Huron Mtns Trip, Pt. 6: “The Entrance is Guarded…By a Giant Snake…”

October, 2012.

Return to Part 5

Day 5.
It was pretty damned chilly when we woke up, and Navi now had a full-blown cold and a nasty cough. Our goal for today was to climb all over Silver Mountain, in whose shadow we had slept last night, and to hopefully find the lost mines there, and the “Haunted Adit” at “Snake Head Rock” (MAP).

After that there was a former WWII-era German P.O.W. camp nearby, ruins at White Pine, the Porcupine Mountains, Old Victoria, and Winona, depending on how we did on time. So far I was happy with our progress, and if anything we were a bit ahead of schedule.

If you haven’t read it yet, see the account of my initial investigation of Silver Mountain, in 2011.

Navi seemed surprised when we pulled up to the foot of Silver Mountain mere minutes after getting the truck started up. He was also pleasantly surprised at the sight of a big ole silver mine adit staring at us. This was my first item for the day—climb in that fucker and see where it goes. Last time I was here in the summertime and it was infested with spiders, so I shied away. Now the spiders were gone and after quickly gearing up, I easily wedged myself in between the rock and the bars near the top of the cage. Navi hesitantly followed once I reported from inside that it went further than two feet.

I was now inside the main adit of the National Mine.

It seemed to go quite a ways.

Suddenly a shrill, screeching noise began emanating from the depths of the cave beyond the beam of my flashlight…it was as if some creature were either issuing a warning, or was in the throes of unbearable pain from having been unexpectedly aroused from deep slumber.

Looking back to see that Navi was coming up right behind me:

I looked at Navi to see if this sudden wild screeching alarmed him, and since he didn’t seem too terribly troubled by the commotion, I continued ahead. Hopefully he was not also gauging my equally stoic expression for the same reason, haha. We continued ahead several more yards. I think that’s a bat you can see on the ceiling in the upper left corner of this shot, but he doesn’t seem to be freaking out:

The glittering points of light you see speckling the walls are not the reflection of silver in the rock, but rather droplets of moisture. By this point we had come up against water too deep to wade through, and the horrific shrieking that we had heard coming from somewhere deeper in the tunnel suddenly grew much louder and more agitated.

At any rate we couldn’t go any further, though this adit was said to be 240 feet deep. The wild shrieking we were hearing seemed to be some kind of animal, but my untrained ears could not tell what. I didn’t think bats made audible shrieks, but even if so, I didn’t think they could do it that loudly. Perhaps it was the sinister wraith of the haunted mountain itself, and we were near its lair? Or Gollum?

We returned to the daylight.

It was now time to change our gear around and prepare for a hike of a couple hours, undoubtedly with plenty of bushwhacking. The splendidly golden hued hardwoods lit up this shady warren beneath the imposing mountain quite nicely.

Of course I had to indulge in a few autumnal pics, since my last trip was in summer.

The blue hue of the mountain’s sheer cliff face set off the leaves beautifully.

It wasn’t long before we rose above the tree line and got a look around us.

The moon was still setting.

On the back slope of this beast somewhere were at least three “lost” mine adits, and one shaft. One of the adits, the one at “Snake Head Rock,” may have been a natural cave however according to ROC, a colleague of mine at CopperCountryExplorer who had given me the leads. He said he had accidentally found a short adit there whose entrance was somewhat hidden, and inside was a complete set of mid-1800s era hand drills leaning against the wall. He gave me the approximate coordinates, and that’s what we had plugged into Navi’s GPS.

The terrain here was very tricky indeed, with all kinds of alluring false holes such as this getting our hopes up:

Once Navi declared we had arrived in the unit’s best-guess location, which he claimed was plus or minus about 25 yards, we ended up splitting up to cover the area more thoroughly. The geology was definitely very strange in places, with fractures and fissures in the glacier-scraped mountain leading all kinds of wild goose chases.

At least the scenery was top notch, so we didn’t mind much. Here you can see some of the 11,000-year-old furrows carved by the glaciers:

This mountain, and all of those in Michigan, probably used to be many thousands of feet taller, back in the Earth’s younger days, before the start of the last Ice Age…reduced to rounded foothills by the dragging claws of the primordial ice as it made its reluctant retreat back to the polar fortress from whence it came:

We reconnoitered after about an hour or two, deciding that there was nothing on this particular flank of the mountain, at least not above the tree line.

