Ultima Thule, Pt. 3: “The Bill Nichols Trail & the Quest of King Phillip"

June, 2011.

RETURN to part 2
After my tour of the Adventure Mine came to an end I figured I still had half a day to kill, and a warm-up hike before embarking upon my Isle Royale crucible would be a good idea. I had several points marked out on a map of the vicinity. I was in the village of Greenland near where M-38 and M-26 intersect; Mass City and Rockland form a sort of tri-city area here, but the total population of all three is probably less than 400 people. I was actually not far from the Norwich Mine, which I devoted five days to last year, but I had other fish to fry now. Namely Lake Mine and its siblings. Here is the immediate vicinity of Adventure…you can see the Bill Nichols Trail snaking along from the Adventure Mine at left, to the south and eventually eastward off the map to the right:

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Here is a zoom-out showing the towns of Greenland (upper left), and Mass City (lower left), with the Lake Mine location at upper right:

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And here is a close-up of the Lake Mine’s hill:

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The whole hike out and back to Lake was several miles but it was over easy ground; the Bill Nichols is a wide gravel ORV/snowmobile trail that follows the old rail bed that served these mines when they were in operation. This is why the Copper Country is such a hot spot for ORV’ers--it used to be webbed with endless narrow gauge railroads for shipping ore down from the hills to the mills. The trails are a great way to find ruins.

I donned my short-excursion army pack once again, loaded with my compass, DEET, water, snacks, and a few other odds and ends like my extra flashlights in case I actually did enter a mine. After coming fresh off my full-bore exploration of Adventure Mine, I was feeling pretty fearless. Since I couldn’t carry these maps out in the field with me without lugging my laptop around, I held a piece of paper up to the screen and traced out a hand-drawn map to help me remember. I folded it up in my pocket and hit the trail. The day was warming up a bit but it was still only about 70 degrees. The bugs were pretty aggressive around here and I took a few hits from the ‘skeets. Almost immediately on my right upon leaving the Adventure property line, I saw this beastly shaft collar of the Adventure Mine #5:

It actually has a concrete shaft collar, and was a double-wide shaft, but as you can see it has been capped by the familiar method of welding a skein of old railroad iron over it. Just inside the woods to the left were a series of other typical foundations, one of which was undoubtedly the hoist. Looking down into the shaft:

I continued along the trail to my target. I soon passed a ruined rock foundation to what looked to be a smokestack base…it was near where my marker for South Lake Mine is on the second map posted above:

However everything here on the north side of the trail to my left was marked private property, so when I thought I saw more foundations in the cliffs beyond this I decided not to investigate yet. I continued eastward. There was also this old house right before I crossed M-26:

Once across the highway I soon found the beginning of the Lake Mine’s hill, still covered in its own waste-rock vomited from below:

I climbed the tailings and soon realized that there was quite an opening here, but it was not a shaft or an adit, it was an elongated scar-like fissure that stretched for several yards…was it the top of a stope?

I am fairly sure that’s the case here, especially once I saw this:

You see the wooden log between the two rock faces? I think that’s a stull, or brace placed between the floor and “hanging” wall of a mine to prevent collapse.

This next one is looking down into the stope:

As you can see, the thimbleberries were almost ready to bloom.

A little further down the fissure I found a point that was big enough for me to fit into. I crawled in a little and could see it went a ways:

Me climbing down:

Looking back up toward the opening:

Turns out this went nowhere…it had caved-in to the point of being blocked off. And there were some vicious looking spiders about, so I crawled back out.

The view from the side of this hill wasn’t bad:

If my calculations are correct this particular working would’ve been part of the Lake Mine B, whose #1 shaft had to’ve been nearby, prolly up top. As you can see by the map of the hill there are several different named mines, and a few that had older names (i.e., Belt Mine), which were subsequently bought up by the Lake syndicate. The post office for this town changed its name in 1910 from Belt Mine to Lake Mine, and closed by 1939. Again, like at the Adventure, this hill always showed promise but never paid off, and in 1919 mining ceased.

I came back down the hill and decided I didn’t really feel like climbing a bunch of steep-ass tailings piles today. My plan would instead be to skirt along the bottom edge of the hill here to try and find any adits or ruins, then circle back behind the hill once I found the cleft where the Firesteel River cut through next to it in hopes of finding a gentler slope up. This meant bushwhacking. I felt it’d be a good idea to get some practice in on that since one of the things I wanted to attempt on Isle Royale was going cross-country off the trail to find some of the remoter mines there.

I grabbed my compass out of my pack and began marching through the dense brush, trying to keep the side of the hill in sight as a reference. This proved somewhat difficult and I wished I would stop coming up here in midsummer to try and find shit when the woods are all in full foliage. My last trip in January was an eye-opener, heh.

