By Nick Belcaster
Sitting in an 81-year-old fire lookout tower in the North Cascades, you could well imagine you were in the oldest human structure for miles. But across Twin Lakes from inside Winchester Mountain Lookout, you might be able to just pick out dark openings in the opposite hillside. The Lone Jack Mine has the lookout beat by nearly 40 years, and its story isn’t over.
A company called Idaho North Resources out of Kellogg, Idaho recently acquired the Lone Jack Mine property for exploration with an option to purchase for $1 million. The 88-acre plot contains five separate claims, according to an August press release from the company.
While Idaho North Resources could not be reached for comment, they did some rock chip sampling last summer and released a report in October in which its president said they will use the samples to determine the feasibility of mining there in the near future.
The company plans to conduct exploratory drilling, along with mapping and video drone reconnaissance. The company claims the mine has produced more than 30,000 ounces of gold since its discovery.
While the owners might be new, the Lone Jack is as old as mining itself around Mount Baker, and no one tells the story better than local historian Michael Impero. In his book, “The Lone Jack,” Impero lays out the origin story as such: In 1897 a trio of miners, Jack Post, Russ Lambert and Luman Van Valkenburg, happened upon an exposed vein of quartz running up the face of what is known on old maps as Bear Mountain, directly south of Winchester Mountain. After the quartz tested for gold-bearing ore, the men made claim on the sites.
They ended up selling the mine the next year to the newly incorporated Mount Baker Mining Co. for $40,000, the equivalent to a little over $1 million today. News of gold on Bear Mountain ignited the Mount Baker Gold Rush, bringing an influx of young men to the area and spawning mining towns such as Gold City and Gold Hill. While the gold rush didn’t pan out for most, what followed was years of on-and-off mining activity at the Lone Jack. At different periods, large structures such as a mill, bunkhouse, general offices and hydroelectric equipment came and went, often falling victim to avalanches.
In recent years, mining has been on and off at the Lone Jack, as it sees periods of high and low activity, fluctuating with the price of gold.
In the future, the mine could operate in the same fashion it has in previous years, with ore being trucked out to be separated. The price of gold will likely dictate when mining occurs, along with the upkeep of the road past the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead. New interest in the mine could mean more road maintenance.
In 1950, the road past the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead was built up through a Washington state law that allocated funds for construction of mine-to-market roads, turning what once was a jeep trail into a passable road.
Magenta Widner, a forestry technician stationed at the Glacier Ranger Station, said the mine is a private inholding within the Mount Baker National Forest and no different than land outside of the forest. Since the mine claims were made before the Wilderness Act, they are allowed to exist and operate today.
“It’s a very unique situation. The Twin Lakes road is actually a county mine-to-market road,” Widner said. “The Forest Service maintains it for the first 4.5 miles, and the final section of the road is maintained by the miners.”
Nick Belcaster is a Bellingham writer who traverses the Pacific Northwest on rack, rope, skins and boot tread: an ice axe in one hand and a fly rod in the other.