Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sunset Mine / Snowshoe Outing

So last weekend we tried to organize a large snowshoeing expedition. Get out, snowshoe to an old mine or at least something interesting, get some winter air, exercise, etc. Well, that all kind of fell apart. The recent heavy rain and low snowpack didn't help, and schedules were conflicted.

Nevertheless Meredith, Al and I set out for a two-part hike off Highway 2. The first stop would be the Sunset Mine site for some mine exploration. The second would be up closer to Stevens Pass to try out new equipment: boots, snowshoes, rain pants, hats, etc.

Fortunately it was a lovely day, the rain and wind had passed.

The Sunset mine is a very easy day trip that pretty much anyone could do and it's actually pretty popular in the summer. The Trout Creek area was once one of the most active spots in the Cascades and the hills are peppered with sites. The Sunset lode was discovered here in 1897. Mining began in 1902 and continued on and off until 1946. The mine was predominantly a copper mine. Total production was reported at 263,500 tons of ore, resulting in 1,500 ounces of gold, 156,000 ounces of silver, and 12,912,000 pounds of copper. The workings consist of five levels and over 12,000 feet of tunnels. The mine is now in a state of collapse. The lower levels are flooded. Most of the adits have collapsed. In the 1930's some of the main stopes collapsed, resulting in some spectacular chasms. (Source: Discovering Washington's Historical Mines, Vol. 1 The West Central Cascade Mountains, Ina Chang, Ed., 1997. 127-134.)

The mine site is off the Index-Galena Road, off of Highway 2. The Index-Galena road washed out a couple years back, so it is closed to traffic after a few miles. At that junction, on the right, is a gravel road that goes up into the mountains. This is Trout Creek road, and we 4-wheeled it up about 1 3/4 miles till the road was flooded and blocked, purposely, by boulders. There's a parking area here at the remaining foundations of the old mill site. Apparently the road has been greatly improved, ironically so that it can be destroyed later. Trout Creek road is slated for demolition into a trail, and the road was improved so that heavy equipment could get up it in order to demolish it on the way down. But right now we had an easy 4-wheel up it in Al's Trooper. There are large rocky drainage ditches cut across the road, but we saw someone get a Subaru Outback up it, so they aren't that bad.

From here it's a hike up the old road for maybe 50 yards. The mine is on the left, and a trail takes off in a sort of loop around the major adits. Look for a stream coming out of a collapsed adit on the left.

The shaft is collapsed a few yards back, but you can take a peek in if you want to.

The trail continues up the hillside. Rain pants and waterproof jackets were a very good idea. Even though it wasn't raining, as anyone who's hiked in the Northwest in Winter knows:

Everything is wet.

Actually, scouting the area put me in mind of mushrooming. I'm definitely coming back her next Fall, the area looks quite promising.

The trail leads to another collapsed adit. The whole mine is basically in a state of total collapse, going inside isn't really an option. But there are some nice adits to peek into, and some mining debris around, but not much.

Eventually you'll come to the first chasm. This was a stope that collapsed back in the day, creating a huge pit in the ground. It's hard to get a sense of the scale of it. But I'd say you could fit a three story building inside it.

Inside it's hard to take a good picture. It's very wet, and very dark. The mist kept fogging out my photos. The roof is slowly coming down, and there's a lot of loose rock and a steep descent. At the bottom is a small waterfall that supposedly conceals a tunnel which connects to the largely caved in and cut off Level 1 of the mine. Of course, a look at the map will show that there are two winzes within feet of the supposed entrance, which means ropes, helmets and harnesses if we ever return to check that spot out.

Fortunately my new rain pants and oilcloth hat worked like a charm.

Did I mention it's wet in there?

There are some old structures still up in this chasm. I gather that this building was designed to protect the miners' access and the ore chutes after the stope collapsed in the 30's.

Now it hangs, eerily suspended in space above the cavern floor.

Moving back along the trail, occasionally bushwhacking it as the trail comes and goes, you come over a rise to another spectacular chasm.

Again, scale is difficult to show. That Douglas fir log on the left? Full grown, 100+ foot tall Doug fir.

A five story building would fit in this hole.

One of the cool things in this hole is a support beam placed high in the chasm.

Also, check out the green copper veins in the rockface.

I also really like this photo Meredith took from the bottom of the second chasm.

We cautiously entered the chasm and took a look around. Yep, it's a big, interesting hole in the ground.

Just then, we heard a loud crack!

We stood stock still and looked around, checking for falling rock. Another crack! We turned and hightailed it out of there as fast as we could. As we approached the surface though, it became obvious that the noises were gunshots. Someone had pulled up for a spot of target practice in the area. Still, whew. Yeah, this mine is in a state of collapse after all. We didn't know where our gun-enthusiasts had set up, so we stuck Meredith in front as we marched downhill to the car.

No, not as a shield.

She has bright yellow raingear. That was the reason. Absolutely. I also wrapped my obnoxious yellow and purple Husky scarf around my hat brim for increased visibility. Hey, it's warm and bright and there are people with guns out. Fact.

Afterwards, we headed up the highway toward Stevens Pass. We pulled off before the pass on the old Cascades Highway and went up the road for about two miles. The snow became deeper. We went into 4-wheel. The snow became deeper. We trudged on. Just when we hit the parking area where we would take off snowshoeing, the Trooper bottomed out.

We spent the next two hours digging the car out with a small entrenching shovel, some ski poles, a large stick I found, and some rocks pulled from the river. We got out just before it got dark. No snowshoeing. The less said about it the better, other than:

Chains. They're not just for decorating your trunk.

And yes despite that photo, we all dug the car out. I'm just heating my hands on the warm hood. Yep.

Obligatory Disclaimer: Don't go into old mines. Seriously, they are dangerous. Don't do it. Unless you really want to. Don't blame me if you pull a Cask of Amontillado.


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