15 June 2011

Mud golems

I like going underground, but when I was crawling on my knees through deep slippery mud in an endless tunnel I was wondering why again I have this hobby. And it would get worse...

England has been really dry recently, and this is the time to visit venues that are otherwise flooded. This particular adit can normally be visited by those who don't mind little space and plethoras of water, but this time we merely got extremely filthy. We gathered in the rain (the drought seems to draw to its end!) at a laddered shaft and went down. And then the stooped walking, soon followed by crawling, began. This tunnel is long... and it was dug in the 18th century, so it has had time to silt up a bit in the meantime. Hence the limited space and humbling crawling. There must be at least half a metre of mud in there in spaces!

This picture gives an idea of how much higher the water level normally is, and of how narrow at the bottom the adit can be. And this is an easy part! I couldn't be asked to take pictures in the muddy stretches.  

I had expected the adit to be straight! It wasn't. And notice the wave of turbid water I've sent ahead of me...

As crawling through thick mud, especially with an impeding bag, is very tiresome we had an early break. By then we, the avant garde, had lost the photographers. We ventured a bit further, but there the water got deep and cold, so we branched out sideways. We found a cute little mini stope, and a laddered shaft with even an old, still partially full, first aid kit. A likely victim for photography! Unfortunately my own camera had been refusing service for two days already (cave rescue pics courtesy of Ferret's camera), and this time I was wielding Neil's, but by then it refused to respond to my stimuli. Afraid I'd ruin it forever I managed to switch it off, and then tucked it away. No more pictures!

Lunch break 

A decorative stope. Taking this picture made me impressed with the quality of the camera! 

And it was while photographing this first aid box the camera jammed. Too bad! It works again, though. I hope this was just a once-and-not-again incident in its lifetime...

With a sub-group of four we explored some more mines; quite some of it was even new to the Cornish veterans. So much to see! But to go from one mine to the next meant more crawling through the mud. Soon we all looked like mud golems. The difference between those in red, blue and green/yellow oversuits vanished completely. But we had fun! The crawling does take it out on one, though; reasonably early we returned to the shaft, and climbed the ageing ladders. The lowest was long and unsupported, and I was glad to be off it. The upper one was too close to the elements, and had partially rotted away; we avoided that one by using an electron ladder we had put into place.

When I was up I went to look for the stream. I wanted to get rid of the inch of ochre caking! I spent quite a while scrubbing and turning the stream that initially had been clear decidedly ochrish. Upon reaching the cars, though, I had to conclude Dave was still down there; the car was locked. So I chose to return to the shaft, and while enjoying a coffee await the others. But when I returned I heard Dave; to my fright he mentioned the necessity for a rope. One of the ladders had buckled! And there were still people down there.

On my aching ankle I ran back to the cars, got a rope from Daz, ran back, and while I coiled the rope I heard the story. The lowest ladder, which had worried me a bit, had yielded under Dave's weight, but without any harm to Dave or those below him. Dave had then quickly made his way up, trying not to do more damage along the way; they preferred someone like me (as in, less than half the weight) to bring a safety line down for those who didn't want to rely on a broken ladder alone.

That was easily both said and done; I attached the rope and belayed the first person up, and then the second, and then I got out as well, as we figured we shouldn't gather crowds on these elderly wooden platforms. Then I could go straight back to the stream, of which the later users had complained that it was filthy (hehheh); I was entirely orange again, only from fondling the ladders that many of us had gone up and down on. And then I could finally change into my dry clothes.

We went to the pub, to drink a pint on all making it out unharmed. If we do this place another time we'll do it on ropes! A bit more faffing, but this was a clear warning from the gods we should be wary of old wood, especially in deep shafts. And though this ended really well, it might also keep us inspired to keep our rescue skills up...

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