This day has us in the very south of Kananaskis, up by the headwaters of the Oldman River, having a gas on Mt Gass. Our goal was the Galena Miracle Mine which sits along a ledge on the mountain’s north flank. Alas though the incredible winds this area is famous for made their appearance and this made visiting the mine dangerous. It’s accessed from an exposed ledge and the gusts could easily knock you off. We plan to return, hopefully on a calmer day.
This trail is a tough one as far as route finding goes and it’s also in an OHV zone (off highway vehicle – ie quads) so parts are badly chewed up and muddy. To get to the mine we follow sections of the Oldman River Trail, the Great Divide Trail, the old mine road up and some parts are even off-trail.
The trail head is up the Oldman River road which branches off the gravel highway 540. Near the parking spot the road becomes very rough making travel slow. Also note there is a lot of clay here and when wet, it can be incredibly slippery, both the road and the trail. At the 27km mark turn left into a large parking spot used by an outfitting company.
Heading west here you skirt a large beaver pond on your right. It’s boggy and you’ll likely get wet feet. Past the pond a 4×4 road comes in from your right and joins up with the track you are on. For the next while this trail follows the infant Oldman River and is relatively level. Along this section you’ll pass a number of hunter’s campsites. Some have horse tie-ups but we only saw quads on out visit (and no other hikers).
The bridge over Oyster Creek is no longer there so you’ll have to rock hop across. No big deal. We’ve been heading roughly west for most of the trip so far, and where the road turns north you have two options. You can follow the ATV trail through muddy and boggy meadow or if you head straight there is a faint foot trail that follows a small low ridge above the Oldman River (actually Oldman Creek would be a better name here). After a bit it rejoins the ATV trail, heading west again.
Not far after is a side trail heading off to your right at a shallow angle. Take this one as it heads through the dense forest. The trail that goes left eventually leads to Memory Lake, but we have never been. Coming to a “T” intersection we now head right (north). Following it for a bit you come to a small meadow that shows evidence of building having been there. There is parts of an old stove and other bits. A steep and rocky ATV trail heads directly up from here which is the route we take. On the way down we come back another way.
Heading up a flank of Mt Gass we occasionally intercept the old mine road as it switchbacks its way up the mountain. Parts of it are too rough but others are passable and will be used by us. Intersecting the mine road a second time, we decide to follow it for a while. It’s easier but longer.
It’s at this point we break out of the trees. And it’s at this point the wind starts and it’s incredible and almost knocks you down. This whole area around Mt Gass is famous for the powerful winds and I start having my doubts that we’ll reach our destination.
Zig-zagging as we go we come to the ledge above the mine (it can’t been seen from here). But it’s just too windy to continue and accessing the ledge would be dangerous. Mt Gass looms menacingly above us.
Reluctantly heading back we go off-trail and head down the ridge until it intercepts the Great Divide Trail, parts of which follow the old mine road. Heading south now a side trail marked with red squares leaves the mine road and this is the trail we follow. It’s a footpath here (most of what we’ve travelled on is ATV trails) that heads down steeply. After a bit we come to another part of the mine road and take it. Shortly after we are at the meadow where we split off earlier and from here on we follow the trail we came up on the whole way back to the car.
Like I said, following this trail can be a challenge. Don’t attempt unless you are comfortable route finding as it would be easy to get lost.
The history of the Galena Miracle Mine is obscure and information found can be contradictory. Understandable I guess since this was a small operation. To me it looks like they moved more rocks constructing the road up to the mine than they did from the mine itself. The ore here was Galena (hence the mine’s name), a sulphide of lead. Rarely is the ore pure and usually zinc and silver get mixed in, as was the case here.
The data I’ve uncovered has the mine operating in the 1920s or 1940s depending on what source is used. Until I know more I’ll take this with a grain of salt.
There are apparently two adits on the property and neither tunnel goes back terribly far (I am told). We did not see these openings since the they are below on a ledge and can’t be viewed until you are right in front of them.
A mine of this type in Alberta is a real anomaly. The nature of the geology up and down the front ranges is such that metallic minerals don’t often occur, at least in any quantity. Actually The Galena Miracle Mine is one of only two of this type of property this author has found in the mountains of Alberta. That’s not to say mining does not occur here – and there are many limestone quarries and coal mines up and down the province just east of the great divide. Note: at the mine opening we are almost on the great divide and are less than 1km from the BC border.
From the high point, we had a good view of the aptly named Beehive Mountain to the east along with an endless sea of logging cutblocks below us. They’re ugly but I guess we all need wood.
It was hunting season at the time of our visit and we made sure to wear loud coloured clothes. We did pass a number of hunters on quads (the only other people we saw).
The headwaters of the Oldman River are often associated with the legendary Lost Lemon Mine (many books on the subject). That there is Galena here hints that other ores, gold ores included, could exist here.
We hope to return one day to complete this adventure and in the meantime I plan on researching the mine more.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September 2009.
Location: South Kananaskis AB, Oldman River area.
Distance: 18km return.
Height gain from start: 550m.
Height gain cumulative: 550m.
Technical bits: None.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern. Some of our route was off-trail.