Stanley-Miller Mine - First Attempt

Gordon Stanley next to the Stanley-Miller Cabin in 1939 with two hikers. Photo by J.R. Minnich.

County: Los Angeles
Primary Mineral:  Gold
Years of Operation:  1913-1939
Nearest City or Landmark:  Approx. 1200 feet above The Narrows of the East Fork, on the western side of Iron Mountain.
Depth: There are reportedly five tunnels. Two are clogged. The other three reportedly have 700 feet of passage. The main tunnel includes an old ore cart.

This shot, taken near the Bridge To Nowhere without a telephoto lens was a little nerve-racking.

A Failed Attempt, But Not The End

Bagging the Stanley-Miller Mine has been one of my long time goals. It’s remote and dangerous to reach, high above the Narrows of the East Fork. In fact it’s one of the mines the late explorer Hugh Blanchard listed as “mines we will never see”. Unfortunately I too have yet to see it. My first attempt was a failure, mainly because I drastically underestimated the time it would take to climb up the ultra steep western side of Iron Mountain. I was also walking on a leg I had injured a month before, which proved to be extremely painful and slowed my hike in.

I didn't reach my goal, but found this shallow six foot mine in the Narrows on the way back.

The Stanley-Miller Mine is located high above the cliffs of the East Fork, about a mile beyond the Bridge To Nowhere. Perched on a small plateau are the ruins of the old Stanley-Miller cabin. Reaching it is difficult, to say the least. In fact, I so drastically underestimated the time it would take to climb the mountain that I wound up hiking out of the canyon in the dark, for two and a half hours. And that was not easy. I hope to try this again sometime, but time will tell. I'm nearing 60 years of age, and these climbs get harder each time.

Jungles of poison oak in the East Fork. It's quite beautiful in the fall, and deer love to eat it.

Since I was unable to reach this mine I’ve included a video below of a successful attempt made by YouTube star Pharroah (his real name is Alan). Alan is the most knowledgeable person I know of when it comes to the East Fork, and has been a great help to me in my explorations. Interestingly the other man in the video (Kevin) is carrying the spear that I found on the way up, and eventually lost.

Climbing up the western side of Iron Mountain is truly dangerous and slow. Most of it is a 45 degree or better slope, on loose shale scree. It seemed that for every step forward I slid three steps back. To make matters worse there were three bighorns up above me, constantly knocking rocks down. And I had to keep a constant eye out for rattlers. Getting bit this far in to the wilderness would not be a good thing. Cliffs are everywhere. In fact, at least one hiker lost his life attempting this climb in 2010. His body was apparently spotted by helicopter and eventually recovered below a cliff. 

I found this five foot spear on the way up. I lost it later, as I was sliding towards a cliff.

On the way up I found some interesting artifacts, and a home-made spear, five feet long. I guess whoever owned it brought it with him as a snake stabber, but I used it as a walking stick, for awhile at least. On the way back down I began sliding towards a cliff and had to let it go. The spear went over the side, I didn’t. But I got badly cut up trying to stop myself. The mine is near some pine trees, and I was probably within 500 feet of it, but had to decide whether it was worth it to chance being stuck on the mountainside at night, so I backed off. 

I call this the Hobo Hut, located in the Narrows. It's well built and seemingly waterproof.

The Hobo Hut

Far up in the Narrows of the East Fork there’s an amazing rock shelter, known by many as the Hobo Hut. It was built by a modern day prospector known as Backpacker Dave, who lived in it for about four years. But unfortunately he nearly destroyed Oliver Justice's cabin in the process, borrowing stones from his cabin and using them to build his hut. Oliver "Old Hickory" Justice was arguably the most successful miner in all of the East Fork during the original mining days. His cabin was said to have had a loft, where he stored a hand made coffin, built for himself. After he died he was buried on a nearby mesa. 

Old mining artifacts are strewn about, probably from the Stanley-Miller mine. It has a self closing wooden door (taken from Justice's cabin), waterproof tarps on the roof and even a small fireplace inside. Outside the hut there’s a gravity defying rock swing, a huge slab of slate supported from a tree by metal cables. And on the other side are a few more swings, these ones are made of wooden logs. The day I tried to conquer the western side of Iron Mountain I got back down so late that I briefly considered spending the night inside, but decided against it and walked out in the dark.

