Mine Exploration

Note: This page is part of Mike Munro's 'Mining Research and Exploration' web pages
- if the navigation buttons are missing from the left hand side, then click here !


  Mine exploration can be a highly dangerous, potentially fatal, activity when done by the novice or without due care and attention.
  Unless you have a clear understanding of the methods of working the mine, which vary considerably depending upon the material mined and in some cases when it was mined, 'features' such as false floors, flooded winzes (internal shafts), roofing shafts (inclined shafts leading to large drops) etc., can easily catch out the unwary.  Similarly some mines are prone to issues with gas, i.e. their atmosphere may be explosive, or worse still not be capable of supporting life - these are invisible dangers, sometimes only evident when it's too late.  These are in addition to the more obvious issues posed by unstable roofs supported by rotting timbers, and piles of  potentially loose stacked deads (waste rock placed by the miners).

  Therefore it cannot be too highly stressed that suitable equipment must be obtained, and its use and care understood before exploration of any form should be undertaken.  Also, permission for access must always be sought prior to venturing underground, not only does someone own the land upon which the mine is situated, but the holder of the mineral rights (usually a different party) should also be consulted.

Mining/Caving Clubs & Societies

  If your curiosity extends to wanting to know what the inside of a mine looks like, and you'd like to live to tell the tale, then join one of the many caving and mining societies which exist throughout the UK.  Check Out the following :

Techniques & Equipment

  There are already several good books and much on the web about caving techniques, equipment etc., so rather than repeat things here, the following links will get you to some great web sites containing a wealth of useful practical information.
    - Check out NAMHO's mine exploration guides for Novices & Recreational Use of Mines.
    - Appraisal of laddering - Oxford University Caving Club
    - SRT Guide - Oxford University Caving Club
    - 'Life on a line : The Underground Rope Rescue Manual', 2nd Edition -  Dr. D.F.Merchant. 
    Available only in print form - go to his web-site for more details.  (Possibly available on-line soon.)
    - 'Life on a line : A manual of modern cave rescue ropework techniques', 1st Edition - Dr. D.F.Merchant.  Available (unofficialy on-line) Part 1Part 2,  &  Part3 
      An excellent guide detailing the technicalities and techniques of underground ropework, aimed predominantly at those involved in 'cave and surface rescue' but contains much technical info on equipment used by the mine explorer practicing SRT.
    - Caving guidelines - Originally created by the NCA (National Caving Association -UK), now incorporated into BCA (British Caving Association)
    - Digging Guidelines - By the CNCC (Council of Northern Caving Clubs).  Written for caves in England, but applicable to mines too.
    - SRT Equipment - Dr. Gary Storrick's Vertical Devices site.  A collection and appraisal of design...
Cap Lamp

The info in this section (on lighting) was last revised in Sept. 2004, and is awaiting an update given the advances and commercialisation, in both Lithium Ion and 'white' LED technologies...

More Info....
- Oldham Batteries
- 12V Charger
(Will upload once sorted  !)

The 'Classic' Oldham

  Without one of these, entry into a mine is asking for trouble. The mining industry standard is the 'Oldham' or 'Ceag', based around a two cell (i.e. 4V nominal) wet lead acid battery.  These are heavy, can spill acid, (particularly when overfilled - resulting from repeated submerging in flooded mines) but should give 16 hours (i.e. two working shifts) of light with a standard 4W lamp and are outstandingly durable.  They are also EEx.d rated for Methane, i.e. suitable for operation in a hazardous (explosive) environment.  The Oldham head set contains two lamps, a main and a side lamp, and has an integral charging socket - this is known as 'through the head charging'.  There are several caving types, based around a similar headset but they usually use ni-cad rechargeable batteries as their source of power - these are not certified for use in explosive environments, such as found in disused coal mines !  One of the more popular ranges are manufactured by 'Speleotechnics'.
  Personally I've always used the Oldham, mainly because I was given a couple of these when I started underground exploration. However, they both had duff batteries - lead acid batteries deteriorate rapidly if left uncharged.  (Be warned, always recharge your battery after use.)  A new battery had to be purchased for 42-00 (now over 50-00) but it is still working to full capacity several years later.  I've fitted a 6W halogen lamp into one headset, and this gives a strong, but narrow beam.  With the shutter of my camera held open for 30 seconds or so, it provides sufficient light to satisfactorily expose a 200 ASA film, (with the object not too far distant !) albeit with a noticeable colour shift !

  LED Lighting - With the development of the 'white' LED in recent years, the replacement of the filament bulbs in your headset by LED's is now a technically viable proposition (if not a commercially acceptable one !).  White LED's are not well understood by many users, I'm only just looking to experiment with them myself, but they do provide the potential for more efficient use of battery energy, particularly when used in conjunction with electronic controllers - but then so do standard filament lamps ! (Check out Willie Hunt's Light bulb Voltage Regulators)
  Take a look at 'LED Lamp Resources', on the BCRA web pages, for links to some interesting articles on this subject.


