Nooksack Gold Mine, Everson, Washington: Sir Oisin takes a journey to the fabled Nooksack Gold Mine where still lies a vault, mine car, tunnel, and even a historic cabin where people camp still today. Trails have changed, but the spirit and lore are still alive and well. Runtime: 9 min, 56 sec. Soundtrack: Long Roads by John and the Land of Plenty. https://technotink.org/?p=6600
This historic conundrum of a tale has been on my bucket list for quite some time. The first trek to the trailhead led to a lack of parking and confusion about whether I was on private property or in the right spot. A second journey brought me the disappointment of no parking, and a third time’s charm showed me quite an adventure on astrological Samhain in 2020. A visit in May 2021 demonstrated the landowner whose land the beginning of the trail crossed, no longer wanted to share passage (to the right of the sign in the picture below) … so the other neighbor (to the left of the sign shown below) opened up their land instead for those to cut across to get to the trail. (Thank you!!!)
Nooksack Gold Mine Trail
Directly east of Everson on Sumas Mountain is a moderate 3.6-mile round-trip hike known as the Gold Mine Trail. This fantastic journey hosts an 1890s-built cabin, a miner’s camp with a vault, 12 stamp mill/hotel/brothel archaeological site, a tunnel, and two mine shafts. Great camping spots, campfire rings, and creekside adventures. Head east from Everson main street through Nooksack past highway 9 on South Pass Road (WA 544) about 2.6 miles east of Hwy 9. Turn right on Sealund Road, park on the right side across from an active farm, and follow the trail along the pasture’s fenceline with a sign stating “Gold Mine Trail”. It’s muddy, wet, and boggy – so wear appropriate footwear. If you read the guides online, they all warn it’s muddy the first 100 yards. It’s true you might want to bring your wellies. You’ll discover muddy areas along the whole trail. The trail traverses above “Gold Creek”, Swift Creek, and Rankin Creek. This trail has five different creeks running along with it: The Gold creek, Swift Creek, Rankin creek, Hardin creek, and Jim Creek.
Our goal on astrological Samhain on November 7, 2020, was to explore all three mines, visit the cabin, and the safe, and find the hotel’s ruins. We achieved 1 mine (tunnel), camps, safe, mill site/hotel ruins, and the old cabin. Beautiful hike, strenuous, yet my 7-year-old achieved a 4-mile hike (with our wanderings) to the very little complaint. Some heart palpitations for me up to the cabin after hiking the mines. We followed the main trail, totally missing the cabin, and hitting the first mine straight off. We never found the remaining two mines, as did miss a previous hiker trying to find them. An adventure for another day. We did find a Troll gate, a gnome door, a primitive shelter, lots of archaeology, and Xmas decorations (already). Apparently, during the summer and spring months, there are lots of edibles along the trail: blackberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries, and salmonberries. We did find a lot of mushrooms during the fall months. Some hiker notes also stated cougar sightings in the area in October 2020. Later hikes in 2021 provided more discoveries. A climb up an additional 1,250 feet in elevation at the north end of the trail is the cabin.
The Nooksack Gold Mine
The Nooksack gold mines are located on Sumas Moutain just outside of Nooksack, Washington. They belong to the Mt. Baker Mining District of Whatcom County. The elevation of the mines is around 1600 feet. These mines were part of 8 claims with stakes as early as 1900. The mines have an associated mining camp (see below) with a stamp mill, dance hall, hotel, bunkhouses, safe, and mining offices. Mining equipment still exists along the trail. The ghost towns of Washington site claim the camp was built before the mines were developed.
Apparently, there are three mine shafts, but we only found the tunnel (Mine #1) on this adventure. Mine #1 is a tunnel that purportedly goes through the rock however underwater during our visits. (ghosttownsofwashington.com/nooksack-mine.html has a view where you can see through the tunnel as well as great photos of the mine interiors.) Mine #2 is purportedly a 135-foot deep tunnel/shaft that dead ends. Mine #3 is called the upper tunnel up above the hillside along a steep trail above the log bridge crossing the creek.
Miner’s Camp and 12-stamp Mill / Hotel / Brothel
As you are hiking along the trail, looking down to the right after passing the cabin trail – is the Miner’s camp, rusted ore cart, safe, and archaeological remains of a 12-stamp mill/location of a hotel and quarters, and purported brothel. A side path goes steeply down to the safe/miner camp. Further down from the safe is the remains of the mill as you approach the creek. Several buildings were said to have been built on this spot, though only the remains of the vault and mill are visible. This was one of the biggest gold scams in Washington state history conning investors out of thousands with no gold actually found. There is some online dispute to this from a family of the mining claim stating there is no documentation of scam or illegal activity. A lot of work was placed on this site and it is believed that gold was found, though geological reports seem to show very little evidence. If it was a con, a great amount of labor and cost went into creating the mill, hotel, buildings, mine shafts, and safe. There is some claim that a hydroelectric plant was located here as well as a dance hall/brothel.
The Mining Story
From 1899-to 1901 eight claims were staked here by C.F. Bernard (Nooksack Mining Company president) and C.W. Swinecraft (secretary/treasurer). Tales of incredible gold surfacing were rampant. A stamp mill, hotel, brothel, dance hall, houses, and offices were built. This attracting approximately 370 prominent investors to fund the venture. A safe or vault displaying gold to the investors was located on-site. Investors apparently were wined, dined, and entertained at the hotel/brothel with stories of great capital gains after investment. Apparently, no investor received a dime. Local legend states it was more or less a resort with a scam/con of no actual gold being mined.
