It’s been many, many years…no…actually its been two decades since I last visited Moyie Falls near Cranbrook BC. I’ve been meaning to return and have made plans to do so many times over the years, but for one reason or another, something always got in the way that prevented this from happening. Determined to succeed this time and with Connie accompanying me (her first visit here), I finally made it back. Yeah!!! A long overdue visit.
Not only is it worthwhile visit the falls for their rugged, scenic splendour, but there is a also a lot of gold mining history in the immediate area, which is what I came to explore. There has been active mining here for well over century and on the way in we’ll pass successively older workings, until we were right beside the falls themselves.
Access to this hard to find spot is via a dusty logging road (watch for fast moving trucks!) and from the parking spot, you have to hike in a couple kilometres. To start you’ll walk a steep mine road down and at the bottom you’ll have to pick your way across the Moyie River (near impossible at high water). Continuing upstream, you can follow a continuation of that same mining road for a bit. Where it ends you’ll have follow the river bed, scrambling over huge blocks and boulders, up to a slippery ledge beside the falls, overlooking a deep plunge pool.
The most modern workings here, the ones furthest from Moyie Falls, were being mined in 2012. We scouted out the site that year, from a vantage point overlooking the valley, and saw equipment hard at work. It does not appears that anyone has been here this year however, no doubt due to somewhat flat gold prices. Or maybe they’ve run out of good ground, it could be either. If you visit here and active mining is taking place, avoid the workings and pick your way up the river bed itself. Also, make your presence known.
This operation is just one of many that have mined here over the years. They have driven a tunnel (technically a drift) into the base of a cliff, where they mine the ancient river gravels deposited here eons ago. The gold laden ore is brought outside and run though a trommel and sluice arrangement where the precious metal is separated out. This mine entry is sealed up. Nearby we find a large block in the river with two drill holes – who knows what they are for but they are most certainly old.
Soon we come across another entry, also sealed. This is the one in the picture with the yellow doors and it is somewhat older, dating from the late 1970s/early 1980s I am told (not confirmed). It runs roughly parallel to the newer workings we just passed. I am not sure when this one was last mined. This adit sits almost at the water line and flood debris jammed in the door hinges shows how high the normally placid Moyie River can flow. This tunnel clearly floods during periods of high water.
At this point one has a good view of the falls. Getting to them however gets progressively harder and the going is rough and slippery in places and the rocks sharp.
Picking our way up the river, the last and hardest step is to work our way up to a ledge, via a steep loose trail. On previous visits there used to be a ladder and rope here to help you up.
Once on top, we have a good view of the workings, both on this side and the opposite side of the falls (the west and east adits respectively). There are three openings to be seen here, all which date from the 1930s and early 1940s. If you peer over the edge, the dark waters of the plunge pool hint at how deep it is. Stay back!
There is an adit in front of me and directly beside is an old engine and compressor. Right next to that is the falls – they are that close. A fair sized stream flows from the mine opening – not surprising – and old pipes lead from the compressor into the dark abyss. The tunnel heads in then almost immediately turns right under the falls. We follow it in perhaps a 100m but found the footing rather dangerous. The floor was slimy from the water and a slip and fall was a good possibility. Plus there were signs of some recent rockfall, which had me worried about the integrity of the roof at this section.
By the way, when we enter a mine we always come prepared. We are seasoned mine explorers and don the right gear, know and understand the dangers and we proceed slowly and cautiously. We know mines! If you visit Moyie Falls, peer inside the adits, but don’t go inside.
Across the Moyie River on the east side are two additional entries, which we’ll head to, one almost under the falls themselves, We have to back track and cross the river and make our way across on some logs. There are some relics here, an old pipe and mine rails.
The adit we want is right in front of us. This is actually an access tunnel that cuts through a rock outcropping, leading to a narrow ledge, which them leads to the mine itself. It is full of water (no doubt filled when the river was at flood stage) and since the tunnel dips in the centre, the water keeps getting deeper and deeper. There are also lots of big logs and tree bits inside as well and the going was difficult, so we turned back – I did make it through in the mid 1980s though, and recall it was similarly flooded them. On that trip, so long ago, we did get to the other adit, the east adit, but followed it in for only a short time before turning back. Back then we had no flashlights, no safety gear, nor an understanding of what we were up against.
None of these tunnels are hard rock mines, but rather each is used to access deep placer gravels in ancient channels around the falls.
Heading back, we take time to explore the newest workings some more. On a bench above the site, I find some old equipment, an old mine timber cart, the timbers it would carry, an ancient winch and further up a cut, an old pull scraper.
Reluctantly heading back, I hope to return again, perhaps to explore the east adit. Getting through the deep water in the access tunnel is going to be a challenge however – I’ll think of something. One thing is certain, it won’t be twenty years till my next visit.
I was fortunate enough to know one of the people associated with the oldest workings we explored. In the 1980s a friend was neighbour to Oscarson Sr. who worked this mine back in the 1930s and 40s. As I understand it the family still has title to the claim and they lease it out to others, who pay them a percentage of the take.
It may be technically wrong but in this post I use tunnel and adit somewhat interchangeably. An adit is a mine opening or entrance only. To call a mine a tunnel is only correct if it has an opening at each end (like the access tunnel we spoke of) but we use it for single ended mines as well, for simplicity’s sake. Most mine tunnels are called drifts – unless they go right angles to the ore body, in which case they are a crosscut. Confused yet?
To see what Moyie Falls looked like in 1990, check out the link below…
Moyie River Falls – 1990.
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Date: August 2013.
Location: Near Cranbrook BC.