Huron Mtns Trip, Pt. 3: “Not Out of the Woods Yet”

October, 2012.

Return to Part 2
Day 4.
From the top of Bald Mountain the morning light gave our surroundings a very much different aspect when we awoke to a perfectly crisp autumn daybreak.

A dramatic cloudy sky added to the effect, making the secrets hidden within the huddled Hurons seem even more guarded and mystical and impossible to unravel.

As usual, the brilliantly colored forest below us was practically ablaze with autumnal fire, though the tips of most of the trees were only just beginning to be ignited by the gold rays seeming to emanate from inside the Hurons’ huddle.

The peaks of the Huron Mountains range from 1,400 feet to 1,600 feet, and many crystalline lakes, old growth forests, and waterfalls are nestled between them, never to be seen or enjoyed by unwashed proletarians such as us. The only way for a non-billionaire to be admitted onto Club property for a visit is to be invited by a member or be a biological researcher, and for that you have to be vetted to make sure your project is to their approval.

It’s not even easy for other rich people to get in—an existing member has to die before another can be admitted. Only one man has ever been able to overcome that rule—Henry Ford. And that was after sitting on the waiting list for 13 years.

You may recall how I told the story at the end of my Isle Royale saga of how the state highway trunkline plan for M-35 threatened to cut right through the territory of the frantic HMC, but the road was completely cancelled at the last minute. Mr. Ford exerted his influence in the highway commission to put the kibosh on M-35, after using the threat of the highway and his ability to stop it to pressure the HMC to admit him against their membership rules. As a result, this huge swath of the Yoopee north of M-28 has never had a highway to service it, creating a massive hinterland that no one goes to because of the difficulty of navigation.

The unfinished stub of the highway that was constructed is known today as “Blind 35”…wide, perfectly graded, and ready to be paved, it forges northwesterly from Marquette for miles, but then abruptly tapers out into sudden nothingness right before crossing the Salmon Trout River into the HMC. All but those last couple miles past Big Bay were turned into M-510, while the rest was abandoned. Another version of the story I heard is that Ford bought his land next to HMC where the road was to be built, so he could be in a position to have the choice of either allowing or denying the state to build a road on it, naturally forcing the HMC to court his favor.

Though I suppose one could attempt sneaking into the HMC somehow…Jacob Emerick has strayed near the fringes of HMC land many times before and gotten away with it, perhaps sometimes unintentionally trespassing, as they do not have a fence or many signs to tell you when you have passed the sacred boundary. He knows some of the hard to find trails that lead inward, and perhaps I could gain a taste of the forbidden Shangri-La this way. Rumor has it that guards are well armed and even used to shoot at anyone approaching by water or woods. Today the security force still patrols the trails of the HMC, which is what makes trespassing difficult, though some have claimed to achieve stealth access by staying off-trail.

And though the Club claims that their guards are no longer armed, many question this. The guards are always patrolling, and coordinate by radio, mostly on the lookout for trespassers, but also to guard the members’ cabins while they are not there. One has to be an extremely skillful woodsman to evade capture in those woods…which, I have to admit, makes it very enticing to try. One of the best rumors about HMC is that it was a secret hunt club for the “Most Dangerous Game.” In other words: man. The homeless, or other unwanted people would be kidnapped, and released into the wilds of the HMC, for the ultra-rich members to get a taste of hunting human. One could at the very least have a quite exhilarating time playing the reverse of this game by attempting to slip in and out of the HMC undetected by its supposedly elite wardens. But that is for another quest, and another day.

The HMC actually contains one of the world’s last primeval maple-hemlock old growth forests. When it was started it was small and mostly cut over; today it is a case study in conservation, paid attention the world over. Because the founders knew that a hunt-fish club’s solvency depended on how it conserved its resources, they took stewardship of their land very seriously and levied extremely high dues and use restrictions to uphold this.

The famous conservationist Aldo Leopold was enlisted in 1938 to produce a plan for preserving the HMC tract for the future, and that was the roadmap that was followed ever since. The HMC is sort of like a study in utopian living in harmony with nature; it is said that today it is no longer the boys’ club of yore for the bemonocled rich and famous, but its membership is made up rather of environmentalists and nature-lovers of all walks. The HMC is the main opposition to the controversial reopening of the Eagle Mine and Kennecott Mill operations nearby on the Yellow Dog Plains.

