A few of us decided to head up to the Clipper Mine the other day out past Carbonado. This area is widely known for it’s coal mining past and there are many relics and ruins of that past hidden in the woods if you know where to look.
The Clipper is something of anomaly in this regard as it was predominately a copper mine with gold and silver being found in smaller quantities.
Coal mines are extremely dangerous for many reasons, more often than not they are cut into very unstable terrain and due to the organic nature of coal, they often are filled with toxic, asphyxiating and explosive gases.
Some areas of former coal mining are full of unstable ground and forgotten shafts. I know of one thats something like 1500ft deep! (Luckily it’s not forgotton, and it’s capped, I’ll present that one in a future blog) It’s best just to enjoy coal mines from a history book.
The Clipper however was not a coal mine, what the miners here were chasing was chalcopyrite, a very important copper ore and sometimes containing economically viable amounts of gold and silver.
Your first view of the Clipper mine will be the very large tailings pile spilling down the hillside, and if you look close you can sometimes find some interesting samples of this ore.
Getting to the Clipper was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Often mines are way the hell off in the middle of nowhere, and while I guess it is kind of way the hell off in the middle of nowhere, there is a road, albeit it a very rocky one, that passes within throwing distance.
If you are so inclined to find the Clipper, it’s not too difficult to do the bookwork online. There are some mentions and some maps, it’s a good little introduction to becoming an amateur mine detective. The hint I’ll give is the key is to watch for a waterfall coming down the hillside as you head up the road, it’s not a raging one, but it’s also not a rivulet.
The road is pretty rocky and as we were driving up we passed a group that appeared to have broken an axle on their truck. They had assistance though, so we just gave a wave. My ancient powder blue Subaru cracked a smirk as it puttered by in all it’s 4 wheel drive glory, the proud clacking of the valves and roaring exhaust leak resounding across the land.
We finally creaked and cracked and sputtered past the little waterfall, parked, and began our search on foot. It really didn’t take more than a few minutes to find.
The tailings pile is quite large and loose. It may be a daunting climb for some. There is a well worn tread up the one side, but on an already loose surface, this just means slightly less unstable.
Reaching the adit I was surprised that there was a sign right out front “Clipper Mine”. You don’t see that very much, or ever really, so that was interesting. Least we knew we were there and not at some cheap knock off mine.
I took in the adit area as we took a breather and donned our lights. Slightly to the east there was some old rebar punched into the rock, I’m not sure what it’s original purpose was though. Digging around at our feet revealed ore samples, beer cans and even an old drill bit used in mining at that time.
The adit is wet, as is the mine as a whole, not flooded, just not tennis shoe appropriate. (Not that this sort of thing ever is or should be)
The first thing one might notice is two thick lengths of wood, evenly spaced along the mine floor, occasionally topped with a thin sheet of rusted metal. This was known as strap railing and was a primitive form of rail. It was cheap and worked well enough for smaller operations, but hell, even early locomotives ran on strap rail, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! (Actually it was broke, so they did fix it)
The tunnel is often paralleled by a rather thick rusted pipe, and some smaller rusted pipes. I’m pretty sure these were used to carry compressed air to the drills. Also much deeper in the mine the strap railing gives way to more conventional rails. Interesting.
The mine is fairly straight forward, but amazingly deep, almost a full 1/4 mile into the mountain! As I’ve said before, it is an absolute necessity to bring redundant light sources, just try turning off a flashlight a quarter mile inside a mountain and finding your way out… actually don’t, it’s scary as hell and you’re likely to get hurt, plus there might be monsters, or Dracula, I dunno.
There are some minor drifts along the essentially straight tunnel, but they are short.
One has unintelligible graffiti inside, way to go *Qmid &% 6t20″, way to give absolutely nothing of value to the ages.
Further along we heard quite a bit of water coming from somewhere, like an underground waterfall, turns out it was a sort of low pressure spring issuing forth from the wall, I’ve seen this another time in a mine called the Buckeye. Kinda gives you the impression of being in a U-boot, it’s hull being compromised at extreme depth.
“Ach! Auftauchen! Wir sind alle verurteilt!”
Along the way you will sometimes notice turquoise blue staining, this is from the copper in the ore, kind of like a gooey looking, nuclear patina. As you walk along pay attention to the ceiling, this is where the vein is mostly visible, and you can sometimes see chunks of chalcopyrite crystals in their natural state. There are also a few areas of limited stopes. (Areas where the miners started chasing the vein up, remember wearing a helmet is a GREAT idea!)
The tunnel pinches out at a fairly uneventful end, but that deep, you can get some pretty cool harmonics and echos. oooh, creepy!
I found the Clipper to be a pretty interesting mine, especially for the comparatively low difficulty in finding it. I get the impression that this one gets a lot of visitors as far as mines go, but despite that there is still a lot to see and if nothing else, it’s depth is a sort of stand alone selling point as a place to visit for the so inclined.
As always if you do decided to visit, leave things as you found them, well except for the beer cans, maybe you could bring a garbage bag for those. Should you decided to venture underground, you do so at your own risk. Three sources of light, water proof boots and coat, a helmet and a friend at the very least. However the rule is always:
“Stay out, Stay alive”
-Happy Trails, Harry Biped