We Found Ourselves Underground

At the entrance of the mine looking down the shaft.

Drops of water falling from the ceiling.  The sound of rushing water.  Cold, cold, cold, still air.  So dark.  That’s the experience that I felt when I realized that I was underground and that if the little light on my helmet went out I’d be encased in impenetrable blackness.  Welcome to the Bellevue Mine Tour in Bellevue, Alberta.  The little urban community on the hill overlooking the Frank Slide has a lot to offer, but the Bellevue Mine Tour is by far the most intriguing tour we have ever taken.  As long as you aren’t afraid of the dark that is.  If you’re even slightly claustrophobic, this isn’t for you.

The Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass, AB.

We had passed it several times on our drive along Highway 3 through the Crowsnest Pass.  We were out looking at photo sites for the 100 Mile Bike Ride event being put together for charity by the Able Dental Group on the 15th of June.  I’ve been asked to donate my time by shooting the event that morning and needed to find someplace that would provide me with the best possible vantage point for the riders going by.  Maggie had mentioned that she had seen an old mine shaft entrance along the route and it reminded me that I’d often been intrigued before by the tour and wondered what it would be like.

So we turned off the highway and up the hill to Bellevue and then down a short hill to the head of the mine.  There was an enthusiastic and friendly young person out in the parking lot, Stephanie, who greeted us and told us about the mine and the experience we were about to have.  She convinced us that it was going to be fun and educational and we went into the office to sign up.

After paying for the tour, we were met by our tour guide, Steven.  He fitted us out with a poncho and strapped a battery pack to our hips with a belt and we moved on to be fitted out with our hardhat which we affixed the miner’s lamp to.  Then off we went after a short history of the mine and how extensive the underground complex really is.

This entrance was added 26 years after the mine opened.

Steven was so knowledgeable and explained that the mine was originally opened in 1903 and contains six levels of some of the highest grade coal in the world.  He explained that the main customer was the CPR where 90% of the coal was sold and that after 1945 the sales started to lower as the railway moved from steam engines to diesel.  The mine went into decline after that and it closed in 1961. Steven explained the system used to build the mine by pointing out the features on a very detailed diagram and told us of the great mine disaster in 1910 that caused the mine to be closed until safety features were improved.

This is the end of the tour and the
mine carries of for another 5.2 km.

After the orientation we went to the head of the mine and entered it.  The distance from the mine entrance to the end of it is nearly 5.5 km, but we were only allowed to go 300 meters.  Regardless, even that short distance gave us a thrilling experience.  It’s amazing how cold it gets underground and how damp everything is.  A continuous stream of water pours out along the left hand side of the shaft.  Our guide explained that this is a good thing because when the mine was closed, the pumps that usually kept the water from accumulating in the lower levels and filling it up were shut off.  With the pumps off the shafts were allowed to naturally fill with water.  This protects the high grade coal quality by removing the air from it which would cause it to deteriorate over time and ruin the coal.

This is what’s beyond the sign.

When we got to the end of the shaft and couldn’t go any further we turned off all our lights to experience what it’s like to be in total darkness in a mine for a few moments.  Maggie said it was an amazing sensation for her because now she had two senses removed, her ability to see light and not being able to hear. (Maggie is a deaf person.) I felt the lack of light close in upon me like being enveloped in a blackness more deep than I have ever felt before. It was an interesting feeling that I had never felt before. The tour lasted about 40 minutes and we returned to the surface along the same route once again.

All the shooting I did in the mine was lit only by the miner’s lamps on the three of us.  Not much light but remarkably detailed even with those puny lights.  Thank you Canon for such amazing low light capabilities on the 5D Mk II camera I was using and my new, incredibly fast Tamron 24-70 f2.8 lens.  None of the images in this blog have had any post production (PhotoShop) done to them.

I recommend this unique tour at the Bellevue Mine when travelling through the Crowsnest Pass.  It’s an unusual, fascinating, sensory assaulting experience and the people are knowledgeable and fun to meet and talk to.  We’ll go back again, that’s for sure.

See you next time…


Comments

We Found Ourselves Underground — 1 Comment

  1. Hi Tom,

    I just finished reading your Bellevue Coal Mine story. RoseMarie and I took
    the mine tour years ago and, like you and Maggie, really enjoyed the
    experience.

    The only glitch in the tour was that one of the ladies could not handle the
    complete darkness so we could not thoroughly appreciate the total darkness.

    Happy photo taking, (for free?)

    Norm

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