09 August 2013

Coniston Copper Mines

Down a mine with the YCC! And this time not just a tame walk-in; no, this time it would be a proper multi-pitch SRT trip down a mine! One can imagine I looked forward to that.

It would be seven of us, none of which would have ever been to this mine before. Not ideal, but one has to make the most of it. I had bought a guide book from the eighties, which mainly dealt with the surface, but also mentioned the trip we had in mind. And Matt had printed out some trip reports from other clubs. Together it had to do!

Matt and Gary picked me up, and through the beautiful Dales we drove to the Lakes District. It was rather beautiful! Along the way, though, we received bad news: one couple pulled out. Only five left!
We were heading for a campsite Matt had picked. The roads became smaller and smaller, and the hills emptier and emptier, but we did find it. The quietest campsite-on-a-farm in the world! And there I met Chuck and Hannah, whom I had not met before. We had a drink, but soon it was bedtime. 

Our tents on the calm campsite, with nice hills in the background

The next day was for mining. We got our stuff together, said bye to Hannah who didn’t like underground stuff, and went to Coniston, where we had to park, according to the descriptions. From there it was a stiff walk up the hill. And I like a walk, but it’s always a bit less comfy in wellies, neoprene socks, and with a heavy, ill-fitting rope bag over your shoulder. But it was a beautiful route! Unfortunately, we saw we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and parked a lot higher up. Oh well.

Intrepid explorers having the first waste tip in sight

Once we reached the actual terrain of the mine we had to look for the right place. We had a specific entrance in mind. I struggled to make sense of my guide book, and Gary struggled to align the map with the landscape. We did a lot of pottering around. And met others who did the same, and gave us some directions. Which were wrong, we would find out. 

 Navigational confusion and pretty flowers

With a very big detour we eventually reached the reservoir, next to which the entrance should be. For some reason we thought it would be at the far end, but upon having reached that end we reconsidered. Where we had started out, that was the entrance! This was not going to be an efficient trip. 

 The reservoir. On the right the mine entrance can be seen.

Having reached the entrance (only three hours after setting off!) we kitted up, doodled around, deciding on which hole exactly to go in, until Gary found it. In we went! It was a beautiful place. 

 The multiple entrances

We went down some ladder pitches, and down a strange pitch over timbers. And then up a small slope we found the top of the first pitch. And down we were! Only metres further was the top of the second pitch. The men didn’t like the look of that! The trip reports all suggested to rig the pitches in such a way that you can pull the rope through and take it with you, so you can come out on the other end, and don’t have to go back to retrieve your ropes. But as we didn’t really know the way we intended to come back up. And it looked like upon doing that, the ropes would rub, and that’s dangerous. And even mine explorers aren’t necessarily suicidal, so we decided to not risk it, and go back. Too bad! It was a truly beautiful mine. 

Chuck on the slope that leads to the first pitch, where Matt is sitting. Notice the unstable deads on the right.

 As I had been the last one down I was the first one up. I scurried around a bit, looking for other holes to explore. I found one unassuming crawl. But it got wider, and I reached a whole new lode! That was exciting! I shouted to Chuck, who followed, and brought Matt and Gary along too. After a few metres the floor fell away to unfathomable depths, but the lode was spanned by a line of timbers. And there was a safety rope bolted to the wall! So you could cross! It looked very scary; the timbers could be who knows how old, and they were a bit slippery, and they sometimes were a very large step away from each other, but when you’re on a rope, you might end up shitting seven colours, but you won’t die. So I went for it! And I felt the adrenalin rush through my body, but I made it to the other side. And of course the men followed! Upon reaching the other side, Matt declared he had NEVER done anything like that. Well, same here! But what excitement! 

Chuck crossing the terrifying stope. Pic by Gary

On the other side we found generous blue dripstones, flooded winzes, the remains of a windlass, and an old ladder. And the piece de resistance: an entire cart! It had been mounted on a short stretch of restores tramway. Very cool! But after some pictures and a candy bar we turned around. Pub time!

 Remains of a windlass

Matt and me with the cart. (Pic by Gary)

The way back was even scarier than the way in. But of course we made it again, and soon we were out. And this time it didn’t take us long to get back to the car. There we phoned Hannah, and then the changing, disguising disgusting caver odours with deodorant, and failing to agree on a place to eat commenced. And to cut a long-ish story short: a while later we had a nice dinner and a pint. And a lot to talk about! This trip hadn’t really worked out the way it was intended, but we all had had a spiffing day!

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