Along The Cliffs

the shaft(s) atop the cliff at the Cliff Mine, as seen here in this early photo. The rock pile seen in the photo can still be seen today. Most of the buildings, however, have long since disapeared

The Cliff Range was home to many mines, one of which was the first profitable mine to exist in the Copper Country. It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that the Cliff Mine blossomed into an industrial juggernaut. Working a fissure vein at the Greenstone flow, the mine worked the cliffs from all angles; shafts at its base, adits driven into its face, and even by shafts sunk into their top. In the process it managed to pay its investors over $2.5 million dollars (in 1870!) and secure a spot as one of the most profitable in the Copper Country.

We figured if we followed the lip of the cliffs north towards the Cliff Mine, that we would stumble across something remaining from those upper shafts of the cliff. (hopefully not stumble into them however) It was not easy walking the rim, for logging had not thinned this area out over the years. A tangled net of trees, brush, and rocks slowed us down every step of the way. The rim is very rugged and we found ourselves climbing up and down large boulders and scaling rock walls. It wasn’t long, however, until we came across something interesting.

a view from atop the cliffs, this one of the beaver pond on the west branch of the Eagle River, just north of the Cliff Mine

It was a cut in the cliff face, much narrower then the one that brought us here. Looking down the steep incline we could make out the dark stain in the ground of a now dried up stream that must have ran through this cut. Climbing down a steep rock wall we dropped down into the stream bed itself. It was there that we found a line of iron pipes seemingly following the creek itself. Similar to the remains we discovered at Quincy Creek, these pipes probably served to deliver water to boilers down at the cliff base. Perhaps at one time this creek was damed up, providing a steady supply of water to these pipes over the years.

pipes line an old creek bed, once probably used to deliver water to thirsty boilers down below

Hopping the small stream we knew that we were close to more ruins. On the other side we once again faced thick brush and difficult terrain, but slowly made our way out to the cliff face. Only the face here was not made of rock, but instead was made from poor rock. Like a waterfall, a impressive wave of poor rock flowed off the cliff top and crashed down into the forest below, burying a good amount of trees in it’s wake. Down below us we could make out the other rock piles and even a few ruins belonging to the Cliff Mine. We were at the right spot, and the poor rock on which we stood meant a shaft was nearby.

the view from the poor rock pile that flows down off the cliff top

It was the foundation to an old smokestack that we found first, sitting in the woods near the poor rock pile. The side facing the cliff edge was missing, as if the stack took a tumble off the edge years ago. On the opposite side only a short jagged sliver remained, but it’s circular shape still noticeable. The smokestack would indicate a boiler, and sure enough a stone foundation sat nearby sandwiched between some trees.

the remains of an old smokestack belonging to a nearby boiler

a foundation to the boiler house

Continuing on we came across yet another ruin. If the pattern continued (smokestack, boiler, hoist, shaft), this should be a hoist building. It could very well of been, although it wasn’t in the traditional “H” shape, but instead in more of an “E” shape. (View Panoramic >) Scattered across the ruins were sets of large bolts which only strengthened the hypothesis. Now only one more ruin remained.

the remains of a hoist building?

a series of threaded rods sticking up from the hoist ruins, probably used to support a machine of some sort

This one sat right up against the cliff face, and manifested itself in a large hole in the ground. The hole was filled at the bottom with leaves and debris, and was about a dozen feet deep. Sticking out of the hole was a large pipe, capped at the top. While quite possible the shaft, its odd position so close to the cliff face was puzzling. Only a couple feet separated it from a rocky ledge, and placing a shaft so close to the edge seemed dangerous. Also not quite right was it’s relation to what might have been a hoist building – they weren’t lined up at all. Specially not enough to run a hoist rope between them. I would have investigated further, except my friend called from deep into the woods. He had found something even more impressive.

a shaft?

an anchor bolt and cable left in the woods near the shaft


  1. Mike,

    On Saturday I picked up “The Cliff; Anerica’s First Great Copper Mine” from my local library. If there’s anything you’re looking for that I might be able to find, let me know (I’ve got it until May 10th).

    Also, there’s some cross section maps of the Cliff in there that I could send over unless there’d be copyright issues.

