Exploring Alaska’s Historic Inspiration Point Gold Mine

On Thursday, I went on the most difficult hike yet this year, to the ruins of the historic Inspiration Point gold mine high in the White Pass north of Skagway. I visited the site twice a dozen years ago, and have been itching to get back for a long time. The last time I was in, I found a much easier route than the one normally used, but when I tried to find it 2 weeks ago, my 6 hours of searching was in vain.

The mine site is sensitive, fragile and dangerous, so I’m going to be quite vague about the route in. While I don’t want to encourage more people to visit this site, I do want to show you the sort of thing that can be found in the back country by those with the exploring spirit.

The forecast for Skagway for the day was sunshine and 74°F (23°C) – by the time I reached Tutshi Lake I was pumped for a great day!
Tutshi Lake, South Klondike Highway
The route began on the highway near the White Pass summit, and went up a small creek bordered by lush greenery and flowers. This was the first time I had tried this starting point. When I left the car at 09:05, the temperature was 13°C (55°F) – wonderful climbing weather.
Wildflowers on Mine Mountain, Alaska
There are quite a few ponds and small lakes along the route, the largest perhaps an acre in size.
Lake on Mine Mountain, Alaska
I don’t carry bear spray, but there are no bears in the high country of the White Pass anyway. Whoops! Well, perhaps one ambitious bear came up when the mountain goats were having their kids this Spring. This scat wasn’t fresh, and I didn’t see any more.
Bear scat on Mine Mountain, Alaska
The granite got more and more dominant and impressive as I climbed.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
Although I didn’t see or hear him on this trip, I met this hoary marmot 2 weeks ago – they’re wonderful, very vocal little creatures.
Hoary marmot on Mine Mountain, Alaska
There are lots of obstacles to navigate around, and the view gets ever more distracting 🙂
Mine Mountain, Alaska
Marking waypoints on my GPS as I progressed , I named this one “SLOT”.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
Big cliffs and little cliffs…
Mine Mountain, Alaska
For the past several years, much of my hiking has been done wearing these amazing Mion GSR sport sandals. Incredibly tough and comfortable, they also eliminate the need to go around ponds 🙂 Unfortunately, they went out of production 5 years ago, and I tore some crucial stitching towards the end of this day.
Mion GSR sport sandals hard at work near Skagway, Alaska
I stopped for a while on the summit of the Mine Mountain ridge just before 11:00, at 1,135 meters elevation (3,724 feet), and had a bite to eat.
The summit of Mine Mountain, Alaska
Not long after leaving the summit, I reached the same dead-end area I had 2 weeks ago (though I reached it via a different route). The last time, I had no time to try to find a way around the cliffs, but this time there was plenty of time available.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
Some of the peaks are truly awesome.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
At 12:40, I finally spotted the mine site, though the way to it still wasn’t clear.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
Another dead end. I couldn’t find a way down about 400 vertical feet to a possible route, but eventually found a route up some very narrow ledges and fractures for about 300 vertical feet.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
The further I went, the more mountain goat hair there was, left on branches and rocks from their shedding.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
I didn’t see any goats this time, but saw about a dozen on the last trip.
Mountain Goats on Mine Mountain, Alaska
At 1:10, I finally reached an avalanche chute that led very steeply down almost directly to the mine. This was the route I’d discovered 12 years ago! 🙂
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
The collapsed bunkhouse of the Inspiration Point gold mine. I can’t even describe how excited I was to have made it back here! The line across the far mountain is the rail line of the White Pass & Yukon Route, from whose trains the mine is always pointed out, though it’s very hard to make out among the jumbled granite.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
Much of what I saw was in worse condition than the last time I visited. Even the stove-coal shovel I was holding was very fragile.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
The shovel and some other artifacts at the bunkhouse.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
Cables were strung over the roofs of the bunkhouse and a smaller nearby building, with the cables attached to eye-bolts drilled into the rock to prevent the buildings from being blown off the cliff by screaming winter winds.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
A smaller building about 100 feet north of the bunkhouse. I haven’t deciphered its purpose yet – the base of a parlour-type woodstove is the only piece I could identify.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
There are many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of feet of this water line strung across the mountain. I think that it was for cooling the rock drills, but the material seems newer than the 1927 date I have for the mine’s most recent operation.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
The only building still standing is the loading station for an aerial tramway that led down to the railway.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
The view from inside the tramway terminus, where quite a few tools and pieces of equipment remain.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
Here’s a look at the mine building on the rail line near Inspiration Point. There’s no date, but the building looks to be in poor condition so my guess is the late 1930s. Virtually nothing remains at the site today. Thanks to Boerries Burkhardt for sending this photo.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
A corner of the the tramway terminus floor. The building is in very poor condition, and won’t be standing too much longer, I’m sure.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
Looking back down at the tramway station from the main working level. In the foreground is a thermos bottle that’s also newer than the date I had assumed that the mine worked. To explain much of what I found, my thought is now that the mine must have re-opened briefly in the late 1940s or early ’50s. Compare the condition of the tramway station now with this photo that I shot from the same spot in 2000.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
One of the 2 workings on the main level, this large inclined shaft goes down at an angle of perhaps 60°
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
The adit on the main level has a drift going off it just a few feet in – normally that would indicate that there was a good vein of gold ore there. I went in perhaps 60 feet but the rock is quite fractured and I don’t trust its safety.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
Inspecting the rock and artifacts outside the adit on the left and the inclined shaft on the right.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
The bare ground is a well-used mountain goat bed just above the main mine workings.
Mountain goat bed at the Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
There are artifacts scattered everywhere, including this Spam can…
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
…and this piece of equipment, perhaps associated with the ropeways that were used around the mine.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
About 50 feet directly below the main level is what appears to be a collapsed adit.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
I didn’t follow these water lines down any further. I believe that the lines made from steel as these ones are, are the 1920s lines.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
Another large structure about 300 feet lower, now collapsed. My memory from 12 years ago says that there’s another adit there, and that this was another tramway loading station.
Inspiration Point Mine - Skagway, Alaska
This sparrow was the only animal I saw all day.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
A WP&YR train comes out of the tunnel at Mile 17.
White Pass & Yukon Route train climbing through the White Pass
The train continues up the hill towards the bridges that cross the upper Skagway River.
White Pass & Yukon Route train climbing through the White Pass

