Friday, February 23, 2018

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An Adventure...Underground!!!

Croesor slate trip Mid October 2013

Disclaimer: I do not accept any liability for any injury or fatality that may occur on this route as a result of the information or misinformation detailed and provided here. The information is an account of our day out and detailed as a personal experience for a blog entry and not a guide.

Disused mines are dangerous and fragile places; your party should be competent and have experience so as not to put yourself and would be rescuers at risk. Please do not underestimate the seriousness of this undertaking; your party will only be as strong as your weakest member.


When a couple of links to the Croesor Rhosydd through trip pinged into my in box from my climbing buddy, I knew he’d already have it on his tick list and worse, would be expecting me to accompany him.... Bugger!

Let the adventure begin….


We had penciled in a few days to climb in Wales and booked the Tin-Y-Coed in Capel Curig for our digs, being mid October Paul had scoured the web looking for an alternative sortie for a wet day and the underground Croesor Rhosydd traverse seemed perfect.

I read through the links and secretly hoped for a poor forecast, it looked a great underground adventure and the more I read the more I fancied the challenge. My climbing and trips out has suffered through 2013 and I needed something to blow the cobwebs off and push the limit of my comfort zone.

There are lots of detailed descriptions and photographs on the web; the latest one we read was October 2012. I wont go into too much detail but just give an updated account of the Adventure as we experienced it to inform others that may want to take on the trip.


The Croesor Rhosydd Traverse


We parked up at Croesor car park well after lunch. We knew we were pushing it for time and after a few minutes checking and packing gear we were off into the valley and climbing up to the mine entrance. It’s not difficult to locate up high on the right side of the valley as you walk in.


Paul almost at the mine head


We took the middle path, which ended with a fierce and steep hillside slog that bought us to the disused mine workings. Some fantastic old buildings bought a sense of history that started me thinking about the work that must have taken place here. In a way it felt a little spooky and had a eerie feel to a place that was once a hive of activity, so much so I promised myself I would research the mine history when I went back home.


Some of the old slate workings

Entrance to the mine

The part caged entrance was soon located behind a small roof less out building and while gearing up we made a brew with a generous slice of pork pie. A fitting intake of calories for the journey that was about to begin.

Looking around and taking a few photographs I saw an old benchmark from a surveyor chiseled into the rock face, I presumed it was a height measurement taken when first exploring the possibility of a mine in that area. It read 1563 and deepened that sense of history and times gone by. The day was already feeling memorable and all these little discoveries were enriching the senses for what was about to begin.

1563 Chiseled above a Benchmark 


We shuffled through the caged entrance took a final breadth of fresh mountain air then headed off into the depths, dry feet were not going to be an option. Head torches were soon on and before long we passed through a steel door heading off further down the adit into the workings of the mine. My heart was racing but as the mine drew me further into its depths I began to calm down and settle into the route finding and discovery.


Dry feet was not an option!


Heading off into the depths...


After around 400 meters you come to a large opening with some workings, follow the railing to some slopes where fixed knotted ropes aid the accent to a leftwards scramble. Exit following a large yellow flue pipe. We were deep in the mountain now and still quite apprehensive about what was to come but we were already working as a slick team and so far navigating well.


Ceramic yellow pipe leads the way


Top of the scramble

When you get to the grill across the passage, turn left and follow your nose to the first fixed rope abseil. Check the rope and fixing or like me send your buddy down first! The rope is thick and stiff so make sure you take large belay devices. When I look back at the photographs I remember just how black it was down there, Paul and I switched off our helmet lights for 30 seconds or so just to get a feel of just how black it actually was. Its like nothing I've felt before, a real treacle blackness that soon has you fumbling for the "on" switch. It had a stillness about the place too, it was just so quiet apart from our breathing and the odd rattle from a falling piece of slate.


Paul heading off into the depths...You first mate!


Down you go...

When you get to the chamber floor walk straight opposite across huge boulders where the roof has collapsed, be quiet as it wont take much noise to bring the whole ceiling down. We crept across cat like and swift to locate the next abseil. It was difficult to find but when across the other side bear left when facing the wall and you should locate it. I had to stop and admire the size of the chamber and the boulders from the semi collapsed ceiling, not sure my helmet would be much use shielding some of these!


I admire the boulders fallen from the ceiling


Once the second abseil was located it was my turn to test the rope. It was a shorter descent and not as dramatic as the first but I was still relieved when I landed at the bottom of the chamber. Abseiling is not my favorite pastime! On landing paul slipped and smashed his left leg, it came up in a lump the size of half a tennis ball! He took a few moments to get himself together, relieved that nothing was broken and he wouldn't have to endure a "Joe Simpson" escape! We eventually headed off scrambling down over boulders to get to the Tyrolean zip – wire.

Paul pulled back the pulley and without giving it too much thought to become scared, I hooked on, let out a whoop and pushed off into the blackness, petzl head torch doing its best to light up the way. I slowed and with some effort (I was facing the wrong way) clambered up the wall. I made myself safe and gave Paul a whistle. He was soon along side and I gave him a helping hand to clamber the short wall. 


About to take on the zip-wire


Still buzzing from the zip wire


We took a few moments to look around and were amazed at the clarity of the water. If what I read is right then this flooded chamber was 60 meters deep, it certainly looked crystal clear. I took a moment to consider how to reverse the zip - wire if we couldn't find our way out further on, the water was cold and a swim would be foolhardy. Trying to reverse the zip wire would be a mammoth task as it was fairly steep, I actually thought that it would be difficult too as you would have to rig some sort of brake to stop yourself slipping back. I left the area hoping that it was a challenge we wouldn't be facing in a few hours!


