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Brownley Hill Mine, Round Trip via High Level (22/01/22)

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New Year, new start - I had the idea of ramping it up a bit after the potter trips and suggested that we do the round trip to get a good dose of exercise. It started off okay, into the mine, to the Brownley Hill North Middle Vein, then working your way to the top of the Great Limestone and finally to the bottom of the sump that connects up to the High Level. Once here we had a little break, bit of water and proceeded to prussik up the sump. Karli has been doing caving and has had lots of practice, but for me this was the first bit of SRT I've done since 2019 involving prussiking so it was a bit harder than I remembered.

Finally in the high level, we cracked on and then we came to the first junction on the right, which was the short dogleg to the climbing sump. Going past this we shortly came to a sharp left, Karli seemed to think that this was the route to Jug Vein, but to me it didn't feel right despite it drafting strongly (we have fallen foul of this before) and I carried on a bit further which led me to another left. Strong gut feeling this was the way. In hind sight looking at the plan if we had taken that first left we would have ended up at Tatter's String like once before - the route a painful slog with lots of falls. Taking the second left brought us onto the Brownley Hill Sun Vein, this part always sticks in the head that it is painful with lots of falls to crawl over, however it all felt quite easy going. We hit the bend to the right that is the crosscut to Jug Vein and this is where all the falls and crawls are. At this point trying to keep a reasonable pace going and all the crawling started to hit me with the realisation that I was quite unfit despite all the walking and bike riding I had been doing. One benefit of the stops was that at one point we just happened to stop in the right place and Karli noticed a shell fossil in the wall - nice to see that, however it just all seemed like nonstop crawling over fresh roof falls all along the crosscut and it felt like it was taking for ever - surely we should be a Jug Vein soon? Finally I got a shout from Karli ahead that he was at the sump for the way back down. Thank heaven for that.

On this trip Karli had brought along some rope with a view to re-rigging the sump as he seemed to think the original in-situ rope was rather old. His assumption was correct, there was a date on it and it was from 1992! The old rope was removed and replaced with the new one. He abseiled down first and when clear in the stope, I followed afterwards. The last time we had come here, we had installed some big chunky anchor plates and we had rigged the second pitch so you did not have to abseil down over the rubble and all the rub that gave to the rope. The second pitch (using the same rope from the first one) had always been belayed to a buried scaffold bar - this rope was cut from it and the new one was attached to a backup anchor and then linked in to the anchors we had put in for the second pitch. Having cut the old rope from the scaffold bar we did a quick inspection of it and to our horror (maybe a too strong a word) we found a squishy area in it, it looked like the sheath had received impact damaged from the rocks above. Now we can't tell if this part would have been under load for the second pitch or whether it was the end part of the rope for the first pitch as we had put it down and then picked it up again after coiling. However, it certainly focused the mind when it comes to using in-situ ropes - inspect them.

After all the rope faff we dropped into the main level on Jug Vein and headed south out of the water for a lunch break. Messing around with the ropes and then sitting around for lunch we got a bit chilled and felt it was high time to get moving. Turning around and heading north we got to the drop in the level that you have to climb down and then we reached the main horse level horizon. In my mind I was thinking it was a relatively short trek until we joined the main vein (as in Brownley Hill), but I think coupled with the fact I was starting to feel really tired it ended up feeling to me like a never ending roof on floor horror show experience. Irrespective of how I felt there was new material on the floor all over in this part of the mine, not particularly inspiring to me or Karli - a lot of it hadn't even seen traffic. To top it all off, having reached the first junction - a cross roads, I was convinced it was a left, left my arse - we ended up grovelling to a forehead for a total of around 400m there and back - arrgggghhhh. Returning back to the junction we turned left (as if carrying on straight) and eventually came to the Brownley Hill Vein and the promise of a relatively fall free exit. Catching my breath (Karli seemed to be fine) here and having some choc's we both decided that there's no need to this trip again.

The last time we had done this round trip was March 2014, and passing through the falls on the main vein to get out was a bit of a mind bender for me. I don't think anything had really changed apart from the fresh falls on the connection from Jug to Brownley Hill Vein, but what had changed was my exposure to this type of ground. Years back, I had been going along this part of the mine for many trips when exploring the big stopes on the West High Cross Vein and thought nothing of it - desensitisation by exposure, but not really having done that much in the meantime it all was a bit like being a newbie being dropped in the deep end.

Finally, we reached the junction with Guddhamgill Burn Cross Vein and it all felt safer with the exit not far to go. I felt battered that evening and the following next few days.