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Advanced Exploration Equipment
Chapter 1: Introduction to rope.
The most complete guide to Southern Nevada's mining history.
The basic equipment used for single level mine exploration can be found here. This section will cover more advanced pieces of gear which will allow you to more safely explore multiple levels of mines. This type of advanced exploration involves rope skills. This section will only cover the purpose of the equipment and not the use. For liability reasons, I will also not be covering rope knots, anchors or ways to secure your top rope. For proper use and instruction, visit one of the local indoor climbing gyms and enroll in a basics and safety course.
I've seen so many pictures and videos online of people unsafely exploring mines. One of the biggest mistakes we see are people using ladders without the use of a safety rope. Some of these mines we explore were abandoned over 100 years ago. Those ladders were never designed to last that long. Admittedly, these mines are mostly cool and dry, and the wooden ladders are well-preserved. What concerns me most about these ladders are the fasteners.
The nails used in most of these abandoned mines did not have the stronger alloys and plating of modern fasteners that would protect them from corrosion and rust. This becomes more dangerous with longer ladders fastened to the rock face with these nails. We repair these ladders as we come across them and some felt sturdy, but their weaknesses were only observed during these repairs. The worst of these hanging ladders were only secured by a couple rusty nails near the top and barely supported their own weight. The other supporting fasteners rusted away probably decades ago.
Even a ladder on a short winze (minor connection between levels) can be dangerous. In the event of a ladder failure, you'll be trapped on that lower level which should scare you more than falling. Eventually, your light batteries will fade and you'll slowly die in the dark. For that reason, even if the ladder feels secure, we use a rope backup line for all multi-level exploration. Even if it's just a 10 foot ladder, we'll always use a safety rope. I can't jump 10 feet up. For some perspective, 10 feet up is the height of an NBA rim.
Climbing ropes come in many thicknesses, weights, colors, and purposes, but they all break down into two rope categories. Dynamic and static. A dynamic rope allows elongation and stretch to provide some level of shock absorption in the event of a fall. A static rope has a tighter weave and offers little to no elongation or stretch. Each type of rope has advantages, disadvantages, and a purpose. A dynamic rope would be the only choice for rock climbing where its purpose is to catch a falling climber. A static rope should never be used to catch a falling climber. Without the shock absorption characteristics of a dynamic rope, a static rope would be very likely to cause a spinal injury.
For mine exploration, we always want to keep a constant tension on the line and use the ropes for support and positioning. When I plant a foot on a rock face and pull myself up on my rope, even a couple inches of stretch on a dynamic rope can greatly change my position and throw off my balance. We have many different types of ropes, but for our purposes, my preference is to use a static rope because it offers a greater degree of predictable control without the bounce associated with a dynamic rope.
I know climbing ropes are expensive. You may be tempted to save a little money and buy a used rope. Please, don't do that. Unless you're buying it from someone you really know and trust, you can't completely know the history of the rope. There are too many variables that can weaken a rope from; storage, sunlight, moisture, abrasions, weight supported, falls supported, temperatures, age. Despite these warnings, some will still consider buying used rope. Specifically avoid buying used window washer rope because they are used wet and under constant tension.
A common question I'm asked is if the hardware store bulk rope will do. No. Those were built for a different purpose. Quit being cheap with your life. Your ropes are something you should want to buy new and treat it well. Expect to pay about $1.00 - $3.00 per foot.
Here is an example of why you should always use a backup safety line. The image below shows the height of the rappel. There were no fasteners holding this ladder to the rock face. At the bottom of the ladder, the only thing holding it in place was one leg on the top rung of another ladder.
You can see in the image below someone came in later and attempted to secure the ladder, but did so with only two nails. Always use a backup safety line.