MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT


MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2017

BACK TO SPOKANE MINE

Spring 2017 I got an email from the landowner of the 4th of July Mine.  We had toured the mine with him in 2015, though he wasn't comfortable with us diving at it at the time.


In his email, he said there is a lot of clear water flowing out of the mine and we had his permission to dive the mine whenever we could make the drive back over.


2 weekends later we were back, exploration gear in hand.


The mine is a few hundred yards from the landowner's house, so we'd bring our sidemount gear for this dive, as we had quite a hike ahead of us.


We arrived to find that he had cleared a path for us to drive all the way to the mine's entrance...service!


We brought sm tanks (HP100's) with 21/35 and an O2 bottle for deco.  We weren't sure of the mine's depth, but thought there was a chance it could go as deep as 130' or so.


We did two dives.  Dive 1 was a disaster.  Not to be beaten by the mine, we asked the landowner if we could make another attempt the next day, and he obliged.  Day 2 was much more successful.  


Video coming soon.

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2015

MINE 1 | SPOKANE MINE

In June 2015 we got a lead on a mine in eastern Washington that has a flooded section.  We immediately made plans to make the 7 hour drive, each way, to check it out, bringing doubles with ean32 with O2 deco bottles.


The mine is on private land and we took a leap of faith in making the long drive in hopes of meeting the landowner and asking for permission to dive in the mine.


​Unfortunately, the landowner wasn't home, so we left a note and drove back to Seattle....


A couple of weeks later we got a phone call from the owner, inviting us to come tour his land, including the mine shafts.  Maybe we will get to explore the mine after all!


A couple of weekends later we made the 7 hour drive back over.  We met the landowner, a very nice man, who gave us a tour of his property and the dry sections of the mine.  He was uncomfortable with us diving in the flooded part, however.


No exploration here, for now....


Check back to see how the story develops

MINE 2 | 4th OF JULY

We came to explore, so we drove another hour or so to another mine that Richard and Nick had attempted to explore a couple of years earlier, but had to abort fairly quickly.  


We'd go see if we could have better luck with it.


The entrance is a muddy mess, but expected.  We won't know what's below / behind the mud until we go.


Richard was on a rebreather so he'd go first since he wouldn't be blowing bubbles to agitate particulates.


Mines we're drilled, picked, etc.  In general the passages are smooth, with little to no places to tie off.


Vis wasn't too bad, until our bubbles hit the ceiling.  It then turned into a soupy mess of flocculant, reducing visibility to a couple of inches at best in places.


We explored to the end of the shaft, along with a couple of short, side passages.


This video contains footage of the main shafts of Spokane Mine, from out tour with the landowner and footage from our exploration dive in 4th of July Mine.

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT | 2015

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2014

ZINC MINE

In early January 2014, Richard got a lead on a zinc mine with a flooded section from some local dry cave and mine explorers.


Plans were quickly put in place to check this out!


We scheduled a date with one of the local explorers, Jim, who had explored the dry section of the mine, and was familiar with its location, and the location of the flooded section.


The 3 weeks prior to the dive the usual planning and logistics details were discussed.  Richard would be in sidemount and Brian and Jeanna would be in backmount.  We had one single picture of the flooded section, taken from the surface.  From the picture, it appeared to be a vertical shaft, and while the visibility appeared clear, we couldn't determine how deep the shaft was.


On the day of the dive we met Jim and his son Josh who graciously offered to meet us and show us the mine.  We met at a rest stop, where we introduced ourselves and tried to convince Jim and Josh that we, indeed, were not lunatics.  I'm pretty sure we failed.


We followed them for a 10 or so minute drive to the site of the mine.  From there, we hiked a couple of hundred feet through some brush to the mine entrance, bringing some lights, cameras and a spool.  The setting of the mine entrance was beautiful!  It sits at the bottom of a rock face, nestled in thick greenery, only a couple of hundred feet from the road, but it felt like miles!  It was an uncharacteristically gorgeous, sunny January day in Washington.  Regardless of the result of the underwater exploration, spending the day in this setting, with this weather, and the participating characters would be well worth the planning, effort and drive.

