We have all heard it before when talking about abandoned mines; “STAY OUT STAY ALIVE”. We are constantly told that mines are “death traps” and if we enter we will surely meet our end. Is that approach really necessary? For the inexperienced weekend warrior lacking safety gear this caution is warranted, but for the safety conscious prospector we think not. Yes, mines CAN be dangerous, but with a few simple precautions you can enjoy the history that remains inside these old tunnels.
Here is a list of the basic gear you will need before venturing into any abandoned workings. With these tools and tips you can learn to be as safe as possible and enjoy your exploration too!
Basic Gear List. We feel that these are the bare necessities you need to be safe underground. Above all use common sense, some situations may require additional gear, such as rope in vertical workings. We will cover these situations in advanced articles.
HELMET: The most important thing you can wear underground. Nobody wants to hit their head on a low hanging ceiling or get hit by a falling rock.
LIGHTS: Like the helmet, you can’t explore a mine properly without light. The more the better, also bring multiple lights and backup lights. Headlamps keep your hands free to do other things, such as collect samples. Don’t forget extra batteries.
Hiking Boots: Mines are filled with debris, timbers, nails, rust rails, broken glass, etc. Good boots will protect your feet from these obstacles and also keep you from rolling an ankle.
Gloves: Like boots protect your feet, gloves protect your hands. Gloves are especially important if you are climbing, digging around, or using tools.
Air Meter: Very important to have if a mine is questionable for its air quality. Oxygen is the most important thing you will need to monitor on a meter. If your meter reads under 15% oxygen, it’s time to start heading out of the mine; the air quality is too low for further exploration. Other potential gasses to consider are hydrogen sulfide (smells like rotten eggs) and carbon monoxide (generated from incomplete combustion. You will only encounter carbon monoxide underground if there has been a fire or if machinery is in use.
Batteries/Back up Lights: Don’t get left in the dark! Bring extra batteries and flashlights so you can always find your way out. We put this on here twice because it is VERY IMPORTANT.
Water/Snacks: Stay hydrated and keep your energy up, you never know how long you’ll be underground.
Jacket: Sometimes mines can be chilly, even in the summer months. Be sure to bring a jacket to stay warm and to protect your arms from scratches and cuts.
First Aid Kit: In an environment full of sharp rocks you always want a first aid kit handy.
N95 or better Dust Mask: Protect your lungs from harmful dust. Masks are cheap, lung damage is not.
With this simple list of gear you’ll be ready to head underground but that’s not all you need to know. Once underground there is another list of rules you must obey to stay safe and explore responsibly.
Safety Tips and Guidelines.
Watch your head: Along with wearing a helmet watching your head is an important part of protecting your cranium. Smacking your head on a low hanging ceiling can hurt but it can also cause rock fall which can be even more dangerous.
Watch your footings: Like low hanging ceilings mines can also have false floors which can easily collapse under little weight. Make sure you know what you’re walking on before you cross any timbered/boarded section. It is also prudent to acquire maps of any mine working before entering, then you will know what to expect and plan for when entering.
Collapsed Sections: Be very careful climbing up and around sections with a lot of debris. Check to see how much dust has collected on the rock piles. If there is a lot of dust on the collapse, it probably happened a long time ago. If there is little to no dust on the rumble be very careful. Chances are the rock fell not very long ago and there could be more on the way. Proceed with great caution.
Mine has funky smell: Bad air? Not likely in hard rock mines but make sure you have your air meter running nonetheless. If your air meter isn’t going off chances are its bat guano. Look up on the mine roof and check for bats. On the ground there will be lots of bat guano if they are present. High level exposure to bat guano can be harmful to your lungs. Be sure to watch out for the little critters flying around. Don’t hurt them; they just want to get out of your way. If the mine smells like rotten eggs that means hydrogen sulfide is present, get out. Do not enter any mine that smells like rotten eggs unless you have a dedicated hydrogen sulfide ( H2S) meter.
Wooden structures: Be careful when moving around or under wooden structures. If the mine is humid it can weaken the strength of the wood and make it more prone to collapse. Wood can rot even in dry mines, always be cautious.
Rock Walls: These are fairly common in almost every abandoned mine with extensive workings. They are usually very stable but you still should not mess with them, they tend to hold back a lot of rubble.
Never explore alone: Always explore with someone else and make sure you tell someone where you will be and when you expect to return. This is good advice for ANY field work.
If you are uncomfortable, leave the mine. No project is worth losing your life over. If you don’t feel comfortable with a situation you are likely to panic and make mistakes. In this case it is best to leave the mine and seek a professional to help.
For more safety tips check out Mojave Underground TV’s “Mine Safety” video. In this episode team members of Mojave Underground show you what gear you’ll need and what to expect inside of an abandoned mine.
Please note that FreeMilling.com and Mojave Underground take no responsibly for your mine exploration safety. We are only here to give you tips and guidelines but it is your job to use them correctly and wisely.
If you have an abandoned mine exploring project that is technical or difficult please contact a professional. We recommend Burgess Exploration LLC, they have explored thousands of abandoned mines across the country and offer very reasonable rates.
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