Finding Bear Basin: Mill & Machine
Date of Adventure: October 12, 2014
Please note, there is a lot more to this basin! Due to popular demand we have posted the adventure early. Once we have fully explored the area, we will update the related pages.
We had stayed away from the North Fork Snoqualmie area because of rumors about the road. We had heard it was pothole city. A whole world opened to us after purchasing a new vehicle, the Packhorse, that could handle uncertain roads.
In our research on the area, Bear Basin stood out. So after pulling together all scraps of information we could, we began a new adventure.
The drive took us through the North Bend, and led us north away from town. We were concerned we would get lost in a maze of roads, but nearly all the junctions are gated. Most of the gravel road is in good shape, but the few places that are potholed, are really bad. We would never take our sedan out there, but we did see one parked at the trailhead.
There is a play on words at this trailhead. Our destination was Bear Basin and the related mine artifacts. But the trail and most peoples' destination is Bare Mountain, the mountain top that once held a fire lookout tower.
The first portion of this trail is a steady incline along an old mine road. It's been the victim of erosion, and in some places is more gravel creek bed than road. But there was no mistaking our first glimpse of Bear Creek.
While it was beautiful, it was a tricky crossing. We picked our way across a log jam that looked like it had once been a bridge. On the other side, we picked up the trail again and followed a couple more switchbacks to another crossing of Bear Creek. This one had a nice bridge.
As we climbed through the forest we were on the lookout for a bracken fern field. We had information that told us this was where we should cut off the main trail. Every time we saw one of these ferns, we searched for a path. We had to laugh when we got to the right place - it was blanketed with ferns!
When the trail switch-backed up the hill, we went straight. A few steps on to this path, we saw old wooden road, often called corduroy or puncheon in road. This is a tell-tale sign of historic human activity.
Just around the first bend, the whole basin came in to view. It looked like a poster. Deep green evergreen trees marched up the steep walls while a variety of autumn colors mixed with the rock lower slopes.
Then we saw our first goal: the mine mill ruins.
We carefully rock-hopped down to the creek and explored the rusty metal artifacts. The most interesting thing we found was a ball mill. This machine would have helped grind stone into a fine powder to aid in separating the metals.
After getting our fill of rusty gold, we climbed back up to the trail. We followed the path into the forest where we encountered a magical little waterfall.
Shortly afterwards the trail splits.We knew we wouldn't have time to explore all the trails on this day. So we went for the most iconic item in this basin - the large steam engine, often called a donkey engine. We headed left up the trail and began to see a very different type of metal.
We heard these pieces of aluminum are the remains of a small plane crash. As we passed them, we hoped that this crash didn't have a tragic end.
We followed the footpath through the artifacts to a small bridge. This one was likely made from artifacts by other explorers.
We couldn't find a clear trail on the other side, but we knew we needed to head up. So we wandered through the trees and up to the talus slope, where we once again got spectacular views of the basin.
Then we saw it. A steam donkey, which is the nickname for a steam-powered winch. Over the years it had toppled onto to it's back, but it was still all there. In the northwest they are most commonly associated with logging operations, but this one was intended for mining. A short distance above the engine a wood frame could be seen. It likely winched itself way up this mountain on top of the frame.