Exploring behind Britannia Beach a few weeks ago was a long-held dream come true. I was finally able to see remnants of the town and mine operation that I'd only read about on the Internet and in books. I wasn't the only one who was enthralled with the place. There were a few intrepid mine explorers on our message board who were also spending their weekends following the old roads and discovering some BC history. One of them was Westcoaster. I ran into him on my last trip up there, and since then, he posted an intriguing photo of a tram line tower that he found in the area. I had to go back and see it for myself.
This time, I issued a public invite on our board. The board responses indicated that maybe a handful of trucks would show up at the North Vancouver rendezvous that morning. But when I got there, I was surprised to that, in total, there were 11 4x4s. The only people I knew from past trips were Westcoaster (Jarl), Lone Ranger (Matt), and Dennis. Everyone else I met for the first time. After grabbing some groceries, we got onto the Sea to Sky highway and before long, we had turned off onto the Britannia Creek FSR and aired down.
For the benefit of the people who hadn't been here before, the first part of the day involved visiting the same sites on Mount Sheer that we explored the first time I was there. I didn't mind, because Jarl had done more research on the area, and had also brought some printed maps and information about the things we had seen. The large concrete "shed" whose function we speculated about earlier was now known to be the terminus of a tram or incline railroad. We also now knew the names of the various shafts, their levels, and how far into the mountain they extended. This made poking around the ruins much more interesting. Jarl also showed me some things I missed the first time I was here, such as some old buildings and fire hydrants that were hidden in the bush.
The power room for the tram or incline railroad.
The most photographed site on Mount Sheer is the power station and air compressor building near the Mt. Sheer townsite. The reason for this is the large Pelton wheels, compressors, and electrical generators that are crowded on the building's exposed foundation. Matt, an avowed tunnel rat, immediately jumped into his orange coveralls, armed himself with flashlights, and began exploring the narrow maintenance tunnels under the foundation. I followed for a short ways before claustrophobia got the better of me. Exiting from a different manhole, I couldn't even reach my arms above my head, due to the confined space. I had to slowly inch my way up the ladder with my elbows tucked close against my sides. But these tunnels were just a prelude to the main event, which was shimmying between the rocks that blocked the mine shaft 50m from the building. Once we managed to get ourselves inside, we carefully stepped along the very wet tunnel to see how far it went. It's hard for me to judge distance inside a mine shaft but I would estimate that we walked 75m before we glimpsed the end. It had been plugged with rock. Jarl speculated that the plug was put in place to prevent the contaminated water from exiting the mine and into the creek. By keeping the water contained within the system of shafts, it would eventually be treated by the decontamination facility lower down the mountain by exiting from another shaft.
Matt the tunnel rat.
After getting back under the warm, sunny sky, we did our best to clean ourselves and got back in the trucks. The next stop was the Jane Basin, which was about 1.4km SE of us, and 1800ft above us. The basin was basically a large gravel clearing with a pit at one side, where it was dug into the mountain. Although there used to be a tram line here and mine workings, there was very little remaining to be seen. We spent some time poking around here, and tried to continue farther up the road, but were turned around by a rock slide.
The main reason I was there was to see the tram tower than Jarl had photographed a week ago. It was located at the Beta portal and that's where we headed next. It took about a half hour of dusty driving to get there, but it was worth it. It also required a 15 minute hike up a very steep path that was littered with old logs, loose rocks, and other debris. So after suffering through a series of small strokes, I finally reached the shelf where the tower and an old wooden building were located. The building was closest, so that's what we explored first. Parts of the floor had rotted through so we chose our steps wisely. There was also the pervading smell of rat feces, which immediately brought to mind uncomfortable thoughts of hanta virus. Despite the smell, I couldn't help admiring the great views that the miners must have had from the windows. The building's perch gave it a commanding view of the valley. Scattered around the building were various remnants of the mine, including a surprising number of old ore carts and twisted rails.
The shack near the tram tower.
Lots of ore carts.
After taking some photos, I headed to the tram tower. We didn't see any adits near the tower. I assume there were some there but were probably blocked off and caved in many years ago. The tower looked like it was the top-most point of the tram line. But there was a long length a cable that continued into the woods above it. Following the cable would have required a steep hike further up the mountainside and, quite frankly, I was too exhausted to entertain that option. Instead, I hobbled my way back down to where we left the trucks. We drove a little bit further to Victoria Camp where Matt grilled smokies for everyone. It had been a good day. I saw some new stuff, learned more about the old stuff, and met new people from the board. I was ok with leaving some things for future trips.
The tram tower.
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