Well, it has to rain sometimes I guess and yesterday was that day. I woke up to rain and it continued to either pour or sprinkle all day. Now, I had wanted to take in a lot of sights while I was here and I was not going to let a little rain stop me. So, I loaded everyone up and off we went
Not too awfully far from the house is the Adventure Mining Company. The company offers tours of a real live mine and there are also hiking and biking trails, camping and there is a mountain bike race that even takes place inside parts of the mine. Well, I wasn’t up for that much fun but inside a mine on a rainy day seemed like a good place to be. We pulled up and picked which tour we wanted and then we moved to the basement area of the gift shop to get suited up and learn a little history about the mine. We had to have lighted helmets and other gear so once that was all done we were set to go.
We were transported to the mine entrance on an old Swiss personnel carrier which was pretty cool and then we stood in front of the bat doors as our guide, Jacob unlocked them. If we were going to back out, now was the time; but, as Cryslynn says, “We may have been scared but we were not chickens.” I like that. Now it was time to go inside.
Inside the mine was cold and damp just like you would expect. At places there was water on the floor and there were rocks that were low so you had to make sure and watch where you were going. There were movie props in the first room we came to, which really added to the feeling that you were in a mine. As we walked Jacob told us about the life of a miner. Most of them, in the beginning made $1 per day. To get the copper out of the ground and to make the tunnels teams of 2-3 miners would go into the mine and drill holes. Now when I say drill I am being very liberal with that term. What they would do is one guy would hold a long piece of metal and the other two would hit it with a sledgehammer. After each hit the guy holding it would have to turn it a quarter turn. The hole they were making had to be 6′ deep. Once they had enough holes they would put gunpowder in them and they would blast away the rock. This would move them 5′ further into the mine. I think he said that sometimes they could drill 2 holes a shift.
Once the rocks were on the ground they would have to determine if the rock held copper or not. Raw copper looks an awful lot like all the rest of the rocks lying right next to it and the miners were working by candlelight. One candle for 2-3 guys. Now, at one point Jacob had us all turn out our lights and he lit a candle, let me tell you it is NOT very bright. Also, to get the copper out of the rock there were those that had the job of chiseling it out. You heard that right. The copper had to be chiseled out of the rocks around it, with a hammer and a chisel. The largest hunk of copper taken out of the mine took months to chisel out of there, it did weigh 24 tons though.
Thinking about the work these miners did and the conditions they worked in…these guys were tough people that is for sure.
Part of the tour was where we rappelled down a 90 foot shaft into complete blackness below. That’s right, I said rappel. Into the dark. Straight down in a mine. OK, I have never done anything like this before, but what the heck. Well, we had been walking around with the gear on and when we got to the shaft I looked down into the blackness and wondered if there was another way down, but…we are not chickens, right. So I did the training and was talking myself up. My son went first and did pretty well, then Cryslynn and she did very well. All this time my nerves are getting wound tighter and tighter. Finally it is my turn. OK, wrap the rope around that figure 8 thing, check. Pull it tight, check. Take the free rope in my right hand and put my hand right in the small of my back…OH GOSH I THINK I SHOULD NOT DO THIS…check. Turn around, check. Start bending at the waist and lower myself over the pitch black shaft…THIS IS SO NOT A GOOD IDEA…check. Let me tell you, time is funny. The entire time that we were in the mine seemed like a very short time and we were actually there for 3 hours. The time I spent in that shaft was very long and also very short. As I listened to the instructions from above and later below, my heart was beating like crazy and I was trying to remember everything and NOT fall. After a moment I found a rhythm I think. I found a groove and I heard myself say, “HUH” in a that surprised way I do when I am figuring something out. I was doing it. I was descending into the pitch blackness holding myself with nothing but a rope. Sure, there were people on either end to make sure I didn’t kill myself, but in all actuality I was doing it. When I got to the bottom I said, “HOLY CATS!!!” (I try not to swear so my vernacular is a little strange sometimes). My adrenaline was pumping so hard and I was shaking but I did it! And the feeling was incredible. I wish Spencer could have been there to experience that. He would have loved it.
After we rappelled down the shaft we were standing at the top of a room that they had mined. We used ropes and were tethered to the wall to make our way down. Then we got to probably the worst part for me, the bridge. You see, I don’t like things that are high and unsafe, like stretch planks or things like that. Well, I have just rappelled down into a room and can see no other way out than to cross this bridge that is really boards on two chains and it is hanging over a dark pit that I have no idea how deep it is. Luckily I am tethered to a rope, but I have watched too many movies, there is a chance that that rope could break. Well, I have to go…not chicken. So I snap my caribeaners to the rope, Jacob says “All clear” and I start moving. As soon as I step in this bridge it threatens to tip over. I AM GOING OFF, I KNOW IT. I get to the middle and the bridge decides that it really wants to have fun with me so it tips even more. I stop, take a death hold on the rope and wait for the bridge to stop tipping and make my way the rest of the way across. I was glad when that part was over. After that, there was the ice cave and we were out. Daylight looked great and it had stopped raining for a bit.
We took a walk on one of the trails on the property to see some of the mining ruins while the rain was stopped and made our way home.
I have to say that the lesson for this day was that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. I never thought I would ever rappel into pitch blackness but I did it. I conquered the bridge and we all left feeling very good. Cryslynn said she didn’t think she was going to be able to do it, but she did. Slow and steady steps and she made it. That girl has gumption, that is for sure.
If you are ever in the UP, try out the Adventure Mining Company. It is worth every penny.