We entered the mine for hike back to the vertical shaft.  Flooded about ankle deep for the first 50' or so, we trudged, anxiously, toward the shaft.  The dry section of the mine is gorgeous.  For most, the thought of walking through a dark, wet mine conjures images of anything but "gorgeous".  However, formations that were beginning to form on the ceiling, combined with colorful veins beckoned us to continue our journey into what appeared more of an ancient cave than a man made mine. 


A few hundred feet in, we arrived at our destination.  A pool of crystal clear turquoise tinted water!  


It wasn't, however, endless. Two ladders, sitting vertically against the shaft wall, were visible.  They led down to what appeared to be timber, shoring and/or debris. What we couldn't ascertain was how deep it was, and whether there were any horizontal passages above or below the pile.  We lowered a light down the shaft using a spool, which didn't provide much more information, although it appeared there may be some kind of passage to the left.


A survey of the shoring and terrain showed sound structural integrity.  A quick discussion resulted in a decision to see what was down there, which prompted a visibly surprised Jim to say "You're really going to do this?!"  "We won't know if we don't go."   Yeah, he definitely thinks were lunatics.

We walked out, exiting the mine, through the brush and back to the vehicles, to start assembling our gear.  Since the road near the mine entrance was private, a friendly landowner graciously offered to let us park on his lot.  We quickly unloaded our gear into the brush and moved the vehicle.  Then the task of assembling the gear and hiking it into the mine commenced.  Diving a mine, as one can imagine, requires an extensive amount of (heavy) equipment.  Hiking that equipment for several hundred feet, through brush, then a 6' tall by 5' wide tunnel with ankle deep water, unstable footing and only the light from your headlamp to guide you can be a bit time consuming.  Thankfully, Jim and Josh sherpa'd some gear in, saving us a significant amount of time and effort.


Splash time arrived!  The pool and shaft were so small, they required that only one person splash and gear up at a time.  This meant we'd have to splash and descend one at a time, going single file once underwater.  Richard would enter first.  Since he was in sidemount, he'd enter the pool and don his equipment at the surface.  He'd run line, tying off somewhere on land, outside the pool. After he started his descent, Jeanna, with a stills camera, would go second.  I would go third, with the video camera.


Jeanna and I left our doubles at the entrance of the mine.  Richard entered the mine with Jim and Josh to begin gearing up while Jeanna and I geared up at the entrance to the cave.  After gearing up and doing our checks in daylight, we entered the mine to meet Richard at the pool. 


Since Richard would be gearing up in the pool, this allowed Jeanna and I to be ready to splash as soon as Richard descended.  As soon as Jeanna started her descent,  I could then enter the water and quickly descend. This prevented a team member from being in the water alone for several minutes.  Getting out would be a bit trickier...

Because of how narrow the shaft was, the first person to surface would have to doff the gear while floating on the surface, then get out of the pool and pull the gear up out, while the other 2 divers remained underwater, single file.  Once the gear was removed from the surface, #2 would then ascend to the surface, doff the gear, exit the pool, and pull the equipment out, leaving #3 underwater until both divers had removed their equipment from the water.  Obviously, keeping the amount of time it takes to do this to a minimum would be desirable.


We arrived at the pool to meet Richard, who was still in the process of gearing up.  Jeanna sat at the edge of the pool, ready to enter as soon as Richard descended.  Richard tied to a structurally sound post out of the water and prepared to descend.  The water had quickly turned from gin clear to muddy.  It was also incredibly cold, and while making a tie at the surface, the reel dropped....I guess we're committed now!  


Richard descended, keyholing the line.  Jeanna scooted into the water, and did her final checks and prepared to descend while Richard's bubbles percolated at the surface.  As Jeanna started her descent, before even going below the surface, Richard's thumb broke the surface signaling an end to the dive. 

He reported there was a timber pile at 14' that was unpassable, and visibility was inches.  The reel had fallen behind one of the two ladders leading down the shaft, and below the timber pile. Jeanna descended to make an effort in retrieving the reel, and to scout any other passages or possibly see what was below the timber pile.  After 2 minutes, she surfaced, unable to retrieve the reel nor scout any passages.  Due to poor visibility, she was unable to see below the timber pile, and no passages could be found, including in the area to the left that we thought may have one. Our dive day was done.


