LAST YEAR I WAS TIPPED OFF about a possible new diveable slate-mine in Germany. I contacted owner Wolfgang Rohr, who turned out to be a very cool guy, but unfortunately it was not yet possible to operate the mine commercially for divers. German regulations are very strict.
In June Wolfgang told me that the mine would be operational from the following month. I had other expeditions on the go, and it wasn’t until September that I finally had a free weekend.
With buddies Robin Verbruggen, Cedric Ryon and Steven and Raf Haenebalcke, I set off for Schmallenberg, 44 miles south-east of Dortmund.
The mine was quite busy, with some 10 other divers lined up to enjoy its beauty. As we wanted to film and photograph, we were the first team to enter the water.
The main shaft descends quite steeply to the 30m level, where the line splits. Visibility in the main shaft was really poor, as there had been some diving on previous days and the silt didn’t seem to settle quickly. We had to feel our way along the guideline.
At the start of the dive I had noticed a small leak in my drysuit zipper – not a good sign, but I had decided to continue.
Approaching the split, Robin signalled to me that he had technical problems, so we exited as a team. I was soaking wet, and with the water being only at 9°C I had to postpone further exploration. But we weren’t going to give up that easily, and booked to return at the end of October.
Drysuits repaired, we chose to dive on a Friday. The vis would be at its best, and we would not have the stress of being the first team in. Wolfgang even granted us permission to sleep in the mine, which would be a great experience, giving us the luxury of time to prepare everything the day before the dive.
Wolfgang gave us an extensive briefing, and we made our dive plan accordingly. After final checks on our rebreathers, we submerged in the main shaft.
This time the vis was good, and we looked forward to a spectacular dive. We arrived at the split at a depth of 26m and, as pre-agreed, turned left.
The mine looked very industrial here, with many suspended pipes and cables from the pumps that would once have prevented it from flooding. We swam past a niche containing a small chapel, created as a promise of protection for the miners.
Soon, big abandoned machines were looming spectacularly from the darkness.
Excavator still in place.
An excavator and a big reach-truck were both in an excellent state of preservation. We took our time looking at them and taking pictures from different angles, because the slate was absorbing a lot of the light, and making it difficult to take good shots.
We came to a side-shaft, the entrance beautifully made in slate. A big saw-blade lay on the ground, and we would see many more. On later dives we would also find that it was possible to bypass the sideshaft, and found an area containing a lot of beer bottles, presumably the only form of recreation down there.
We entered the shaft, which was supported by metal beams and plates. Rust snowed down as we proceeded, and when we emerged from the tunnel it was into a large room. Only now were we appreciating just how big this mine was.