Underground and back in time to the Copper Rush of 1842, before the west coast gold rush exploded, the Chippewa ceded 30,000 square miles of the Upper Peninsula to the U.S. government. Welcome to the Adventure Mining Company of the Keweenaw Peninsula at Adventure Mine, an active copper mining site from 1850-1920. Let the adventure begin.
The Adventure Mining Company is a family-run business that offers three levels of tours based on your preferred type of hands-on experience.
Option 1: Trammer’s Underground Tour
- Walk through tunnels and see large rooms where copper and silver was removed (45 minutes)
Option 2: Prospector’s Underground Tour
- Covering three times the length of the Trammer’s tour, hike into the largest rooms of the mine and past shafts to lower levels. Some limited maneuvering in low spots with uneven footing on trails. (1 hour 30 minutes)
Option 3: Underground Miner’s Tour
- Rappel down 80 feet into a mine shaft in total darkness, crawl through low, tight places, and cross a drawbridge over a 30ft chasm. ( 3 hours)
It was an easy decision for us to select the Prospector’s tour and we quickly declined the guide’s attempt to convince us to try the Underground Miner tour. Although we have rock climbed before this seemed much different. Ashley has claustrophobic tendencies and didn’t want to feel trapped in total darkness.
Tours through the mine are conducted by request so as soon as we decided which type of tour we wanted, they were ready for us to go. Evan was our personal guide and historian for just the two of us. He carried a two-way radio and backpack with emergency equipment. We were given hard hats with head lamps and went over safety protocols. He checked that we had good hiking shoes and was glad that we wore warm clothes since the mine maintains a temperature of 48 degrees regardless of the outside temperature.
Before setting off, Evan told us more about the history of the mine. Adventure Mine is the original name of the copper mine on Adventure Bluff. The Adventure Mining Company opened in 1850 from prehistoric workings of five shafts over 5,000 years ago.
The copper supply is so pure that it is formed in large, heavy masses that fuse to the walls making it nearly impossible to remove. For example, one such copper boulder had to be broken down into four pieces so that it was easier to cart out. It took 20 men working 10-12 hour shifts 6 days a week for over 6 months to completely remove the copper piece. Because of the manpower and money put into the mine to excavate this purest quality of copper, Adventure Mine never saw a profit in all the time that it was active.
We were also hoping to spot a couple sleeping bats on our tour. There are bats who live in the mine but Evan didn’t think we would see any since they’d be out foraging for food in the woods at the time we were there. Even so, we had to walk over a soapy mat to clean our shoes to prevent white-nose syndrome in bats. Bats who get the disease are awakened from hibernation in the winter and confused by the seasons so they fly out to the woods for food and freeze to death.
Our ride to the entrance of the mine was a Swiss Military vehicle called a Pinzgauer. We enjoyed the company of the owner’s daughter and the family “mine dog” on the ride.
Each entrance to the mine is locked with gates to keep out both trespassers and bears! Apparently, children used to play in the mine during the time period after it was closed and before it was reopened for tours in the 1970’s.
When we entered the mine, drips of water leaked on us while we turned our head lamps on and our eyes adjusted. Evan took us through a tunnel to a large room with coffins and animal traps set up. These were props made of foam by an independent movie crew, “Dwarves of Demrel,” a fantasy film similar to “The Lord of the Rings.” There is also a large mountain bike race Miner’s Revenge 2016 that goes through the mine for a portion of the course held each July.
We saw old drills and mining tools that had been used by the miners. Those using the hammer and stake method pictured below worked in a team of three with one man holding the stake and the others alternating the hammering. The miners were most often immigrants who couldn’t communicate with each other or be able to hear over the noise. They had only a candle to light the area they worked in and if it blew out, they were not paid for the day. It was dark outside when miners arrived and left for work and many of them suffered from permanent dilation of their pupils, deafness, and blindness at an early age.
Pieces of copper are exposed here in the above picture. This piece has been thought to be left because it was connected near the base of the wall and without knowing how large the full piece is, it could cause collapse of the walls. Adventure Mine is so rich with native copper supply that there is actually more remaining today than what was ever mined during the entire time it was active.
While copper is no longer mined in the Keweenaw, copper mining is still a profitable business today. Copper is heavily used in building construction, power generation and transmission, electronic product manufacturing, and the production of industrial machinery and transportation vehicles. Other historical uses of copper include the Statue of Liberty, green from oxidation, and the U.S. penny (now with a much smaller percentage than what it was originally). While in Ontonagon, we also perused a gift shop of jewelry and knick-knacks all made of copper called Gitche Gumee.
We definitely recommend the tours at Adventure Mine for anyone traveling to the Upper Peninsula. It was an exciting and educational experience, much different from our visits to caves, and we had a great time.
We ended the day with fishing at Emily Lake, kayaking on Lake Superior as the sun went down, and winning a game of Pandemic together.