  2. Jay..

    EXCELLENT!! I’m planning to take a very detailed look at the Cliff Ruins in the next couple of weeks (once the snow disappears completely – its very close..) and would love to have some idea what I’m looking at on the ground. If the book has any map, descriptions, or lists of the surface structures that would be great. A surface map of the buildings would be ideal if there’s something there. That’s mostly what I’m looking for right now.


  3. First of all, I’m jealous that you get to explore the Cliff in a couple of weeks. It’s gonna be a while before we’re back up there.

    No problem about the book. I don’t have a scanner, but I’ll take some pics and send ’em your way.

    BTW, it’s not a very long book (I’ve already read it). Also a little hard to follow since it jumps around chronologically. Very interesting book, but I wouldn’t spend $175-$200 on it.

  4. I finally got the chance to poke around the Cliff last Saturday, and I was fairly impressed with what was still left, to the point that I’m pretty sure I didn’t see everything there. I didn’t find any of the chimenys, but I didn’t go very deep into the woods either (nowhere near that big dump of poor rock that spills down from the cliff face). Taking the left fork I did find the remains of a building which must’ve been very large for its time. I had some difficulty finding the trail off the right fork and decided I shouldn’t risk slogging it through the brush without some additional guidance. Someone had tagged the fork, but the right trail appeared to lead into some sort of depression in the ground, so at the time I thought the tag was marking a shaft or a sinkhole and I avoided it.

    Walking along the poor rock piles, I noticed these random squares and rectangles of rusty metal, a couple of which clearly had bolt or rivet holes. I found a couple in the woods near the fork too, but I wasn’t sure if they were Cliff artifacts or just junk people had carried there to throw away. I picked through the leftover poor rock for a few minutes and saw quite a bit of what I’m pretty sure is quartz, which would’ve made manual drilling tough going.

    My camera is cheap and meant for casual photos, not clear, detailed ones. Thus, most of the pics I took in the woods turned out dark and fuzzy, even with touchup work in Photoshop. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about that on a student budget. :/

  5. Tim… Cliff is a frustrating place for me, for many of the same reasons you cite. There is a lot of stuff there to see, but so much of it is so highly overgrown that its rather difficult to see a fraction of what’s there. Sometimes I think it would be great if someone went in there and cleared a lot of the brush out of the way (not all of it of course, part of what makes cliff so fun is the wilderness setting) so things can be easier to see. Case in point: you said you didn’t see any smokestacks but that building you were looking at off to the left fork has one large honking one attached to its west face. The darn brush makes it near impossible if your not specifically looking for it. The first time I saw it I was literally right up against the thing. (I had to look up to realize it was a smokestack)

    As far as picture taking goes, It’s just not your cheap camera that has problems. I just went out three weeks ago and took a bunch of shots, but very little of them turned out. Just a bunch of rock walls and some trees I’m afraid. Thanks to your comment here I think I’ll feature my Cliff excursion starting tomorrow – that way you’ll get to see what you missed :)

  6. Mike,
    I tried to send the map over, but I’m having internet issues and it keeps pooping out before the file is attached. I’ll try again this weekend.


    Don’t feel too bad about the pics. I was there on a fairly sunny day and even with my camera (one step below a DSLR) I had to use a flash. That’s some seriously thick woods up there.

  7. Mike,

    Kinda off topic: the new email notification is really nice, but is there a way to subscribe to all the posts (or even the entire site) without manually going through them all?

  8. I have seen “The Cliff” on for $80.00 to $95.00.

    Dave Freeze

  9. Jay..

    I’ll get a RSS feed with the whole site up here over the weekend, it will have a bunch of settings that will allow email notification of new posts (and hopefully now comments if it can be done), so hold in there. Hopefully it will be done by Monday, if I can squeeze it in…

  10. Thanks Mike!!!

  11. I am looking for any info. I can get on the Cliff Miner,s. My grandfather was a miner at the Cliff Mine. I would appreciate any info. I can get. Thank You .Sam Fezzey,s Grandaughter

  12. I’m afraid I don’t have information on any particular miner’s, since most of my information comes from the internet. Of course you can try the archives if your in the area, since I believe they have employment records. But check back here as perhaps a reader may have something to share in the future.

  1. Pingback: Drifts and Shafts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *