Having heard and read much about the Sunset Mine, and the collapsed stopes so large that they once had 3-story buildings standing within them, we decided we had to see them with our own eyes. We set out to do just that on a cool, sunny day in early March.
Our drive took us east out of Seattle on I-90, north on I-405, northeast on Hwy 522 to Monroe, and then east on Hwy 2 to Index-Galena Road. It was a Saturday and traffic was light. We arrived at the trailhead at the washout on Index-Galena Road after driving for about an hour and a half.
There are no signs marking the trailhead for the Sunset Mine, but it is difficult to miss. It is the last gravel road you encounter before the road ends at a washout. The gravel road is sometimes gated, but that is ok. Only the first few hundred feet are passable by car anyway. We parked on the paved roadside.
The first major bend in the gravel road is a popular place for target shooting, so don't be surprised if you hear gunshots when you arrive. On the day we visited no shooters were present.
The first couple miles of "trail" are along the old road. Water bars and debris prevent vehicles from passing, but the road makes for fairly easy hiking.
We visited multiple points of interest on our Sunset Mine adventure. The first we came to was impressive. In a large open space we discovered the foundation of the Sunset ore concentration mill.
The mill foundation was covered in leaves, moss, and other forest debris. In places it had been tagged with graffiti. As we looked at the mult-level concrete slab we could almost imagine the large, wooden structure that once sat upon it receiving and processing ton after ton of ore from the network of adits on the hillside above.
The road continued past the mill site. A stream ran along the lefthand side of it.
We followed the stream for a short distance and discovered that it was flowing right out of the hillside.
Upon closer inspection, the stream was flowing out of the portal to an adit. We had found Sunset Adit 2. Unfortunately, the adit had completely caved just inside the portal.
We continued east along the road and found a log bridge that crossed trout creek heading south. We checked out the bridge but we knew the other points of interest we were searching for were on the hillside to the north of Trout Creek.
Back on the old road again, we encountered a trail that ran up the wooded slope to our left.
We followed the trail upwards for a short distance and then spotted a suspicious looking void in the vegetation on our right.
Moving in closer, we could clearly see another portal. We had discovered Adit 1 of the Sunset Mine. A lot of debris had accumulated in the entrance, but it appeared as if it might be open enough to allow us to enter.
Julie donned her gloves and hard hat and slid inside to investigate.
Inside, the adit was wide open, but it was also partially flooded. We decided to return another time when we had our waders with us. Much to our disappointment, the US Forest Service placed a grate over the entrance to Adit 1 several months after our visit, so we will never get the chance to delve deeper into this tunnel.
We continued following the trail uphill from Adit 1, and eventually spotted another suspicious area in the brush to the right of the trail. Julie investigated and stated that she had found Adit 3, but she didn't think we would be able to get inside it. She demonstrated how large the portal was.
As it turned out, Julie had been generous in her description of the size of the portal. It was completely collapsed. Even a mouse would have had a hard time getting in.
We continued on past Adit 3 until we found an obvious, well-worn path heading uphill from the main trail. Julie headed up first.
At the top of the small rise, a huge hole opened up before us. We had found the collapsed west stope of the Sunset Mine.
We descended down into the pit to take a closer look at the stope.
The scale of the stope had not been exaggerated by the texts we had read and people with whom we had consulted before this visit. It looked like something out of a fantasy story.
The ore vein that the miners had been working when they created the stope was clearly visible in the ceiling of the stope. They had chased the vein too close to the surface though, and when the roof caved in it created this gaping hole in the earth. As you can see in the photo, some shoring still remains in place at the back of the stope where the ceiling did not collapse.
Where the ceiling did collapse, there is now just an open cut.
We continued uphill past the west stope and encountered a very deep vertical shaft. This was an old vent that allowed some air circulation in the mine. We have been informed that, in the time since our visit, this shaft has been filled with expanding foam due to safety concerns.
The trail was a little more overgrown as we continued past the vent, but Julie knew exactly which way to go.
It wasn't long before the gaping maw of the east stope opened up before us. Julie stood in the entrance to give a sense of the scale of the thing.
The walls of the east stope were painted with beautiful shades of orange and blue-green, remnants of the ore vein that had driven the miners to create the stope.
The bottom of the stope disappeared into blackness below us. We wondered if there was an open, horizontal shaft down at the bottom, but we were not curious enough to risk our lives to find out.
The view from just inside the stope looking out was quite dramatic.
On the edge of the collapse lay a thick vein of copper-rich peacock ore.
We eventually climbed back out of the open cut that was left behind when the east stope collapsed. We headed back to the car imaging what the area must have looked like when the Sunset mine was in full production, and what it must have been like to work in these enormous, cavern-like stopes before the big collapse.
Thank you for reading about our adventure finding the Sunset Mine. If you choose to take your own adventure to this spot, we hope you will drop us a line.