My final trip to the Kelsey mine with Hardee and my brother was successful. There were several reasons for this:
- Time. We started out around 9am and did not return to the car until sunset, around 5pm. We had barely enough time, and you can never have too much daylight. START EARLY.
- Equipment. We had good hiking clothes, good shoes, water, snacks, spare socks, LOTS OF LIGHTS*, and a medium sized knife for cutting away those spiky vines. We also had a first aid kit.
*You can never, ever have too many flashlights in a mine. It is 100% dark in a mine, and the small pool of light created by a flashlight is your only way to navigate, unless you are a bat. I like to bring an headlight and several flashlights with me, just in case.
Some equipment was unnecessary and only slowed us down. My brother insisted on bringing a huge stack of rope (of unknown origin) and assorted other 30 year old climbing equipment JUST IN CASE. You know, because it is safer to rap down a waterfall with no training than to just climb back down. The only real use for this rope was zip-lining his bag-o-crap down the falls so he didn’t fall down carrying it.
The major hazards encountered en route to the mine were poison oak, thorny bushes, spiky plants, several very dramatically thin trails with large falls where the truck road appears to have been washed out, and several very unstable creek banks that had to be climbed on. Hazards inside of the mine include a large, ~3 foot deep pit that that can easily be avoided, and a very steep shaft that leads down to two low crawls, as well as very cold water, LOW CEILINGS and possibly some kind of rotting vegetative mass.
We traveled up silver fish truck road until there was a sharp bend to the left, and then dropped into stream bed to our right. The soil here on the descent was decently packed, and we eventually got to the bottom. There were signs of habitation or camping in this area, but from a long time ago. We headed downstream, until it was possible to clamber up on the opposite bank. The top of the opposite bank had an old mattress on it. I can’t imagine hauling that up there; maybe it was back in the days of the truck road. From the opposite bank we could hear water, and we descended the opposite side of the bank to a flowing stream. This, I believe, was water canyon. We crossed the stream here, and continued to trek upstream for quite a while. The going was slow and involved many steep and unstable creek sides, thorny bushes, and possibly poison oak. Eventually we arrived at the first waterfall. The remains of an old wooden ladder are here; we are unsure of who constructed it.
Here began the waterfall climbing. There are three falls to need to climb to get to the mine. You definitely want to keep to the left side of the canyon as you head upstream, because it does branch once and the right fork is not the right way to go! I suspected that we had reached the mine when the next waterfall was too tall to comfortably climb, and there was large, loose talus, possibly made of mine tailings, to our right (we were headed upstream).
After scrambling up the talus, I found the very obvious mine entrance. There was another entrance or possibly an exploratory tunnel nearby; it did not appear to go anywhere. The entrance was typically too short for me to stand up in, dark, and unsurprisingly dry, probably due to its elevation above the creek. After donning our headlamps, grabbing our torches and our map, we were set to enter the mine. As always, we left our non-essential equipment outside, so we wouldn’t loose it in the mine.
The mine is pleasantly complex, with two levels, a steep shaft, several branches, a high ceiling or two. Unfortunately there was a lot of litter and graffiti, Compared to what I normally see. Judging by the (empty) case of bud, the giant neon orange “420”, and the numerous beer bottles, there has been at least one party there. This was surprising, because of how difficult it was to get to. Maybe this was not always the case, or maybe there were more ladders in the past. I think the most fun part of the mine is the lower level. I got a little claustrophobic, but it was magical to crawl through a low passage and discover a flooded passage, full of freezing, crystal clear water, inside of a mountain.
Another cool thing we saw were some copper-bearing minerals or veins. Here is a picture:
After exploring the mine, we exited and had a mini-crisis where my brother could not find his phone. This is why we designate an official camera person, and leave non-essential stuff outside of the mine. After searching his bags, he couldn’t find it, so back into the mine we went! Of course, it turned out to be in his bag. Oh well. It was still awesome to see the warm glow of sunlight on sycamore leaves as we exited for a second time.
We trekked out the same way we came in, making sure that we reached the trail before the sun started to go down. I would recommend this trip, as it is full of awesome adventure, and amazing environments. There are high, exposed chaparrals, a beautiful sycamore forest, a cool, breezy creek bed, waterfalls, and even an old mine to climb and explore! What more could you ask for?