Blog 300 Hatcher Pass 4th August 2013

Current News – We got our beloved bike back into the country a week or so ago, it was our most expensive release from the docks to date (400GBP)….but it was extremely easy. She is currently resting at home as we try to find the time and funds to re insure tax and MOT (roadworthy) her. We will definitely put her back on the road before winter but I might give it a few months to stagger the mots and tax/insurance a bit or they will all run out at the same time next year.
Karen is now also working, part-time for Age UK so she can fit around Margaret. We did plan to release a blog a week but obviously that hasn’t happened. We will try and keep plugging away at it as time allows but we are obviously now having to fit it in around work and everything else.

In this blog we took a day out to ride the area surrounding Anchorage we hope you enjoy the ride too.

Blog 300 Hatcher Pass and Mines 4th August 2014

We made lots of new friends in the camp ground at the Harley/Motoquest site. Chatting with Steve we found we had similar plans for places to visit so we decided to ride the Hatcher pass together. Leaving Anchorage we turned off the main highway as soon as possible on to the old Glenn highway a lovely meandering ride following the river. We stopped to photo the old cars in this locals front garden where we could see the new bridge across the river. The cars were all for sale and Steve chatted to the owner making notes of the prices for a petrolhead friend of his. It looked a bit like the set of the Disney film “cars”.

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The old bridge ran alongside and was built on wooden stilts now presumably unsafe for traffic.

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This tracked vehicle was the only other way of crossing the river and looked a hoot. Its called an Argo and is a design that’s been around since the 60′s, they are truly amphibious having a sealed bathtub type hull.

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They get a lot of snow here as this avalanche sign shows. What is it with roadsigns, they must make a satisfying clang when you shoot them I guess.


Our main objective was to ride the Hatcher pass road but we stopped along the route to visit Independence mine which looked interesting. There were some restored buildings but a lot of it was just as they left it when the mine closed and they walked away in 1951.

Robert Lee Hatcher found and staked the first lode gold claim in Willow Creek Valley in 1906. Lode mining requires extensive tunnels and heavy machinery and is therefore expensive. For this reason the smaller mines pooled resources together creating the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company (APC). With a block of 83 mining claims, APC became the largest producer in the Willow Creek Mining District. The claims covered more than 1,350 acres and included 27 structures. In its peak year, 1941, APC  blasted nearly a dozen miles of tunnels, and produced 34,416 ounces of gold worth $1,204,560; in todays money $17,208,000.

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Independence mine accommodated single men in the big bunkhouses, families were allowed to build houses on spent company mining claims. A small town grew here known as Boomtown or Independence Village with over twenty houses, eight children attended the Territorial School in the new bunkhouse. Here you can see the remains of the laundry.


During 1936-1943 over 150,000 ounces of gold were recovered from the Independence mine which prior to World War II was the second largest hard-rock gold producing district in Alaska.IMG_0680 IMG_0667

In the centre of this photo is a marmot a rather large ground squirrel. The white tufts in the grass we think are cotton grass which is actually a sedge and not a grass.

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This mine operated year-round with 204 men working the in the mine, camp and mill at its peak. It had to produce its own energy and had many diesel generators and air compressors with an output of 900 horsepower and 670 kilowatts. Along with the mill complex it also had an engineering office and warehouse which doubled for a time as a schoolhouse, Assay office, powerhouse and cookhouse it was one of the first permanent buildings.

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Although it’s hard to imagine from the jumble of remains that you see here, there were many plants and mills to sort the ore.  The ore was brought to the mill complex by buckets on the aerial tram or by ore cars driven out the mountainside by a battery powered locomotive.


Once in the 330 ton coarse-ore bin it was carried on conveyor belts to the Ore-sorting Plant where it was screened, washed and crushed. The waste rock was removed by hand.

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Independence mine had two ball mills with a total capacity to mill 80 tons of ore a day these operated all year round 24hrs a day.

The ball mills which revolved like cement mixers were partially filled with steel balls, water and mercury. The impact of the balls rolling and cascading within the cylinders crushed the ore. There is a picture below showing the size the new solid steel balls were and the size of some worn down ones.

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Further down the hill the slurry consisting of pulverised rock, gold, mercury and water exited the ball mill and flowed over a series of stepped copper amalgamation plates coated with mercury. When gold and mercury come into contact with each other they instantly form an alloy called gold amalgam. The amalgam was scraped from the plates every eight-hour shift and pressed to remove any excess mercury before it was taken to the Assay Office for retorting. Mercury is highly poisonous, no health and safety in them days.

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The road beyond the mine was the delightful Hatcher pass, a dirt road that wound up the Talkeenta  mountains with the views you would expect from the summit.

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We enjoyed lunch at the summit lake where we met a fellow biker Ovi visiting from Chile he was borrowing one of Barb’s (Alaska Leathers) motorcycles.

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Steve was very enjoyable company and made us laugh with some of his improvised photo poses.


We emerged from the valley and headed towards the town of Willow which lead to the highway back towards Anchorage passing this Art Deco diner on route. It was a great ride. The scenery was beautiful and we enjoyed exploring around the mine.


Next up – Anchorage museum.



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