Carp Pole failure


During my recent trip to Southern California I camped by the Trona Pinnacles near Ridgecrest, California. The Pinnacles are ancient tufa (calcium carbonate) towers rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. They were formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when the area was an interconnected chain of Pleistocene lakes stretching from Mono Lake to Death Valley. I visited the Pinnacles last year but there but there was not enough time to photograph. On this occasion there was plenty of time but zero wind so no KAPing. Still, it was fun camping out in the middle of nowhere – the sole occupant of an eerie landscape.

Trona Pinnacles

A panorama of the Trona Pinnacles – in the larger version you can see the pole shadow and my Westfalia camper down below.

In the morning I climbed to the top of the highest pinnacle with my (shortened) Ron Thompson 13-meter carp pole to shoot a panorama of the area. The camera rig was my trusty Panasonic Lumix LX3 without the wide-angle adapter – a payload of about 450 grams (1 lb.) I completed the image sweep for the panorama (above) and then leaned the pole over the top for a shot down the cliff face.


The pole failed with a spectacular pop. The original break was in the middle section of the pole a few inches above the slip joint. After failure, and within a fraction of a second, the upper section of the pole fell downward, hit the cliff, and ejected the uppermost pole section with camera and bracket. I had no forewarning of the failure and had inspected the pole before the trip. The suddenness of the incident was disquieting.

Cliff face

Looking down the cliff face – the last shot taken by my venerable LX3

After packing up the half pole that remained up top I hiked down the pinnacle, stored gear in the van, and went looking for the parts that fell down the cliff. Within a half-hour I found the camera, bracket, and remnants of my hot-shoe intervalometer. The bracket and intervalometer seemed to take the brunt of the impact. Both will repair easy enough. The camera had a few small dents. Amazingly, after tracking down the ejected battery and SD card, the camera still worked fine in playback and the lens would extend and retract. Sadly though the camera will not take photographs. In checking my records I have taken over 22,000 pole photographs with this rig in 77 sessions so the gear had earned its keep. I have sourced a used LX3 as a replacement and this will allow me to continue using the wide-angle adapter, batteries, and so forth.

Camera wreckage


I guess the big take away lesson for me is a heightened sense of caution when tilting the pole toward horizontal – a move associated with each raising and lowering of the pole and many of my photographs as well. I will avoid this attitude when people are below.

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