There are a million ways to die on this mountain. Here's a view of the Narrows from half way up.

History of the Stanley-Miller Mine

Back in 1915, while scrambling along the ledges above the Narrows of the East Fork, Gordon Stanley and Ben Miller discovered promising quartz veins, and promptly filed seven claims. Eventually twelve claims were patented, extending one half mile along the cliff wall. Stanley worked the mine, while Miller built an incredibly precarious trail, known as the Wetwater Trail, that crossed a near-vertical wall above the Narrows. The trail was three feet wide and relatively safe - provided you didn't look down to the floor of the East Fork, 300 feet straight down.

Iron Mountain is made up of loose and crumbling slate with incredibly steep angles

At one point on the Wetwater Trail there was a spot where water seeped from the rockface onto the pathway. This area seemed to terrorize the pack mules. While loaded with supplies for the mine, they often refused to pass this point and tried to turn around. You can imagine how dangerous this must have been. Eventually however, via this trail, equipment to build the cabin and a small ball mill was packed in. The ball mill and remnants of the cabin are still there, clinging to the rock face. At one time there was also a trail that connected the Stanley-Miller Mine to the Allison Mine, located on the southwestern side of the mountain. I have never found a trace of it.

On the way up I found some artifacts but never reached the mine. I hope to try again in spring.

Another Long, Long Trip Back Home

When I set out to find these mines I don't always find them on the first try, but no trip is wasted. The next time I will make it, although it will take some mental preparation to attempt this again. Iron Mountain is "truly" a dangerous place. When I finally made it down, I took a few minutes to take some photos of the Hobo Hut (aka Backpacker Dave's Cabin), and began backtracking towards the Bridge To Nowhere. There are no trails in the Narrows, and deep pools along the way make the going slow. I was exhausted, and decided to take a late dip in a deep pool, seen two photos down. I knew I'd have a long walk back in the dark, but my arms and legs were sliced up from a long slide that almost ended in disaster.

The Bighorn in the upper center and two others were tumbling rocks down on the way up.

At sunset I was back at the Bridge To Nowhere, with about two and a half hours left to go. And surprisingly there were still a few people there. Although there are several trails leading from the bridge to the trailhead, they were not always easy to follow in the dark. Interestingly prospectors were still working their stakes in the night. These are hardcore miners, who wear wetsuits and often mine from dawn to dusk, apparently even into the night. As I finally approached the Heaton Flat area, I noticed a lot of lights up on Shoemaker Road, also known as the Road To Nowhere. I'm not sure how cars were able to get on that road, but it looked a little suspicious. I've heard similar reports from other hikers, but I'll probably never know what's actually going on up there. If I attempt the Stanley-Miller again I'll be sure to add more photos to this page.

Coming back I was cut up and exhausted. I took a dip in this pool before hiking out in the dark.

Ringtails aka Miner's Cats

The animal in the photo below is called a Ringtail, or Ring-tailed Cat. I wish I could show you a photo of a live one, but it's rare to see them in the daytime. In fact, most hikers have never seen one at all. This one was found dead on the East Fork Road on the morning I attempted to find the Stanley-Miller Mine. They go by other names, such as Bassarisks, Cocomistles, Civet Cats and even Miner's Cats. Actually they are not related to cats, but are part of the raccoon family. When threatened by predators they can excrete a musk deterrent, and the striped tail acts as a target, which they will sometimes lose while trying to escape.

Ringtails are common to the San Gabriels, yet seldom seen, but seldom seen during the day.

Ringtails are said to be easily tamed, and sometimes made affectionate pets for miners, as well as excellent mousers. Miner’s often used them to keep their cabins free of vermin, hence the name Miner’s Cat. Ringtails would move into miner’s encampments and become accepted by humans, similar to the way early domestic cats would have been. Often a hole was cut in a small box and placed near a heat source (usually a stove) to provide the animals with a place to sleep during the day. At night they would come out and rid the cabin of mice. Their usual lifespan is about seven years in the wild.