23 May 2011

Down with the mineral hunters

Caving with the Plymouth Caving Group is lots of fun. But the trips are often fairly short and uncomplicated, and for me they come with responsibilities. And that's fine, but I do like sometimes buggering off to go underground with the Cornish nutters (or the Cornwall Mine Exploration Club as they are more formally known), as they tend to reserve a day in the weekend for a long, mad trip I only have to show up for. And there was one coming up! I was looking forward to it. This time we would visit the Cornish North Coast.

The mine was down a high cliff, so we hammered some very, very large spikes in the ground to fix some ropes on, so we could abseil down. When I did that I found Simon, Dave and Lionel not quite at beach level, but at a small platform higher up, with the end of the rope. Fail!

Lionel hammering some anchor points firmly into the ground

Dave is looking up to see if he can make contact with the people on top of the cliff, while Lionel and Simon look a bit lost with the end of the rope in their hands. 

Given that the cliff we came down was some 80m high I figured there would be no way to communicate to the top by shouting. So I volunteered to go back up and ask the surface people to bring another rope down... I was smelling thoroughly disgusting by the time I came back down. Simon and Lionel had, by that time, managed to get to the mine entrance anyway, using their bravery and two of Lionel's slings. Dave didn't trust that method and waited for the rope, but I figured I like a bit of clambering, and I followed.

 If you look closely you see the small figures of Simon and Lionel against the rock...

On the left, again, Simon and Lionel 

Trish staring heroically into the distance while on the right Mark comes down

Soon we were all down. We took our SRT kit off and went in. Simon immediately dashed off as he wanted to hunt minerals. And it quickly became clear this was another playground mine! Lots of questionable ladders, slopes with very necessary hand lines, labyrinthine crawls, awkward clambers, the lot! It was great fun.

Pic by Dave 

We also all visited Simon in his den; it was easy to see what he was after, but not so easy to see how he could get them out intact! He knew what he was doing, though, and at the end of the day he had a nice harvest.

Simon on the mineral hunt
 And what he was hunting for! It seems to be cerussite in a rare elongated form.

Dave coming up a nice climb 

Here I show my obsequious spirit; Dave thought it would make a great picture if I would light these structures from below with a slave flash. It took quite some attempts. The picture doesn't really show how uncomfortably I was wedged in some sub-vertical chasm... pic by Dave

Gratuitous speleothems! 

Here I am obediently lighting up the imprint of a launder. Pic by Dave

The mine was too big to explore all corners, but we must have seen quite a large part of it. Including some bits we didn't understand; we found a winze going up, with dodgy structures in it that were clearly intended to allow one to climb up, but which didn't inspire much faith. We were wise enough to not find out how bad of an idea it would be to try them all out, but we did try to get high enough to hold a flash gun up so Dave could take a picture; that already lead to cartoonesque antics with yielding wood, lassoing techniques, and Lionel half-dangling from a sling and half standing on my shoulders. It was fun!

Lionel in touch with his inner Tarzan. Pic by Dave

As a 80m cliff is not quickly ascended we decided to come out in two batches, so we would minimise waiting. Dave, Lionel and I decided to go out first, and were soon on top. We started to carry equipment back to the cars, changed back into our civilian kit, and then expected the next bunch to be up. Nobody! And no weight on the ropes! We were getting worried, but when we walked around to get a better view on the climb we could see all sorts of small figurines making their way up.  

Lionel and Dave respond differently to a 80m climb

Zooming in you can see the antics of those who remove the slings Lionel had put in place

If you take a close look you can see both the 5 figurines on and near the little platform, and the trail of flattened vegetation we had left of the cliff side...

It did take quite a while for everyone to come up and de-rig the whole thing, but lying in the grass in the sun while the waves chastise the rocky coast is not a punishment at all. It was a good trip! Gives me fuel for another month of caving responsibility...

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