  Underground surveying, i.e. the measurement of the length and direction of mine/cave passages and  is usually carried out using a 'Fibron' tape (30M, or longer), a sighting compass, and clinometer.
  The quality of surveying can range from a 'back of the envelope' sketch, made at the time of the visit, using little more than a visual estimate of distances and directions, to a full blown survey using calibrated mine surveying compasses, clinometers and tapes/chains.
  The caving fraternity evolved a grading system for surveys, using compass, clinometer and tape measure, which depending upon their accuracy, range from Grade 1 ('Sketch of low accuracy where no measurements have been made') to Grade 6 ('Better than angles to +/- 1 deg, distances to +/- 1 cm and stations +/- 10 cm').  The highest, Grade X, is where a theodolite has been used.  (Further details are available from the BCRA Special Interest Group for Surveying).
  In recent years, 3D laser scanning has been applied to subterranean places, but such equipment currently  remains outside the pocket of all but the professional.
  There are numerous publications available on mine and cave surveying, many of the mining ones are now out of print but for cave surveying, get a copy of the BCRA publication, 'An Introduction to Cave Surveying', by Bryn Ellis. (ISBN 0 900265 07 8).  
  The independent Cave Surveying Group exists specifically to further the science of surveying of caves.
  Martin Roe, through NAMHO, issued a document titled 'Recording the Underground Archaeology of Mines'.  (Download PDF from the NAMHO website.)  This isn't a 'how to' guide as such, but proposes a framework upon which archaeological surveys should be based.  It does however detail a similar grading system for archaeological detail, noting that the BCA grading system relates to dimensional recording of the cave/mine itself.
  There are various programs available which will plot 2D plans or 3D isometric views, when the core survey data is input.  One popular application which has been around for 30 years, and is still being developed is Survex.  It can be downloaded here for free, and will run on many platforms/operating systems (old, e.g. Win3.1 & MSDOS & new).

Artefacts / Preservation

  Once you get underground and start to 'discover' items left behind by the old miners, what should you do with them ?  Cavers have a saying 'Take nothing but Photographs - Leave nothing but Footprints' but in a mine, even footprints can destroy the evidence of those last working the mine, i.e. their clog prints and barrow wheel marks - a delicate echo from previous times.  Leave a bit of 'hazard' tape around any features you feel others are likely to damage without noticing.  Finally, take a look at the NAMHO Guidelines regarding removal (well, preferably not !) of underground artefacts.

Underground Photography

This can fall into different categories;
  - There are those taken as technical records of what exists underground, whereby all surfaces are exposed using multiple flashes plus additional fill-in light.  This is best achieved by use of a tripod with the shutter held open, and flash guns fired to fully expose all parts in view.  A well controlled camera mounted flash, plus a single slave driven fill-in flash can work well on single artefacts such as mine trucks and the likes.
  - The other extreme is to portray the dramatic conditions and forms experienced underground to best effect.  This makes use of back lighting, and can be set up to such an effect as to remove all most all detail, leaving dramatic silhouettes.
  - Other options are time exposure, making use of light from cap lamps or candles giving very 'atmospheric' shots.

  Inevitably, unless much time is taken, and a special visit made to take photos, having already decided how and what to photograph, many shots will be of the point and shoot variety, although even in these circumstances, a second flash driven off a simple slave unit, can help fill in the darker recesses of the frame or used to highlight or backlight a feature or artefact to much better effect.

   There are only a few publications on this subject, the most notable author being Chris Howes.  Check out the following :

    - 'Cave Photography, A Practical Guide', by Chris Howes, FRPS. 1987.  (ISBN 0-95 12204-0-3)


The info in this section (on photographic equipment) was last revised in Sept. 2004, and is awaiting an update given the change from 35mm film to digital technology which has since taken place...

I typically use the following photographic equipment :

    - 35mm Minlota X500 SLR manual focus camera, fitted with an MD 28mm lens - a 1A Skylight filter goes without mention.  (I sometimes use a 35-70mm zoom, but this suffers from being too slow, apart from being more susceptible to damage from dirt.)
    - Minolta Auto 132PX flash gun, with a Guide Number of 32.  Exposure can be controlled with the 'through the lens metering' facility of the X500.
    - Chinon PRO 990C flash gun (c/w exposure control).  Larger and slower than the 132PX, but what else do you expect for £15.00 (2nd hand.)
    - Slave units.  Self energized (i.e. require no batteries), one with hot shoe connection, other with wire connection.  The second of these is so sensitive that bright sunlight or a cap lamp will trigger it - ideal for use underground.
    - 5" mini tripod (bendy legs) - Ideal for supporting the second flash gun and/or slave unit.
    - Ubiquitous ex-military ammo box for transportation of all the above.  (Durable, water proof, but heavy - nevertheless it will still float, which can help transportation at times !)


  Over the years, I've built up quite a collection of photos taken during mine exploration trips (I always take a camera...) some of which I'll endeavour to get on line.  Links to the photosets will be placed below, as and when I get them uploaded...
Mike Munro

Whilst every care is taken in researching and presenting the information contained within these pages,
I can accept no responsibility whatsoever for any consequences resulting from its application and use.

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This page last updated 27th August 2020