Exploring the Underground Mines of Snowdonia, with Gareth Owen

We are joined by Gareth Owen, Snowdonia based mountain goat and photographer.  He describes his passion for exploring the dangerous but exciting World that lies below ground in the Snowdonia National Park.  

Stood on a ledge overlooking a drop of approximately 50m, surrounded by total darkness other than the light from my head torch, clipping my belay into a rope to abseil down into the belly of a mountain, alone. I yet again find myself asking why I'm doing this.

Once over the edge and descending into the bottom of this impressive chamber, I begin to feel a sense of excitement and adrenaline, dropping into the unknown and back in time. "This is why!"



For me, mine exploration has always sparked a sense of pure adventure, especially when heading into a mine that I've not yet explored. I never know if I'm walking into a single tunnel, or a network of audits and chambers with underground lakes, that can sometimes wind themselves right through an entire mountain and can require several visits to fully explore.



Buried deep under the mountains of Snowdonia lies an extraordinary story, and the remains of a way of life. The story of a Victorian age, that defined generations and built communities of people who gave Wales its reputation as we know it. Many of the mines are now long forgotten, with entrances overgrown, or levels collapsing making entry impossible.



For the past couple of years, I have been making the most of these venues whilst it's still possible to access them. I enjoy photographing these amazing places to share with those unable or unwilling to venture into the sites. I stand in amongst the actual footprints of the hardy historical legends who came before me.



From underground car dumps from the 70s, old slate mines turned wartime bomb stores, to massive mineral deposits glowing under torch light. I never know what I'll find next as I work my way through these sites. I truly feel like I've gone back in time. It sometimes seems like the workers stopped halfway through a shift and just never returned; leaving behind hundreds of tons of machinery, tools and the odd magazine and cigarette packet.



Part of the process of visiting these places somewhat safely, is learning the characteristics of the mines and how the rock was removed. Slate holds water, so these mines are prone to flooding during heavy rain, but also often have the most amazing clear blue underground lakes, sometimes hundreds of feet deep. Copper was mined by following a vein down, false floors were made from wood and covered in scrap rock. This gives the illusion that you're stood on a solid floor, but underneath is actually rotten wood and a drop of several hundred metres. These are some of the most dangerous mines to visit, and usually require rope use for the entire duration, as a collapse without rope would be fatal.



Now that I’ve begun using proper single rope techniques, I have the opportunity to explore areas that were previously not accessible to myself and most others. I cannot wait to see what is waiting to be discovered! It's incredibly exciting to know that some of these places may not have been seen by eye since the time the mines were closed.



The sense of venturing into the unknown and feeling that I'm amongst the legends who carved out these mountains by hand.  Being uncontactable for a few hours and getting away from the madness of the World we live in today. Thats why I do it, and why I go back for more.



See and read more about Gareth on his Instagram page @googleygaz or on his website Mountains and Megapixels

If you're feeling inspired for more check out The Journal for more epic adventures and stories. 


1 comment

  • Wonderful photographs and stunning colours.What a wonderful sense of adventure.

    Hilary Hughes

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