The HMC forest is in climax stage, having never burned in recorded history. As such, fire is a great danger there. There has been under-hat talk by NPS officials for decades that if it weren’t for the HMC owning it, this land would have been made into Michigan’s “other” National Park a long time ago. HMC is also one of the last holdouts in America of the coveted coaster brook trout, and claims to have the tallest waterfall in Michigan. There are also moose and wolves, and *allegedly* wolverines and cougars.


Our adversary, Mt. Arvon, looked even more formidable now than it did last evening, with its head now hidden in the clouds:

The HMC’s first president was John Longyear--a mining and lumber magnate who also owned a steamship, which provided the only practical means of getting there for the first several years. Another founding member was Cyrus McCormick, the president of International Harvester, whose father invented the revolutionary McCormick reaping machine. As mentioned earlier, he also held the nearby 17,000-acre tract southwest of the Yellow Dog Plains as his personal retreat, now open to the public as the McCormick Wilderness. Fred Miller of Miller Brewing Co. was also an HMC founding member, and owned additional property at what is now Craig Lake State Park, just west of the McCormick Wilderness.

Besides these three and Henry Ford, it is difficult to find out who else was a member, because of the general privacy of the HMC. Some more people who I have seen mentioned online as being former members include: actress Julie Harris, author Lillian Jackson Braun, Harvey Firestone, and supposedly Sandra Day O’Connor. The original HMC charter rigidly dictated a maximum roll of 50 full members (and up to 100 associate members), and that supposedly anyone talking publically about HMC can have their membership revoked. Use of cell phones or TVs is not allowed within HMC boundaries, or is at least considered a serious faux pas. Some of today’s members are seventh generation descendants of the original members.

Another rumor about the HMC is that it is a meeting place for international political and business leaders who don’t want their meetings known. There is one rumor that I’m pretty sure is true—the HMC has its own unique style of boat, built there by a master boatbuilder who they kept on the payroll. A “history” of the HMC was once written by Fred C. Rydholm (who started out as a dishwasher at the Club), but is difficult and very expensive to obtain if I'm not mistaken.

Mr. Ford’s palatial lodge was designed by Albert Kahn, but as usual was too big for his wife Clara’s tastes; thus Ford’s membership was short-lived. It is said that Ford sometimes rode on the ore freighters of his fleet up to Marquette (he loved spying on his employees even more than the great outdoors), and met his chauffeur there for a ride to the HMC.

Not everyone who applied for membership with HMC was allowed in, even if there was a vacancy. There is also a voting process. Architect Louis Kaufman was denied membership because he was Jewish, or because his wife was Indian, depending on the version of the story. So to show them up he built the most ostentatious lodge he could nearby, naming it Granot Loma. This incredibly palatial residence perched on the rocky cliffs of Lake Superior is considered one of America’s “castles.” Famous guests to Granot Loma have included: George Gershwin, Mary Pickford, and Fred Astaire.

By the way, if I’m getting any of these facts wrong about the HMC’s true nature, or if I’m only perpetuating rumors or half-truths, then too #@$%ing bad--maybe they should hire a P.R. person. But they seem to be totally content with the public at large resenting them, or spreading damaging, bunk information, so whatev’.

A fairly calm looking Lake Superior seemed to bode for another pleasant day, while the verdant arm of the Abbaye Peninsula and the Keweenaw Peninsula behind it stood out even more boldly than before:

In fact, it was now possible to clearly see distinct hillsides along the Keweenaw Ridgeline in the vicinity of Cliff Mine:

We were so high up that we could see entire weather systems sweeping across the region. It seemed as though we were in an airplane, with the clouds mere inches above our hatted heads:

As it turns out, John Munro Longyear has a very interesting background. Born in Lansing in 1850, he started as a lumber scaler in the Saginaw Valley, and later came to Marquette in 1873 as a young land surveyor. He quickly became a mining and timber magnate, served as mayor of Marquette (1890-91), and built Marquette’s most prominent mansion in 1892. He also served on the Board of Control of the Michigan School of Mines (Michigan Tech) for 24 years.

Longyear co-founded the HMC, but he actually first explored the land as a surveyor, with an eye toward its monetary value. It is written that on his first visit to the area in 1873, he allegedly reported discovering what was said to be an ancient dolmen altar on one of the peaks of the Huron Mountains, which has since been used as evidence for those who assert that the Norse visited the Great Lakes in ancient times. A peak within the HMC named Mummy Mountain adds to the mystery of this, but what I have read seems to indicate the dolmen was found on Huron Mountain itself.

