The most popular hike in the North Cascades National Park is the 3.7 mile trail to Cascade Pass. This historic path dates back centuries as a primary route over the mountains.
The trail ascends 1,700 feet mostly under forest cover, via more than 40 switchbacks to reach the pass. Huge stone blocks serve as benches for a fantastic view down the eastern slopes towards Stehekin.
From the pass the trail soon splits, the main trail heads down towards the Pelton Basin Camp, then onto Cottonwood camp and Stehekin. The spur trail climbs up, up up (2,300 feet up in 1.9 miles) to Sahale Glacier Camp. Permits are required to spend the night at Sahale Camp (all overnight camping on the park requires a permit).
Summer weekends will find many people here. But once you head down the pass the crowds thin.
Horseshoe Basin is a cirque ringed with granite teeth, its many snow fields giving rise to dozens of waterfalls. These stream down, like silver necklaces in the sun, over green meadows. The outlet stream for the basin will be your trail, as you head up towards the Black Warrior Mine, North Cascades National Park.
The trail follows the stream up into the valley; it follows a course along the stream, across the stream and in the stream, brushy and wet. Shortly the trail emerges into a clearing where boulders dot the basin floor. Climbing up on the largest, the view is transfixing. The green bowl is surrounded with grandeur, full of color and drama.
Soon the brush thins and the view really open up. Looking ahead you can make out the remnants of the old roads, it started in Stehekin and at one time extended all way the up to the end of the valley, and to the mine. As the old road zigzags up you will see the opening of the mine, yawning above.
The North Cascades are full of old mining claims piles of colorful tailings and rusted remains of sluices and Pelton wheels littered about. But I had never visited a mine that I could enter and explore. The Black Warrior Mine operated until the mid-1950’s and is a National Historic place.
There are two main cavernous rooms blasted into the mountain side which make the opening of the mine. Wooden supports and floor boards are flooded with water. Old tables and remains of habitation litter the floor. The shaft of the mine runs deep, several miles of tunnel remain; open for any brave person to explore. Black Warrior Mine: Kitchen
The wonder of the place is still with me. Maybe its the history, all of the people who worked so long and hard here, digging and scraping for naught. Here, as in many of the North Cascade valleys, it was miners who blazed the trails that we now use to visit the high country. The road from Stehekin, long ago, came all the way to the mine entrance. Over time nature has reclaimed the road, now vehicles can only go as far as High Bridge, 17 miles downstream. Black Warrior Mine Remains
So, the next time you’re thinking of a North Cascades hike, remember the Black Warrior Mine and pay a visit. Its not a trip that you’ll soon forget!