The Good News / Bad News Trip
Exploring Old Goldmines Near Hedley
September 6-7, 1998by Larry Soo
Larry & Sue
Chris & Vanessa
Sue and I wanted to go camping before her summer holidays came to an end so I planned a fun exploration trip. Years ago, before she and I began dating, I showed her some photos I had taken at the Mascot goldmine on Nickel Plate Mtn, perched on a cliff hundreds of feet above the tiny village of Hedley, BC. She expressed an interest in the site so I figured, ten years later and now that we're married, maybe I should take her to Mascot. Joining us would be her sister, Vanessa, and my friend, Chris Waterman.
Sunday morning, just before noon, we left White Rock and took Hwy 1 towards Hope. The skies were clear and the weather was wonderfully warm. Chris had the side windows removed on his tall YJ and I had only the bikini top and Duster cover on mine. It was perfect Jeep weather. The drive to Hope, Princeton and then Hedley was uneventful although we were surprised at the number of Jeepers who waved as they passed us on the highway. Most of them came from drivers of modified Jeeps.
The temperature became more bearable once we got away from the exposed mountainside and into the intermittent tree cover. Some of the terrain was familiar to me although, since the last time I was here was over a decade ago, I wasn't sure how well I could trust my memory.
My brother, Bill, used to work in the mining industry so I asked him to confirm what the pools are. His response was: They are either tailings ponds (unlikely) or leaching ponds. Basically, the crushed rock is mixed with some kind of leachant to disolve out the gold. In our mine, we used cyanide but from the open nature of these pits, it was likely some kind of mild acid. Another possibility is that this is waste water from some aspect of the mining process. Usually, ground water contains some concentration of minerals and water mixed with ground up ore has a *lot* of contamination, usually arsenic.
I spotted a road that looked like it would take us to the Mascot mine site so we made the turn and proceeded west. Once again we were travelling along the mountainside. As the road made a sharp right, following a fold in the mountainside, we had an unobstructed view of the area where I thought the mine was located. Thinking that we were on the trail that brought us above the mine, I scanned the area below our altitude. Seeing nothing, I was about to conclude that the mine was around the next bend when I suddenly saw it. It was almost directly across from us but at a slightly higher altitude. It was approximately 1km from our position...if we could fly. We couldn't drive there because the road we were on continued downhill for about 200m before dead ending at a rockslide of biblical proportions, courtesy of the open pit mine above us. I estimated that we'd have to hike 3km to reach the mine.
I knew that this wasn't the route I used to access the mine before so we headed back to the main road. Continuing higher up the main road, we saw the mill where the ore processing took place. This was the Nickel Plate Mining Co.'s site. The gate to the site bore a sign proclaiming, NO PUBLIC VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT. As you might have guessed, this was also where the access road used to be. The forest which used to surround it was now a vast pile of crushed rock which towered above us.
Hoping that it was possible to skirt around their pit and rejoin the original road, we tried every left turn trail beyond the Nickel Plate mine. With dusk rapidly approaching, we decided to look for Nickel Plate Lake where we would camp for the night. We reasoned that we could always hike into Mascot tomorrow morning even if we never found a way onto the old road. Using the GPS and some good old-fashioned sense from Chris, we followed an obscure trail which brought us to a sandy beach on the lake. We were just in time to see the sun go down. Sue and Vanessa were worried about bears and they made sure that the first thing I did was to load the shotgun. After dinner, we moved the food and garbage 50m from our tents and went to bed. I was mildly annoyed that they were so worried about bears because in all the time I had lived in Princeton (a neighbouring town of Hedley), I rarely ever saw bears in the bush. I thought the women were being overly worried. Oh well. The skies must have been very clear that night because the moon shone so brightly that I was able to see inside the tent without needing a flashlight. For me, that's a rare occurrence. We all remarked at the moon's brilliance.
By 8:30am we were packed up and rolling. We explored another trail which didn't dead end but went too far north-west to look like it would take us to the Mascot. We turned around once it started heading downhill. We followed the main road back down to the first turn-off we explored yesterday. Just like yesterday, we had to slow down for some grouse which insisted in fleeing from the trucks by running along the road in front of us rather than flying. I know grouse are stupid but these ones were particularly thick headed. I think they must have been trying to protect their nests by luring us away from them.
