20 » On Trail
January + February 2010 » Washington Trails
Mother Nature has been reclaiming this ravaged landscape for decades now, and as I hike, I play guessing games. Is that depression a collapsed mine shaft? Are those vegetated mounds really debris piles? Is that a natural gully or an old strip mine?
If you too enjoy hiking through history, come to Cougar Mountain to ponder bygone days. Here are two short hikes that hit the highlights.
Red Town Loop
From the Red Town parking area, head left up Red Town Trail, which was once Hill Street in the neighborhood of Pacific Coast Coal Com- pany houses that were all painted (you guessed it) red. Just past the intersection, the large pit on the right is a cave hole, a spot where the ground has collapsed, or subsided, into old mine shafts. You’ll see many more of these, as well as knolls that hide building ruins and tailings piles. As you hike the trail, imagine it a hundred years ago, when there were 50 homes, a hotel, saloon, church and school.
Pass the Bagley Seam Trail (a collapsed shaft with an exposed coal seam), and at 0.3 mile, turn right down Rainbow Town Trail. Just before the intersection, the large gully on the left is an old strip mine. As you head down the
What's in a Name?
When coal was discovered on Cougar Mountain in the 1860s, the area became known as the Newcastle Hills, after the famous English coal town. (Modern-day New- castle sits atop the old Newcastle min- ing town, and its pioneer cemetery contains the graves of early miners and immigrants.) After World War II, a local landowner thought the coal- mining connotation sounded grimy and low-class, and proposed changing the name to Cougar Mountain. The new name stuck.
trail, note the “Cave-in Danger” sign–an im- mense cavity lies beneath the trail. The jumble of concrete blocks you see on the right are remains of a 1920s fan house that pulled air and noxious gases from the Ford Slope mine; its airway also served as a secondary escape route for the miners. (The pole fans you see in the area are more recent installations to diffuse mine gases.)
Above: Old bricks in the mill pond
At right: Coal car at Ford Slope min- ing exhibit
The Ford Slope mine is straight ahead, along
with an excellent exhibit about the mining era. Take a moment to absorb it all. Check out the old mine cart and rusty relics nearby. The 22- foot arch of the mine entrance is now plugged with concrete; the tunnel behind it descended 1,740 feet to 200 feet below sea level. During its heyday (1905 - 1926), Ford Slope was the largest producer of the Newcastle mines. At its peak, 11 electric locomotives worked underground, loading 600 tons of coal per day into cars that were hauled up the 42-degree slope by a steam hoist. While standing in front of the mine, look behind you in the woods to locate a large “H” that marks the hoist location.
Retrace your steps up the trail a short way and turn onto the Steam Hoist Trail, which takes you over Coal Creek by the site of the 1916 concrete dam (still there, tucked under vegetation), built to create a mill pond and serve the sawmill that cut planks and beams needed for tunnel supports and buildings. Much of Cougar Mountain was logged during this era, and timber traveled to the sawmill over a skid
road made of greased logs. You can still see old bricks in the pond, and the four concrete blocks you pass are sawmill footings.
Walk a bit further, and look down on the massive foundation of the steam hoist, nearly hidden in summer but clearly visible as parallel, fern-covered mounds in winter. The steam hoist pulled five loaded mine cars at a time up Ford Slope, using a 36-inch steam piston to drive a huge winch with 2,000 feet of cable.
To complete your hiking loop (1.6 miles), follow the Wildside Trail back to Red Town Trailhead. As you descend the steps, the large hill on the left, as well as the smaller knolls you see, are mining debris. It’s worth noting that, despite its wild state, none of the terrain around you is natural. The hills and gullies, even the course of Coal Creek, were reshaped by man during successive mining efforts.