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Sierra De Lújar Mines Spain, A General Explore (06/06/17).


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I first came across these mines in 2013 when on a family holiday in the foot hills of the Alpujarra region in Spain, at that time we had a drive up and just looked at the information boards and one adit. I had heard from a local ex-pat that this mine was being worked adhock. On subsequent visits to the farmhouse that we stayed at, across the valley I could see constant activity up the mountain some 5km away, lights zig zagging up and down all night. Some more enquiries and it turns out that the mine now is fully operational 24hr with 3 shifts. I left it at that, but this year it could not be left alone.

On this trip to Spain, I packed my lighting, camera and tripod with a view to getting underground. On the Tuesday, we decided that we would drive up the mountain track and go to the mine office and see if we could blag a tour (some real wishful thinking). The Clio that we were in managed to climb up some 800m altitude of dirt track, but not without the traction control having constant hissy fits, anyway bless the car - it made it with the sump intact. Once at the mine office we got out and approached the first person we saw. They did not speak English, but then they shouted over a group of young students who looked to be preparing samples for assaying. Bingo, one of them spoke English. We were asked inside and spoke with the geologist for the site. Explaining that we were mine explorers (god knows what they thought) and that we were wondering if it would be possible to get underground. The answer was no, but only because nothing had been arranged in advance. It turns out they have the local school kids come for tours. If we can contact the mine operators in advance something could be arranged. Next time then. The geologist was really friendly and explained that they were mining fluorspar in various grades and some galena. He showed us some nice specimens (he put those away) and gave us a few battered ones.

Leaving the office, we parked the car and carried on up the track on foot. It was approaching midday and the temperature was really starting to hot up. Being at 1000m or so did not particularly give any respite to the heat. I had read about the mines after being here in 2013 and it turned out that the top of the mountain was riddled with very old workings and newer ones from the last 100 years. I had seen a lot of adits and some underground photographs that had been posted by Spanish and ex-pats who trekked these parts, so I was confident that we would see something and get underground. We started to climb the track and after about 750m we came to the first adit. This was large and open, entering it we walked over various timbers on the floor and passed a section that was heavily timbered with roof supports - it looked like a 'classical' American gold mine from an old western. Past the timbering the level gave way to a right mix of support methods - full concrete arching, concrete walls with rails sat across them which had been filled in with concrete, and brick pillars with steel lintels going across them. After about 150m we came to a crosscut. To the left was an alcove with a winch in it and some ventilation trunking, opposite to the right was an upward incline with lots of loose material poured down it. Carrying on pass this, we saw a steel ladder section with a bottle of brown liquid. Soon the level became a bit worse for wear and there were a number of falls. We went under another brick pillar and rail roof support that had failed on the left and side and allowed a very sticky clay based mud to pour in. A few meters past this, the level was blocked with the same material. All in all, about 200m of passage. Returning back and passing the bottle we wondered if it was the local Costa mountain wine (I had been drinking a lot of it and I think it was going to my brain) or was it a case of Spanish Tizer? Against better judgment (I was thinking you would not pee in that so near the adit) I opened it up and had a sniff - it wasn't Costa, as the smell hit me I ended up heaving and retching - whilst Charlie laughed his head off. We headed on out and whilst passing the timbered section we noticed large semi-circular sections of a wooden framework - ah the arch formers for the large arched concrete sections. Coming back out into the day light the heat hit us and we realised how cold we had got in this short section of level.

