28 January 2020

New underground group launched!*

We had had the goodbye trip. Now it was time to start a whole new group! We are not complete yet; Kate (Bob) is still away on a research cruise and she'll be joining us when she gets back. But we had our inaugural trip! Kate (not Bob) was going up for an SRT qualification so she wanted a trip with verticality. And I thought of Llanberis Copper Mine. I had once stuck my nose in in 2012 with the Plymouth lot. We didn't like the look of it at the time, but I knew that in 2017 the place had been all surveyed and bolted and documented and whatnot by two chaps working at Go Below (and I think a few more people but the documentation is signed off by these two). So it was time to go back! I thought. And Kate agreed. And Chris would come and was OK with it, and Kate had a friend that wanted to come, James, and he thought it was fine too. So it was decided! Don and Phil were invited but were otherwise engaged.

This mine needs a bucket of kit. With pretty much all of it vertical you need lots of ropes and lots of kit to attach the ropes too. I had ordered some extra karabiners and maillons but it needed 18 and I didn't have that many! And I only have one rope. Chris had a few too. But James had more kit than you can shake a stick at. So with him there too we could go for it!

We met on the lay-by. I hadn't met James before! And it turned out he was one of these people who does things by the book. He checked the documentation, checked the lengths of the ropes, and made even sure the ropes were packed in order. Blimey! I would have to be on my best behaviour. There's no harm in being a bit more organised and safety-conscious than normal. And I didn't want to make him uncomfortable!

We got the kit together and got changed and went up. And in! And the first pitch was not far from the entrance. James rigged that one. And went down! The second pitch was only some two meters away from the bottom of the first (as I said, this trip is rather vertical). I rigged that. And went down! And was confused. The documentation had said there was another pitch 8m lower. And I saw a ridge I could swing out to, but it was only some 3m lower, not 8. And I had two bags hanging underneath me. That's rather impractical if you are trying to swing out to a level! So I left it and just kept going down. And ended up in a small sub-level. I could easily see the way on; there was a tiny further drop into a level. But there was water running into it so I wouldn't be able to have voice contact with the others if I went on. I waited there! And when the last person was down (it was James) he just went on. And then we were on a rather solid and pretty level!

View from the entrance

James rigs the first pitch

The sort of floor you tend to be on

Chris on the solid level

Pretty bucket

From there there was another pitch onto a rubble slope. I rigged that too. I hadn't done that much rigging in years!

I had to wait for Chris to be down too (needed to know how much slack was needed) to rig the next bit. That was a bit scary! It was only a tiny pitch, but an enormous drop; I stared into a deep abyss that I knew to be 35-40 m deep. And I would for now only descend some 2 m; there was some more swinging into a level going on here. And the idea was to rig the rope from that level into that gaping hole. And normally, you get two bolts; if one gives there is still another. But here I found only one! And well for a 2m pitch that is not an issue, but I could feel that deep deep hole below me. But well! One bolt should do. I went down and swung out and waited for the next person.

Chris turns his back on the last pitch

 The level Kate and I explored

The next person was Chris. He looked at the drop and didn't like it at all! He went back. Then Kate appeared; she joined me. Safety-conscious James wasn't keen either. So Kate and I quickly explored the level and went back to tell what we had seen. I came back up the short pitch first. And Kate had a new hand ascender + foot loop. And she struggled to get up! It was really configured strangely. And we had a big pitch ahead! That pitch where I had ignored the ridge was also some 35 m. You don't want to do that with badly configured kit! So she came up and de-rigged, and then we sorted the foot loop issue out. And with the new configuration she did the small pitch before the long one. That was better!

When we were on the solid level I quaffed some tea. I was parched! And we sent James up the big pitch first; he is the sort of person who gets cold rather fast. And this was a rather damp mine! Then we sent Chris up. I happily had my lunch while he ascended. I came up last. And at the top of the pitch we had to send James ahead again; he had managed to get cold again! But we all came up and out and soon we stepped back into the amazing views from the entrance. This landscape stays magical!

It was a successful first trip for this new group! I hope we will soon do another. It became clear that we should do some trips when James is not around; he doesn't like cold trips, or floors that give way below you, or ceilings that fall on your head. So Hafna is out! Maybe Brittania? I don't know what that's like but the documentation suggests a lot fewer false floors!

Being a good girl and washing my kit in the river afterwards

*: A wise woman pointed out to me that 'splinter cell', the original title, sounded a bit overly combative 

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