Jim apologized for it being a "bust".  However, no apology was needed.  This is part of exploration..sometimes you get an epic, most of time you don't.  If you put in the effort, and keep at it, eventually you'll get that one epic that makes it all worthwhile.  Besides, how many people even hike into a dry mine, let alone a decorated one?!  Beats sitting at home on the couch!  Plus, Jim and his group of explorers wanted to know what was at the bottom of that shaft, and now they know.


After pulling up the reel from the surface, we hiked out the equipment (thanks again for the sherpa help, Jim and Josh!), stopped for a few pictures, and had a celebratory beer and cider.  Then it was time to head back home to start planning the next adventure.


Jim and Josh deserve a huge THANK YOU for all their generous help...from providing information, to taking a day to not only show us the mine, but help carry our (heavy) equipment in and out of the mine.  Richard also deserves a big thank you, for organizing this, and his constant search for a new mine/project. 

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2012

LAKE CONCONULLY, WA

Through some research, we had a lead that an old mine, or portions of it, were now submerged in Conconully Lake, in eastern Washington.  


Naturally, we decided to spend a day looking for it.


We thought we had a pretty good idea of its general location, through quite a bit of time spent on Google Earth.  Using Google Earth, we had found what we believed to be part of the mine that lay above the lake.  


We made the long, 5 hour drive, arriving in Conconully around noon.  We immediately recognized landmarks we had found in our research, and found the upper portion fairly quickly.  


We pulled into the nearest turnout, grabbed some lights, spools, gps and put on our hiking boots to go look for the upper portion we thought we had identified.  We found it almost immediately.


We entered the mine, which had water about ankle deep, and went about 150' in before it walled out.  This was good news, as our research proved to be accurate.


Without any real shore access near this entrance to the mine, we had no way of doing a quick scout underwater. 


We'd have to enter several hundred feet from the upper, dry mine.  We had our scooters with us, so this wouldn't be an issue.  We'd simply enter the water and scooter towards where we thought the submerged part of the mine would be located.


Visibility in the lake was ~15'.  Enough to make it possible for a 3 person to perform a search while scootering.


We searched the lake high and low for a lower mine entrance. Its not very deep so we felt like we covered it pretty thoroughly.  So we headed back to the lakeside discharge point of the local irrigation overflow. There we played with the trout on the scooters in the insane ripping flow for a few minutes before calling it a day.  I'm pretty sure those trout had never seen anything like us before and probably won't ever again.​


After ~70 minutes, and exhausting the scooter batteries, we concluded our search.


No luck on this one, but the planning, preparation and search is half the fun of exploration.

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2009

COPPER MINE | DIVE 1

In June 2009, Richard, Jeanna and Brian spent a full day looking for a flooded mine.  It involved a few hours of driving through very rough terrain and a couple of hours of hiking.  We did bring dive gear, in case we did find it and it was diveable.  However, the terrain was too much for the Pathfinder and we had to hike.  There was no way we could hike the gear in.  After 6+ hours of searching, and just about ready to call it a day, Richard found the mine entrance.  We trudged in through several hundred feet of thigh deep, 42 degree water and explored the mine, primarily to examine the integrity of the rock, shoring etc.  There was very little shoring and the rock was solid.  We may be able to dive it.  However, we had no way of getting to the mine with our dive gear, as there was no way our vehicles would make it in and it was too far to hike with gear.


We looked at the possibility of renting atv's to haul the gear in.  We were determined to explore this mine, but lacked a means of getting the gear in.  Renting atv's was an option, but a logistical nightmare as we had to pick them up the night before & return them the following night, and it was a long drive each way.


In late July, Joe offered to drive us to the mine in his lifted Toyota pickup.  For this dive, we'd use double 85's with EAN32 for backgas.  We had no idea what to expect and wanted to limit our depth to 100ffw.  This dive was a simple exploration dive, and again, to examine the integrity of the flooded part of the mine.  Richard was #1, Jeanna was #2, video'ing, and I was #3.  Richard hit 92' and reported that he could not see the bottom of the main shaft.  We also discovered 2 passages.  Passage 1 was at 35' and passage 2 at 76'.  Both passages were quite short (~20' or so).  Visibility was amazing and water temps were in the low 40's.


This looked very promising.  