Another few minutes and we came to the second adit. This one had an open gate on it and a no admittance sign, but apart from that it looked disused. We ended up going in (not condoning this sort of behaviour). There was a slight upward incline in the level and caterpillar tracks on the floor, but after 100m we came to a fall. Back out. Walking another 300m further up the track we came to what looked like a loading platform and surely just after this there was a dogleg junction off the main track heading up to what looked like an opening. At the junction, there was a full warning sign about health and safety and the mine company name. At the top of the dogleg there was a locked gate and we could see some open chambers and two levels going into the mountain. There was an oil barrel, some sort of functioning signalling electronics with lots of antennas, an IBC tank full of hydraulic fluid and what looked like a magazine. With this third adit we decided it was prudent not to have a look in.
Further up the track at about 600m along we stopped at a switch back for some water intake and happened to notice a path heading away from the track. It had the feel of an old miners track and we mooched along it for a few minutes just in case there was some hidden gem around the corner - nothing apart from going off into the distance. After a brief rest, we returned to the track figuring that was the best bet for more mine related features. A walk of around 650m brought us to another adit, the forth one. This one had been bricked up and someone had knocked a fair old hole in it. Entering it we had to climb over some rubbish just inside the adit as well as an unsavoury collection of used tissues of a brownish colour, we christened this as the Turnout Adit. Once past the mess the level branched to the left and straight on. We took the left first and just around the corner we saw some small natural fissures in the wall heading up to the roof complete with some nice calcification. The level carried on for some 30m and then around a bend the forehead was reached. Returning back to the junction we also noticed some survey marks. Back at the junction we took the other branch and this started to dip down a little, it only went some 100m and ended up in a small working and that was the end. At the working deads had been cemented into buttresses that formed the base for a working platform - now on the floor and half rotted. Around the working we saw traces of thin wire that could only have come from detonators. There was also a rubber air hose trailing back up to the entrance. Back out and more trekking up the track.

As we carried on up the track, eventually after 500m we saw an old mine building ahead of us. Nearing it more features revealed themselves - opposite the building an old walled shaft and an ore grading screen and further past it a whole lot of old machinery. Charlie went to have a look at the shaft and screen whilst I went over to look at the machinery. There was a right collection of items here: parts of conveyer belts and runners, a water tower, piping, old tyres, steel stair sections, an engine block, ore hoppers and rolls of wire. Rounding a corner, I saw an open stope with a workshop in it. I went in and there were some work benches, ore samples, balls from a mill and a door at the end. I made my way to the door expecting a toilet behind it, but to my surprise as soon as I opened it I got a blast of freezing air. A quick look in and I could see bottles and some steps going down. At this point Charlie came over and I stepped out of the door way letting go of the door and it promptly slammed shut. I shouted over to Charlie about what was behind the door and that there seemed to be beer bottles there. Going in again I could not have been more wrong. The bottles turned out to be full of nitric acid and ammonia along with a collection of more chemicals, laboratory glassware, retort stands and other equipment. It looks like the workshop was possibly an assay laboratory and all the stuff had been shoved out of the way. The steps led down into more stoping and in the distance, we could see daylight seeping in from holes in the roof. We went down the steps and further into the stope to find more laboratory equipment and crates of chemicals dotted all over the place. It seemed to have been there for a while - maybe in the region of 15 years or so. Moving on along the stope, the floor started to drop a little and we came to a junction with what looked to be a trial crosscut. This was the end of the line as in both directions we could see the foreheads. We turned around and headed back to the surface to be yet again blasted by the heat and sun.

We went over to the shaft and Charlie mentioned that it was open, a listen and then a small stone thrown down it…. about 30m deep. Diagonally opposite the shaft was a fenced off area and this turned out to be a small water reservoir. The track split here - it carried on up the side of the mountain and also stayed flat heading to some more buildings. The buildings were in a poor state, had no roof on them, but we did notice relatively ornate fire places in them. Past the buildings was another adit (the fifth one) with an open gate and signs. There was a strong air flow coming out of it. We went past it to see further along the track, passing a broken down telehandler. At this point we could hear some machinery and rounding a bend as the track started to drop down we saw an LDH loader coming in and out of another adit some 400m away - the sixth adit. There was no point going to down to take a look as we were sure we would get turned away. So, we went to look at the fifth adit with its icy air blowing out. We both looked at each other, smiled and went in feeling like naughty school boys (again, not condoning this sort of behaviour). There was a strong smell of engine fumes. There were no supports in the level, but the rock did look particularly friable and the floor was dotted all over with small rock fragments. We started to feel a bit bare with no helmet's on. The level wasn't straight which was a bit of a surprise, it just seemed to be snaking around, eventually after maybe 300m we came to a junction. Straight on was blocked and seemed to be a bit of dumping ground for odd bits and pieces. I stopped to take some photographs and Charlie went off to the left. A while back he came back saying that I need to come and have a look. Maybe another 50m and we approached a rubble slope - the area was covered in dust and machinery could be heard. Over the top of the slope was the end of the line. The level ended abruptly at the top of a very large stope and it was quite a way down. The first thing that sprang to my mind was the Alma Stope in Greenside mine in the Lake District. Just before the base of the slope there was a steeply inclined small shaft with an old airpipe heading down. I took some more photos and then we high tailed it back out. On the way out, we starting thinking about the LDH we had seen and that it was good chance that that is what we heard down in the stope - the distances and direction seemed to add up.

