Adventure: Kelsey Mine, Part II (In which we actually find The Kelsey)

The author crawling out of the bottom passage. Success!

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.

Spiky bushes- watch out!

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.

Hardee climbs the first waterfall.


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).

The view from the top of the second falls. The steep, narrow path on the left of the photo appears to be cut out of the rock, and was our ascent route.

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.

Sign posted outside of the enterance. Ought to say “MINERS MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE THE ORE CART”. Watch your head!

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.

The flooded passage. Difficult to photograph, but very beautiful.

Another cool thing we saw were some copper-bearing minerals or veins.  Here is a picture:

Coppery things!

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.

Sunlight never looked so good.

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?

Adventure: Kelsey Mine, Part I (In which we execute a near-fruitless search)

I may be addicted to adventure.  There is really nothing like tramping out into the mountains, dropping off the beaten trail, climbing up some waterfalls, and then dropping down into an abandoned mine.  I even have an adventure hat, which is mostly silly, but does do the job of swatting away bugs, and keeping the sun out of my eyes.

Every now and then I do realize that adventuring can be scary, and you can really die, but I figure I have to make stories now before I get too old and feeble to get out and do Dumb Things.

My latest Adventure was finding and exploring the Kelsey Mine.  Lost not-so-deep in the Angeles National Forest, it took a whopping three trips to find it.  The first trip was with my friends Katelyn and Rachel, on may 31, 2011.  We took a wrong turn, as you can see on this map:

As you can see, we are not even close to “kind of where we are supposed to be”

We also heard a LOT of rattles in the bushes, which caused us to hasten our return to our vehicle.

The next two attempts were done in late 2011, over Thanksgiving break.  The first one was with Sam and my brother.  We followed the road (silver fish truck trail) on that map until the sharp leftward bend, where we dropped down into what I assume is water canyon. Exploring this involved a lot of crawling up and down through brush, thorny bushes, and spiky vines.  We found a small waterfall, downstream, and a lot of little yellow and brown newt looking things.  After forcing ourselves through a hole in the brush, the upstream route eventually yielded to the floor of a very cool, damp ravine.  The ground was covered in the usual leaf decomposition and dirt detritus.  We made our way up this canyon for maybe another quarter mile, and then decided to turn back on two counts:

  • We found out there were still ticks.  I think Sam got one.
  • Sam had to be home.

Disappointed in our feeble effort to find the mine, I decided to put together another group and go at it again.  Since Sam was busy, and Hardee was not, our party consisted of my brother, Hardee, and I.  Hardee and I have been on a few adventures like this in the past, and I knew I could rely on him.  My brother thinks he knows everything, and can be more than a little cocky, but he is a good climber.  We once again set off to ANF!

This trip was far more successful, and we actually found the mine.  You can read all about how to find it here (Note: we never found the water tower described).  I will probably not post explicit instructions, or detailed topos here, because part of the fun is finding the mine, and if there were spoilers everywhere it would be no fun.  But If you want to read a trip report, with some hints in it, look out for Kelsey Mine, Part II (In which we actually find the mine).