DIVE 1 RESULTS

Max Depth:  91ffw

Temp:  ~42f

Line Laid:  ~120

Passage 1:  35ffw

Passage 2:  76ffw

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2009 | PART I

DIVE 2

It didn't take long for us to decide that we'd do a second dive...A push to the bottom of the main shaft.  From the little information we had, the bottom appeared to be at ~175-200’, with a 3rd horizontal passage at the bottom.  However, in the days following our first dive, Mattley (Matt Knutzen) did some research and gained an enormous amount of information for us, including maps.  Though the maps were old (the mine flooded somewhere around the 1930's) and hand drawn, we were able to ascertain that the bottom of the mine was probably either at ~200' or 120'.  We'd plan our dive based on 200' and would adjust as necessary.  


For the dive, we'd use 18/45 in double 119's for backgas, with EAN50 and O2 for deco.  We'd run the profile on gas, instead of bottom time.  Since we had no idea what max depth was, if there'd be another passage, and if there was, how long it was.


After arriving at the mine and lugging all the gear in, we went over our plan.  I would lead, and run line this time.  Richard cut and tied the line from our first dive at ~70'.  I'd tie off above the existing line.  Jeanna was #2, with Scott Lundy's camera.  We had a fisheye lens, providing a 180 degree view of the mine.  Richard would be #3, using Jeanna's camera for additional video footage and he would also call deco.


We descended.  The upper 20' is a very tight squeeze requiring us to descend single file through ~3' vis, then, the shaft opens quite nicely.  I tied off to the planned spot, while Jeanna video'd the main shaft.  We then continued down the shaft.  What's hard to see in the video is the shaft is very steep, almost vertical in some places.  At ~100' I arrived at a vertical ledge.  Looking over the ledge, it was pitch black.  It appeared as though we'd be making a vertical descent to 200' or so, as there was no bottom in sight.  I dropped down, and at about 112' I saw a glimmer below me.  At ~113-114' it became apparent that I was getting close to the bottom.  The bottom was at 115', and was the blackest silt I've ever seen.  That explained why Richard couldn't see the bottom on the first dive.


That also meant that the bottom of the mine was closer to the 120' that we thought was a possibility.  I tied off and looked around.  It was a fairly large room at the bottom.  To the west was a passage.  My initial thought was "sweet, we're only at 115' and a passage, PLENTY of time to explore”.  I led us into the passage, which opened into a smaller room that served as a Y.  To the south there was a passage that was about 40' long.  To the north, a 15' passage.  We explored both, then exited and started our ascent.


The 53' passage was really cool.  It had several artifacts, including wooden crates that still had writing on them.  It was beyond a very tight restriction, but was about 25' in length with a bubble dome at the top of the very end.  We exited the passage and Richard signaled 1's up.  We stopped at 20', picked up our O2 bottles, and ascended single file through the tight upper portion.


Total run time of only 44 minutes, but a fantastic dive.  


One interesting note about the dive is all the maps list only 3 passages, although I'm certain the two passages at the bottom of the shaft are shown as one on the map, due to the way it's drawn.  However, there are only two passages or drifts on the map, beside the bottom passage.  Yet, we found 5 passages.  4 if you combine the two bottom passages. 

DIVE 2 RESULTS

Max Depth:  115ffw

Temp: ~42f

Line Laid: ~140​

Passage 3: 53ffw

Passage 4: 115ffw

Passage 5: 115ffw 

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2009 | PART II | MAIN SHAFT

DIVE 3

However, Dan Warter really wanted to dive the mine, and even though it's a logistical pain, I wanted to dive the mine one more time, now that I knew the entire layout....Joe?!  Matt?!  One more time?  They obliged.


Dan, Jeanna and I dived the mine for one last time and explored all passages.  I ran line, and Dan and Jeanna got some more video footage.


Dan got excellent footage of our last dive.

DIVE 3 RESULTS

Max Depth:  119ffw

Temp:            ~42f

Gas:       25/25, O2

Runtime:           :39


Joe and Matt deserve a huge thank you (in addition to beers) for all their help with the project.  They drove us up, and helped lug all the gear in and out, all the while chomping at the bit to do a dive they desperately wanted to do, but couldn't.  Thanks again, guys.

​Having explored the entire mine, and the headache of getting to the mine and hiking the gear inside to the shaft, it was time to plan our next project.

MINE EXPLORATION PROJECT 2009 | PART III | PASSAGES