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Clipper Mine – Ester Alaska

Ester, Alaska

The Clipper Mine is located on private property.

The Trail:

It all started with our visit to the Hi-Yu Mine in Fairbanks.  After we explored the Hi-Yu Mine we came back and told a few friends of our trip.  One of our friends knew someone who was a long time Alaskan Miner and still owned a mine in Ester.  Our friends poke to the mine owner and he was more than happy to give us a tour of his mine.  The next week we packed some flashlights and headed to Ester with no idea what to expect!

The drive to the mine owner’s house was a beautiful one.  We drove through tall birch trees and and met the owner, George, who welcomed us with open arms.  Being complete strangers I wasn’t sure what kind of tour we would be getting but George gave us an amazing narrated tour with all the personal insight that made the visit even more fascinating.

George explained that the Clipper Mine has been in his family since around the 1930’s. His father mined it and George himself also spent lots of time mining it too.  The mine is still owned by his family and is closed to most visitors.  We were luckily enough to know someone who knew George personally and George was gracious enough to let us check it out!

The mine was located down the hill so we piled in his truck and drove down his property.

Cabin where the entrance was located

Clipper Mine mill

We arrived at this flat area where all the mining took place.   There was a cabin and inside was a living room, kitchen and even a bedroom.  Towards the back of the cabin, the entrance to the mine was located.

George said that back in the day he used to give tours of the mine.  You could still see evidence of this by the hard hats and even some cool mining displays at the entrance including an intact ore cart!

George was showing us how he used to grind rocks down to reveal minerals

The Clipper Mine is still in good condition!  It was pretty dang cold inside too – about a constant 42 degrees.  There is also running water which gets pumped outside.  The mine has more than 800 feet of tunnels but we only got to see about 500 of it due to the back end not being in the best shape.  Here is a grainy picture of the mine map.

Clipper Mine map

The entrance was fortified with large wooden beams and some insulation.  The hard rock part started about 40 feet from here.

The mine was a gold mine and George said his father was following a narrow vein which yielded some nice samples.

The Clipper Mine isn’t the biggest mine I have been in but it played an important role in lode mining in Fairbanks.  Most of the other lode (tunnel) mines in the area have long been caved or sealed shut but the Clipper Mine, according to George, is probably one of the last open ones and it’s in good condition!

Gold vein

Looking up a raises

Looking back at the raise

Rail tracks are still in the ground

It was fun being in the back of our small party and taking pictures along the way.  The group I went with was new to mine exploring and it was fun to hear their comments and see them get excited.

When we got back about 500 feet in the mine we came to a room with two metal doors in it.  George told us a story how many years ago his family was approached by a university (I forget which one) and they wanted to put some earthquake detecting sensors in the mine.  The university would tunnel out a side room, install all the equipment and pay George’s family to read a sensor and send back the information to the university every few weeks.  George’s family agreed and the equipment got installed.  After a number of years the university came by and removed the equipment and thanked the family for their assistance.  But someone from the university then said that the equipment they installed wasn’t for detecting or studying earthquakes, it was actually for gathering information from atomic blasts from Russia!  Very cool!

Room where the “earthquake” studying equipment was located

Just a little ways down the tunnel was a dam where our tour ended.  There was ice cold, ankle deep water on the other side and apparently the mine wasn’t in good condition passed this point.

We turned back around and went back to the entrance.

I saw this picture of the Clipper Mine dated 1937!

Personal Thoughts:

I really enjoyed exploring this mine and am thankful for the chance to do it.  George later took us back to his home to show us some amazing old footage of mine operations throughout Alaska.  These types of opportunities don’t happen often so if you ever have the chance to get a tour from a mine owner, take it!Trek Planner Logo

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Difficulty is basically the length, duration and stress of the Trek. If the Trek is really long then it will receive a higher rating. If the Trek is short then it won't receive that high of a rating. However, difficulty rating also includes how tired we were at the end of the Trek.

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About The Author
Jeff Johnson
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you! JeffTJohnson@ymail.com

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