Chamber floor and flooded area


Water was clear and very deep...

After a short walk you come to the Suspension bridge, which beggars belief that someone has taken the time to construct something like this underground. Well done as it’s a great effort and really adds something to the trip. We had so far done tunnels and route finding, scree slopes and knotted rope scrambling, abseils, zip wires and now a suspension bridge! 


Suspension Bridge


The bridge was great fun and seemed stable going one at a time. Your feet just dip in the water halfway across but it felt a solid structure and it was all a bit surreal.


Balancing act across the bridge



Once across the bridge you are now really deep in the mine and pretty committed. Reversing the bridge would be easy enough but getting back up the zip wire would be near impossible and to prussic up the two abseils would be exhausting to say the least.

Follow your nose to the bridges via an easy path and tunnels; the first one is straightforward - if you can balance?  I looked down into the icy depths and with a sloping seam of slate on the ceiling it threw my balance off kilter but managed okay with a very slow shuffle. The timber is thick and solid but halfway across it seems to get narrower and more worn. The seam of slate for the ceiling was good slate and solid, a calming thought when I thought that it was carrying the weight of the mountain!

First bridge, don't look down!


There is a tension traverse to escape a further flooded chamber that is easy enough if tackled with a bit of gusto. I quite enjoyed it and the wire fixings and ropes looked pretty solid.


Tension traverse

The final obstacle on this section was the wire traverse over a further flooded chamber and remains of a bridge. it took us a few minutes to consider the best way to tackle it. Halfway across you have to unclip to pass the cable fixing. Paul used two one meter slings and with some grunting was soon across. I doubled up my slings to make them shorter and when reaching the middle my feet couldn’t touch the timber. I had to rig a foot sling to take the tension off so I could unclip and clip back on the other side of the fixing, it gave Paul something to laugh at watching me struggle. I found this bit quite strenuous and worked up a sweat pulling myself across, we didn't have a pulley wheel that would of made it easier as the carabineers caused too much friction.  


Wire traverse


Next it was onwards to the boat trip. We’d elected not to bring a dingy and we both hoped there was the canoe there that we had read about. We arrived at the end of the tunnel and there was an abseil set up and a blue rope, Paul started pulling the rope gently and slowly out of the dimness came the canoe. We both breathed a sigh of relief. Now I’ve experienced what you would go through to do the reverse trip or worse swim! I would pack an inflatable, if there was ever a next time, we still hadn’t completed this one! 

Paul suggested that as I was a proficient rower I could abseil down to the boat first. I thought it was more like it looked water logged and fairly unstable! I set off down and once I bailed some water out and steadied her she felt safe enough for two. Paul joined me and slowly we rowed into darkness across the vast chamber of horrors, if the previous obstacles had been a little weird then this one felt ridiculously bizarre...


Abseil into the canoe


It seemed a very surreal event rowing across and only heightened what was an unusual and mixed adventure to be a part of. We scrambled out of the canoe and up some fixed knotted ropes to at least a dozen deflated boats, all victims of the sharp slate edges no doubt. It took us a few minutes to find the exit but over to the right as you face the water was a small cave about 5 meters up the wall. There was a fixed rope and with some grunting we both managed to prussic up to be met by a smiling skull. That was the Chamber of Horrors done and dusted.



Smiling skull with a eerie grin


The route finding after this became more difficult, we went over some boulders and eventually up a scree slope that was about a meter high from floor to ceiling and we had to remove rucksacks. We followed the passage with some tracks and went through a broken wall built across the tunnel; this led to the bottom of an incline and some timber and metalworkings.



Route finding 



We struggled to find the exit out of here but eventually we located a small wriggle through some boulders. It was tight even with rucksacks removed and I had several attempts as my harness kept catching. I was pleased to get through and anxious to get up the scree slope and into a bit more space. I was convinced we were now off route and would have to reverse this bit so took my time and mapped the route mentally for a possible return. I'm not comfortable squeezing through small spaces and it all felt a bit claustrophobic!


Scree slopes

We eventually saw daylight over the boulders and could see the first Twll and the fresh air and light were a welcome treat. As we wanted to exit via the Rhosydd Adit we turned left and went through several more chambers. Once past the chamber with the big wooden floor beams, turn left and head back down into the bowels of the mine, it all felt wrong going back down into the mine after glimpsing daylight. After a few minutes you will see an opening on the right and a parallel incline. Scramble over this and then descend to the bottom where over to the left you will find the adit, follow this for 650 meters to exit. It was pretty unpleasant as there was 6 inches of water on the floor but the dim glimmer of daylight at the end ensured we kept up the pace!



For a rainy day in Wales it’s a great alternative for all would be climbers and adventurers but don’t underestimate the environment you are in, the last two people I read about that had to be rescued were experienced cavers. You need to be able to descend and ascend ropes safely and carry the equipment to do so. Route finding is complex at times and calls for a steady head. You need a confident and calm approach with the ability not to panic and to keep safe.

The guide times that we had read suggested that you require around six hours for the trip; Paul and I did it in three and a half hours at a comfortable pace, not rushing but not hanging about either. We were so engrossed and concentrated in the whole adventure that we never even had a drink until we had finished and back in the fresh air. That should give you some idea of the intensity of the trip as it was one obstacle after the other and a traverse that demanded your full attention.

We both agreed that it was a great day out and the pints of Guinness later with a Tin-Y Coed lamb dinner were well deserved.


And remember you are never alone down there…..



© Copyright - Dave Clarke 2013

© Copyright Images - Blanchard Clarke Collection 

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