The Argonaut Trip

The region around Campbell River is filled with treasures for rock and mineral enthusiasts. Some are buried like the coal seams found in the Upper Quinsam Lake area, while others are open for all to see like the remains of the Argonaut mine. One of the great things about being a rock enthusiast is the relative ease of finding something of interest. When you combine that with the awesome countryside around Campbell River the opportunity for enjoyment is multiplied. But when you throw in a bit of history to the mix the sky’s the limit for adventure. That’s the kind of outing we embarked on this past weekend. Eleven people from 2 Island rock clubs set out to explore the tailings of the idle Argonaut mine west of Campbell River. The mine was an important part of Campbell River’s development.  Active from 1951 until 1957 the Argonaut mine produced minerals used in the steel manufacturing industry. Judging from the amount of excavating and the quantity of material left in the screes around the mine site it was heavily developed.

Getting to the mine site is not a difficult or lengthy journey. Driving on the Gold River Highway westward from Campbell River you turn southward on the Quinsam mine road and continue on the Argonaut Main for about 15 kilometers. The trip takes you through country which has been logged and wanders over streams and around lakes. It’s a pretty stark journey through spruce and fir stands that ever so gently climbs above the shores of the Upper Quinsam Lake.

There is plenty of evidence that many other recreational users have used the abandoned loading site as fire pits and 4-wheel trails abound in the fine-grained rocky scree collecting at the base of the tailings piles.

We know that iron was mined here and there is a lot of magnetite and even some lodestones in the area and so we have come equipped with magnets and steel pins to prove our finds. A trick for using magnets is to set them inside a plastic container so that anything attracted can be easily removed. The pins can be dangled on a thread and are easily attracted by magnetized rock. A quick test of the parking area readily shows a vast quantity of magnetic material. The magnet attracts minerals at every location. Checking out some of the larger rocks for their magnetic ability reveals that there is indeed a good amount of naturally magnetized rock.

And so armed with our collecting tools and pails we set off to explore the area. It doesn’t take long before we are looking at the garnet that is found in abundance at the site. We spend some time talking about the uses for this material. Unfortunately none of this is gem quality but they make wonderful specimen samples. After collecting samples we take a break back at the parking area to talk about our finds and what lies in the hills. A trip up the mountain is in order to explore the upper regions of the mine site. Snow prevents us from reaching the very top by road but we can access the upper reaches of the excavation on foot. Our searches find plenty more of what is collected below; iron, lodestones, limestone and marble as well as the garnet are in abundance. At this elevation the views across the valley and over Upper Quinsam Lake are spectacular. There is even a deep and bright blue water hole created by the mine and now filled with runoff. It is a lovely sight even on this overcast day. Just one of the incidental benefits of traipsing around the backcountry looking for rocks.

Group meeting in the rain


Recreational use abounds






The search begins at the bottom


Garnet in matrix


Lodestone attracts the safety pins


Climb to the top of the mine


View from the top


Lake formed from excavation


Magnetized mud