In the early days of Mt. Rainier National Park, mining and prospecting was still a legitimate pursuit within the park boundaries due to Section 5 of the Mt.Rainier Park Act which kept the park open to the Mining Law of 1872.
This however was in direct conflict with Section 2 of the act which sought to keep all mineral deposits in their original natural condition.
In short, it was a real $#!tshow.
While there were many claims within the park during these early years many of them were simply charlatans and fly by night hucksters. Often a claim would be made with little or no minerals to be had, instead the claim being used as a cover for less than legal logging operations or poaching camps.
The Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of 1908 brought to a halt the influx of new prospectors, but didn’t eliminate existing claims within the park. However it did give park officials greater power to annul these existing claims when the claimants failed to do their yearly assessment work, or when a claim was improperly marked.
In addition to this, other changes to park regulations in 1908 severely limited claimants rights to construct buildings, cut timber, divert water flow or dig without the permission of the Secretary of the Interior.
The end was in sight for mining within Mount Rainier National Park, but some of these claims would continue for years to come, perhaps most notably the Mount Rainier Mining Company of Glacier Basin.
In 1902, Peter Storbo and B.P. Korssjoen staked forty-one claims in Glacier Basin and in 1905 formed the Mount Rainier Mining Company.
By 1908 much development had taken place including two tunnels, one at 73ft long the other 700ft in length. Two cabins, a blacksmith shop and a barn were also on site. Later development included a sawmill, powerhouse and a 13 room hotel that was said to house up to 35 miners and feed 120!
Some years later in 1913 the Mount Rainier Mining Company relinquished 32 of it’s 41 claims in exchange for an annually renewable permit for it’s existing structures and underground workings. In addition they gained the right to build a road along the White River to their claims in Glacier Basin.
Storbo and his uncle Ole P. Kulberg aggressively sold stock in the company, much of it to Scandinavian farmers in Minnesota and the Dakotas. So much so that Kulberg earned the moniker “Copper King”. They claimed that the ore from their mine was of the richest variety “Peacock Ore” otherwise known as bornite.
However by the 1920’s the mine was producing much more waste rock than copper ore, and in 1927 Peter Storbo took the last load of ore from the mine. The last load was not to be however as that day the truck tipped over along the road and sank into the White River. Luck was on Storbo’s side though and he survived the crash.
Storbo’s aggressive marketing of his mine came back to haunt him in 1930,when he and a partner, Orton E. Goodwin were convicted of mail fraud for selling phony stock certificates. In one correspondence Storbo had claimed a fortune of more than 2 billion dollars worth of ore at the Glacier Basin claims.
Storbo served a little more than a year at McNeil Island federal prison for the crime, but later it came out that Goodwin and an ex-con named Chester Cresser had framed Storbo by forging his signature on the phony stock certificates.
Peter Storbo passed away in 1956 at the age of 82.
Nowadays not much remains of the Mount Rainier Mining Company, but there do exist some interesting things to see. The foundation for the old hotel is still there at the Glacier Basin Campground, as well as some pipes and large cast iron debris along the 3 mile trail to Glacier Basin.
If you hike above the Glacier Basin Campground, you will eventually see a large tailings pile. This presumably is the site of the aforementioned 700ft tunnel. The adit has long since been buried by years of slide debris, but the view from the tailings pile is much more remarkable than some old hole in the ground.
Glacier Basin itself is the real attraction here, impossibly steep walls, high snowy glaciers, all the while Mt.Rainier looming above like a silent deity. If you catch it during the right time of year the wildflower display puts the finest gardens to shame.
I’ve heard that there exist other workings in the basin, however I neither saw them nor sought them on my last trip up there.
Of note is an interesting rock near the trail through the lower meadows of the basin. It bears an inscription which reads: “Mt. ↑ R.M.Co 1 P”
I believe this indicates other claims amongst the timber in the direction indicated, however I did not investigate this time around. I find the carving personally interesting as it bears a distinct impression of the individual that carved it. In a way it feels like a very direct connection to the mine and the men that worked it.
A trip to Glacier Basin is unlikely to disappoint anyone, in fact if it disappoints you, I suggest you get counseling. The scenery is world class, almost unearthly. I highly suggest this hike to anyone.
For those of us who for whatever reason feel drawn to history, and especially mining history, Glacier Basin offers that much more. While so far as I know there no longer exist any underground workings to explore, you should still put Glacier Basin and the Mt.Rainier Mining Company right at the top of your list.