A Visit To The Lone Jack Mine by Wes Gannaway
Several years ago I received a call in early August from Karl Palmer, a former co-worker. Karl wanted to know if I was interested in going on a field trip to the Lone Jack Mine. I accepted as I had never been in the mine but only to the top of the pass on the old trail. Several other persons were going along, including Don Easterbrook, a retired professor from WWU and the author of the book “Geology and Geomorphology of Whatcom County, Washington”.
The Lone Jack Mine is located inside the Mt. Baker Wilderness about 2.5 miles south of the Canadian border at the end of the Twin Lakes Road that leads north from the Highway Department buildings at Kulshan. The Lone Jack Mine is one of several mineral deposits that were patented and are now the only private land holdings in the area, the Boundary Red Mountain Mine and the Saginaw Group of claims being the other prominent holdings.
The Lone Jack claims were filed in August of 1897 after the discovery of the Lone Jack vein by Jack Post of Sumas, Washington. Post arrived in Sumas after discovering the vein with a chunk of ore that assayed at $3,500 per ton. Post and his two partners, Luman Van Valkenburg and Russ Lambert, located 24 claims covering many of the larger quartz veins exposed on the slopes of Bear Mountain.
By the end of November, 1897, Post and his partners were paid $50,000 for the claims and moved on to other enterprises. The new owners, the Mt Baker Mining Company, developed the property in 1898, building a mill below the outcrops and driving tunnels on the Lone Jack and Lulu veins. A trail was cut from the Canadian border up Silesia Creek to the mine site. By mid-1899, a wagon road was cleared up the NooksackRiver to the new town of Glacier on the U.S. side. This road eventually became the main access to the mining district and by 1901 the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia RR hauled the mining supplies to Glacier. Supplies and equipment were hauled from Glacier to the mine by teams of horses and mules.
In 1901, five of the claims were patented, and a tram was hauling ore down to the mill on Silesia Creek and processed using a 10 stamp mill driven by power from a dam and flume on the creek. In 1907 this first mill was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1913 on the steep slope below the haulage tunnel of the Lone Jack vein. This mill was eventually destroyed in 1917 by snow slides (the new owners built the mill right in the middle of the snow avalanche chute). From that time production was sporadic and by 1941, the only work being done was for the annual assessment. It was estimated that when the first mill burned in 1907, the mine had produced enough profit to pay out $60,000 in dividends. The mine was re-opened around 1991 by a group of investors from Canada and Northwest Washington. The mine produced about 1500 ounces of gold in the early 1990s. Since then the production has been centered on the Whist vein through a new tunnel. Total production from 1898 to date is unknown at this time but has been estimated to be around 25 million dollars. During the early decades, the mine produced as much as $100,000 dollars in concentrate values a year.
The geology in the area of the Lone Jack Mine is somewhat complex, consisting of Jurassic phyllites containing numerous stringers of quartz. The quartz was intruded when the nearby Chilliwack Batholith was pushed up into the older metamorphic rock during the Miocene. The gold is found in a free state and is sized from amounts that can be seen by the naked eye to very small grains. Much of the gold is included in the massive tellurobismuthite. The ore value is greatly enhanced by the amount of the bismuth and tellurium in the ore. Associated minerals are pyrite and pyrrhotite. The gold telluride calaverite is also present.
Our trip was planned for August 26, 2010. Some of the people dropped out, leaving Karl, Russ Lambert (grandson of the original claim filer), and myself. By the time we arrived at the elevation of the Twin Lakes, the sky was overcast and a light drizzle was coming down. The temperature was about 40F. It is about 2 miles from the locked gate at the Twin Lakes along the mine-to-market road. In some places this road has a 35 degree slope, which is so steep that the 10 ton dump truck used to haul the ore to the bin near the Mt Baker Highway can only haul about 4 tons at one time. We arrived at the mine and met with one of the workers. At this time the mine is operating with several workers and a foreman, hauling about 4 tons every couple of hours. The mine is operating in a drift on the Whist vein, one of the three veins that have been mined since the first operations started. The ore is dropped down from the Whist stope onto the floor of the haulage tunnel and the mucker scoops the ore and piles it outside the tunnel. The activity inside the mine is coordinated with the time it takes the dump truck to haul its load nine miles to the stockpile and back. While we were there, the miners were setting up a blast and patiently waited until we were clear of the mine before setting off the charge. This activity continues from the time the miners can access the mine around the middle of August and stops around the first of October with the arrival of the first snow. A good year might result in a stockpile of one thousand tons with an average value of ½ ounce of gold per ton.
The Lone Jack continues to produce enough gold to warrant the effort of mining these remote veins. The day we were there it never got above 40 degrees (it was 65 in Bellingham). We mucked through the old Lone Jack haulage tunnel up to our ankles in cold water and everything in the Lulu vein was dripping wet. A small stream flowed from the upper workings and most of the ore was covered in mud. You gotta love it.