a very quiet individual most of the time unless he becomes focused on one of his favorite topics, such as lost mines.
Brian decided to return to the Superstition Mountain for a few days and search the Dutchman’s Mine in another location around October 7, 1985. The temperature often hovered around 95 degrees Fahrenheit this time of the year. Not only was the temperature warm; the humidity was high and the gnats could be troublesome. Brian liked it this way because it provided him with absolute solitude to search.
He asked Gary Feldman to give him a ride out to First Water Trail Head. Brian said he would be back in four days. He had decided to explore a deep, rugged, narrow side canyon just above the Lower La Barge Canyon Box. This particular canyon was filled with large boulders that required climbing them individually or jumping from one to the other.
As Brian traversed one boulder then another he made a note in his mind how far away water was in La Barge Canyon which he knew was important for his survival. Remembering the location of this water is probably what later saved Brian’s life.
As Brian jumped from boulder to boulder he realized it was getting rougher and more difficult to make his way up the canyon. He decided to start back down.
On one large boulder he lost his balance and jumped, landing on his heels. He felt an electric shock in his nervous system when he landed. Suddenly he realized he had injured himself quite seriously, and reality struck!
He was eight miles from the trailhead in a deep rugged canyon and no way out. He could only crawl on his hands and knees. He was quite sure he had broken or cracked bones in his feet because of the severe pain. His first thought, realizing he couldn’t hike out, was to find water. He then hoped somebody would miss him and they would start a search. After two days he was able to crawl back down Deering Canyon to the first pool of water in La Barge Canyon. Brian knew he could last two weeks without food, but only a few days without water.
Some of Brian’s thoughts focused on his children and then on other things that were real to him. His solo practice of searching for the Dutchman’s Mine had put his life in harm’s way. After the fourth day in the mountains Brian was becoming concerned about his survival.
Gary Feldman returned in four days on October 10, 1985, to pick Brian up and found he hadn’t returned to the trailhead. The following day, October 11, Gary notified the authorities Brian was missing.
The Maricopa and Pinal County Sheriff’s Offices initiated a search and rescue mission. Many had given up hope of finding Brian alive because of the heat and lack of water in the mountains. The aerial search and ground search went on all day and produced no clues or signs of Brian.
On the second day of the aerial search Brian’s old friend and prospecting partner, Ron Feldman, heard about the search for Brian from his mother. He drove out to First Water and told the deputies he probably knew exactly where Brian could be found. He said [Brian] was probably in a very narrow deep canyon called Deering Canyon off of La Barge Canyon. The searchers couldn’t find it on the map so they assumed Feldman didn’t know what he was talking about.
After convincing one of the deputies, Ron was put on an Arizona National Guard helicopter and directed the pilot to Deering Canyon. Within minutes they located Brian lying near a water hole at the confluence of Deering and La Barge Canyon. The helicopter landed and the rescue team picked up Brian.
October 12, 1985 was a lucky day for Brian M. Lickman. He had escaped from Deering Canyon with the help of a rescue team and his friend Ron Feldman. He had broken both heels. It was impossible to walk without help.
Going alone in the Superstition Mountain, whether prospecting, hiking or riding horseback, is always a risky adventure. Experienced veterans of the desert always recommend or suggest carrying sufficient water and telling someone where you are going and when you expect to return. These two simple rules can save your life in an emergency.
A similar incident occurred in 2007 when Lon McAdams fell and broke his kneecap in Rough Canyon. Lon was rescued seven days later because he left a detailed itinerary with his wife.
Brian was rescued with two broken [heels] 12 years earlier because he told somebody when he expected to return. When Brian didn’t show up at the trailhead the authorities were notified and Brian was eventually rescued.
These two stories should be very specific reminders of how important it is to leave somebody an accurate itinerary and date of return when traveling solo in the mountains. Failure to do so usually ends in tragedy.
Lon’s love is photography and that is what attracts him to the beauty of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Brian will continue to search the mountains to fulfill his dreams of someday locating the famed Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Brian Lickman walks in the footsteps of “Coronado’s Children.”