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Exploring south of Sandy Beach

Posted: Friday, December 03, 2010

The Saturday Parks and Recreation hike was scheduled to start at Sandy Beach, head south along the channel to a private cabin beyond Ready Bullion Creek, and then go uphill to the Treadwell Ditch trail and back to Douglas. Ho-hum, I thought. But I went anyway, and I'm glad I did. This hike took me to some spots I'd never visited before and learned a few shortcuts that I'll never be able to repeat.

Courtesy of Tom Bornstein
Courtesy of Tom Bornstein

On the way south along the beach, we noted a flock of surf scoters and another one of goldeneyes, with a few gulls in attendance. Except for an occasional raven, and maybe a wren flitting in the log piles, that was it, for wildlife. So, wildlife was not the main source of interest.

We detoured off the beach to inspect a yawning hole in the ground, which was the entrance to one of the old Treadwell Mine shafts. It has a feeble barbed wire fence around it, and a steel grate across the opening in the rock. We were told that until just a couple of decades ago, there was neither fence nor grate, so there was nothing to deter an animal or child from entering the great hole, on purpose or otherwise, leading us to wonder if there might be an accumulation of skeletons at the bottom of the long drop.

A little farther along, we checked out a cave that reportedly was used to store mining explosives. Heavy steel doors lay in the brush outside. With a borrowed headlamp, one hiker ventured inside the cave, splashing through boot-high water that covered the floor.

At Ready Bullion Creek, we heard the story of how the nifty single-log bridge was created. I've used that little bridge many times, when I go down there to look for dippers and often wondered how it was done. The builders rigged a high-line between two trees on the rocky banks and used it to raise the log into place. The log was then anchored to bedrock and the railings were added. The falls just above the bridge was ornamented with ice formations.

Lunch, with four (!) shared desserts (and we had enjoyed a superb apple-cranberry birthday cake on the way, too) was followed by inspection of a clever gravity-fed water supply system and a winding route up through forest and muskeg. Frost flowers adorned the ice surface on the muskeg ponds and needle ice had pushed up through the mud as it froze.

Reaching the Treadwell Ditch, we headed south once more, to find the southern beginning of the ditch at Bullion Creek. There are no signs of the dam that once shunted the creek into the ditch. Apparently, that dam has been gone for quite some time.

Along the trail, we noted a living, but hollow, tree with lots of crumbled wood at the base of the hollow. On top of the crumbles were several substantial, rusty-brown, frozen stalagmites. Rampant speculation produced visions of monsters or at least a nice black bear up in the hollow, whose excretions might have accumulated into these towers of ice. I suspect, however, the tree itself had leaked tannins and other materials during the recent fall deluges, and these leaks had simply frozen in place before soaking into the wood chips.

On the return journey, we stayed (mostly) on the Treadwell Ditch trail. This portion of the trail has clearly received no recent maintenance, and there were more trees across the trail than I cared to count. In several places on this stretch, as elsewhere along the ditch, small streams have breached the retaining berm and sought their rightful course down toward the sea.

Because water levels were low, most of the streams could be crossed readily. Getting back across Ready Bullion was easy for those with rubber boots. However, several folks had hiking boots with vibram soles that prove treacherous on wet surfaces. One such hiker went skittering and flailing across the ice, while the more conservative hikers straddled a smooth log and hitched their way across.

After that, we trailed along through forest and muskeg, following the leader - as lemmings are erroneously said to do. He somehow must have known where he was going, because we came out, as planned, on the road above the old foundry site where the zipline ends. Once upon a time, we were told, the mine operators created machine parts here. Almost all traces of that activity are gone, except that virtually nothing will grow on the site, so for years I have called it the Poison Pit.

So it turned out to be a good hike, after all, for a congenial crowd of over a dozen explorers.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.



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