We took a snack break and decided to work our way down into the forest again, where the more broken terrain seemed to suggest a better probability for finding caves. There were a couple places where boulders had avalanched, forming enclosed areas that might hide a cave mouth. After crawling around inside and finding nothing, we continued to follow a promising fissure.

Another false lead:

After awhile something told me the trail was warm, and that we were getting close to something. Sure enough, we soon beheld what could only be “Snake Head Rock,” sticking out of the side of the mountain in watchful vigilance:

A dead tree trunk had fallen on top of it since ROC’s picture of the rock had been taken, making us almost not recognize the shape, but looking at it for a minute, you almost begin to expect to see a flitting tongue dart out at any moment from behind the stony, watchful façade of this mythological guardian. It is easy to imagine the head connected to a snake body that is coming out of the mountain, its fierce eyes hidden in feigned slumber.

In Anishinaabe lore, the “good” manitous are the thunderbirds, which live in the sky, while their adversaries (the “bad” manitous), are the serpents who live under the ground and are responsible for earthquakes. Remember though, Native American definitions of good and evil are much different and less polarized than our Christian concepts. Mishi-ginebig (mih-shee g’NAY-big) is the name of the great snake manitou, guardian of the underground, but he is also looked upon as a source of wisdom and healing.

I read aloud the instructions I scribbled on a piece of scratch paper amongst the other such notes and coordinates I had jotted down for this trip…“Okay, he said about twenty feet uphill from the Head of the Big Snake is where we will find the entrance to the Haunted Adit…”

We both slowly craned our glances up, and there it was—that crevice undoubtedly had to be the “Haunted Adit” just uphill! It was just like we were in some Indiana Jones movie but without the John Williams score. I just hoped that the Big Snake’s eyes would remain closed to us in slumber.

Now excited, we dropped our packs and clambered up across the fallen boulders in the smiling rays of the morning sun. I had no tobacco to offer the spirit guardian of the mountain for safe passage, so I suavely let Navi go first.

Relieved that the Big Snake sentinel of Gitchee Manitou remained motionless as we passed, instead of striking like a lightning bolt to devour and swallow us down into the bowels of the mountain to be digested for eternity, I nonetheless made the Canadian go into the adit first--again, just to be safe.

By this point I noticed my heart was beating a little faster than usual; this was pretty exciting. I was surprised we had actually found it, just as described. Navi went in and quickly returned, unfortunately to report that it didn’t go very far.

Since he still seemed to be in one piece I went next, and soon decided that there did not seem to be any ore body present that such an opening—if it were a mine—would be following. Happily there were no angry manitous in here shrieking at us from the depths of darkness either, like the last adit we went in.

This seemed to be merely a natural cave. When he was here a few years ago, ROC claimed to have found a complete set of virtually unused drill steels, of the type that were used in early mining in the mid-1800s, leaning up against the wall at the back of the cave—certainly quite a treasure. He estimated they had been forgotten there since at least the 1840s, probably left by some early prospector—perhaps one of the souls known to have met a suspicious, untimely fate here in this wilderness to pay for their greed; the curse of Silver Mountain.

Photo by ROC
He said,
The adit stopped when it ran into a more solid smooth looking rock. I doubt if anybody has been in here for a while because there was a set of 17 hand chisels with lengths from 10 inches to about 4 feet. I've never seen a full set before. There were also some round rods with a mushroom end on them of different lengths, for tamping powder? The fancy mushroom end is down in the picture and you can't see it.
I pulled the chisels out and took some pictures, and then put them back. I didn't spend much time in there as I had to take my jacket off just to squeeze past the rocks and roots, and being by myself I was a little nervous…thinking maybe if she caved-in a deer hunter might find my backpack. I just noticed that in my picture at the end of the adit, there looks to be some type of markings in the upper left hand corner, I didn't notice it when I was in there... I hope that writing, or symbols isn't an Indian curse…heh.

Photo by ROC
I couldn’t find any signs of secret hidden switches, or push-stones in here that might open a secret door further into the cave, nor could I think of any sacred words to speak for entry. Apparently my surreptitious offers of a hapless young Canadian as sacrifice went unheeded as well. Drat. I suppose someone else could have looted the chisels in the meantime, or maybe ROC was just telling a tall tale? His photo of the chisels (above) is quite impressive, regardless.

Questioning whether we had located the proper hole, we continued to examine the immediate area, which was rife with such pockets created by fallen boulders and odd folds of rock.

