High Mountain mine exploring & Via Ferrata, Idaho Style


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Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 17, 2010 - 10:41pm PT
I have too many hobbies, but thought some might be interested in this climbing-related tale from a few weeks back.

I drove up to some old mines in the Lemhi Range in central Idaho, and mineral-hunted Thursday afternoon and until 2:00 PM on Friday, when the big thunderstorm made its entrance.

Friday morning, I drove up to some old cabins, and eyeballed mine-dumps in the limestone cliffs above me. There are some old cabins and debris dating to the 1920's, with some earlier ruins dating to the 1880's.

A number of old wire cables head up to mines in the cliffs. My studies in mining history tell me that ore was brought down from mines on those cables.

The area seems to be popular with those that like to shoot holes in old mining equipment. Every metal object in sight, has scores, or hundred of bullet holes. Cartridge cases were everywhere.

I headed up a steep mine-dump below a cliff, looking for mineral specimens. This area was mined for silver and lead, but also has some copper and a sampling of minerals of interest to collectors.

After a long scramble up the mine dump, I then ended up climbing up a limestone cliff right beside a cable that had been used to carry ore down to the road. I eyeballed the cable and thought: "if things get hard, I can grab the cable."

After deciding I had better test the cable, to see if it still was attached at the upper end: my reward was a shower of small rocks.

Oh-well, back to trusting myself. At the top of the cliff I found another 200 Ft. of 50 degree rubble leading to the old mine portal.

I hated that part. After surviving the two steps up, and slide back one, "slog for life:" I admired the debris left at the upper cable terminus, included a mine-shaft that had caved in, but still had a large opening downward.

Among the metal artifacts, were several 30 caliber steel bullets that I assume had been shot up at the mine from far below. I could hardly wait for "Billy-Bob" to arrive below me and start shooting.

The ridgeline above, called out to me. You never know, just where Survival's: "Lost Tribe of Prehistoric Women" might hang out on hot summers.

I continued upward on terrain that was a little easier than that I had just climbed. When I got to the ridge, I found an old track along it and many small mines along a half-mile of pleasant walking. I enjoyed the artifacts, some interesting rocks, and the great views along the way.

Unfortunately, there were no recent signs of "recent Prehistoric Women."

I hadn't worried a lot about "getting down" since the daily afternoon thunderstorm had not showed up--------yet.


Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Aug 17, 2010 - 11:01pm PT
Fritz, that is near my Geology Field Camp area, and there are definitely some interesting ore deposits up that way, but there is no way that trekking pole dates back to the 1880's!!!


Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 17, 2010 - 11:11pm PT
Thorgon: I had forgotten your geology background. Photos are in Spring Mountain Mining District, just south of Gilmore.

Here's an interesting rock from the trip up.


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Aug 17, 2010 - 11:13pm PT
This brought back a lot of happy memories of traipsing around the mountains of western Colorado with my Dad who was a geologist. We always carried carbide lights with us and went into a lot of old mines.

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 18, 2010 - 10:54am PT
I sauntered along the high ridge, enjoying the lack of biting bugs, and warm morning sun, while watching for mineral specimens with one eye on "close-up", with the other eye enjoying the scenery, while the third eye scanned for lost prehistoric women. (made me feel kinda like an economist).

I ran out of easy ridge-line walking and had to face-up to a problem.

The problem was: I didn't really want to climb back down the way I had ascended.

It was not going to be pleasant.

At the end of the ridge, I noticed a distinct track that headed steeply back down toward the valley I had climbed from. It took me easily down through the steep rubble and ended abruptly just above the collapsed mine shaft that the cable went to.

I carefully down-climbed shattered limestone rubble to the cable.

For my return off the steep rubble-pile and limestone cliff, after deciding the cable was anchored: I pulled out my leather rock-collecting gloves and climbed back down the cable.

Via-Ferrata Idaho Style!

After that adventure, clouds were building and I drove down to the valley below, and went fishing at about 3:00 PM. Got thunder-stormed off the river exactly 30 minutes later.

