|This has been confirmed as the Lytle Creek Mine. Fairly recently a huge pine fell in front of the portal.|
Lytle Creek Mine
County: San Bernardino
Primary Mineral: Copper
Years of Operation: Unknown. Mining in nearby Icehouse Canyon began in 1892. However mining in Lytle Creek began much earlier, as early as the 1860s. Lytle Creek was mainly mined for gold, using a very destructive but effective method known as hydraulic mining.
Nearest City or Landmark: East of Icehouse Saddle en route to Cucamonga Peak. Middle Fork trail.
Depth: I did not measure this mine. I would estimate the lower tunnels are approximately 200 feet in depth. There is also a shallow upper tunnel 30 feet above the lower portal that goes in about 15 feet. Supposedly there is a third tunnel above that one, though I have not located or measured it.
|At the portal there's an old cable, probably used to hoist a mine cart from the incline tunnel within.|
This mine is located fairly close to Icehouse Saddle, the saddle above Icehouse Canyon southeast of Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio). Originally I did not know it's name, but thanks to the fine detective work of Matthew Jackson it has now be confirmed as the Lytle Creek Mine, near Lytle Creek's middle fork. This was a copper mine which probably operated during the late 1800s, though I cannot confirm that. I won't give the exact location, but you can find it somewhere along the way between Icehouse Saddle and Cucamonga Peak.
|Inside the main drift there are some hand hewn timber supports, but there are no serious cave-ins inside.|
Entry begins with an easy butt crawl into a fairly short incline tunnel, about 40 feet deep. At this point you cannot stand up. About half way into the first adit there’s an opening on the right, leading into another chamber that forks in three directions. The left fork is the main adit. The center for is very short (less than 20 feet). The right fork is filled in. Some people have described this as a cave in, but this was clearly filled in by miners, probably to avoid hauling the dirt out of the mine by filling in an unsuccessful prospect.
|Looking down a shaft at the end of the main tunnel. If you climb down to the bottom there's a short left inlet.|
The main adit is straight, with some upward digging in the middle. Further in there is some extremely old, hand hewn wood bracing along the ceiling. The tunnel ends at a thirty foot shaft. It’s actually a steep stope that you can climb down safely, with caution. At the bottom there’s a very short side dig to the left. During the time I was inside the main drift there was absolute silence, except for a very high pitched vibrating sound. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, or whether I was just imagining it. As it turned out this was the sound of cave crickets, hiding up in the cracks. I only saw one of them, but I imagine there were others. The one that I saw was brownish in color, but some of these crickets evolve over time into albinos that are blind. This was the first cave cricket I had ever seen in a mine.
|About thirty feet above the lower portal there's a shallow exploratory mine, about fifteen feet deep.|
About thirty feet above the main portal there’s a second mine. This one is a short exploratory dig. You can reach it from the right side, traversing carefully to the portal. This mine is shallow, about fifteen feet or less, with some copper ore inside. At some time within the last ten years a huge pine fell from above the upper portal and crashed down in front of the lower one, breaking in half on impact. This would have been quite a sight if anyone were inside the mine at the time. An old cable can be found near the entrance to the lower tunnel, probably used to hoist out a mine cart or perhaps there was an aerial tramway at one time to haul rock down from the upper portal. My guess is that there was also a small mill located somewhere nearby when the mine was operational. I have been informed that there is a third tunnel above this one. As of yet I have not seen it.
History of Icehouse Canyon
Icehouse Canyon is a tributary of San Antonio Creek, located above Mt. Baldy Village, which runs roughly east and west. Because the canyon is deep, its north-facing slope retains snow late into the spring. In 1859 Victor Beaudry and Damien Marchessault took advantage of this and built an icehouse in the canyon. The ice was brought down from the mountains to Los Angeles by mule and wagon and sold door to door, as well as being used at Beaudry and Marchessault's ice cream saloon, the only one in the city. Marchessault would later become the mayor of Los Angeles.
The first recorded gold mining on Mt. Baldy was in 1879, but mining in Icehouse Canyon did not begin until 1892. Miners were kept supplied by a sheep hunter turned merchant named Fred Dell, who built Dell's Camp near present day Mt. Baldy Village, and by mule driver Fletcher Manker, who built a store at what is now known as Manker Flat. Further up in San Antonio Creek the Gold Ridge and Hocumac Mines could be found. Both were unsuccessful due to the uncertain water supply, the low amount of gold in the ore, and a water-pollution lawsuit filed by downslope farmers. The Hocumac Mine was located beneath the current day ski lifts and is completely gone. Remnants of the Gold Ridge Mine still exist.
|Sigma Phi Alpha fraternity cabin in 1926, Icehouse Canyon. Photo Courtesy of Claremont Colleges Library|
|An old Franklin wood burning stove found near one of the cabin ruins. Since taking this photo it was stolen.|
During Prohibition, the area became known as a place where one could get a drink away from the watchful eyes of the police. Former Yosemite concessionaire Foster Curry, his wife Ruth Curry, and Ruth's second husband, movie star Edmund Burns, turned Camp Baldy into a playground for affluent residents of Los Angeles, with a swimming pool, casino, and a dance pavilion.
