Like any other activity Mine Exploration has risks, and if ill prepared your trip can turn from fun to fatal. Here are a few basic guidelines that should be followed to help minimize the risks involved. This list is not all inclusive, a good dose of common sence and caution will do wonders.
- Group: The first and foremost important safety reminder is toNEVER explore alone. A group of mine explorers should have NO LESS then FOUR explorers.
- Whereabouts: Let a responsible person or party know where you are going and when you will be back and who to call in case your not back or have made contact by the predesignated time.
- Mentality: if you are not mentally able or are claustrophobic or have any other ailment to confined spaces, mine exploration should probably be avoided.
- Bad air: Make sure it the air smells ok. If you smell anything out of normal ranges such as rotten eggs, foul smells, photo fixer. Your breathing in Sulfur-hydroxide. If this is smelled leave immediately. Stale air, must, mold. This is a sign of oxygen being used or lac there of. Leave immediately.
- Oxygen level: Keep a lighter with you it will help determine air flow and will not light at lower then 16% oxygen content. Which also happens to be the threshold amount that sustains human life anything below this you will DIE period. Signs of approaching this level is heavy breathing. If you notice that your breathing is heaver then it should be for the amount of exertion you are experiencing your in a low oxygen level. Leave the area the same way you came immediately. Also for gods sake DO NOT LIGHT A LIGHTER IN A COAL MINE. You will cause an explosion and kill yourself and anyone you happen to be with.
- False floors: watch your footing. This is VERY important. You could be walking on a false floor covered by dust and the such. If you feel like the floor is bowing back up IMMEDIATLY and examine it more thoroughly. Your weight could be all it takes to break. If you ever find you need to cross a false floor don't, find a different route. If not possible, stick to the outer edges it should be the strongest point but examine it thoroughly, then examine it again and use your coming sense.
- Light: the darkness in mines is APSOLUTE. The minimum amount of different light sources you need to bring is 3 the main being attached to you helmet. For each light 3 sets of replacement battries are needed. and replacement bulbs for your main light. Without light your chances of getting out are about ZERO. L.E.D. light is the preferred lighting source.
- Location: make sure to keep tabs on you current location in a mine at all times. Some mines can be strait forward while others could have a maze like structure where you can get lost and flipped about very easily.
- Physical condition: While mine exploring isn't that exhausting we ask that you can do at least 5+ hours of physical activities.
- Helmets: They are very important, you are after all crawling around in rock. Your going to bump your noggin at some point in time which without a helmet will hurt and possibly render you unconscious.
- Gear: Proper gear is needed to safely explore a mine. For the complete list. Please refer to the Gear Up area
- Touching: Avoid touching the ceiling and supporting structures. A touch to the ceiling could be all it takes to start a cave in or a big chunk of rock could fall and severely injure you. The support beams may appear to be solid but could be in a state of decay. After all they were placed many years ago.
- Mind altering substances: DRUGS or ACOHAL DO NOT MIX with any and all underground exploration.
- Integrity: Look examine and determine the area integrity. Avoid collapsed or collapsing areas. As time goes on areas can become week and start to sag or collapse. These areas are highly unstable and should be avoided.
- Talking: lower pitches penetrate rock more so try and avoid them. It could cause a collapse.
- Research: Look into the the area your going to be exploring. Find out the rock composition, the mineral content, and its history; such as when it was last used or operational. This could help determine safety.
FeaturesCommon features in a mine include drifts (horizontal tunnels), shafts (vertical tunnels) and winzes or air vents that are much smaller and can be at any angle underground. Climbing through these shafts, tunnels, and winzes can be very dangerous due to their unseen entrances and exits. A drift with a portal to the outside is called an adit.
Stopes (areas where ore was removed) usually follow the ore vein and are often at steep angles to horizontal. Many stopes are shored with wooden 2x4s or 4x4s. Contrary to what one might think, the wood isn't there to keep the stope from collapsing, but rather to hold loose rock in place. Some stopes are narrow and convoluted (explorers like to call them "spider holes"); others resemble giant rooms. One famous recreation of an immense stope is the "Glory Hole" in the mine ride at Knott's Berry Farm. Many stopes have a lot of loose material on or around them; extreme caution must be exercised.
Raises are often used to transit vertically between levels of a mine. A raise is often a 6-12 foot square vertical shaft divided into two sections. One half is a straight drop to the bottom and is used for haulage, and the other section is a series of platforms, 10 or more feet apart, with holes cut in them in an alternating manner. Beneath each hole is a ladder leading to the next platform. This style of construction affords safety: if one falls off the ladder, the fall is only to the next platform, not the bottom of the shaft.
Mines were generally constructed and maintained to be safe while they were operational. After they are abandoned, workings may decay to a point where they could become dangerous. For instance, some support structures may have been removed before abandonment for re-use elsewhere, or supporting pillars may have been quarried away, leaving the chambering unstable. Ventilation and water pumping systems that once maintained safe working conditions are removed.
