I have always been fascinated with gold rush stories from Alaska and was more than excited when I learned we were going to hike to a 100 year old gold mine! Experiencing a piece of the Alaskan gold mining history had been high on my wish list.
Copper and gold mining was big in Prince William Sound late 1800s – 1930s. World War II interrupted the mining operations as gold mining was declared a nonessential wartime activity. Our hiking destination for today was the Granite gold mine, described as one of the most productive properties in the district. Most of the production occurred between 1914 and 1922. When the mine started up they had 50-70 men working here. The has been some activity in the mine after WWII, but with minor production.
Source: Washington State University
We started our hike in Hobo Bay and walked on yellow and orange bog along the shore for a kilometre or so before we started the climb. One we started the climb the trail was modified in some sections by wooden logs being put down to prevent erosion.
Trail leading up to the 100-year old gold mine
The first signs of gold mining activity we come across seemed to be what was once a mine camp. The building itself was not standing anymore, but there was a sink, fridge and bed standing where the camp once had been. It looked like most of this was more recent than from the initial build in 1914. I would be very surprised if they had a fridge up here 100 years ago! Around the corner we found a old abandoned Caterpillar bulldoser.
Old Caterpillar bulldozer
I was very excited when we got to the stamp mill. I was not expecting it to be as intact as it was. A stamp mill crushes the ore down to a powder by pounding down stamps on the material. As a machinery engineer it was interesting to study the mechanism of this unit. The large timber logs holding up the cams, shafts and iron stamps were still intact. From what I could count this was a 10 stamp mill (10 stamps). The stamps were arranged in sets of 5 with each set having a drive wheel. On one of the drive wheels the drive belt could still be observed. I am not very familiar with gold mining principles but based on the small pipes routed to the stamps it seems like water was used in the crushing process.
After crushing the ore to a powder the amalgamation process with mercury would be next step, allowing for the final extraction of the gold. I borrowed the picture below from Powerhouse Museum – this is how I imagine the set-up must have been at the Granite gold mine as well as I found information saying they used amalgamation tables. The tables typically had copper plates coated with mercury which caught the gold by amalgamation as a stream of water carried the crushed ore from the stamp mill down the table.
Gold mining in 1905. Source: Powerhouse Museum
When we got up to the mine shaft at about 700 feet elevation from sea level we found the entrance to the mine was closed. Not unexpected. The mine is private ground and the mine shafts are uncontrolled and can be dangerous. There was a lot of old mining equipment at the mine shaft. An old mine wagon was sitting just outside the mine entrance and there was some sort of drill machine close by. Old iron bars and hydraulic hoses were scattered around. The only new thing was the lock on the gate into the mine shafts. For some reason I got the impression of it being a small mine when looking at the entrance. It definitely didn’t reveal that the mine consists of about 8,200 feet of workings and that 31,919 tons of ore containing 24,440 ounces of gold and 2,492 ounces of silver was extracted here.
On our way back to the beach I was surprised to see this old rusty car in the woods close to the trail, but later I learned there was actually a road from the shore to the mine camp and the workings when the Granite gold mine was active. We got down to the shore again midway between Harrison Lagoon and Hobo Bay, where we relaxed on the beach while we waited for the boat to pick us up.
Old car in the wood
Despite my initial enthusiasm I had mixed feelings after this hike. On one side it was exciting seeing the remnants after the gold rush, but on the other hand it didn’t feel right that mining equipment was left scattered around the area. And how many more of these abandoned mines are left in Prince William Sound. Who is responsible for cleaning up the mess. Could the scattered debris and tailings from the copper and gold mining industry could lead to metal contaminations that would drain to the ocean and be a risk for the marine environment?