Tuesday, 31 January 2012

So now the adventure really begins.....

What have I signed up for?! At the beginning of this process I was told that some rather extreme challenges were in store, however after my soft introduction I had pushed this notion into the back of my mind.

I was then told that I would embark on a ‘Go Below’ adventure, from the company name I guessed I would be on my way underground which was frightening enough, however having watched a video of the experience on their website, unlike many of my peers who were filled with excitement, I was extremely apprehensive, take a look at http://www.go-below.co.uk/video.asp ! Despite attempted reassurance by the Go Below team via Twitter I’m afraid I still had butterflies!

When I met Jennifer and Miles, the couple who run the company, their friendliness and laid back attitude did put me at ease. The couple founded Go Below three years ago and they have explored the mines of the area with over 5000 people! When we arrived at the company base under The Conwy Falls Cafe each member of the group was kitted up with a helmet and harness, the worrying question did run through my mind as to why they were needed and a safety talk and equipment demonstration by Miles soon explained all....the day ahead seemed to be packed full of extreme activities! Gulp.....

Kitting Up with Miles
Me with the Land Rover you ride up to to the mine in.
The walk up to the mine.

We enjoyed a 15 minute Land Rover ride with Miles and Jennifer to the base of Rhiwbach where the mine is buried. The journey there was an experience within itself and the bumpy roads and open sided vehicle did make the drive quite thrilling! My adrenaline began to increase along with a feeling of almost excitement! As we walked up the mountain towards the mine I got a chance to speak to Jennifer and Miles and I learnt what a passion they both have for the area and their incredible business.  I felt completely safe with them and fully reassured, my heavy backpack almost made me regret bringing a week’s supply of food and water along...well I had only just watched 127 hours that week, I was bound to be a little paranoid!

Due to illness however, the trip was called off and we headed back to the jeep. That morning I would have felt relieved but now I was disappointed. Was it me? Was I a bad omen? After all, the Nordic walked had been called off too! Jennifer and Miles kindly offered a return trip and I just couldn’t refuse.....

So three days later I was back again, along with a friend who I had appointed official blog photographer to prove that I had actually entered the mine! This time it was for real and I was eager to take part and get stuck in. We walked up the side of the hill to the mine entrance over slate and through forestry, it was so beautiful I almost wanted to stay outside, but I was told it was warmer inside the cave at around 9 C and out and out of the way of the wind. I squeezed through a small gate to enter the mine and into a half a mile stretch of tunnel. Apart from that ‘initial squeeze’ there was no point during the entire day where I had to fit into a really small space, the mine is suitable for those who are claustrophobic, and although it sounds bizarre, I often forgot that I was hundreds of feet underground!

 Squeezing through the mine enterance.

The inital tunnel in the mine.

We soon arrived at a 90ft deep underground lake which we crossed by rowing an inflatable dinghy, a challenge in itself.  We were now further into the mine and it truly felt like there was no going back, luckily I didn’t want to! After continuing into the darkness we came to another body of water, this time the only way to cross it was by zip line- our first testing activity! This was the task that I had feared the most, although it actually turned out to be one of the easiest and incredibly fun.

The next ‘mission’ was a highlight for me- I scrambled up fairly steep rock onto a narrow ledge where I then abseiled down into the next cavern.  The abseil was fantastic and Miles informed us that it is possible to complete the abseil from a higher point depending on the ability of the individual, I wasn’t surprised that I was appointed to do the lower one!
 Climb up to the narrow ledge.

The Absail

The Rhiwbach mine is arranged into tiers, and in order to reach higher floors of the mine we walked up an underground stream, easier said than done and I did slip a fair few times on the wet slate! Miles advised that walking in the water was the best way to grip, a tip I shan’t forget. We then found a cavern where some candles were lit and we sat down for a well deserved, extremely civilized lunch! We then had some free time to explore for ourselves, the mine has 10 miles of tunnels, however I decided not to venture too far.

Walking up the underground stream.

More activities lay ahead and we were soon thrown back into things! Our next task was to climb up a cascading waterfall, and although I was harnessed onto a rope, this was one of the most intimidating challenges of the trip. I, of course was the only member of the group to slip and fall which was made slightly more embarrassing as I was posing for a photograph at the time!
Scrambling up the waterfall.

We continued through to the next cavern where we could catch a glimpse of daylight through a small shaft 100 feet above. I couldn’t believe that we had managed to make it so far, the day had been so exhilarating time seems to have gone. Looking up to the small spot of light I didn’t know how we would get there, I had an idea but didn’t think it possible....however my fears were confirmed....we needed to somehow climb up the 100ft rock face! One by one each member of the group clambered up the steep shaft aided by small rock ledges that had been bolted into the wall, I was last to go and as I stood alone at the bottom of the mine I felt doubtful that I could complete this last vital obstacle. Miles threw down a rope to secure myself to but I had to mentally prepare myself for this one. If  I had faced such a challenge that same morning I’m afraid I would have failed but after such a challenging day where I had managed to overcome  so many difficulties I had been left with a new found confidence. Slowly, step by step along with Miles’ encouragement I managed to climb the steep wall to be greeted by dazzling sunlight; I climbed onto the hillside which was covered by a blanket of snow. The stark contrast of the white snow with the blackness of the mine was quite incredible.

Relieved to get out in one piece!

This adventure is really worth considering for those who are of a slightly nervous nature (like myself) and for others who have a passion for extreme activities as the Go Below team can take you to a mine where you complete challenges to suit your needs. As I walked down the hill back toward the Land Rover I felt relieved, pleased and even proud of what I had managed to achieve that day. An underground adventure with Go Below is well worth a try, like me you might even be converted as I can’t wait to go along again. My time with Go Below certainly isn’t experience that I will ever forget.

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