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Force Crag Mine, Introductory Trip (14/06/14)

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It was a very hung over start to the day (well, at least for me and Karli - night out in Keswick with port, red wine, strong beer, port night cap....) and probably at bit later than was expected. I think that we turned up at the car park at around 09:45 and it took around half an hour to get kitted up. This was then followed by the hour or so walk up to Force Crag Mine. Thankfully it was cloudy and we were spared the glare of the sun, which would have been a killer with pounding heads and stomachs wanting to empty their contents - nice. Once at the site we went up to the main buildings and had a bit of a rest waiting for the stragglers to catch up. Then it was a short steep climb up to the adit of No3 Level.

At this point the sun had decided to come out, and even though we were in it for only 10 minutes or so it was sweltering. Thankfully the air blasting out of No3 Level was freezing cold, it was literally like your car air conditioning! Removing the rocks from the entrance we made our way into the short crosscut and then onto the main drive. Out target was the La Porte Incline, but the entrance to this was missed and we ended up going all the way to the foreheads of No3 Level, which for most of us was fine as it was either a case of never been in before or not been that way before, so that gave us the opportunity to see the whole of the level. There was a price to pay though, freezing cold waist deep water. The level up to that point had been in good condition and admittedly it was only a few minor falls that had caused the water back up. Once out of the water we passed under the series of hoppers which where the connection up to the incline on the 650' Level. The hopper and rises are known as the Big Rise. After a while past the hoppers we came to a blind crosscut on the left and here we saw a stack of metal ventilation pipes, a bit more on and then we came to another blind crosscut on the left, heading north. Past this we came to a junction with a set of railway points at them and ventilation piping, left was the south crosscut and right was the continuation of the level heading northwest. Both of these only went on for around 30m and that was the end of No3 Level. Returning back and whilst in the deeper water a shout from above let us know the location of the entrance to the incline.

Entering the incline, we saw a shaley level going up into the distance with the remains of pulley's either in the roof or on the floor. Picking up the pace, as we were getting behind the others we started up. Shortly we came to a shift in the incline and we had to climb through a fall and over some rocks that had come down and then shift to the right a bit. I'm not sure, but this could have coincided with the Vent Rise. Once back on the incline, here it became more pronounced and you could feel that you were climbing. A further 150m took us up to the wooden staging and platforms that marked the 650' Level and the head of the Big Rise. The wood work here was in good condition, and we saw a wheel barrow along with a couple of slusher buckets and the slusher winch. Once over this we carried on up the incline with running water underfoot. With the water keeping things washed out it was possible to see the groves in the floor that the cable that ran the slushers had cut. Another 65m up and we came to the 900' Level, marked by the rail bridge over the incline. We did not explore this, but it leads to the foot of Mawson's Rise that connects with the 1100' Level, further up. Some more climbing, and after 50m we reached the 1100' Level and the top of the incline. Here we turned south along a short crosscut that brought us to a rise and a winch and yet more ventilation piping.

Our next target was the 80' Level. Getting to this involved climbing up the rise just before the winch on old steel ladders and then doing a crossover on to more ladders and then climbing up onto yet another incline. This second incline was very steep and we had 32m to climb. About three quarters up we intersected the 100' Level, and then shortly after that the 80' Level was reached. This was the first 'proper' working we had come to, with high stopes, hoppers and rises. The main stope was a bit shattered in places with lots of timber on the floor from above, but taking a passage away from the stope brought us to a nice level with hoppers and the remains of tub wheels and chassis. At the junction with the stope and passage there was a very large kibble. Catching up with the rest of the party we found them having lunch in the stope. The way on now was to head west in the stope and then to climb up the very steep footwall up to the 50' Level. Thankfully Karli had gone up first and provided a hand line to help out with that. A useful air pipe also helped. On the 50' Level there was more stoping and crossing a timber covered sump the rest of the level could be reached. Past that sump there were a number of tub wheels and the chassis of bogeys along with spades and some tools. Off to the right there was an opening that gave a view into a large open stope

From the 50' Level it is about 18m to the High Force Level. The connection is made via a short climb up into a level above via a rise, and then from that level a further climb of around 5m up into a stope. In the stope there is a short crosscut and a timbered rise that connects up to the High Force Level. It was Karli's and Sal's intention of doing a through trip in Force Crag, with a view to coming out via the High Force Level, but we had heard that there had been a fall on the High Force Level blocking exit. So rather than all of us doing the last climb up Karli and a few others climbed up to check things out. I took the opportunity whilst waiting to have my very late lunch. After a while the message of 'no goer' came back and it we had to do a reversal of our route in.

Force Crag was an excellent trip, but I was disappointed with the lack of time to photograph things and to poke into all the crosscuts and levels. I must admit that it was after all an introductory trip and so in reality there just would not have been time to do all those things properly. There is only one thing to do then…