The flood of 1938 destroyed most of the man made structures at Camp Baldy and Icehouse Canyon. The casino was also destroyed, but the hotel (today's Buckhorn Lodge) survived. No new building has been allowed in Icehouse Canyon since then. Icehouse Canyon resort was destroyed in 1988 by a suspicious fire. Camp Baldy was rebuilt and later became Mt. Baldy Village. As the surviving privately owned cabins in Icehouse Canyon, Baldy Village, and Manker Flats come to the end of their 99-year leases on their lots, the Forest Service, no longer wishing to be a landlord, is converting them to private ownership. To see photos of what this area used to look like click here.
|At one time there were 105 cabins in and around Icehouse Canyon, leased for 99 years by the forest service.|
Mountain Lion Encounter in 2016
Unfortunately I only carry a small camera without a zoom, so I missed out on getting a shot of him, but followed his tracks into a side gully where I took a few photos. When I reached the saddle there was another gentleman up there, to whom I told my story. He said that he had seen the same cat the week before and showed me a photo he had taken. I was blown up and grainy, but clearly the same lion, with grayish fur and bright green eyes. This was only the second mountain lion I had seen in over 40 years of hiking in the San Gabriels. The other was in Sierra Madre on the way to Mt. Wilson, five years prior.
|In the spring of 2016 while resting on a log. I saw a mountain lion bolting across a snow field in front of me.|
Icehouse Saddle and Beyond
Icehouse Canyon is a popular day hike area with a trail head just north of Mount Baldy Village. The difficulty is moderate, but could be considered strenuous in the winter. The main destination is the saddle for most hikers, with great views of Mount Baldy and Ontario Peak along the way. Round trip to the saddle is approximately 7.7 miles, with multiple cabin ruins along the way. Most of the hike is within the Cucamonga Wilderness, through old growth forest with a creek running through the center.
|Hikers near Icehouse Saddle in 2018. From the saddle there are multiple other destinations available.|
|A view of Baldy Bowl from near Icehouse Saddle. Mt. Baldy's actual name is Mt. San Antonio.|
As I was coming back from the mine I noticed a brief flash of bright blue, darting under a rock. It was a Skilton’s skink, something I’ve only seen two times in over 40 years of hiking this range. I picked up the rock to get a shot, but he was so fast I only got the blurry photo below. Normally they have much longer tails, but this one had lost his, and was in the process of growing a new one. Skinks are a very specialized lizard belonging to the family Scincidae. They have no pronounced neck and their legs are very small. At least one species has no legs at all. Their bright tails act as a target for a long list of predators, including raccoons, foxes, possums, snakes, crows, cats, dogs, herons and other lizards. It’s very unusual to see them above ground. These are burrowers who spend most of their lives in holes or beneath rocks. Though seldom seen, Skilton’s skinks are fairly common to the San Gabriels.
|A poor shot of a lightning fast Skilton's Skink. I've only seen two of these in all of the San Gabriels.|
History of Lytle Creek Mining
In the 1860s gold was discovered in the creek, coming on the heels of placer discoveries in Holcomb Valley, and hundreds of gold seekers flocked into the canyon. Many made up to $40 a day panning gold flakes from the banks of the creek. The first successful mining operation came in 1862, when a miner named Banks found deposits in a canyon that would later become known as Bank’s Gulch, between Mt. San Antonio and Telegraph Peak. Banks used an incredibly destructive (but effective) method of gold extraction, known as hydraulic mining. He built a flume from upper San Antonio Creek to a reservoir above his mine, and then piped it with a 400 foot head and 3-inch nozzles.
|Left: Captain Andrew Lytle / Right: Los Angeles Herald Article on Lytle Creek, March 1894|
“The gold placers of Lytle Creek continue to attract considerable attention … All agree that there are several claims paying remarkably well — as high as eleven dollars having been realized to the pan of dirt. They are surrounded with all the conveniences of nature, and we hope to hear of the canyon and vicinity being thoroughly prospected, and we have reason to believe that the Lytle Creek mines will yet prove to be among the richest ever discovered on the Pacific Coast.”
California was truly a wild and dangerous place in that day. One early trapper, named Isaac Slover, was killed by a grizzly bear in October of 1854 near the present day Lone Pine Canyon Rd. Violence often flared over allegations of claim jumping. The Star mentioned on Sept. 24, 1864, that John Abbott was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in state prison for shooting and killing Robert Kier when the latter refused to leave the former’s claim. There is also evidence that horse thieves used upper Lytle Creek as a refuge for stolen animals in the 1850s and 1860s. The Mason Henry gang was said to have brought their stolen horses into the canyon, with hideouts both in the Mt. Baldy and San Sevaine Flats area.
Hydraulic Mining at Texas Hill, Lytle Creek Mining District (Circa 1860s). This method was later outlawed.
In November 1889, a water company secured a court injunction to halt pollution of the stream by hydraulic mining. Since then, prospectors have tried their luck along Lytle Creek, with not nearly the success of the 1860s. Hydraulic mining scars from the Texas Point Mine can still be found on the hill beyond the gate for San Sevaine Rd.
Additional Photos - Icehouse Canyon and Lytle Creek Mine
All watermarked photos are copyrighted and cannot be used without my consent.