A pleasant and interesting day trip for the inexperienced horse and rider is the four mile ride to the old Gold Hill Mine, located near the “T” where Whatcom, Skagit and Okanagan Counties meet. This is National Forest land, but the mine is a private mining claim. The area is steep, rugged and beautiful, with lots of grass for horses. Please, however, honor the code of the back country, and “Leave only hoofprints, take only pictures. “
Trail access is via the North Cascades Highway, 14 miles east of Thunder Arm on Lake Diablo. The East Creek trail head has a large parking area for horse trailers. First, cross Granite Creek and follow upstream a quarter of a mile. Then go east. Most of the 2200-foot elevation gain occurs during the first mile, after which it becomes a gradual slope to your destination. East Creek is crossed at the 2 1/2 mile mark. The main trail leads directly to and through the old mine site. If you continue on for 4 more miles, you will reach Mebee Pass, and 3 miles beyond that lies the Pacific Crest Trail. But save that trip for another day. Today we will explore the mine area.
An old Pelton water wheel still turns after standing idle for over a half century. From high on the hill above, a six-inch pipe was gradually reduced to one half inch, providing pressure to run the wheel. You will find old ore cars, tools of all kinds and lots of junk. Remains of two small cabins or storage sheds are still visible. If you backtrack from the mine about a hundred feet you will find a trail that leads up a steep hill. A short half mile will bring you to an old cabin, or actually 3 cabins built end to end. This building is where the mining crews were housed and fed.
An old garbage dump over the hill might be of interest to bottle collectors. A steep gorge with a 95% grade has a Billy goat trail that leads to another mine and the water source for the Pelton. My advice is to stay off this trail. It is narrow and treacherous. From the cabin, the main trail continues on, but this part of the trail is for experienced horses and riders only. It leads to Majestic Mountain and McKay Ridge, rugged sister mountains best suited for the many mountain goats that live there.
The old Azurite mine is East of Majestic but access is only from the Okanagan. Leaving the mine site to go home, you cross a small stream. Watch closely on the right side of the trail for an old dynamite shack, which can easily be seen through some mountain alders. There are dozens of blasting caps on the floor, scattered by pack rats. STAY OUT!
This trip is best made from mid-July to October. It is a great trip on horseback or on foot to see beautiful country and interesting sights, and a hornets nest or two on the trail will make it exciting. I have been there a dozen times, both on horseback and hiking, and still think that a trip to the Gold Hill mine makes for a real fun day.
Important update: (2/23/21) Trails are very different from the 1990’s. The large trail crews are a thing of the past and trails are much worse. I know of a few people who have been working on this trail but haven’t made it very far. The BCHW hotshot crew (me included) made it up Robinson creek and over Tatoosh Butte after 2 years of work. Monument creek is being worked on again this year. Both are just north of Mazama and pretty close to highway 20. I’ve also been working on cedar creek trail. PCT is nuts with 700 cars a day hiking Maple pass loop and Cutthroat. As far as our horse camp goes it is not high mountain. At 4,000’ it melts out sooner and is a combination on trails and roads that are groomed for ski trails in the winter. Fun with a gaited horse. We are finishing phase 2 at the camp ground this year. Mainly a picnic shelter and water. 12 campsites are open.
A special thanks to Cathy Upper MVBCH president
Reprinted from February 1996 Issue of The Northwest Horse Source
Dick Vander Yacht lived in Blaine his entire life in Northwest Washington State. He resided for over forty years in the small Canadian border town of Blaine. A customs broker by profession, his hobbies included hiking, horseback riding in the north Cascade mountains, hunting, fishing and reading American Western history. The author traveled extensively in the Continental United States, Alaska, and Canada for business and pleasure. Exploring the once wild west and visiting may historical sites mentioned in his books fulfilled may of his lifetime dreams and provided the inspiration for his novels.Writing was another lifelong hobby he enjoyed, short story fiction and personal experiences for family and friends. His articles and short stories were published regularly in The Northwest Horse Source. Dick passed away in 2014.