At the dead end, we parked the Jeeps and loaded our knapsacks with lots of water, flashlights, extra batteries, some snacks, warm tops (mine shafts can be quite cold), and, of course, cameras. Chris and I were contemplating a route which would require us to climb alongside the rockslide. It wasn't very appetizing so it was a great relief to me when Sue pointed out a much better route. It was just as steep but the surface was more stable. Basically, we would be faced with a very, very steep climb (the kind where you have to use your hands half the time) of about 75m and then walk about 125m along a mild grade and then another short climb of 15m before reaching the old access road.
Off we went with Chris in the lead. I immediately started breathing heavily because my aerobic capacity, to be frank, sucks. Vanessa started complaining about the poor traction she was getting from her running shoes so I helpfully informed her that that is why I _always_ wear boots when I'm in the bush. She then started saying that there was no way she was going to make it up this climb. I suggested that she could wait with the Jeeps but she refused the offer. Of
I was somewhat grateful for Vanessa's "episode" because it gave me a reason to climb extra slowly so I wasn't gasping for breath on the way up. When we finally reached level ground, I wasn't too exhausted. We took a short break while Vanessa proclaimed that we would have to find a 4x4 trail to this spot because she refused to climb down the trail on the
Following Ken's directions, we headed back through the Nickel Plate Mining Co.'s property and then split up once we knew where we were. Sue and Vanessa continued on the mine's road while Chris and I headed downhill, along a powerline towards the trail which would take us to the Jeeps. It was a steep descent and my knees were swelling with pain by the time we finally reached the Jeeps.
Again, I asked my brother to confirm the tower's function: I think you are right about it being a storage bin for ore. The shape makes sense if you assume that they only had timbers of a certain uniform size (an octogon is bigger than a square. A decagon would be even bigger but would be more complicated to build).
We climbed up to the narrow shelf and stood before the closest adit. It appeared to be the rightmost entrance. The cool air blowing out of the opening was a welcome change from the oppressive, dry heat which was getting worse as the day went on. The airflow meant that there must be an inflow opening somewhere else, most likely higher in altitude. This seemed like a great tunnel to explore. We donned sweaters and jackets, got our flashlights ready, and walked into the darkness. If you've never been in a mine tunnel before, I've got to tell you that it's a very memorable experience. The thought of thousands of tons of rock above your head, immense darkness and the damp air conspire to keep the butterflies fluttering in your stomach. We were all
When we got back to the fork, the girls had enough tunnel walking so they went back to the opening while Chris and I took the unexplored passage. Nickel Plate Mountain consists of lots of solid rock, resulting in shafts and adits which required little shoring from wood supports. Consequently, I felt nervous when we had to cross under some shoring made up of wet, rotting lumber. A chute was protruding through one wall so I presume the support was required because of the chute weakening one of the walls. After another few minutes of walking, we entered into a large chamber. There were passages branching left and right, with an upper level accessible by ladder to our left. The passage to the right wasn't an option for us because it required wading through a deep pool of water. We took the left branch and followed it for several metres until it dead ended. Returning back to the chamber, we tried to determine where the airflow was coming from but we couldn't feel it anymore. I think the chamber's large volume reduced the flow and the only way it was noticeable was when we were in a restricted space like the narrow adit. Chris decided to go up the ladder. It took us to the upper level which had another series of ladders going even higher into a crevice near the ceiling. The climb to the crevice looked kind of risky and we were running out of time (I had to be back home at a certain time). We descended the ladder and started for the exit. On the way out, Chris managed to ram his head into one of the support beams. It must've hurt, I examined the beam and noticed he broke some wood off the edge. Ouch.
Heading back along Hwy 3, we stopped for a very brief dip in the impossibly cold Similkameen river and then for a treat at the Dairy Queen in Princeton.
While we never achieved the primary goal of visiting the Mascot mine, we did find a way into it. So in that sense, the trip was a partial success. Finding the French Mines and exploring its much longer mine adits turned our trip into an overwhelming success. You can bet that we'll be visiting Nickel Plate Mountain again.
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