Returning to the shaft junction where the track continues to snake up the mountain we carried on up. Along the way there was a track veering off to an old building set back from the main track. We dropped down along it to have a look. This building was the only one that we have seen with a roof. Inside there was nothing of note except for a large amount of compacted dried sheep dung and bird droppings. We found some steps which took us up on to the flat roof. With a nice view, we had a bite to eat. Soon we heard some machinery again and it turned out that the flat roof gave a great vantage point to the sixth adit and the LDH. Back on the track and upwards. We encountered some more old mine buildings at 400m along from the shaft junction, including a transformer house, what looked to be a garage judging from the inspection pit, an ore heap and another adit - the seventh one. This one was shut and had the warning signs up. There was a strong air flow coming out of it and we could seem more of the signalling electronics again. It would have been a no brainer to get in, but with having to open the gate we left it.

Another 550m brought us to the eighth adit by a small pond full of tadpoles. It was open with no warning signs - what can you do? There was no air coming out of it so we reckoned it was another small trial like turnout adit. We went in avoiding a swarm of fly's that dropped down from the roof. This adit had a steepish incline heading down and it looked like it took a fair bit of water when the rain was inclined to pour down. Along the way down we there was some steel air piping hanging on the wall and at the bottom of the incline there seemed to be a right junction that had been back filled. Opposite on the left the incline carried on and we noticed these white patches of dust on the floor. Charlie spotted a bright blue plastic cover on the floor - the type you get with new machine tools, then looking up at the roof we saw a drill steel. Correspondingly shiny and new. We had a go at getting it out, but it was well jammed. Dust patches explained. The incline went a little further and ended in a forehead along with a pile of bones roughly the size of a sheep. Approximately 250m of passage. Exiting we carried on up the track for another 100m, and at a dogleg by a pine tree took a break to take stock. It was 15:00 now and finding out we had full 4G signal we ended up looking at Google Earth. We could clearly see all the adits we had visited and what was ahead - loads more adits, but probably another 2 hours of trekking to reach the peak and see some of the other side + explore time. With no more food and water running low - we turned back to return to the car.

Along the way up we had seen another adit with a small steel door that was open (this out of order, makes it the ninth adit). At the time, there was a mine operators 110 land rover outside it so we just went past it, but now it was still open and clear. Cold air blasting out of it, we discussed about going in. Obviously, it was a working area, stepping in just to have a look we saw a sign with all the local emergency numbers - it dawned on us that was a second method of egress. There also was an alcove with what looked like an old detonator magazine in it - open and empty. Shall we, shan't we? Looking down the level we could see that this was an old working, but in very good condition. No rocks on the floor and the floor compacted - well trodden, as if a daily inspection takes place. We decided that (yet again - not condoning this sort of behaviour) we should have a little look. Really feeling like school boys, we headed in. The level varied from bare rock, to rough stone arching and some really good stone arching work. This was wonderful to see and we were glad to have gone in. The air flow was pretty strong and we cooled down rapidly. As we headed in, the level got damper and eventually we came to a pool on the left that water was draining into. It looked to have a silty bottom, but possibly could have been a flooded / filled sump. A bit past this there was a flooded stope that had guard rails on it. The level just went on and on and got progressively wetter. At one point, we came to some wet empty cardboard boxes with explosives signs on them. We had probably gone in about 700m at this point and started to think that it would only be a matter of time until we heard machinery or encountered someone. Nerves getting the best of us, we turned back.

Nine adits, and whole lot more to go at. Our trip turned out to be quite a little expedition. When we got back to the car, we noticed an ore haulage road truck being loaded up at the main adit near the offices and by the time we had got sorted and in the car, it was had past us. We followed it down the track and it was a bit like the wild crazy road documentaries you see of haulage truckers on switch back high mountain roads - bet the brakes were hot. We drove back into Orgiva, and on the outskirts on the way back to the farmhouse we stopped at a bar to have a couple of cool beers each with free nibbles - heaven.