East Fork to Eagle Mine Exploration
Okay these mines really are quite inaccessible.
17 miles, 8000 ft
All I gotta say is, mine hikes are really exhausting. Our attempts to reach all the mines around Iron mountain have become increasingly more difficult, to the point that I thought I would reach the final 2 yesterday, and left only reaching one.
The Eagle and Gold Dollar mines are perched high up on the south side of the San Antonio ridge, with the Gold Dollar 1000 ft higher than the Eagle. The lure of these mines came to me when I read the late Hugh Blanchards website about mines (his website is seemingly down now). There he wrote about (cached) the most inaccessible mines, and indicated these two being the most inaccessible of all in the area. Well some that like a challenge will jump at try to reach things that are seemingly hard to access.
To further fuel the fire, I had read John Robinson’s books on San Gabriel mountain history and his small Mines of the San Gabriels. The allure he brought to the history of the gold miners of the East Fork made the potential explorations even more appealing. In speaking about Coldwater Canyon, Robinson talked about
Far above the head of Coldwater Canyon, just under the jagged ridge that connects Iron Mountain with Old Baldy, were the loftiest and most inaccessible gold mines of all – the Gold Dollar and Eagle…how this heavy machinery was hoisted so far up the mountainside defies imagination.
He also mentions the founder of all the mines of Coldwater Canyon (including the Baldora), Charlie Smith, had a spectacular death by having an avalanche slam down on him while in his cabin at the Eagle mine. What would be left?
So we set out at 6:30 with 13 people. Not all would make it all the way, but all would at least visit the Widco / Baldora mine ruins, a big and pleasing hike alone. After hiking the Heaton Flat trail to Coldwater saddle, we descended along the old and partially washed out trail down to Coldwater canyon. Over a year since my last visit, some one has been down here trimming the yuccas, which made the trek a bit easier. The trail is somewhat brushy, but not really that bad.
I went down swiftly to do some “extra” exploration while waiting for the others to get down. Speaking of abandoned things, there once was a trail that climbed up to Big Horn ridge from Coldwater canyon. I found a trace of the old trail on a USGS historical map, so I decided to go check it out. This took some scrambling initially, but in short I do believe I found traces of the trail.
I could only follow in some spots and wanted to continue on to the other side of the ridge (where previous photos indicate a trail), but sadly I did not have the time. However, I am intrigued at the possibility that a lot of this trail could be followed.
Heading back down, I met up with the rest of the group and we headed up Dry Gulch to the Widco and Baldora ruins. We weren’t making great time, and worse yet, there were bugs everywhere! These guys would not leave us alone for the rest of our time in this canyon.
The worse of the hike came during our ascent of the east side of Dry Gulch up to the south ridge I’ll call Gold Dollar ridge. It is extremely steep with almost too soft ground. The climb took more work than normal to balance oneself. Oh and the freaking flies. Flies everywhere. Flies in your face, in your nose, in your eyes, and in your mouth (at least 3 times for me). This just took up more energy. A simple 1000 ft climb seemingly took forever. Of the 13, only 6 decided to not turn around and make it up to the ridgetop. Where there were more flies, damn them!
At this point I knew my initial idea of seeing both mines AND traversing SA ridge to Iron would not happen, but I thought maybe we could still visit both mines. We starting heading north up the ridge but soon ran into a lot of rocky sections, that took up even more time. I could see the group was not feeling the idea of continuing up further, so we stopped and took a short lunch break. I don’t have any good photos of the obstacles ahead of us, but suffice to say it probably would have been easier going down this ridge than up.
Looking at the time, it was already 1 or so, and I felt defeated, thinking that we wouldn’t even have time to visit Eagle mine and we would come away empty handed. But as we started heading back down the ridge, I looked down the SE gully and just decided to go down it, aiming directly for Eagle mine. The terrain seemed pretty good and so a few others followed. And I was really glad we did.
We quickly fell upon the ruins of the Eagle mine. Some of highlights include this massive stamp mill
A lot of other artifacts around the area. Down below, some old cabin ruins (perhaps washed down from the avalanche?). Attached to the mill were a few metal cables going uphill. I climbed up following these to some other machinery. To my left, I noticed some depression in the slope and found the opening to the actual mine!
The shaft started horizontally then turned vertically perhaps 50 ft in:
Very cool stuff. Some shovels and old hammers inside too. After this, we took a long 4 hrs to get back to the parking lot. While we didn’t get to Gold Dollar mine, reaching Eagle mine made it well worth the trek. The combination of ruins and mine shaft make Eagle mine the most interesting one to visit (although Stanley-Miller might match that). As for Gold Dollar, I feel pretty confident that I would rather hike up Iron and over Gunsight Notch to get to it than the way we went. What a day!
This entry was posted on Sunday, May 9th, 2010 at 11:15 am and is filed under Trip Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.