Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Day 23: Gold Mining around Metaline Falls

August 7: I woke up and hit the trail with a normal 6:00am start time. The trail today followed Noisy Creek downstream for several miles to Sullivan Lake, dropping a couple of thousand feet in elevation along the way.

At the lake was a paid campground where I was able to throw out my trash and use the pit toilets before I continued onward along the length of Sullivan Lake.

Sullivan Lake

At the far end of Sullivan Lake, the trail merged onto roads that would lead the last 8 miles into the small town of Metaline Falls. First it followed gravel roads, but that section didn't last for more than a mile or so. Then it was paved roads the rest of the way into town.

About halfway through the road walk, I stopped at a small pullout next to Sullivan Creek. There were some large boulders I could sit on, and it was in the shade--shade was essential for such a hot day! And I noticed a weird-looking contraption on the other side of the creek. It was resting on the far shore and it looked like a small boat, but so small I couldn't imagine that anyone would fit into it easily.

Then I realized that contraption at the back looked like a sluice box. And if that was a sluice box, then it must be a dredge for mining gold! Was there gold mining out here?! There was no one around the presumed dredge, but I felt absolutely certain that that was a gold mining dredge. I had no idea that there was gold mining in Washington state!

This looked like a gold mining dredge on the far shore! There was gold out here?!

About a half hour later, an older man walked up on the road. He had a long, graying beard, leathery skin and I guessed he was maybe 60 years old. He wore a bluish T-shirt and beige shorts that looked well-worn and gave off a homeless vibe. Not that that's a criticism--I too was giving off a homeless vibe, no doubt! And he wore a handgun on his hip.

It seemed like a total stereotype but the first thought that popped into my head was: This guy looks like a gold miner!

It might have been a stereotype, but I was also right. That was his dredge on the other side of the creek and he was camped out at a pullout on the road just ahead. We chatted for several minutes and I asked him about his dredge and gold mining in general--mostly because I was just curious. I'd never run into an actual gold miner on my adventures!

He said he spent 7 hours yesterday working with the dredge and getting down to the bedrock (where the gold was located) was the hard part. I asked if it was okay to ask how much gold he found--I didn't want to be rude if that's a touchy subject, but how could I not be curious?! And he pulled out a vile with flecks of gold. It was, he told me, what he had found yesterday. It didn't look like much, and I asked how much it was worth. "Maybe $20 or so."

This is what $20 of gold and 7 hours of work look like.

Yeah, not worth much. Not a lot of money for 7 hours of presumably brutal work under a hot sun. Definitely not a career I wanted to get in--although it might be fun to gold mine for a couple of hours just as a novelty. And he needed a gun to protect himself from someone wanting to rob him of $20 of gold? Well, maybe yesterday was a bad day and normally he had more gold on him. Maybe....? I don't think knocking over gold miners would probably net much money. Not out here, at least!

I wanted to take a photo of his gold, but he said I should really go out in the sun for the photo because it really sparkled well in the sun. I so didn't want to go out in the sun, but I did anyhow and the gold positively glittered! Very pretty. I could see why people would be enchanted with the stuff.

I also asked if he was the only person mining for gold or if there were others and he said there were others. It didn't sound like there were a lot of others, but he wasn't alone. His friend, he told me, had found a "picker" yesterday. He said it as if it was the biggest news to hit the region in years.

I was fascinated. In return, he was curious about us PNT hikers. He already knew I was thru-hiking the PNT--he's seen PNT hikers pass by for years and knew what we were doing out there, so his questions were more about the route of the trail. What towns did it go through, what passes did it cross over. That sort of thing. He knew the trail went through Northport and wanted to know how it got from here to Northport.

Eventually our conversation ran out and he left. He waded across the creek to his dredge and started walking it downstream to his campsite just out of view.

There wasn't much of a shoulder to walk on during the last few curves of the road into Metaline Falls.

I picked up my pack and continued on toward Metaline Falls. The road walk, despite being paved, wasn't too horrible since it wasn't very busy. That is... until the trail merged onto Highway 31. That highway was a very busy road and a little scary to walk on. The last part into town, the road snaked around blind curves with almost no shoulder. That was the scariest part, and whenever I approached those areas I'd look for a break in the traffic then dash through the curve as quickly as possible.

