The Champion Spark Plug mine is quite a place. The deposit was initially found in 1916 by a dentist, Dr. Joseph Jeffery, who was looking for better minerals to build dentures from but the minerals found fame as insulators for spark plugs. The Champion Spark Plug Company successfully worked the mine from 1919 to 1945. It is currently maintained by volunteers.
Unfortunately for the miners, the deposit is up on cliff (around 9,000’) high up on the mountain side. The terrain was too steep for a road so all the ore was hauled out by mule. This also means everything hauled in was by mules as well. There is a camp up at the mine (appropriately called the Upper Camp) but the main camp is the Black Eagle, a few thousand feet below the mine. Even from the lower Black Eagle Camp, it is a long way down to the canyon bottom where the road ends at around 5,900’ in elevation. From there the ore was loaded onto a truck and then hauled to the railroad siding where it was shipped to Detroit for processing at Champion’s factory.
The camp has half a dozen furnished cabins, a cookhouse, three outhouses, a workshop and even a museum! It has running water piped to the cookhouse and wash house but sometimes the water line is in disrepair. The cabins are free to use and stay at. No reservations are required. The cabins are on a first come, first served basis.
Please enjoy and care for this incredible place.
Roger Mitchell has a great guide on the history and getting there:
Inyo-Mono SUV Trails
Videos at bottom.
Farewell, for now.
This old stove looks like it still gets some use.
Ed doing some dishes. Water is piped in and works great.
Ed sits at the kitchen table with gear and mine claim map.
A look in the kitchen.
A few beds in the cookhouse.
One of many paintings.
You can see our trucks parked on the ridge in the middle of the photo. In the background is White Mountain Ranch which once provided food for the miners.
View from the deck.
A look at the concrete mounts. One wonders how they got the machinery up here.
The building that was here must have housed two compressors or engines.
Just like home.
The Black Eagle Museum.
Hiking around camp, we found this old wooden tank. Cold Storage?
The mine is way up there.
This was quite an operation.
Misc tools, cans and bottles.
Ore sorting funnel to bag ore for the mules to carry down the mountain.
1939 Champion Spark Plug advertisement.
You could spend hours here.
“Mining operations at High Camp in early 1920’s. This photo hung on the wall of Champion Spark Plug Company’s office in Detroit until recently.”
The history here is incredible.
Looking around the museum. What a place!
Table in the middle of the room is full of rare earth ore specimens from the mine. Andalusite, sillimanite and rutile are common.
Black Eagle Museum.
Anyone for a game of horseshoes?
One of the few buildings that hasn’t been fixed up.
The cabins are hidden in the trees. Not all of them are visible here.
A fork of the trail heads up to the mine itself. That is another 2 miles and ~1,500′ higher. I’ll come back and do that another day.
The Champion Hilton. This is the best cabin in the camp.
Ed, Dan and Mike coming up the trail.
We spot the camp!
Amber glows on the peaks. The actual mine is located in the crag on the left side.
Getting closer as the sun goes down.
“Upper Mine Trail Please stay on trail ~ Hike Carefully ~ ” The forest service typical understated signage. The trail is typically 12″ wide and very steep most of the way to camp.
Ed and Dan backpacking in to camp. They are big into remote communications and are packing the electronics to prove it.
Starting off on our little trek from the upper trailhead. The lower one is pretty steep. We’ll take the easy way in. You need a pretty good 4wd vehicle and skills to make it to the trailhead though. It is not a drive you’ll want to do if you are scared of heights.
Looking at the lower trail up to the camp. That is quite a hike.
Storm clouds overhead.
The mine camp is hidden in the trees in the center of this photo.
“Welcome to the Champion Mine, Black Eagle Camp. All labor and materials to repair and preserve this camp are provided by volunteers (Forest Service can’t spare funds in current tight budget) Cabins available on First Come, First Served basis. Please help us keep camp clean. Hike to High Camp if you have time (Well worth the effort) Hope you enjoy your visit :) – The Champion Volunteers”. The camp is maintained by volunteers. Anyone can help out.
My accomodations for the night. The Champion Hilton.
The camp is spread out.
One of the 3 outhouses in camp. Sierra Nevada in the background.
The mine in the background.
Black Eagle Camp.
The Champion Hilton cabin. The sign says 7,550′ but I’d guess it is more around 7,250′.
The view the next morning from my cabin.
Lights and radios.
All of the cabins that are in habitable condition have stoves.
I poke around the camp and take a look at some of the other cabins. Nearly all of them are in good shape.
Dan checks out if we have water. Houston, we are go for launch!
Fading sunlight over the Minarets and Mammoth Mountain.
Had the place to myself.
The windows work and have screens. There was a nice breeze blowing at night.
Parked at the trailhead. Not the easiest drive I’ve ever done.
Champion Sparkplug Hilton video:
Black Eagle Mining Camp Museum video:
Wash house video: