Eureka Peak looms in the background in this 1954 photo of the Plumas-Eureka Mine aerial tramway powerhouse. Two longboard skiers carry the traditional single pole used to stop: the longboarder drags and digs it into the snow, usually between his or her legs. Photo courtesy Plumas County Museum
A hike to the top of Eureka Peak will get your heart pounding and your mind whirling with visions of the historic gold mining days of yore.
Eureka Peak was originally named Gold Mountain, and for good reason. By some accounts, more than $25 million in gold was mined from the area in the mid and late 1800s. In today’s dollars, that translates to approximately $565 million.
The gold strike at Eureka Peak didn’t begin the usual way — with a flash of gold in a pan. Instead, the gold was discovered when a party of miners was sent to explore the mountain and discovered a large quartz outcropping rich in gold, silver and lead.
The discovery was called the Eureka Chimney, and it was the focal point of hard-rock mining operations that included 70 shafts and more than 70 miles of tunnels.
The mines and surrounding area earned the status of state park — Plumas-Eureka is the only state park in Plumas County — in 1959. The 4,500-acre park’s focus remains the same a half-century later: hard-rock mining history and nature.
The park has numerous hiking trails, a couple of lakes, literally tons of mining artifacts and a 67-site campground bordered by Jamison Creek.
The Plumas-Eureka Museum and several other structures representative of the era, such as a blacksmith shop, stable, stamp mill, miner’s bunkhouse and miner’s residence (the Moriarity House) invite visitors to immerse themselves in the mid to late 1800s mining era lifestyle.
The state park’s museum is rich with exhibits, and the Plumas-Eureka State Park Association offers tours and special events throughout the year.
The area might also have been home to the first downhill ski slope in America, according to local lore. When winter snows halted mining operations, the miners strapped on 12-foot homemade skis — longboards — mixed up their favorite batch of “dope” to keep the snow from sticking to their skis, and headed to the mountain.
Some intrepid miners purportedly hitched rides up the mountain on a gravity-powered aerial tram. The tram carried buckets of ore downhill to the stamp mill. The skiers would allegedly climb into empty buckets and ride back up the hill — the first ski lift.
Plumas County Museum Director Scott Lawson has been unable to substantiate such claims. He did, however, dig up a newspaper snippet from the San Francisco Call from July 7, 1907:
“Fatal Accident At Mine. — Quincy, July 6. An accident that resulted in the death of Edward Mitchell, serious injuries to Frederick Hansen, and minor injuries to another man, occurred Tuesday afternoon at Johnsville.
“A tramway supported by a series of high towers running from the mine to the mill of the Plumas-Eureka mining company gave way and the men fell with it.”
At the end of the Graeagle-Johnsville Road, also known as A14, lies the ski hill parking lot. From there Eureka Peak is about a 6-mile round-trip hike.
During the summer, it’s possible to drive the 1.3-mile gravel road up to Eureka Lake, elevation 6,200 feet. However, the road is not maintained during winter. At that time it makes a great route for backcountry skiing or snowshoeing.
At the lake, a parking lot, picnic tables and vault toilet are available for visitors.
The lake attracts fishermen and wildlife. But because there are numerous submerged tree trunks and logs, the lake is not a popular swimming destination.
The trail to the peak crosses over the earthen dam and climbs gently about half a mile to a junction. From there, a 1.8-mile loop trail climbs steeply up to the peak.
If you go left at the T, you’ll hit False or North Peak, elevation 7,286 feet. From here you can look 800 feet below to the lake, to the east at 7,218-foot Beckwourth Peak and to the north at 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, often covered in snow.
If you go right at the trail junction, you’ll climb through a tall conifer forest of fir and pine to the true peak, 7,447 feet above sea level. From here, the jagged 8,594-foot Sierra Buttes dominate the view to the south.
Wildlife abounds in the park: deer, black bear, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, weasel, mink, marten, fox andmany other animals make the park their home. During spring and summer, wildflowers are prolific near water and meadows.
Although gold mining has pretty much come to a halt in the area, it is still rich in mining history and natural beauty all year round.
For more information, call the state park at 836-2380. For a map and brochure, go to http://bit.ly/anbLXt and click on maps/brochure.