In 1901 Longyear made an expedition to Spitsbergen (the island of Svalbard), Norway, where he discovered large coal deposits and founded the Arctic Coal Company, which he later headquartered in Boston. The settlement around this great mine became known as Longyear City (Longyearbyen), the world’s northernmost town. In 1943 the Nazis decided they wanted the coal, so the Kriegsmarine bombarded Longyearbyen almost into oblivion; today its mines and mills are mostly abandoned, but it is now the location of the famous Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Longyear also partnered with the Pillsbury family of Minnesota, to develop the largest iron ore deposit in the U.S., the Mesabi Range. A “natural resource company” still continues in his name today.

Longyear’s son drowned on a canoe trip in Lake Superior, and his wife (whose room in their Marquette mansion faced the area where her son died) was devastated. That same year, the Marquette & Southeastern RR proposed and built a line through his property despite his offer to assist financially if they relocated it. In protest, he then had his sandstone mansion deconstructed, sent by rail, and reconstructed atop Fisher Hill in Brookline, Massachusetts. His wife, Mary Beecher Longyear was bff’s with the founder of the Christian Science Church, and after they all died, the Longyear house became a museum to that church. It was auctioned out of foreclosure a few months before I went on this trip.

Regarding the alleged ancient Norse dolmen altar, Fred Rydholm (the dishwasher who went on to become the beloved de facto historian and storyteller of the HMC) wrote that in 1939 he joined a search party to look for some lost hikers (one of whom was a geology professor) that had gone missing. When they were found, night had already fallen and they were forced to stay on the mountain overnight. Around the fire, the professor said he had heard of a huge flat rock balanced on three smaller rocks on a mountaintop somewhere in the area, reported to be placed there by the Vikings a thousand years ago.

Rydholm supposedly was so transfixed by this tale that he pledged to find the legendary dolmen altar. It took two years before he claimed that he finally did find it, describing it as a slab of stone weighing 900lbs. But when Rydholm started researching it he began to believe that despite the fact that it was identical to dolmen found in Celtic and Scandinavian Europe, it was more likely the work of ancient Anishinaabe inhabitants of Michigan. Even more interesting is that Rydholm states there “is an almost identical dolmen on Tip Top Mountain on the northern shore of Lake Superior,” opposite Huron Mountain. Most dolmens however are not altars, but tombs. They date to 3,000-4,000BC. The argument is that Bronze Age peoples from all over the globe came to the Great Lakes because of the trade of Keweenaw copper.

Taking one last long look at Mt. Arvon’s dark shadowy silhouette, we quickly rolled up our gear and started our two-mile hike back to the truck so we could begin our mission. The itinerary asserted that we had to tackle Michigan’s highest point today. Tomorrow I hoped to be done with all of our targets in the western Hurons area, and headed toward the Abbaye Peninsula.

After a brisk morning hike back to where we had left the Rusty Camel, we successfully relocated and crossed Big Erik’s Bridge before following that road for a momentary visit back into civilization. The village of Skanee can be best described as anything but dense. It did have a quintessential Yooper gas station however, where we requisitioned some coffee and filled up the tank again, before diving back into the wilderness.

Small wooden bridges over the numerous creeks of this country are common:

Often they are not in as good of shape as that one, and I had to make a judgment call before crossing. I paused here to get a look downriver, because I sensed that we were close to one of our next waterfalls.

Sure enough, we had found Black Slate Falls.

I really face-palmed myself however when I got home and realized that we had inadvertently missed the even more spectacular Quartzite Falls, in the opposite direction from the bridge.

If I’m not mistaken, Navi had begun to come down with a bit of a head cold by this point, and he had looked for some medicine at the gas station. He also got a soaker:

This was one of the most picturesque sylvan rivers I had yet found in Michigan.

Veins of quartz visible underwater, indicative of the mineral riches of this region:

Even more falls upriver:

We turned back at this point, anxious to hit our next location, the Arvon Slate Quarry.

CLICK for part 4

Superior Heartland, by Fred C. Rydholm
Hunt's Guide to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, by Mary Hoffman Hunt & Don Hunt
"Longyear in Lonyearbyen," by William S. Easton, Michigan History, Sept./Oct. 2011


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