Diving Alaska's Historic Ellamar Copper Mine

Six—The Journey Ends

Ken and I agreed to leave further exploration of the mine—including a descent into the tantalizing void of the main shaft—for another expedition. Ideally, we would have at least two buddy teams, all on CCR and all with experience in the challenging conditions found inside the antique workings of the abandoned mine.

We were disappointed at the terrible visibility we encountered on every dive, and believe the heavy rains and extensive surface runoff during the week created conditions somewhat worse than we might hope to find on a subsequent visit. I believe we are the first divers ever to explore the mine, and I’m proud that we were successful in locating two separate tunnels from the Glory Hole, each leading to different sections of the mine.

We did explore the tunnel visible through the Picture Window, and found a large passage extending out of sight in two directions. We followed one, but turned the dive about 200 feet in due to the extraordinary amount of silt and overburden. Our depth at the turnaround was about 85, and the tunnel was descending. Nobody alive knows where it goes.

If I have an opportunity to explore Ellamar Mine again, the most tantalizing push would be to retrace our steps to the vertical shaft, then descend to the next level and begin scouting those passages. Our scale drawings from 1910 clearly show the route to the amphitheater, in addition to a tunnel that passes beneath the bottom of the Glory Hole and heads in the direction of the sea. The schematics call this the 200-foot level, but due to geological uplift and other factors, I think the actual water depth here would be in the 160-185 range. Very deep, but well within the limits that an experienced technical diver can manage safely.

Pre-1910 view of the stamp mill, before the Glory Hole was excavated

On the other hand, maybe the Rabbit Hole and the Picture Window are as far as anybody should ever explore in this place. Perhaps the ghost of Alfred Doring still drifts through these flooded adits, drilling and blasting and scraping in perpetuity, resentful of my intrusion into his watery world.

In the dead of winter, when the mountain and the beach are locked in an icy grip, with little surface run-off to dilute the clear ocean water, the visibility inside the mine might be pretty good. But the mountains of silt are still there, along with the orange goop that hangs in the water like strands of DNA when a diver passes. Unless there’s an unmapped access tunnel, the only passage to the deep Amphitheater level is through the claustrophobic Rabbit Hole, down the maw of the vertical shaft, and sideways into tunnels that stretch maze-like into the flooded passages of time itself….