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Pine Creek Mines- "Mine In The Sky"

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Pine Creek Mines- "Mine In The Sky"

Postby mokelumnekid » Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:21 am

After getting a good look at the Pine Creek operation again this year, I was interested enough to buy "Mine In The Sky" by J. Kurtak. I found it informative with some good vintage photos. Perhaps I have a bit different response than many here to this stuff- I got my B.Sc. at a school of mines and have worked as a miner in the Calif. foothills in the early '70's (near the town of Volcano). So I am not as put off by the sight of a mine as some might be- hey if it can't be grown it's gotta be mined right? (I am absolutely no apologist tho for an industry whose track record of sticking the tax payers with HUGE bills and appalling practices is absolutely terrible.)

The book is very interesting reading, I had no idea how big the underground workings are (over 38 miles of tunnels) nor the history of the really high and early workings, more of the story of the Rock Ck. road, etc. In fact the old 4-wd road that is the Pine Ck trail that goes up to the old Brownstone workings (active late '40's-early '50's) was built in 1955 to bring the equipment out once the mine was closed. Prior to that miners rode horses up to work each day and then let them loose and walked down- AND the mine was operated year round (!). Brrrr...

Etc., etc. point being that I found the book full of interesting nuggets (get it? nuggets? groan). My only beef with the book is that while it was written by a graduate of the same undergrad program as I am, the geology is weak and in some places spectacularly wrong, and uses ancient terminology like 'tactite' instead of skarn, and doesn't really have any interesting insights for the science-minded. But I guess that's not the point of the book anyway.

Joe Bob sez check it out!



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Re: Pine Creek Mines- "Mine In The Sky"

Postby Troutdog 59 » Wed Apr 06, 2011 4:34 pm

I'm posting a bit late on this one Moke, but thanks for recomendation. Some cool stuff I'll definitely have to check out. I've always loved that area and I'm old enough to remember hiking up the trail and looking across the valley and seeing the trucks heading down from the mine. I would have never guessed the road from the Brownstone mine was only built to get equipment out, but it kind of makes sense if one thinks about it. Who in their right mind would have made a road that steep if they were going to go up it :D The other side of Mt Tom has always intrigued me as well. I bpacked to the Horton Lakes years ago and there is alot of old mining stuff there. I was amazed at the old road that continued up the SW flank of Mt. Tom.

While I have never worked as a miner, as a geologist I have a deep respect for miners, especially those of the early 1900's. Just plain out tough folk. Its incredible to me to see the mining remains deep in the backcountry when you consider they didnt have the access (trails, roads), and/or the specilazed gear we have, but they were out there none the less.
If you stand in the light, you get the feel of the night, and the music that plays in your ear......
In your mind you can hear, a voice so sweet and clear, and the music that plays in your head......
As it flows up from the ground, taking all that hear the sound, close your eyes, it’s about to begin.

R. Trower
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Re: Pine Creek Mines- "Mine In The Sky"

Postby RoguePhotonic » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:51 pm

I have wanted to read that book but it's so expensive since it's out of print i'm not sure if I will ever get the chance.

I explored the Brownstone Mine in 2010 and it was a great adventure, here is a piece of my trail report covering that area:

Back up the road and onto the trail to the easy and beautiful world of Little Lakes Valley. Crossing Morgan Pass I was enthralled with the entire nature of this area, from it's unique geological features to the impressive mining operations conducted here. Reaching the Pine Creek Mine Shaft I found that it had been filled in yet air was flowing so hard from between the rocks it sounded like water roaring inside and I could feel the cold air coming out, as I understand this mine goes 8000 feet into the mountain and I think it would not be that hard to make a hole big enough to get your body through with the use of a pick mattock so if you see one on my pack in the area you know what the story is.

After spending the night behind the parking lot of Pine Creek Trail Head I awake to see clouds forming early thinking "here it comes that I have been expecting for the last 3 days".

Climbing up I finally reached Brownstone Mine which I had been keeping an eye out for and I take the hard way up the scree to the mess which is not necessary if you ever go there, the mine will be up on your left but stay on the trail for a switch back or two and you will be fine.

My first goal was a door in the side of the hill that read "Danger Explosives" and I thought this might be an entrance into the mine but after a difficult class 5 move to get to the door I only found a small room in the rock so climbing back down I approach the collapsed structure of wood and thinking this is the primary mine shaft so I work my way in appreciating the nature of this complex as I reach the motor room for the lift system, I decided to leave my camera here as I did not have a flash and thought it was pointless to bring it in.

Beginning in I see that the room is flooded and oil is floating around on the water, some where in the back I hear water flowing so navigating boards on the floor I manage to reach the back of the room but all I see is where the water is flowing in and I take in the history around me thinking this was the end of the line but then above me a ladder leading up is on a wood structure about 6 feet off the ground and at first I thought no way I can't get to it but my sense of adventure took over and I thought "hell with it I am crazy, lets do it" so taking a moment to look I began making a difficult maneuver onto the 6X6 board and crawl on my knees trying not to hit my head getting to the ladder. I tried to pull the ladder down and checked the wood closely and decided it was safe so up I went through the shaft just big enough for my body and out I came into a huge room where the ceiling was probably 30 feet up with a set of ladders going up to a hole leading outside and I was so amazed by this room alone before I learned of the main shaft leading further into the mountain as far as I could see. As I moved down the shaft it was also flooded and required you stay close to the wall and make use of rocks and boards possibly placed by other people visiting the mine and I reach a junction with both directions going as far as I could see, at this junction was an electrical box, "wow! I thought" "this place was big enough for power!?".