I don’t know if you can tell, but in this darkened pit there is a large space down there, with leaves covering the floor and big enough to walk around in, that has been covered over by this avalanche of boulders:

I wasn’t quite brave enough to climb down. Besides, I could tell Navi was starting to tire of this treacherous terrain with his cold bug. Either that or the curse of Mishi-ginebig was beginning to take hold of him as well.

One thing that had me deeply intrigued however was the presence of this convenient ledge, almost as if it were a shelf trail carved long ago, which seemed to lead to all these caves along this flank of the mountain.

There is no question that Bronze Age aboriginals mined this region thousands of years ago to provide cultures across the continent with precious metal. Was this a faded remnant of that distant forgotten past? 

One can easily envision a great copper-fueled empire ages ago, with vast intricate networks under the shade of the northwoods slowly falling into decline, and learning to conceal the doors to its secret riches from the eyes of the encroaching white men.

I couldn’t shake the thought that we had missed something, but finding no more clues, I was forced to give up. We had now traveled far enough to where I wasn’t sure anymore what side of it we were on. I knew Navi would want to see the summit, so we clawed our way back up above the tree line.

The spongy lichen tufts clinging to the mountain’s stone head always make for a cushy hike. When we reached the top it had to be about lunchtime.

I wasn’t quite satisfied with our investigation, as once again it appeared this mountain’s seemingly shape-shifting landscape had fooled me. It was hard to be sure whether we had covered much of it or not. It felt like we still had an insurmountable swath of craggy terrain left uncovered. But at the same time, I was beginning to have a change of heart while considering the context. No one had ever successfully mined silver here, but a documented minimum of four men had met their doom under unexplained circumstances after coming here to look for it.

From Early Days of the Lake Superior Copper Country (1938), by Orrin W. Robinson:
There is an Indian tradition that there is a great cave lined with silver in the vicinity of Silver Mountain which the white man has never discovered. That it belongs to the Indians and every white man who has tried to reach it has met with death. That the “Ketchi Menedoo” (Great God) is protecting and keeping it for the Indian and that no white man will ever find it and live to profit by the discovery.
The Marquette Journal ran a story (later reprinted by the Ashland Press) in 1875 stating that 20 years prior, two metallurgists from New York came to prospect at Silver Mountain and “discovered something that enticed them to stay,” and that their “mysterious bivouac” was known only to the guides who had led them there, and what few explorers traveled through that country in those early days. When one of the men returned to the Soo for winter supplies he was murdered, and the other was found perished as well, by hunters the following spring.

A Detroit Free Press article from 1897 also warns,
For many years past vague tales have been afloat regarding the existence of a rich silver mine in Baraga County, somewhere in the neighborhood of a hill which grew to have the name of Silver Mountain. The various stories were to the effect of the existence of a mine that was known to a number of the older Indians of the Chippewa tribe, whose reservation is near here and that adventurous spirits who have attempted to locate the mine met with misfortunes which deterred them from further attempts or cost them their lives.
Another member on the CopperCountryExplorer forum related the stories of two men found dead there in the period between 1908 and 1910. One was thought to have froze to death in his cabin; the other lived near Pelkie and after spending a length of time up at Silver Mountain returned home to blow his head off with his rifle.

I thought about how that miraculously untouched set of drill steels that ROC had found dated to about the exact time those two New York metallurgists were here poking around in the 1850s. I thought about how they could have been left behind by one of those men intending to return to work after a short break? Or some other unknown prospector who fell under the spell of the secret silver, attempted his own clandestine diggings, and succumbed to the evil of the mountain spirit, with no one to notice him missing? Perhaps Mishi-ginebig had chosen to keep his eyes closed, and was allowing me a chance to abandon my over-curiosity and depart from this sacred mountain, free of the curse? Perhaps I should stop prodding at his secrets and be grateful for this favor, and leave it at that.

After wrapping up our lunch at the summit, we headed back down to the Rusty Camel and left. I just hope Navi is still my friend after reading this episode, haha.

CLICK for part 7



  1. Serpent with cupules:
    Serpent with well defined eye and more in here, some gate ways - the term in the search that got me to your blog:

  2. A couple random Serpent posts of mine:

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I would have photographed the chisels in their original location. Why take them out and put them all back? I think this tale is only half true, that is to say, i believe the tools were removed to be photographed, i do not not believe they were put back. This is not to imply anything wrong was done, rather that i would have tried to find a proper home for them.


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