Weather just looked really bad, so I drove home 200 miles, through constant thunderstorms.

You ask? Did I find any good mineral specimens? A few.

Mostly, I found some adventure, and history.


Ideeho-dee-do-dah-day boom-chicka-boom-chicka-boom
Aug 18, 2010 - 10:59am PT
One man's waste dump is another man's archeological site.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Aug 18, 2010 - 11:33am PT
A new phrase: Via Fritzatta!
Yeah, them dudes were beyond tough. There's nowhere you can go that
they haven't beat you to.

A few pics from Death Valley:


Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Aug 18, 2010 - 11:40am PT
Thre are mines clear up to near the summits on many of the Colorado 14ers. In particular are the Mosquito Range peaks of Mt, Linclon, Mt. Bross, and Mt. Sherman.


Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 18, 2010 - 12:06pm PT
Reilly: That middle photo you posted of all the mining machinery must be some kind of an "outdoor mining museum."

In the photo, I see a one-lung gas engine at far left, and an Arresta, the most primitive rock crusher, (except for sledgehammers) in the front.

Is it on public access land, or does some old miner have it plastered with "no tresspassing-survivors will be shot" signs?

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Aug 18, 2010 - 12:31pm PT
That is in Death Valley NP and is one of the few place you can get to with
2WD - on a good day. I pretty sure all that equipment is where it was when it worked.
Pretty sure that is one of the borax mines about 15 miles SW of Badwater.

Later that day, about 25 miles further west, and way beyond two-wheelers

we came upon a spring that was all set up for entertaining!


Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 18, 2010 - 12:44pm PT
Reilly: Re.
we came upon a spring that was all set up for entertaining!


Alone in the backcountry with your very own "hot tub chickenslut!"

All I had was the "fairly good" 4wd road and a campspot with a view.


Trad climber
Las Vegas
Aug 18, 2010 - 03:30pm PT
Cool thread guys ;)

"A new phrase: Via Fritzatta!"


Hey Fritz you identified that motor as a 'One Lung'r"
Not many people know about those things any more.

When I was kid growing up in New England, this old Yankee neighbor had a big 1-lung'r. He used 4" leather belts and a clutch system to direct the power. That same motor ran for half a century with no maintenance. It ran a saw, a splitter and a few other machines all of which were of industrial volume.


Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Aug 18, 2010 - 04:22pm PT
Ahhhh, Idaho and geology!

I am the guy with the yellow hat eatin' mud!

Spider Savage

Mountain climber
Aug 18, 2010 - 04:23pm PT
What I like about Idaho land managers. They just leave everything in place.

Here in Calif. all that would have been cleaned up.

Thor: That picture reminds me of my after school mud-bog team on Moscow Mountain.

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Aug 18, 2010 - 05:04pm PT
Spider Savage, it was brutal, but we got er' out!!


Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 18, 2010 - 08:14pm PT
Trundlebum: There are still some huge gas powered “one-lungers” setting out in the Idaho mountains. I am surprised they didn’t get carried off for scrap in WWII. I remember seeing one that must be 15’ long.

Thorgon: Is that “world class section” of mud the road up Little Lost River?

I remember the “coefficient of friction" going to almost zero, on the “clay surface” section of that road one dark and stormy night.

I had a beer between my legs and suddenly realized I was no longer steering my truck. I gently guided the truck along the greasy wet clay for about a ¼ mile, until it finally “swapped ends” and slid backwards into the shallow ditch.

Conditions were much less wet, than in your photo, and I was able to drive myself out of there with some effort.

Spider: I agree. The Idaho Federal land managers have left a lot of old mining crap up in our mountains.

Of course a fair amount is “off limits” since it is on “patented mining claims.”

The Forest Service in Idaho burned a lot of old cabins on Forest Service land from 1930 to the late 1960’s as “fire hazards.”

