This annual 3-day event allows explorers of all skill levels access to miles of underground mines that were once some of the most profitable in the Death Valley region.
I’ve been a fan of the Underground Explorers for years and have wanted to attend one of their Underground events ever since I came across some photos of the first one they held back in 2014.
The group is made up of professional mine exploration enthusiasts who explore, map, and photograph historic abandoned mines throughout the southwest. They also assist government and private organizations with mine search and rescue/recovery (SAR).
After spending most of the day out exploring Mojave National Preserve, I finally pulled into camp just before sunset…
…giving me plenty of time to set up and get acquainted with my new neighbors.
Knowing that my friends weren’t scheduled to arrive for another 3-4 hours, I took the time to explore the camp, chat with some of the Underground Explorers and even took a night ride to one of the nearby mines in my neighbors Polaris.
As night fell, a steady stream of cars made their way up the dirt road from the desert below, including my friends, who after spending nearly 6 hours driving from LA, still had enough energy to get in a little ‘mine time’ before calling it a night.
After putting on our helmets, headlamps, flashlights, and closed toe shoes (a requirement to enter the mines), we made our way into the eastern portal of the War Eagle Mine.
According to “Tecopa Mines” by Kenneth E. Lengner and George Ross, “the War Eagle Mine is worked by a 500-foot crosscut adit that intersects the vein on the 250-foot level. From this point a 45-degree inclined shaft extends to the 350-foot level and then continues at 32.5 degrees to the 500 foot and 600 foot levels. Lateral workings are extensive.”
And as you can see from this massive stope we found deep within the mountain, the authors weren’t exaggerating. In fact, the Tecopa mines are said to be some of the largest abandoned mines in the Southwest with miles and miles of underground workings that sometimes interconnect with some of the other mines that surround the area.
Grant is one of those connecting mines, it connects to the War Eagle Mine. After spending a little over 2 hours exploring it, we figured this would be a good place to end our first night of exploration, headed back to camp, and called it a night. – Photo Xavier Drenfold
We woke up the next morning bright and early (at least it was for me) and were making our way into the eastern portal of the War Eagle Mine shortly after 9am.
Day #2 begins.
Our plan for the day was to eventually connect up with the Grant Mine and make our way out to the other side of the mountain to see the Noonday Trestle. –Photo Xavier Drenfold
There were lots of interesting things to see along the way.
The campsite at the War Eagle Mine and most of the mines in the area are located on private property, which has helped to protect and preserve the history that can still be found within the mines inner workings.
Skinless & Boneless? Fancy!
Even though the event is open to all skill levels, participants are still expected to understand the potential risks and hazardsthat are often still present in abandoned mines.
Because of the danger and the fact that the mines are located on private property, all those in attendance must sign a release of liability form and adhere to the rules of conduct laid down by the landowners while attending the event.
We now had to climb 400 feet up the old wooden ladders to make our way out to the Noonday trestle. – Photo Xavier Drenfold
Ladders are one of my favorite things to do when I’m exploring a mine, so climbing up this long 400 foot shaft was definitely the highlight of my weekend.
What’s it like to climb nearly 37 stories up an old wooden ladder system in a mine? Dangerous but also very exciting. There’s risks involved in almost everything we do. You can take all the precautions you want but there’s always a chance something could go wrong (check out the video in the link above). I’m fully aware of the danger I often put myself in but it’s a risk I’m willing to take in order to do the things I enjoy doing. My rule is to always be as safe as you can but don’t ever let someone else’s fear control how you choose to live your life. Know the risks, take precautions and do what makes you happy.
As we got closer to the top, we were forced to squeeze through a small opening to get around a partial collapse that occurred years before.
The light at the end of the shaft was getting closer…
This is the headframe located above the Grant’s incline shaft.
The headframe, bin, and hoist at Grant. The views were spectacular and the headframe provided just enough shade for the three of us to enjoy a quick bite to eat before heading back underground.
Another portal into Grant was located nearby.
After lunch we decided to hike over to the Noonday collapsed trestle.
The trail leading over to the trestle follows the old rail bed of the baby gauge railroad that once ran here and passes two ore bins that were once used by the Grant Mine.
“The tracks connected the Grant’s ore bins, crossed over the ravine by means of the trestle and went through a tunnel that connected with the Noonday and its interface with the Tecopa Railroad.” – Tecopa Mines
“The motive for the baby gauge RR is not known. The Tecopa tram engine could not be gas or diesel powered because of the fumes which would contaminate the tunnel and Noonday Mine. One possibility is that the tram that hauled the ore from the Grant to Noonday was pneumatic with stops along the way to repressurize the tram’s tank.” – Tecopa Mines
“A mule could of also been used. Crossing the trestle should not have been a problem because it had 2″ x 10″ lumber between the rails that definitely could have supported a miner and probably a mule.” – Tecopa Mines
The fact that there’s even any remnants left of this incredible structure after being built over 100 years ago is pretty incredible.
After weighing all our options we decided that the best way to get back to camp was to head over to the western adit of the War Eagle Mine.
Because we left camp so early, we weren’t able to get a peek of the massive workings map that the Underground Explorers usually put out on display for the event (it went up shortly after we left). We had a pretty good idea that this opening probably would’ve connected us back to camp via the eastern portal of the War Eagle Mine but since we weren’t 100% sure what the condition of the mine was in or if technical gear was even required, we decided to play it safe and hike back to camp over the mountains, not under them. – Photo Xavier Drenfold
It was a long slog up and down the rocky terrain…
…and there were many times along the way where I didn’t think I would be able to make it back to camp, or if I did, it would take me way longer than my younger friends would take.
Just as I was about to give up, our camp came into view. Thank you Jesus.
After refueling back at camp, we headed back into the eastern portal to check out the massive map that was now on display. The guys were ready to head back in but after spending 8 hours exploring I had hit a wall and thought it would be wise for me to get some rest and head back in the next morning. I found out later that I had multiple tears in my rotator cuff and a (bone) cyst in my right shoulder which eventually led me to having surgery two months later. I knew something didn’t feel right during the trip but didn’t know the extent of my injury until getting back to LA and seeing a specialist.
As the guys headed back underground, I popped some aspirins, drank my ciders and enjoyed camp for the evening.
The bonfire sure felt good…
…and the late night entertainment wasn’t too bad either.
After some much needed rest, we were up and back in the mine by 9am the following morning.
Ventilation control door.
You can’t hide from 420…even when your hundreds of feet below the earth. Fuk-N dillholes!
Inside a “powder drift.”
Deep [underground] Thoughts
A broken stick of dynamite.
Ore car jackpot.
Keeping it clean underground.
Square set timbering.
Each set of timbering was tagged.
Ventilation ducts that were used when the mine was active.
The bottom of the burned out western winze of the War Eagle mine.
Most people were coming down from the top, we decided to head up from the bottom and it was hell.
After yet another day of being underground, I thought I should probably hit the road and start heading back to LA. Sure, I missed the biggest night of the event, which included a massive bonfire and dancing T-rex but after two nights of not sleeping in your own bed when you have a bum shoulder, I figured it would be best to get home before I do anymore damage to myself. Out of the 44 hours I was at Underground 2016, I spent a total of 12 of them exploring (mostly underground). I would consider that a success and I’ll definitely be back next November for more.