Cold air was flowing from the shaft on the right so I decided to take it first and it did not go very far before the shaft branched in 3 directions including a 4th vertical direction! I stopped and glanced around as strange noises bounced from the mine shafts, man! I thought... this is no place for the faint of heart, alone in a pitch black mine with my flashlight. Water was flowing from one shaft and re-entering the ground in another. Moving down a shaft the mine went on and on with water coming from the ceiling and my breath could clearly be seen on the air with my flashlight, rusted pipes hanged from every tunnel and finally I reached another branch leading into a medium sized room filled with junk and a ladder was going up into another shaft which I decided not to climb. Turning to Resume down the other shaft BAAMM!!! AAARRRGG!!! "ouch my head!" as it smashed into a low hanging pipe leaving a rust stain on my hat for the rest of the trip.

I reach what looked like a small dam structure to hold back all the water that was flowing from the ceiling and a ladder was placed on it going into the water. Along it I walked until the water was so deep the ladder was under it, I high beamed my light around trying to assess the chambers ahead and if it was worth all the risk I was taking, the risk of getting wet that is. With carefull and risky manuevering one may be able to enter this chamber without getting wet but I decided it was not worth it so back I went aways to explore other shafts.

Reaching one I was convinced it led out to where I said 3 tunnels branched but as I went in the tunnel was too flooded to pass...Or? at least I think it is... "Is that rock under water?" hmmmm, SPLASH! Yes, yes it is. Back I go!

I back tracked to the chamber start where I said 3 branching and one vertical shaft which had a ladder. Testing the Ladder yet again it was safe so I took it up to a set of ladders running at about 45 degrees to another vertical ladder so up I go but when I got to the vertical shaft I shined my light up and all there was as far as I could see was more vertical ladders so I decided I didn't really want to do that much climbing right now and back tracked to the electrical box. The air here was sucking down the last shaft I had not been down so off I went and it was not that long of a walk before I reached a large room with a reinforced ceiling of netting. This room appeared to be a bathroom and or a recreation room of some sort. Across the room I hear sound and the air is flowing heavy so I walk over and holy ****! in the floor going straight down is a hole perfectly round about 6 to 8 feet wide. Clearly some sort of drill hole since it was perfect but I could see no light at all and my flashlight could not even come close to seeing the bottom. So I pick up a rock and throw it in, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, KNOCK.....KNOCK......KNOCK......knock.......knock as if the hole was curving as it went down and after about 15 seconds I hear BOOOOOOOM!!!! "holy crap I thought! mines of moria!!" "Pippin you fool! throw yourself in next time!".

This room could be camped in and there is even a spot where you could light a fire in the mine and all the smoke would just suck straight out this hole.

At this point I had been in the mine for over an hour and I had not even explored it all but it was time to go so back tracking out and down the starting ladder I approach the blinding white light of the outside and think wow!! that was awesome!!! best mine I had ever been in! I will have go back there some time and explore the rest!

For those of you scared of mines this mine is very safe, the tunnels are solid granite, the air is clean with constant fresh air flowing through the shafts and I didn't see any sign that rats, bats or mice were living in it as the chambers were clean.
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Re: Pine Creek Mines- "Mine In The Sky"

Postby mokelumnekid » Fri Apr 08, 2011 10:58 pm

Troutdog- I'm a geologist too (at Univ. Washington) and there are others here on HST. We should form our own sub-cabal! I worked in a mine in the Sierra foothills (before my interest in geology), it was an underground placer mine. It was a buried river bed, had about a 180 ft. shaft. But this was still pretty loose stuff- the old gravels were barely lithified, and small cave-in's were frequent. Looking back I was nuts to do that work- but it was a life of adventure and I was young. And it had a fair amount of gold too! But what I remember most is the old direct current shipyard welder we had. When that thing got going it was like holding a lightning bolt. I used to weld track with it, but crikey man, that thing was built for welding WWII submarines or some such! When I touched it down- BLAM! - it had recoil!

Hey Rogue- the book is in print as a paperback, no joke. I bought my copy at the Mammoth Ranger Station/Visitor's Center- they have a small but decent bookstore in there. I'm betting that it may also be at the bookstore in Bishop. It was $25.
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Re: Pine Creek Mines- "Mine In The Sky"

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sat Apr 09, 2011 1:30 pm

Hey Rogue- the book is in print as a paperback, no joke. I bought my copy at the Mammoth Ranger Station/Visitor's Center- they have a small but decent bookstore in there. I'm betting that it may also be at the bookstore in Bishop.


Really? Thanks for the tip. I'll have to pick up a copy.
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