False appearances of ore samples are believed to have been shown and the site was salted with lures. Some say they even fired gold flecks from a shotgun onto the site. It is said on one side that the con was discovered causing operations to shut immediately down with operators fleeing the scene. Purported ancestors however claim there were no investors, no scam, no con, and the gold never sent to the mint – that no legal records exist of such debauchery. This can be found as a comment by Bernard’s great grand-daughter saying “the mine was part of a corporation with stockholders. the company was dissolved in court and never was it mentioned in the court process as being a scam.” (Dave Tucker’s Blog) The mines were suddenly closed in 1905. Local legend has it the mine assets were auctioned off in 1906 to pay off the debts. It is now DNR land and a public hiking trail. A 1969 mines report does state Gold minorly exists on the Mountain but the Nooksack mine was not a major producer of the county as no gold was ever sold to the U.S. Minto and there are no records of production. U.S. Mint records and geological surveys claim that the mines here never produced gold.
The gold mine trail is along Sumas Mountain. This mountain rises above the Whatcom county lowlands. According to John Tucker, a local geologist, the mountain is infamous for its Swift Creek Landslide that creeps down a valley with asbestos-laden clay, conglomerates of the Chuckanut Formation, and underlying ultramafic serpentine rocks. This can be found on the Sumas Topo Map 7.5″ quad. Glacial till, the Jackass Mountain formation of south-central BC (mid-Cretaceous), Chuckanut Formation conglomerates, Huntingdon Formation, and Serpentine rock (late Jurassic)/ultramafic complex rocks can be found along this trail. A 1969 Washington DNR Report “Mines and Mineral Deposits of Whatcom County, Washington” by Wayne Moen states there are gold deposits on the mountain.
John Friendly Cabin
A left offshoot trail before the mining camp leads a steep climb to the old John Friendly Cabin / Sumas Mountain Outpost dating to 1891. Views of the surrounding countryside are spectacular from the cabin site. The cabin is recorded to have been built by John Friendly in 1891. Jumping to the future, after the area was logged, the Backcountry Horsemen restored the cabin calling it the “Sumas Mountain Outpost”. The cabin site has a large group campfire pit out front, a guest registry, welcoming sign horse tie-downs, old-fashioned moon-cut wood privy with modern seat, and a fully functional primitive cabin with loft and wood stove. Someone obviously caretakers the site. Inside the cabin is a wood-fire stove with a pile of firewood, broom, basic supplies, trashcan, cast iron pan, and some have written bedding for those wanting to spend the night. (there was no bedding present during our November 2020 visit and no sundries) There is a fold-down ladder to the loft/attic space for additional camp space. Inside is a kitchen area for food preparation and storage. A large hand-drawn map is along the left wall. The privy was well kept stocked with toilet paper each time we visited. A semi-paved / graveled service road exists behind the cabin.
Faerie gates and doors
Moreover, along the folklore route, there are the categorical twisted trees and features that Celtic legend associates with the Fae (Faeries, fairies, gnomes, and trolls). These legendary features of twisted trees and attributes are recorded by numerous cultures to belong to fairy tales. Some of these features are found on this trail.
A twisted root mangle that appears like a tree troll or ent laying on its side with a fairy gate/troll gate that one can crawl through. The act of crossing through these leads to folkloric beliefs that one can enter the realm of faerie or the otherworld, or at least gain fairy sight. Nearby is a tree with a Xmas ornament (Nov 7, 2020) of a truck with a Xmas tree on it. Hanging of ornaments, ribbons, or gifts to the Fae is common around these types of features.
Sometimes tree trunks have a loss of bark that appears to have a face or a door within its base. In the realms of folklore, many associates these as being gnome doors. The front door to a gnome home. This is primarily found in Celtic folklore though modern Tolkien urban lore and borrowing create these all over the world.
- AllTrails n.d. “Gold Mine Trail”. Website https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/washington/gold-mine-trail visited on 11/13/21.
- Diehl, Anna 2019 “Gold Mine Trail: A Hike Through Sumas Mountain History”. Website https://www.whatcomtalk.com/2019/08/09/gold-mine-trail-a-hike-through-sumas-mountain-history/ visited on 11/13/21.
- Impero, Michael 2010 Dreams of Gold
- Impero, Michael 2007 The Lone Jack, King of the Mount-Baker Mining District.
- Kantack, Katt 2015 “Islands to Mountains: Deceptions & Debauchery – Sumas Mountain Gold Mine Trail”. Website islandstomountains.blogspot.com/2015/06/deception-debauchery-sumas-mountain.html visited on 11/7/20.
- Memorieshop.com undated “Trails Along North West Rails: Nooksack Gold Mine”. Website www.memorieshop.com/PS-&-BRR/Nooksack-Gold-Mine/ visited on 11/7/2020.
- Moen, Wayne S. 1969 “Mines and Mineral Deposits of Whatcom County, Washington” : State of Washington: Department of Natural Resources, Bulletin No 57. Website dnr.wa.gov/publications/ger_b57_mines_mineral_dep_whatcom_1.pdf visited on 11/7/20.
- ghosttownsofwashington.com 2013 “Ghost Towns of Washington: Nooksack Mine”. Website www.ghosttownsofwashington.com/nooksack-mine.html visited on 11/7/2020.
- Tucker, Dave undated “Northwest Geology Field Trips: Geology hike on the Gold Mine Trail, Sumas Mountain, Whatcom County: congolmerates and a mining scam”. Website nwgeology.wordpress.com/the-fieldtrips/geology-hike-on-the-gold-mine-trail-sumas-mountain-whatcom-county-congolerates-and-a-mining-scam/ visited on 11/7/2020.
- Western Mining History n.d. “Nooksack Mine”. Website referenced https://westernmininghistory.com/mine_detail/10047790/ on 11/13/21.
- Washington Trails Association n.d. “Sumas Mountain – Gold Mine Trail”. Website https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/gold-mine-trail visited 11/13/21.