I only spent an hour and a half at the mine site, then decided to head back – it had taken over 5 hours to reach the mine and I didn’t want to push my luck.

Looking up at the chute I’d come down to the mine on, at 2:55. I was quite certain that it would now lead me back to the car on a much quicker and safer route.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
The top of the chute continued to be a great hiking route.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
The route out was indeed comparatively simple. I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, and even stopped to swim in 3 of the little lakes – it was wonderful! 🙂
Mine Mountain, Alaska
This is the largest of the lakes, with several feet of snow at the northeast end.
Mine Mountain, Alaska
Almost back to the car.
Mine Mountain, Alaska

Even with all my stops, it took a bit less than 2 hours to reach the car. That makes the mine a much more reasonable day hike for the future – it’s a very large site and there’s a lot more I want to see there.


Comments

Exploring Alaska’s Historic Inspiration Point Gold Mine — 10 Comments

  1. Thanks Murray. I would never have the courage that you have to go off in the back country alone in unfamiliar country. You are an inspiration to folks over 60. Instead of feeling as though our lives are slowing down, you show us that it’s a time to explore, and have great life adventures. I will spend my winter getting in shape so that next summer I might be allowed to tag along and keep up with you , if I am invited. Keep the photos coming.

  2. Great pictures Murray, sound like a wonderful spot with beautiful scenery. Why don’t you bring the dog along when you are alone. Wouldn’t having him around be somewhat safer ?

  3. Thanks, Maureen. I’d love to have had Monty along, but it was too hot, the rocks are too hard on his feet, and there are too many dangerous cliffs. He’d unfortunately be a huge liability.

  4. Very, very interesting. I would love to take that hike even though I would probably really be huffing and puffing. 🙂 When you go on a hike like that do you take a GPS or is there very little chance of getting lost? It looks like if you just head off the mountain you would eventually hit the road…. maybe not close to your car but nevertheless come to the road. I love old mines. If you never been to Independence mine in AK you should go there if you ever get a chance. My wife is from CO so we’ve explored a lot of old abandoned mines out there.

  5. That was probably the first hike I’ve ever taken a GPS on, and that was mostly because I wanted an elevation and lat/long fix of the mine site. As you thought, getting lost would be almost impossible – the road’s on one side, the river on the other. On all of the many, many times I’ve been to Palmer, I’ve been guiding a tour so going to the Independence Mine hasn’t been an option, but it’s on the short must-see list.

  6. Your inner-ear labyrinth must be in perfect condition – I am wondering if somehow you have a few of those mountain goat genes in your makeup. I know my balance would not be nearly as trustworthy! Also, I find it incredible that those early miners & others got all that heavy equipment & building materials up sheer cliff faces and then, without an inch of flat, stable ground, constructed their mine workings. I bet there were no safety harnesses in those days. The final photo – ‘Almost back to the car’ – did you sprout wings and fly? Even though you are standing on grass and not a sheer rock face, VERTIGO was still my first thought. The excellent photographs and your great commentary are history, geography, ecology, exploration, adventure and journalling (this place, on this day in time) the ultimate all-in-one. “O” for awesome! (NZ joke)

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