Finding Black Warrior Mine
Date of Adventure: July 10 - 12, 2016
We had dreamed of visiting Black Warrior Mine since we first heard that it existed. We found several photos online which showed the entrance to this mine, but we could find no information about whether or not there were still open adits or any interesting artifacts in the area. Our curiosity was piqued, and we couldn't wait to get out there and discover for ourselves what this historic location had to offer.
We originally planned to take a three-day trip to investigate Black Warrior in the summer of 2015, but our plans were quickly sidelined when Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer. After fighting and beating that cancer our thoughts again returned to this mysterious mine set deep within North Cascades National Park. In early July we decided to go for it.
Our drive took us on I-5 North to the Highway 530 exit and we took 530 through Darrington and onward to Rockport where we intersected with Highway 20. We headed east to Marblemount where we made a brief stop at the North Cascades National Park Ranger Station.
Permits are required for any overnight trips in North Cascades National Park, so we had to visit the park's Wilderness Information Center to acquire our permits. We planned to spend two nights at Pelton Basin camp, hiking out to Black Warrior and back on the second day. Backcountry permits are issued on a first come, first served basis, so we were excited when the ranger informed us that there was space available at the camp for both of our requested nights.
After obtaining our permits we headed up to the parking area at the Cascade Pass trailhead. On a clear day this parking lot affords a breathtaking view of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. On the day we arrived, the entire area was socked in and low clouds masked everything but the nearest trees.We double-checked our gear and prepared to hit the trail.
From the parking lot the trailhead was easy to find. An information kiosk sits right at the beginning of the trail giving hikers the rundown on what is allowed and not allowed during their backcountry trip.
A few feet from the information kiosk there was a sign showing the milage to different destinations along the trail. We noted that it was 4.2 miles to our first day's destination.
Since the Cascade Pass Trail had only recently melted out, trail crews had not yet cleared the trees that had fallen on the trail over the winter. Julie and Kevin had to scramble over or under trees in at least eight spots along the 3.7 miles to the pass.
There were 37 switchbacks in the trail on the way to the pass. Rain fell intermittently so we kept our rain gear and pack covers on for the entire hike.
After leaving the switchbacks behind we had to cross several large snowfields.
The clouds had really closed in as we approached the pass. Visibility was greatly reduced and snow-free stretches of trail popped up like islands in front of us.
We arrived at a signpost as we approached the top.
This was the first major branch in the trail. Turning left would have taken us to the Sahalee Arm. We continued straight heading toward Stehekin as both our camp and final destination were accessed off this trail.
There were no spectacular views to be had due to all the clouds at the top of the pass, so we did not linger. We continued down the trail for another half-mile until we arrived at the turnoff for our camp.
A few of the sites at Pelton Basin camp were still covered in snow, but we found a nice, secluded tent pad at the bottom of the hill. The camp was as socked in as the pass had been, so our view was limited to about a 50-foot bubble around us. Still, there was enough view distance to get a good look at a camp visitor that had showed up to take advantage of a salt and mineral source that had appeared when we peed on a rock. This is why you should always urinate on durable surfaces in the backcountry. If you go on vegetation or soft ground, the local wildlife will tear up the plants and the earth to take what you have left.
After a cold and rainy night we awoke to find our camp still socked in. We debated whether or not it would even be worth it to press on to Horseshoe Basin where Black Warrior Mine was waiting. If Horseshoe was as socked in as Pelton Basin, we would miss out on fully experiencing the approach to the mine and its surroundings. In the end we decided to go for it, and we again hit the trail as it headed east on a steady, gentle incline.
After travelling about ¼ of a mile on the trail, a break in the clouds gave us a view of Pelton Creek winding through Pelton Basin below us.
In another ¼ mile the trail crested and we started a slow descent along a rocky wall.
We had left most of the low clouds behind when we crossed the ridge line. A littler farther down the trail the trees opened up and we were facing a breathtaking view of the Stehekin River valley below.
The trail steepened and began to switchback. In some places wildflowers had already begun to bloom.
It was clear that fewer people had travelled this trail than the one we had hiked the previous day. Vegetation closed in on all sides.
We arrived at Doubtful Creek which was still running high and swift due to summer snowmelt. Two small logs had been placed across part of the creek to allow crossing, but they looked a bit questionable.
Kevin scouted upstream to see if there was a smaller gap that might be easier to cross but found none. Doubtful Creek flows out of Doubtful Lake and continues down into the valley below where it connects with Basin Creek flowing out of Horseshoe Basin. These creeks form the headwaters for the Stehekin River which continues on to Lake Chelan.
Eventually we went ahead and crossed the logs. They weren’t nearly as unstable or slippery as we had anticipated.
On the other side of the waterfall we turned a corner and had another nice view of the valley. Julie approved.
The trail began to descend along a steep talus slope.
The clouds above us were still threatening rain, but the rocky cliffs were beautiful to look at.
After losing a few hundred feet of altitude we arrived at a sign that made us smile. We were nearly to Horseshoe Basin.
The trail into the basin was a little closer to what we are used to dealing with when on the way to a mine. It was overgrown with ferns and brush in many places, and we periodically found ourselves walking in water as portions of the trail had become a stream with the snowmelt. We finally came around a turn and spotted what had to be mine tailings at the foot of a huge cliff.