The locals still believe it was an attempt to keep “squatters” from living in those cabins. The high point in Forest Service cabin burning was in the 1930’s when they burned most of the 1870’s mining town of Custer as a “fire hazard.”

The Forest Service now preserves the few privately owned cabins they didn’t burn in Custer as a “historic landmark.”

Speaking of artifacts??? Is this an early “wide-crack---crack jack??”

Aug 18, 2010 - 08:32pm PT
Generally those one-lungers" were made by Fairbanks Morse. You can melt lead and pour your own main bearings.

State of Mine
Aug 18, 2010 - 08:44pm PT
cool stuff there guys.

i dig that. ever been up to Hart's Pass in North Cascades? i found some cool stuff there too...

not to steal your cool adventure but check this out...they were tougher, even in 1935...


The following letter by Ray Walters, written to his wife on January 31, 1935, vividly describes the conditions that prevailed that winter.

Dearest Jessie:

I am ready to believe some of the stories they told about winter in the Azurite. As one of our old timers said, "If any of you boys are alive the first of March, you will know I was telling the truth about the weather here."

We had a long cold spell, 29 below and froze our water pipe up and we have to carry our water from the creek up hill through deep snow. We nearly froze to death and I used to put my boots and pants under the bedclothes to keep them from freezing stiff.

It turned warm and started to snow. I never saw anything like it, seven feet fell in two days. It then started to rain and poured down for three days. The old snow was packed hard and conditions were just right for snowslides. They started at once and hell was popping for five days. There was a five-minute interval that you couldn't see a slide running in the daytime or hear one roar at night. Some of the big ones filled the air with snow so you could hardly see. Little slides ran between and against the camp buildings and bigger ones stopped just a few feet above them. Some of the boys got panicky and went to the tunnel and root house to sleep.

Our mine building was demolished and had to be dug out and rebuilt. Another building we are not using was knocked down. The roof on our sawmill caved in from snow load.

When the mail carrier came in he couldn't find the halfway cabin, where he usually stays at night, at all. He said he ate lunch on top of a big slide where he thought it was. A man at the Mammoth Mine where I stayed all night when I walked in last fall was buried. A party went in from Robinson Creek to dig out the body.

Our bull cook (Charlie Graves) stepped out of the kitchen to get a pail of water and was buried in a slide. The cook did not miss him for about ten minutes and after he gave the alarm it took forty-five minutes of digging by the whole crew to find him and get him out.

We are having wonderful mild, clear weather now but the next heavy snow comes there will be some nervous men here.

Love to all,


from where the anecdotes roam
Aug 18, 2010 - 08:56pm PT
enjoying your ramblings fritz. those old one lungers are their own kind of marvel. we ran across one in an old wyoming oilfield running a pumping jack. of course we had to shut it down to rig up over the well and pull pipe.

when it came time to start it back up, our very sceptical crew had to snuggle in on one side of a eight foot diameter fly wheel, reach in and perform a stooge routine flapping hands ever more frantically downward on the outside surface to get our first pop, a revolution later another pop, complete with smoke ring.

about ten pops later it was on the verge of taking over under it's own power running on fumes the well produced. we tenatively withdrew, arms wasted, feeling creepy about sharing such confined quarters and darned if that thing didn't carry on at about 20 or 30 revs per minute.

had to admit it was pretty cool. as we turned away the owner of the well consoled us,
"we'll boy's, that's how your grandaddies did it."

edit: maybe a little faster than that

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 18, 2010 - 08:59pm PT
Hawkeye: Thanks for the read. Amazing what the early miners had to survive.

Thorgon: My subconcious has working on the identity of the mountain in the background of your fun photo of
PKL & Belinda, who was lifted from the local bar!

It took a glass of wine to kick out the answer.

Mt. Borah---Idaho's highest chunk of choss!

Interestingly, there have been two long falls by people hiking up the "tourist route" on Borah this summer, but no life-threatening injuries. So far this year no-one has been fried by lightning on Borah.
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