By: Bill Oliver
Allison - the Gold, the Gulch and the Gorge
Just making your way to Allison Mine is fairly gnarly. Your escape, if successful, can be down right thrilling. My first visit to the old gold mine was with a friend last June, 1996. Over the next three months I would make five more trips, either solo or with another friend - but always a different friend (four in all)! The gold continually alluded me, as it pretty much did the Allisons. No, I was drawn again and again by a sense of the fantastic and by my passion for adventure.
Look this outing up in John W. Robinson's "Trails of the Angeles" as Trip #87: E. Fork Ranger Station to Allison Gold Mine - 14 miles round trip, 3000 ft gain. John Allison "discovered" the mine in 1914 and worked it with his three sons for many years. It was shut down in 1942. [For more info, see JWR's "Mines of the East Fork."]
Allison Mine is located about half-way up Allison Gulch, at 4200 feet, on the SW side of Iron Mtn. To cover the entire route from the R.S. you'd need Glendora, Mt. Baldy, Crystal Lake and Mt. San Antonio topos, but most notably the last. This quad shows two trails leading to the mine: one up from the Gulch and another from the south.
The south approach takes the "Heaton Flat Trail" to the saddle at Pt. 4582. This puts you at the head of Laurel Gulch, also the starting point for the x-c climb of Iron. One then heads west on "Allison Trail," out around a ridge, then turning back into Allison Gulch and over to the mine at the Creek. If you paid attention on your up-and-down ridge top hike to Pt. 4582, you could vaguely make out the Allison Trail on the slope to the north, traversing slightly downhill from the saddle area. But at the saddle, it is hard to find the start of the trail. So, persist - it's there, a little to the left of some trail marker. You should not climb higher.
After about twenty feet, the route becomes generally self-disclosing. I say "generally" because sometimes it becomes down-right secretive! If you occasionally see some red ribbons, you're probably on route. Figure to stoop down a lot, and to get on your hands and knees a few times. Oh yeah - this route is fiercely defended by yucca. From the car to the saddle, figure on a good 2.25 hours (more if you need to rest on the way). OK, now you can rest. Ahead, you've still got a brutal two-hour ordeal along the Allison Trail to arrive at the mine. By then, especially in the summer, you'll be thrilled to simply collapse at the ample, cool, boisterous creek. Saunter upstream about 5-8 minutes for a really neat waterfall.
All the mine tunnels that I've found are on the south side of the creek; really two distinct mines. The upper one, above the trail, is very complex, having three entrances at different levels. It was really startling/weird to follow the passage from the middle to the upper entry. This serpentine tunnel meanders very, very steeply - like nothing man-made I've ever seen. We were somewhat concerned that "Them" (giant ants) might suddenly attack at any moment. They didn't; but maybe we were lucky! Better to have a flame-thrower just in case!
The lower mine has one entry and many side tunnels, all pretty much at the same level. Look for it beside a small path between the creek and the trail you came in on. All the entrances are notably lacking in tailings - the ore was somehow hauled out. All the tunnels in both mines are over six feet high - easily walked.
The Allisons lodged in cabins on the north side of the creek. Not much left here now but the leveled ground. South of the creek, however, there are segments of rail track and, below the mines, immensely heavy pieces of equipment. According to Robinson, the miners constructed a wagon road up Allison Gulch to where it gets very steep. They then used "an ingenious system of cables and pulleys" to hoist the gear up to the mine. It's hard to imagine how they did this without serious helicopters.
Having explored the mine and having indulged in the cooling creek, my friend, Joel Grasmeyer, and I were finally set to depart (as if we controlled our destiny). In the latest edition of his guide, Robinson warns that the other route shown on the topo, down the gulch, is no longer safe. He recommends returning the way you came. [Warning: the topo also shows a side trail leading to the Stanley-Miller Mine. I could see no sign of this.] Well, we couldn't find the start of the gulch route, but we had planned to descend the creek itself anyway, having brought a thin 115-foot rope, just in case. We soon unexpectedly found ourselves in a fantastic deep, tight gorge, which was to present three "impassable" falls. All right!
The first falls was about 25 feet high and was handily rapped, leaving two slings. The second, close to 45 feet high (& two slings), landed us in a half-foot pool of water (with little rope to spare). At each rapp, the first person down would scout ahead, before the second came down, to see if it would "go." The third and final falls, a spectacular 80-footer, out-stretched our rope considerably. However, it appeared that we could climb the wall on the right, up past a large tree, and carefully work our way down eventually to the creek. This succeeded, but it's crappy rock, somewhat exposed and hard to protect.
The rest of the descent down the gulch along the creek is straight-forward x-c (you might discern vague portions of a trail). You should reach the East Fork, just above Swan Rock, in about an hour or so non-stop. Then plan on another 1.5+ hours and at least six stream crossings back to the car. I love loop trips.
On subsequent visits, using 115 and 100-ft ropes (& three slings), we handily rapped the third falls, straddling the water between our legs. This very likely may not work in the spring with high water, as the natural descent line is in the falls. This rapp also dumps you in a pool.
The best way to discover what I call the "Gulch Trail" on the topo, is to find where it sets off from the lower Gulch. On my earlier visits, this location was marked with red ribbons and two hand-crafted metal signs nailed to trees (placed "11/3/1995 by Ed. J. Miller"). Then, suddenly, all markings mysteriously disappeared! Rats. From the East Fork, figure 600 feet gain and about 40+ minutes to the narrow gully shown on the topo north of the creek, just left of the trail. This gully is not obvious. If you see a large downed log with "Paul" carved on its upstream side, you're just a little below the start.
Cross the creek to the north and scamper up a steep dirt wall amid tree branches, then contour east and a "trail" will gradually unfold. A sharp turn uphill is the start of fairly sustained, steep dirt climbing - there ain't no switchbacks. Scattered red yarn markings help with this challenging route. Eventually/hopefully, you top out and then make your way east above the gorge, amidst much pointy yucca. This is the best way to discover how this trail actually reaches the mine. Having come up it first is also the best way to know how to take it down, trust me.
One of my six visits was a solo backpack - in by Allison Trail, out by the Gulch Trail. Believe me, the entry is bad enough with just a daypack!! I did not enter the mines after dark - ghosts or no ghosts. A trip to Allison Mine can be a great adventure - or a great mistake. Please don't underestimate it.
For Joel Grasmeyer's unique version of events plus color photos, check out his homepage at http://www.aoe.vt.edu/~grasmeye/photos/allison [Webmaster note: As of 11-February-2003, the above link is not working.]
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