And when we say “huge cliff” we mean it. A wall rose a few thousand feet into the air with an impossible number of waterfalls cascading down it. Above the wall was a glacier scoured moonscape and above that sat the glacier that had created it. Above the glacier more cliffs rose higher still, eventually disappearing into cloud cover. A photograph cannot even come close to fully capturing what it was like to see it in person.
As if the moment in front of the cliff wasn’t magical enough, as we started heading toward it the clouds parted and the sun came out. So did Julie’s smile.
We continued onward and eventually found ourselves hiking along the crest of a glacial moraine. The view behind us was almost as amazing as the view in front of us.
The distances were very deceiving in the basin and it was fairly slow going heading up to the mine.
We were focused on reaching the mine, but we were overwhelmed by everything around us as we made our way to it.
The waterfalls only became more spectacular as we neared the basin wall.
A flattened barrel was one of the first “rusty bit” sightings on our way to the mine.
Next we encountered a cable next to a piece of metal that was likely once attached to a tram tower.
As the tailings pile loomed closer, it became clear that we would need to cross some snowfields to reach it.
Julie found a narrow patch of snow that seemed safest to cross and then crossed a small stream before arriving at the tailings.
After a quick scramble up the tailings pile the entrance to Black Warrior Mine lay before us.
Just in front of the mine entrance there appeared to be a grave marked with a wooden cross. We hadn’t heard of any hikers passing away at the mine so we assumed someone had either done this in honor of miners that might have passed away or they had just made the grave to puzzle the next visitors that came along. If that was the case, mission accomplished.
It was amazing how much the weather had cleared as we made our way to the mine. Looking back along the tailings we were treated to this view.
Julie found a rusty tin can lying amongst the plants. It made for an interesting photograph.
A plaque at the entrance to Black Warrior Mine identified it as a National Historic Place and gave a rundown of the mine’s history. See the Black Warrior Mine Adventure Page for the text of the plaque.
Part of the entrance to Black Warrior was flooded with several inches of water. Beams and boards provided access that allowed us to keep our feet dry. The view from inside looking out was stunning.
The entrance chamber had a kitchen area as well as living quarters. We wondered what it must have looked like before time had taken its toll.
Among the rusty bits at the entrance was an old hot water heater. The Black Warrior was well appointed despite its remote location. Back when the mine was in operation a road ran all the way into Horseshoe Basin.
A table and some shelving still stood in the small living area at the entrance to Black Warrior.
The main adit ran back into the mountain in between the cooking and living areas.
There was a small drift on the left that was used for storage just a few feet into the tunnel, beyond that drift the ore cart tracks ran off into the darkness.
Following the main tunnel we came to a T-intersection. A very short stretch of tunnel dead ahead was used as another storage area. The ore cart tracks split and followed adits heading east and west.
An interesting bit of shoring and a water pipe and hose stood in front of the storage tunnel.
The western tunnel was blocked by chainlink fencing. A sign on the other side of the fence warned that it was dangerous to proceed. We wondered what was back there. A winze? An unstable or collapsing tunnel? We had to accept the fact that we would never know, unless we were able to uncover a historic map of the mine’s workings that is.
We turned around and headed down the eastern tunnel. Two water pipes ran along the wall of the tunnel, and after a short distance they disappeared into a smaller tunnel running parallel to the main one.
We pressed on past several more interesting features before we reached the end of the line.
Turning from the dead end and heading back toward the entrance we photographed some points of interest. Here you can see where that side tunnel we encountered earlier came back to join the main tunnel. It looked like some fairly extensive excavation had been done in the tunnel. Afterward the pipe may have been run through it to get it out of the way of the ore carts.
Along one stretch of the tunnel there was another small side cut into which the miners had chased the ore vein.
There were at least two stoped areas along the main tunnel. The ore vein was still very visible in both.
The second stope was slightly lower than the first and did not require any extra reinforcement.
Creative shoring was visible in several areas of the tunnel. In this case it consisted of a jumble of logs, planks, and wedges.
Beams were found along other stretches of tunnel. They were often used in conjunction with other shoring materials and styles to ensure that the tunnel would not collapse.
This beam was secured in place with many different wedges pounded in from every angle. It looked as sturdy as the day it had been put in place.
Julie found an interesting crystal pocket in one section of the mine.
Towards the entrance to the mine there was a pile of rusty debris that included several rock drill bits. Remember, it is illegal under Federal Law to remove artifacts such as this from historic sites. Leave what you find so that others may enjoy it as well.
The water fixtures in the mine were showing the visible effects of time.
This fixture was stamped “Made in Walworth USA”. Walworth is a company that has been around since 1842 and is still making industrial valves today.
As we headed back to the entrance of the mine we were greeted with this view.
We emerged into the still sunny basin with huge smiles on our faces.
It was growing late and we still had 4.5 miles to cover to get back to our camp at Pelton Basin. We donned our packs and headed back down the tailings pile with visions of Black Warrior still dancing in our head.
As we hiked back out of the basin one of the local residents eyed us suspiciously. When this Hoary Marmot stood up we could see that she was a nursing mother. We had the good fortune to catch a glimpse of one of her babies as we continued on our way.
We turned to capture one last photo of Horseshoe Basin before we continued on our way. The sun had sunk lower in the sky and shadows had crept into the basin, but its beauty was still almost unimaginable. We soaked it all in for a moment before continuing the long slog back to our tent.
Thank you for reading about our adventure finding Black Warrior Mine. If you choose to take your own journey to this spot, we hope you will drop us a line.