One thing I came across almost immediately on my left was this shelter someone had erected:

According to my map I should’ve seen signs of the Lake Mine B-shaft #2 by now, or perhaps even the Frezetter Mine. I kept going. Becoming dissatisfied with this, I took out my compass to record my bearing, and the approximate bearing of the side of the slope. I was heading about 60 degrees east, and kept checking periodically to ensure that I was indeed going in a straight line. I had now gone quite a ways and did not see anything. I now wished I had kept track of my paces.

I did come across this, which maybe was something…?

Finally it got to the point where I knew I would get lost too far afield if I kept going. I made the decision to abandon my course and make a 90-degree turn south to intersect the Bill Nichols Trail again, which by looking at the map you can see is supposed to continue just south of me. I knew that I would be better able to keep track of my distance there instead of being lost in a dizzying sea of green leaves, and would make a lot better speed as well, especially when having to backtrack. Once again I used my compass to ensure I was indeed following a course, knowing in the back of my mind that I could not now make a third correction without at least identifying some actual landmark…if I did, it would be almost impossible to backtrack safely.

To understand my concern in this, if you have never been out in a truly huge hinterland where the possibility of becoming lost is very real, look at an aerial view of the western Yoopee…gigantic swaths of it are nothing but featureless oceans of green. Now imagine being inside that endless green, not being able to see outside of it, and having to navigate.

I trudged on for quite some time, over fallen logs and swampy spots, and every so often seeing what I thought was the Bill Nichols Trail up ahead (but wasn’t). I kept checking my compass heading to make sure I was still going precisely south following the shortest line to intersect the trail. Just as I was becoming nervous, I stepped out onto the wide, gravel Bill Nichols. Now I just had to figure out where I was in relationship to the Firesteel River; theres no way I could’ve crossed it yet without noticing, so I went east again. I had to be very close. Turns out I was, and soon found it. So I turned around and began heading back west to where I started next to the highway. I started counting my paces so as to use comparative distances when I plunged back into the woods again to look for the mines. About halfway back, I saw a small mound that I remembered from earlier, and noted where in my paces it was. Counting what was left back to the highway from the mound, I now wrote these distances on my hand-drawn map while sitting in the shade resting.

I checked the time, and it was getting well on in the afternoon. I was hungry as hell, and thirsty. I suddenly didn’t feel like bushwhacking anymore, haha. Clearly I was doing something wrong since I had not seen any obvious ruins here at Lake. I reluctantly made the decision to give up on this for now in the interest of having time to get to Houghton tonight and get some grub. There were still a couple things along the way that I wanted to check out. I hiked back to Adventure and decided this time to investigate more closely the large foundation I had sighted in the distance on the private land behind the ruin of the South Lake earlier.

As I neared, I could tell it was actually a rockhouse foundation.  With some large concrete pillar leaning up against it:

Even more interestingly, directly next to it was both a shaft and an adit (the shaft mouth is buried in the debris immediately past the barbwire):

Both were sealed, but this was an interesting find nonetheless. Continuing back to Adventure, I figured I had covered maybe six miles today if you count all the wandering off-trail. Not a bad little hike. Before getting in my car, I made a swing by the ruin of the Adventure’s powderhouse.

I love powderhouses…such cute little Hansel & Gretel-looking things…straight out of a fairytale.

Passing it, I also noticed that this area used to be some kind of dump…there were all kinds of old bottles and junk, and even several old 1950s cars popping out of the hill at weird angles.

Getting back in my car and leaving the area I snapped one last pic, of the Adventure Mine assayer’s office foundation:

Anyway, I hit the open road again and swung down to the Lake Mine #1 and #2 to see the titanic rockhouse foundations there:

Again the bugs were very ferocious here, because this stuff was basically in a swamp:

I also tried to locate what is marked on my first map at the top of this thread as “Ohio Mine(?).” I didn’t find much there, and again the bugs were so ferocious that I just scrammed.

Heading north on M-26 toward Houghton, I stopped in the village of Winona, where the King Phillip Mine had been. Via Panoramio I had found a picture of a huge stamp mill ruin, and wanted to check it out. I drove through the miniscule town (more like a loose collection of houses than a town), which had a hand-painted sign declaring, “Winona--Pop.: 19.” Except the 19 had obviously been crudely painted-over once to change it from a “15.” Yeehaw! Anyway, I found the old rock piles from the mine but wasn’t sure which unmarked two-track path into the woods was the right one to follow. I didn’t want to end up in someone’s backyard--or driveway--so I kinda just gave up. I had a feeling it was on private land anyway, since one of them was gated and chained.

My next item of curiosity was something that someone on CopperCountryExplorer.com had posted last year, a “mystery adit” in the trees along the road near Donken, wondering what it was. I drove past the described spot and could not see anything through the trees. So I parked on the road and hiked in. I walked around for another half hour without finding anything. Finally after long tromping through thick brush I spied a cleft in the rock above and hiked up to it. Sure enough it looked to be an adit once, but had clearly been backfilled:

Bah, so much for exploring today, let’s get the hell to Houghton and eat something and call it a night. I’ll need all my energy for the island.

CLICK for Part 4.

A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence Molloy, pg. 81-82

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