I made it into Metaline Falls at about 2:00 in the afternoon. The thermometer outside the hotel read 85 degrees when I arrived--and temperatures were still rising. They typically peaked at around 4:00 in the afternoon and by 5:00, it would start cooling again. Ugh... so freaking hot!

It was about 85 degrees (in the shade!) when I arrived in town.... and still heating up!

I checked into the Washington Hotel. The historic hotel was built in 1910 and, although primitive by modern times, was absolutely charming with period furniture and decor. The hotel was mostly full when I arrived--filled with construction workers working on a nearby project. Included as part of the price for the room, Tiffany gave me a scoop of ice cream from the store downstairs. On a hot day like today, it was heaven!

I was the only hiker there, but they had a hiker box that I checked out.

And... I was intrigued by the two bear sprays that were left there. Were they left by hikers who quit the trail here? Hikers who decided that they didn't need no stupid bear spray slowing them down anymore? Or were they left by hikers who felt that it wasn't needed anymore now that we were getting outside of grizzly country? Officially, my maps still said we were in grizzly country, but we were definitely at the outside range where they could possibly been seen.

But there were a couple of thoughts that floated through my head about the bear spray. Almost everyone thru-hiking this trail hikes from east to west. It's how the maps and guidebooks are labeled and its extremely unlikely that any hiker who had hiked this far would suddenly need bear spray. The bear spray would probably sit here for decades to come!

And my other thought--even if someone did have a use for bear spray--should they rely on a can of it that may or may not be full? There was no way to tell if the bear spray might have been used and if your life depends on it, do you want a can that might be half full?

I wouldn't! But it gave me an idea. I could take a can for myself and just shoot it off in the woods. Shoot off the whole can! I had sprayed the can I carried for a half-second just to get a sense of how it worked, but now I could test a can and empty the entire thing! It's supposed to last at least 7 seconds... but does it really? It's supposed to shoot 30-odd feet... but does it really? I could find out! I could test it!

I grabbed one of the cans for myself. I'd never shoot off my own can just for fun--these things were $30+ and I didn't want to waste the money. Well, I had thought about shooting my can off in four years when it reached its expiration date, but now I didn't have to wait for four years!

The historic Washington Hotel was built in 1910 and was absolutely charming!

Eventually I headed back outside. I ate lunch at the 5th Avenue Bar and Grill--an unassuming place with overpriced food. The food was okay--not great, but okay--but they charged prices like it was great food. Afterwards, I still felt a little hungry and headed to the nearby market to do some grocery shopping.

I also ran into Ryan who had arrived into Metaline Falls earlier in the morning. He didn't make it here last night like he had wanted to and was planning to camp in the yard of a trail angel for free which is why I didn't see him at the hotel. I was tired of camping, though, and preferred the comforts of indoor when I was in town. I suspected his budget for the PNT was smaller than mine as well, but I still had an income even while I was hiking--a luxury that most people did not get.

I checked the thermometer outside the hotel at 8:00 in the evening and it was now reading 90 degrees. Ugh! How hot had it gotten earlier in the day? Temperatures had already been cooling for over 3 hours and it was still 90 degrees out! So miserably hot....

There was no air-conditioning at the hotel, which isn't a surprise for a building built in 1910, but there was a fan in my room that I was happy to use and I opened the window to let in air, but the room was still uncomfortably warm and I sweat buckets just laying in bed.

I eventually headed off to sleep, but temperatures were not supposed to improve over the next several days. In fact, tomorrow's forecast showed that Metaline Falls was expected to break 100 degrees tomorrow. Ugh! I needed to get an early morning start tomorrow, and the earlier, the better!

Sullivan Lake

And the 8-mile road walk into town begins!
Just 7 more miles to go! I was also amused to see the sign for a "public phone" to the left. Do those still exist?! Apparently so! But they're so unusual, they have to post signs to help you find them.
Sullivan Creek--there is gold in that thar creek!

I felt right at home! =)

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