The actual place from where we would start was deeper into the dirt tracks. We parked, and quickly found the entrance, where Dave was already fazorzling with ropes and carabiners and pulleys and whatnot. We the rookies got handed harnesses, and were shown how to put them on. And then we could go down the first stretch. The mine started with a horizontal tunnel, followed by a few meter vertical drop, another short stretch of horizontal tunnel, and then the actual mine.
I was used to just rappel down with an 8, but here we had more advanced equipment. I'm not quite sure what they're called, but we had devices for rappelling that would lock unless explicitly stated otherwise. Safer, in a way; if you accidentally let go of the rope while rappelling on an 8 you go down, unless you're too light. Fortunately I tend to be too light. Here, however, weight was no issue. I find an 8 more pleasant, but I understood this choice. Especially as they let rookies like me go down here!
The actual mine must have been a massive vein. Several meters thick! And laterally and vertically stretching as far as the eye could see. And probably much further. It was no longer there. What was left were the yawning jaws of the rock, with the decaying teeth of the half collapsed working floors in them. We lowered ourselves many of these old levels down, careful not to dislodge some remnant beams. I was one of the first down. What a mine!
It was also going to be the PCG christmas reception. So at some point all the bags were opened, and the samosas, cheese, olives, shortbread, and chocolat came out. Unfortunately we had to make do without Dave, who was still suffering from an injury and did not risk going all the way down. But if he would have it would still have been a strange assemblage! We joked around a bit about not recognising each other in "normal" christmas reception circumstances.
In the middle of the celebrations there was also science going on: one of us was an archaeologist, who took the opportunity to describe some of the disintegrating mining relics that were laying around. How some nondescript plamks come to life under the scrutiny of a trained eye...
It was going to take a while to get back up. We would go up by means of ascenders: cunning devices that can only move up along a rope. You have one on your chest, and one attached to a loop that you stand in. When you hang on the chest ascender you can move the other ascender up. Then you stand up in the loop, which makes your chest ascender move up. And that way you get up! Fairly elegant. For those who had issues with this there was Dave with his pulleys: on request one would be simply pulled up.
I got the hang of it, and was chuffed when on reaching the level where Dave was wielding his scepter I heard him say, on looking down: "well, she's definitely done that before!". Which wasn't true! I'm glad I gave that impression, though.
Back up we were all in high spirits. What a mine! And we were mentally prepared for a long trip, with all the rope working and samosa eating and all. So we chatted away some more at the cars, until it was past one in the morning. Time to head back! This time over empty roads. It ended well, and all was well! And by now I think that whatever PCG throws at you, they can always top it, somehow...