HazardsThere are a number of potential hazards that mine explorers face:
- Surface shafts: The ground around abandoned mine shafts and open pits may be weak and could cave-in without warning. Undergrowth may hide shafts, while timber used for capping may have rotted to a point where it will collapse if weight is put on it. Even scarier is the so-called "ant-lion trap" effect: loose earth around a surface shaft crumbles away over time, leaving a funnel-shaped drop-off around the shaft. If a curious person attempts to look down the shaft, he or she could begin sliding into it with nothing to stop the fall.
- Collapses: The effects of blasting, weathering, and earthquakes destabilize once-strong bedrock through time. Portals (adits) in particular are affected, but tunnel and chamber roofs and walls can also destabilize. Support timber props, ladders and other similar structures may appear safe but could have degraded. Similarly, waste rock tipped down chambers may be unstable and rock slides may occur if they are walked on. If it doesn't look right, it's better to leave it unexplored than to risk one's life unnecessarily.
- Darkness: As with most underground places, the darkness in a mine is total. If you lose light, it may be difficult or impossible to exit the mine. An experienced explorer will carry at least three independent sources of illumination and a set of spare batteries.
- Falling: Falling down vertical openings is the most common cause of death and injury in abandoned mines.
- Winzes: are vertical or inclined shafts sunk from a tunnel and these can be hidden by darkness, water, loose debris or false floors. False floors may also be present in substantial lengths of tunnel, where the floor level has been worked (understoped). Such floors may be supported by rotten wood, but surfaced with rock and not clearly distinguishable from a solid floor. A prudent explorer wears a hard hat or climber's helmet: even if one doesn't fall, many passages are irregular and low, and a protruding rock can carve a nice gash in one's head while walking through.
- Water: Water in mines is often deep and can be dangerously cold; if it fills an area with steep sides, then it may not be easy to climb out. Seemingly shallow water can conceal sharp objects, drop-offs, and other hazards. Furthermore, a wet mine can rot or rust timbers, shoring and ladders, making conditions hazardous. Desert mines tend to be dry and therefore relatively safe in this regard; however, dry rot can weaken wood. All ladders and wooden floors should be tested before trusting body weight to them.
- Bad Air: Old mine workings may be hazardous due to pockets ofblackdamp (still air with low oxygen levels), or high concentrations ofmethane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, or hydrogen sulfide which can displace oxygen, poison someone outright, or create an explosion. Coal mines are especially prone to containing these gases. If a mine is not well-ventilated or conditions are unknown, use of a properly-calibrated 4-gas detector (O2, CO2, CO, and H2S) is recommended.
- Explosives: Explosives such asdynamite, black powder, or blasting caps may have been abandoned in old mines. Many explosives become increasingly unstable with age and could be detonated by the slightest movement or even the vibrations from a footfall.
- Wildlife: Snakes, various mammals, and bats can call a mine home. Exercise caution, especially near mine portals.
- Hazardous chemicals: Mines dug in wet areas give underground water a path to percolate through rock and exit via the tunnel systems. In some areas, the mine water can contain various types of heavy metals. Bacterial action can create acids and other compounds that are hazardous to humans. Acid mine drainage is of great concern in some areas. Also, mills and other processing areas may contain traces of cyanide and mercury compounds that were once used to separate precious metals from the ore.
- Remoteness: Most mines are a long way from medical assistance, and depending on the circumstances, just getting to the surface could be an ordeal if one is injured. The cardinal rule of mine exploring is to NEVER do it alone. Also, someone not with the party should be informed of where the group is going and when it plans to return.
Gear UpEssential gear
- Helmet mountable Headlamp along with 2 other sources of light. LED is recommended.
- Spare batteries 3 sets for all lights and spare bulbs for main light.
- Warm clothing. Mines assume the years average temperature. +/- 5 degrees. In warmer climates to they do get colder the farther you go in.
- Helmet. This is not an option one is required.
- Aggressive tread boots.
- Small first aid kit, or a group first aid kit.
- Water and food. At least 2 liters of water should be carried with you. A hydration pack is best. And several uncrushable food items, such as power bars and trail mix. And a little extra just in case the trip takes longer.
- Other gear. 5 unexpired glow sticks, more if your pack has room. A whistle, compass, multi-tool emergency blanket, trail marking tape and a knife.
- A properly calibrated 4 gas, gas detecter is highly recommended. ( O2, CO2, CO, and H2S )
- Knee and elbow pads. They make crawling about much more pleasurable.
- Tough pair of gloves.
- Hand held 2-way radios. 1 for each member of the group.
- Paper and pencil.
- Change of cloths.
- Bathroom essentials. A urine bottle and burrito bag. Please do not leave your waist behind inside a mine.
- Garbage bag. It has many uses some are. Container for dirty cloths, pick up trash about the mine, ect.
- Small length of cord or webbing.