Lytle Creek Mine

Recently a huge pine has fallen in front of the lower adit, breaking in half on impact.
This has been confirmed as the Lytle Creek Mine. Fairly recently a huge pine fell in front of the portal.

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.

This cable was probably used to hoist an ore cart out of the incline tunnel inside.
Old cable at the portal, probably used to hoist a mine cart from the incline tunnel within.

A Mine With Little Known History

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. 

A few of the original ceiling braces remain in place. They're probably over a century old.
Inside the main drift there are hand hewn timber supports, but no serious cave-ins.

Mine Description

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. 

This mine has a shaft at the end. At the bottom there's a short left inlet.
Looking down a shaft at the end of the main tunnel. There's a short left inlet at the bottom.


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.

The is a second tunnel, 30 feet above the main one. This a a shallow exploratory mine.
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.

A large copper ore sample, found inside the upper portal. This was the primary mineral mined here.
Copper ore inside the upper portal. Copper was the primary mineral mined here.

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.

Mile High Tavern was part of the larger Icehouse Canyon Resort. This photo was taken in 1936.
Mile High Tavern, Icehouse Canyon Resort in 1936. Photo courtesy of Pomona Library Collection.

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.

This was the Sigma Phi Alpha fraternity cabin in Icehouse Canyon, taken in 1926.
Sigma Phi Alpha fraternity cabin in 1926, Icehouse Canyon. ~ Claremont Colleges Library


By the late 19th century there was an increased interest in using this area for recreation rather than for its resources. When it became a national forest in 1908, the forest service began offering 99-year leases of plots of land in Icehouse Canyon for vacation cabins. By 1938 there were 105 cabins and additional cabins at a resort owned by the Chapman family.

An old Franklin wood burning stove found near one of the many cabin ruins.
A Franklin wood burning stove found near one of the cabin ruins. Since then 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.

A one time there were 105 cabins in and around Icehouse Canyon. Many were wiped out by the great flood of 1938.
A two story chimney is all that's left of this cabin. In 1938 a great flood wiped out many of them.

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. 

These cabins used to be leased for 99 years by the forest service. The remaining ones are privately owned.
There were once 105 cabins in Icehouse Canyon, leased for 99 years by the forest service.

Mountain Lion Encounter In 2016

In the spring of 2016 I took a day off work to finally go hiking in Icehouse Canyon for the first time. I was surprised to see there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground, despite the fairly high temperatures. It was late in the day, and there wasn’t another soul in the canyon. When I was nearing the saddle I sat down on a log to take a break and grab a bite to eat. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted some movement down below me, and was amazed to see a mountain lion bolting across a snow field. He was about 500 feet away from me, with a grayish coloration and looked to be a large male. Despite the fact that he was so close, I don’t think he ever saw me. 

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.

These a mountain lion tracks from a fairly large male. I was amazed to actually see him in the daytime.
In Spring of 2016 while resting on a log. I saw a mountain lion bolting across a snow field.

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.

This was taken near Icehouse Saddle. From there you can hike in four different directions.
Hikers near Icehouse Saddle in 2018. From the saddle there are multiple destinations available.


Icehouse Saddle is approximately 7,500 feet. From the saddle you can continue on in several well marked directions, either to nearby peaks or deeper into the Cucamonga Wilderness. The mine is in an southeasterly direction, toward Cucamonga Peak. To the north a trail follows the ridge to Timber Mountain (0.9 miles), Telegraph Peak (2.9 miles), and Thunder Mountain (3.9 miles), before descending to Baldy Notch (5.4 miles). To the southeast is a trail to Cucamonga Peak (2.4 miles). To the southwest is Ontario Peak (2.8 miles). And to the east, the Middle Fork Trail descends 5.4 miles to Middle Fork Trailhead.

Between the second and third trees you can see Mt. Baldy. The peak is 10,064 feet.
A view of Baldy Bowl from near Icehouse Saddle. Mt. Baldy's actual name is Mt. San Antonio.

Skilton's Skinks

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.

Skinks are a specialized part of the lizard family, with no neck and tiny legs.
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 1851 Brigham Young sent three companies of Mormons from Salt Lake City to the newly formed state of California, to assist in the war with Mexico. By the time they arrived, the war was nearing an end so they established settlements. Two groups, led by David Seely and Joseph Matthews set up temporary quarters a short distance from today’s Glen Helen Park. The third, led by Captain Andrew Lytle camped on the banks of a creek that was known at that time as Arroyo de los Negros. The first two parties established the city of San Bernardino, while Lytle’s party established a small settlement that would become known as Lytle Creek or “Lytle’s Creek”.

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

On Aug. 6, 1864, the Los Angeles Star reported:

“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, (Circa 1860s). This method was later outlawed.

Lytle Creek’s richest find was at Texas Point in 1867, Asbury Harpending, an investor from San Francisco, acquired the property and brought in hydraulic equipment. 40 men were hired to construct a 5-mile-long flume that would carry 600 inches of water. So many miners were coming to the canyon that the Lytle Creek Express carried passengers Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for over a year, beginning in September 1867. At its peak the Texas Point Mine was yielding $2,000 per week. In 1869 Texas Point was sold to a company of Frenchmen headed by Fabien Abadie, who continued to expand the operation. Abadie constantly argued with other miners over water shares from the Texas Point flume. One day, his team of horses pulled up at the mine carrying his dead body. His killer was never found.

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.