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Thread: Croesor - Rhosydd Mines, Wales 2008

  1. #1
    Join Date
    January 2007

    Default Croesor - Rhosydd Mines, Wales 2008

    The Croesor - Rhosydd through trip is a well established route within the British mine exploring community and one I was lucky enough to take recently. Through a work connection I was invited to attend with a group of hardcore cavers/miners, some who've been at this longer than I've been alive. My adventures and dedication pale in comparison.

    View from the main workings, 70c film.

    The Croesor and Rhosydd slate quarries were established in the early-mid 1800s and worked through until about 1930, likely shipping over 20,000 tonnes of finished slate between them. These two quarries are so close that both launched legal proceedings claiming the other was infringing on their respective boundaries. After investigation they discovered both were guilty and a connection between the two created. Later this connection was sealed up as workers would sneak off their shift early and exit via the other mine. Today the connection is open once more, allowing the intrepid explorer to typically enter the mine from Croesor, pass through the mountain and exit from Rhosydd on the other side.

    The large slanted chambers cut to match the geological formation of the slate are truly colossal, vanishing into darkness far beyond the beams of our lights. Compared to Mineral King where the working faces were stacked parallel to the earth, in these mines the levels are stacked parallel to each other but angled into the ground at approximately 30 degrees. The tracks running throughout the level are all flat however, creating a situation where large angled shafts run through what used to be access/haulage tunnels into the bottom of the shaft. To keep these tunnels connected to working faces which had not yet dug below the tunnel level huge wooden beams were suspended from the room over the shaft voids creating neat bridges. These old bridges now account for much of the challenge and consequent enjoyment the through trip provides. As you can imagine they're no longer in the safest condition.

    I'll spare you the elaborate description of the mine surrounds - the smells, the scenery, the environment; I'd strongly suggest anyone interested learn some SRT and tackle a smaller mine expedition to whet their appetite. Words cannot convey what it truly feels like to be encased so deep inside the earth. I will however outline some of the obstacles encountered in the mine.

    First pitch inside Croesor. The rocks to the right of frame, were once in the roof.

    We quickly reached the first pitch, of 80ft. All the pitches and obstacles are already bolted and rigged though it's prudent of course to check everything. In this case the rope rigged on the first pitch was in reasonable condition but a couple of metres short of the landing. The first chamber is of considerable note, being the riskiest of the mine. It's quite unstable and the guys told me a few years ago a section the size of a house dropped from the ceiling almost killing a group. Apparently they just stopped there and waited to be rescued. I know old-timers like to mess with mine n00bs like me but as I abseiled into the chamber as quietly as possible I looked around and realised they were entirely fucking seriously. I could see the hole in the roof and the pile of smashed slate below it. I crossed the chamber cringing with every clink of the gear on my harness.

    Another short pitch leads into a small underground lake over which someone has affixed a wire zipline. The bolts looked good so we slung on the pulley and flew across. The landing area curves around into a another lake which once held a ghetto crafted suspension bridge. The shiny cables and treads are clearly visible though the clear blue water, resting peacefully on the bottom. I feel for the poor soul who rode that puppy down. One concept I was introduced to on this trip was 'float'. Typically this is simply 5-10L of empty plastic containers clipped on, to prevent your pvc oversuit, wellies and SRT hardware dragging you to your watery grave. In a place like Croesor that could be deep. Bring a boat, you'll need it here.

    Beyond the first lakes we encountered the bridges I mentioned earlier which cut across the middle of several large water filled chambers. Originally these chambers were working faces. The workers would take a chain bolted into the wall, wrap it around their leg and keep their hands free to cut and drill the slate. In some places these bolts and chains are still visible. Some of the bridges are gone entirely, replaced with bolted ziplines. Others are far scarier.

    [photo - wikipedia]

    The final bridge, affectionately named the Bridge O' Doom is easily the most fun. 2 rusty pieces of railway track are laid from the near edge of the chamber onto a rotting chunk of timber suspended by two rusty iron rods bolted into the slate ceiling. Stretching from the chunk of timber to the other side is a taught wire cable just out of reach. You climb up one of the rods, clip on and haul yourself across. If you're lucky and someone else went before you they can reel your tired, sorry ass across.

    Incline for transporting ore between levels inside the mine.

    The last obstacle of the mine is 40m boat ride across the biggest underground lake I've seen. Boarding your poor inflatable vessel is an adventure in itself, since it's a sheer 10m drop into the lake. The recommended method is to dangle your pack between your legs like an oversized nutsuck (Tanuki?), hover your ass above the boats, spread your legs and drop in. If you're the last to cross and your oversuit has seen better days then you'll surely have a wet arse but the vast chamber is so impressive you'll soon forget. The chamber disappears around to the right leading to the small landing site.

    Intrepid explorers in large ore chamber.

    After beaching your boat a short ascent leads into the final 2km hike which, via more vast ore chambers, finally spits you out of the mountain wet, exhausted and reborn into a hardened mine explorer. Approximate through trip time: 7-8 hours. I acknowledge this is one of the least adrenaline charged tales on sleepycity and more like a factual walk through but I feel no need to pimp Croesor-Rhosydd in any way. The skill and gear prerequisites put it beyond the grasp of 95% of explorers I have met, if this trip is for you then you will know.

    Without the invitation of the experienced miners this is a trip I'd be reluctant to have attempted. The risks are serious, the environment unforgiving and the consequences of error severe. The ways to die in here are numerous - cave ins, downing, falling, hypothermia, getting lost, or any combination of the above. If you're not dissuaded already then good luck to you, this is a spectacular and rewarding trip.
    watch out for the third rail baby, that shit is high voltage

  3. #2
    BigLoada Guest


    Awesome mate. The impressive thing with the Welsh mines is the height. I am dying to get down to Wales for a mine exploration holiday. These are very good photos.
    Last edited by BigLoada; 25th Aug 08 at 18:48.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    December 2007


    great pics dsankt. Massively jealous.
    Some days you wake and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong, it's just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble

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