Took an easy trip to the base of Big Four Mountain this weekend with ol’ friend and fellow blogger Nealbob from http://www.nealbobwalks.com/ to spy some spring avalanches careen down Big Four’s impossibly steep slopes.
With the current gate closure at Deer Creek, the hike began on the snow covered Mountain Loop Highway.
A little over a mile and a half of easy walking on snow was punctuated by the stark contrast of great mountain vistas and vile heaps of decomposing (dog?) feces along the path.
In little time we arrived at the Ice Caves Picnic area parking lot before embarking on the pleasant woodland walking of the Ice Caves Trail.
Luckily there were no serious blow downs or other obstacles along the grade, but snow was continuous from the Stilliguamish River crossing onward.
We arrived to discover we had the entire basin to ourselves.
Throughout the morning, periodic rivulets of snow tumbled down until a real doozy broke loose around 10am.
… and it was quite the show!
A light stream of powder soon became a torrent of white doom as it rained down into the broad avalanche fan for several minutes. The air echoed with the brilliant chaos that a few tons of cascading snow tends to create.
Late morning steady drizzle signaled our time of departure. Just before the last glimpses of the avalanche basin were lost behind our steps however, another hefty heap of spring melt was liberated from the 6161-foot tall block of rock. The distant chorus of muffled impacts resounded through the conifers.
Apparently the sound carried all the way to the trailhead as both a pair of hikers and a pair of Forest Rangers we passed on the way out asked if we’d been witness to the spectacle.
“Yeah man, we were there…”
THE SHORT VERSION
Snow covering much of trail
Gate closed at Deer Creek, requires an extra 1.5mi+ walk to trailhead
Lots of dog poop
Approx 6.5mi RT
Extreme avalanche danger
Road closed to vehicles at Deer Creek, snow currently covering most of the road to trailhead. Much of the trail is also snow covered with the exception of bridges and boardwalks.
A hard packed footpath of snow exists most of the way to the avalanche zone. Traction devices advised. Waterproof footwear highly recommended.
Travel into avalanche area NOT recommended.
Avalanches kill. Keep a safe distance or don’t go at all.
Please bag AND pack out your dog poop.
Road closure keeps the crowds down for the moment. Good time to take advantage of this very popular hike.
A WORD ABOUT THE ICE CAVES
Many lives have been tragically cut short due to the inherent natural hazards at the Ice Caves area.
Avalanches, falling ice or other debris, collapsing ice caves and many other hazards exist at all times of the year, but are especially heightened during certain seasonal conditions.
Know before you go. Stay safe, stay out of the avalanche area.
*Disclaimer: The activities and actions described on this website are for entertainment purposes only.
This story starts off in a book, a great book in a series of great books that are full of history and adventure for anyone who opens up a copy. I am talking about the Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines series by Northwest Underground Explorations, in this case volume #1. (henceforth DWHM#1)
Whether you are the swashbuckling adventure type or just the type who likes to swashbuckle and adventure via the pages of a good book, relaxed in a cozy armchair, this series will serve you well and is worth every penny. The pages are loaded with historic photos and are an unbelievable wealth of information about Washington’s mines, state history and even some local lore. If I haven’t made myself clear, if you are reading this blog, you are the type who needs these books.
Having spent a great deal of time in the Miller River area, finding the Bergeson Prospect within the pages of this tome of the abandoned, I was immediately interested in locating the site.
The book gives very good directions for both driving and footwork, that being said, unless you’ve spent a lot of time wandering the woods beyond the well worn trail, you probably wanna take someone who has. I should add also that if you should ever decide to enter a mine, not that I suggest you do, you should really never go alone. The potential for serious injury or death is there, and I don’t know about you but drowning in icy cold mine water, shattering my body by falling down a shaft or being crushed by unstable rock and spending my final moments on earth in the pitch black, Stygian depths of an abandoned mine is not exactly how I want to go.
Moving right along…
Gathering all the essential gear including three sources of light, I picked up a friend of mine and we were off towards Money Creek Road, a rough little dirt road off the Hwy 2 often in need of repairs. Following the directions to a tee, we parked and headed up into the woods.
One of the first orders of business was to locate an old road. The first time you go out looking for an old road in the woods, you’ll have no idea what to expect, every flat spot you see you’ll be asking, “Is that the road”? This is normal, over time you will develop an ability to pick out even the most ancient mining or logging road, and suddenly the Cascades will never quite look the same. It really is interesting just how many old road grades there are out there, and kind of a curse because if you are anything like me, you’ll wanna find out when they were built, why they were built and where they all go.
There are a couple landmarks on the way up, the first is a very large boulder, hogging up half the old road bed. It’s impossible to miss if you are on the right track, and I feel pretty confident in saying, this baby isn’t going anywhere for a very long time.
The second real landmark is a little trickier to notice even though it is huge. It is the tailings pile from the mine, but it is mostly overgrown and doesn’t really look much like a tailings pile until closer examination. Really it looks like any old berm built up from an avalanche gully.
Being that this is the tailings, or waste rock from the mine, you know you are right below it. A short climb up the pile takes you to the quite picturesque site of the Bergeson Prospect. There are a few pieces of interesting debris outside the adit (mine entrance) and if you are more interested in just locating the site and taking it in, this would make a good place for a woodland picnic on a nice day. There are many massive old growth trees in the area, and it really is a pleasant feeling woods.
My friend and I however were going to enter the mine….
The adit was flooded, and likely still is, to a depth of mid-shin height or better. One of the first things you’ll notice in this mine is the tremendous amount of rust coating the walls and covering the floor.
There are also a lot of relics left inside, the old mine cart rails, the ventilation pipes and various bits of wooden debris.
The mine is pretty deep in comparison to a lot of the other small claims in western Washington, around 1200′ deep I believe. Fortunately in this mine, there are no winzes (shafts) and it’s pretty straight forward.
There is however a great deal of water coming from the ceiling in this mine, and the constant dripping on the pipes, on the floor compounded with the echo can really play some tricks on your ears. Standing still and just listening, I could swear you could hear voices. On one occasion as we were going down a long straight section of tunnel, we saw what appeared to be a face at the end of our lights reach, stopping, we could hear the garbled voices. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I figured maybe someone else was exploring, or maybe A GHOST!
Turns out it was just a ventilation pipe half hanging from the ceiling with a steady rivulet of water falling upon it. Gotta say though, better scare than a haunted house.
The mine was pretty interesting, and not too difficult to find. If you are so possessed I’d suggest getting a copy of DWHM#1 and locating it yourself. I do not suggest entering a mine, and certainly not alone or with less than three separate light sources. Also, take only pictures and leave only footprints, there are many sites that are completely lost to us, the people of this age, because others decided to loot and plunder and for what? So they can have some shitty old piece of rusted metal sitting in their garage? We’re lucky to still have some of these outdoor museums in the state they were left, so lets keep it that way.
Good luck, and happy trails, Harry Biped
Woodhouse, Phil; Jacobson, Daryl; Petersen, Bill; Cady,Greg; Pisoni, Victor, Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines Vol.1: The West Central Cascade Mountains. Oso Publishing Company, 1997