It’s hard to imagine spending a lifetime in the coalfields of southern West Virginia, living in isolated coal camps and laboring at an endless job to put food on the table for your family. It’s a difficult life that West Virginians lived for many decades. While the mining and energy industries have changed, there are some evocative relics from those tough, thankless jobs. And if you’d like to put yourselves in the shoes of an early-20th-century coal miner, even for just a day, there’s no better way than to hike down the Kaymoor Miners Trail, in the New River Gorge.
The Kaymoor Miners Trail is located on the south side of the New River Gorge. From the bridge, head south and turn left at Fayetteville. Drive through downtown, then turn slightly left onto Gatewood Road. In 1.9 miles, turn onto Kaymoor Road. Keep left at the split, and you’ll end up at the trailhead for the Kaymoor Miners Trail and the Butcher’s Branch Trail, which connects to the excellent Long Point Trail.
Before you even get started on the hike down to the Kaymoor Mine, you receive a sobering dose of reality for the miners at this concrete slab. This was the footing for the Haulage House, built in 1926. The Haulage House was sort-of a railroad station. From here, miners could take a car mounted on rails down the steep slope to the mine, and on down to the bottom of the gorge. The car was raised and lowered by 2,500 feet of cable. It was a risky way to get to work — and some chose to walk.
Since the mountain haulage route is no longer running, we have just one option: follow the trail down the hill.
After hiking the relatively easy Long Point Trail, the Kaymoor Miners Trail was much more exhausting. With every step downhill, I was aware that I’d have to go back up, and it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s about 400 vertical feet down to the mine entrance, and another 500 vertical feet on down to Kaymoor Bottom and the New River.
There isn’t much to see along the way to the mine, until you spot this old utility pole structure at the side of the trail. There are also some old scraps of metal, which might be the remnants of the old haulage tracks.
Kaymoor Miners Trail
Beyond this spot, it’s just a bit further, down some stairs…
… until you arrive at the mine, and receive a ghostly message from the past.
YOUR FAMILY WANTS YOU TO WORK SAFELY.
Imagine being stuck in a difficult, dangerous job, trudging down a hillside every day with nothing to look forward to except eight or more hours inside a dark, dank mountainside, in a slit so narrow you can’t even stand up, breathing dirty air, covered in coal dust. Imagine arriving here each day, only to receive the reminder of why you’re doing it — your family needs the money, your family needs you, and your family won’t survive if you don’t come home.
There’s the front door of your office. That narrow opening provided access to the seam of coal that would keep the lights on in cities all around the country.
That “safety board” kept track of accidents, and provided another dose of encouragement to work safely.
At the entrance to the mine, the trail continues downhill to Kaymoor Bottom. Signs warn of disappointment for anyone who continues downhill, saying that nature has reclaimed most of the manmade structures down there. The signs also advise that it’s 800 steps to the bottom.
Some graffiti suggests that it’s only 764 steps to the bottom, not 800. Yeah, that makes it so much better.
Instead of continuing the hike downhill, I decided to explore the area around the mine. There are quite a few relics remaining from the mine’s heyday.
This old building was probably used to provide ventilation to the mines. There are some old, mostly-collapsed openings in the hillside behind it. Not far beyond this building, the trail ends.
Go back the other direction, and you’ll find the powder house. The doors are open, but there are a few steps missing on that staircase, so it’s probably wise not to climb up there.
This might have been the office or lamphouse. Workers would pick up a headlamp to provide light deep inside the mine.
And then, they’d hop onto an empty car and go to work.
It’s about a two-mile hike, round-trip, down to the mine entrance and back up to the trailhead. But, the elevation loss and gain makes it feel like much more.
Here’s a look at the drive from Fayetteville out to the Kaymoor Miners Trailhead:
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The Bottom Line
A few minutes at the Kaymoor Mine will help you appreciate your job, although the hike back uphill will convince you to spend less time at your desk. If you’re in the area and you don’t mind a strenuous hike, the Kaymoor Miners Trail will help you appreciate the hard work and tough life of a West Virginia coal miner.