A new year is a brilliant excuse to look back on the last. Mine was less than boring. I have been fortunate enough to have some very, very memorable experiences, most falling firmly in the type-two -fun category.
Where to begin. Last year was the year I finally learnt that teachers weren’t lying when they said Wikipedia wasn’t a valid source of information on its own. It’s also the year I spent about 10 hours lost down a mine in Snowdonia, arriving home at 4.30am. Yes, these things are related.
We started the day very hungover, and very optimistic, leaving our accommodation in North Wales around mid day (already optimistic, I know), in order to enter the mine at 1pm. We estimated the journey would take us approximately 5 hours, and we could be back to the car and make the 4 hour drive home without being too late. Oh were we wrong.
I have vivid memories of painfully dragging myself halfway up a mountain to the entrance as half the group powered on ahead, obviously not as affected by the previous nights escapades as our small group dragging ourselves behind. Once we had found the beginning, we stopped briefly for lunch, aware that this was the last time we would see sunlight for several hours, and entered.
The start of the journey went well, abseiling into the pitch black abyss of a giant cavern, scrambling along to reach a huge underground lake. The instructions apparently stated that we could zip-wire along a cable to the other side. Issue number 1- the wire was damaged in the middle, so crossing entailed going hand- over- hand to the middle, lifting ourselves up to take the weight off our gear, reattaching to the other half of the wire and continuing. Not a big deal right? Right. Although at this point we should maybe have realised that the instructions weren’t all that accurate.
There were minor tears of terror (exclusively from me) when I realised that I had to balance across a wobbly rotten beam across a flooded mine shaft, faff when having to ascend a rope and realising two of the party didn’t know how, but nothing compared to the moment we realised we couldn’t find the exit. It’s at times like these when you truly get to know people. We had all of the panicked clichés, the overly chatty one, the one who always tried to make people laugh, the leader, the silent one (me), and the one who seemed unaffected.
We eventually managed to scramble towards a hole in the roof, towards the now dark sky. The relief in reaching the surface was instantly visible on everyone’s faces. That is until we realised we were now stuck above ground, in a slate quarry, with no exit, in the rain. Those of you that have climbed on slate will know that it isn’t easy at the best of times, and when wet resembles trying to climb up a bin-bag covered in soap. So, naturally, we climbed. Damon got sent up first as he ‘had the most climb-y shoes on’. Once at the top, he proceeded to make, perhaps one of the least legit anchors I have seen, but the best we could do, in order to belay the rest of us up. The next member of the team went up, and on reaching the top was told to sit on the boulder being used as an anchor- not a reassuring thing to hear as you are about to climb. As we each went up, we added our bodies to the makeshift anchor, until the last member of the team was up.
We now realised that we were on the top of a mountain with no map, no GPS and no way of knowing where the car was. This is the first and only time I have ever seen anyone successfully find the north star, and navigate from there. All we knew was that we had to head east, and so began a very dark (at this point very few of us had working head torches), very hungry, trek back to the car.
By the time I got home, I had to start work in two hours, and so called them to let them know I probably wouldn’t make it. I told them I had got lost in a mine, and had only just got in, to which the person on the phone said ‘Oh…Ok’. And that was that. I think it is fair to say that the whole adventure was ill-advised and slightly stupid, but it is also one of my most memorable experiences of the outdoors, so make of that what you will.