Minaret Mine adventure

part three of a three-part series recounting a nine day trek following the footsteps of early day pioneers.

September 20, 2012 

We spent the night along the east bank of Minaret Lake. The following morning we started our side trip to the historic Minaret Mine at 9,800 feet. Checking our map, there may be a used trail following the drainage canyon north of this lake.

At first we tried a high approach to avoid following the canyon as it dropped in elevation. We climbed more than 100d feet in elevation before realizing this used trail led us to a class 3 descent of 80 plus feet. Now to double back down to the canyon and follow the run-off stream and maybe we'll find another used trail.

Looking up at the saddle on the west slope someone left a marker. Maybe by climbing toward this saddle, the used trail could lead toward the mine. Looking down from this pass into the valley a structure hidden by a grove of trees should be the Minaret Mine.

After crossing a couple of dry stream beds and skirting around downed timber,we came to a hillside with an A-frame type structure. Closer review reviled that this building covered the Baysore mine shaft. Walking north was another opening with ore car rails leading from this secondary shaft. Those rails lead across an earth bridge to what looked like a loading area.

Throughout the area were a few cabin foundations that served as living quarters decades ago. One lonely log shed was still standing with a few old discarded tools, shovels, saws, an ax handle, steel rollers and even a coffee pot hanging on its wall. Outside the entrance to the shed was a discarded old rusted ore car.

When I returned from this nine day adventure my curiosity concerning the history of this out of the way mine kept nagging at me. Here is the information I recovered from the internet.

The Minaret Mine was established in 1878 by J. W. Starkweather. The most profitable mineral was lead followed by silver, gold and copper. In 1881 they surveyed for a railroad system over Mammoth Pass but failed to get state approval. The mine went public and sold 150,000 shares for 10 cents each. Even with the mines rich minerals the labor and transportation costs drained their profits.

The main shaft reached a depth of 300 feet before closure sometime in the early 1930s. Legendary dog musher Tex Couchane made regular supply and mail runs during the winter to keep the mine operational year around.

The mine was reopened in 1960 by Dr. Ralph York who invited his family and friends to have fun mining. Maybe we could call this a working resort?

The Minaret Mine stayed operational until the 1990s then was donated to the U.S. Forest Service. Almost all the log structures have been torn down or removed by the forest service for safety reasons.

The National Park Service attempted to annex 30,000 acres of the Minaret Mountains into Yosemite National Park, but the mining interests during that time blocked this action as stated in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 3, 1927.

I can now say that the stories I've read and tails I've heard are true. The Minaret Mountains and surrounding lakes are a must see for those of you who enjoy the art of cross country hiking.

I have an afterthought: Most of you know the definition of a peak-bagger? Defined as those mountain climbers who keep a record of mountain peaks they have summited. What about those of us who have no desire to climb every peak, but still enjoy hiking our Sierra Nevada Mountains. Why don't we keep a record of those high elevation passes (saddles) which can reach elevations of 14,000 feet? Let's title these mountain accomplishments as saddle-baggers. What do you, my reader's think of this idea? Let me know at tonykrizan@hotmail.com.

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