A disused and flooded slate quarry, found in Northern Wales on the Western side of Snowdonia National Park – a very pretty place if you’ve never been. Slate production was stopped in the 60’s and the pumps keeping the water at bay were turned off in 1969. Assuming that it takes a few years to fill up, it was probably dived in the 80’s and i know that it was dived in the 90’s. A private area and not an official dive site, there are no facilities apart from a carpark and a scaffolding jetty, apparently left by a film crew from a recent shoot.
As you drive in, you are greeted by a mixture of old slate and more modern block type buildings, all of which are in disrepair. I was somewhat surprised by the cleanliness of the area as it struck me to be a great place to hang-out as a youf and also a top site for the fly-tipping inclined. Just as you are getting bored of the buildings, you round a corner suddenly to be presented by a sheer drop to a water-filled quarry. This you soon learn is to be your dive-site – Dorothea herself!
Just a bit further, and you come to a small car park, which i’m told can get pretty busy on the weekends. For us though, we had it to ourselves during the week with only 3 or 4 other people there on the weekend. Maybe this was a special circumstance though, as we were in the middle of the “Great Storm” of October 2017 and it was the NEC dive show – bit of a strange week all round really, it hardly rained, and the sun was out on day one, which i think is almost unheard of in Wales!
There are a couple of areas to get in, and out of the water. The “beach” which is a mud slope leading to a fairly shallow area of the quarry, where you are likely to get the wagon stuck and all your dive-gear covered in sticky mud. Or a very steep “Slope of Doom” in the car park i mentioned earlier, so called because it is incredibly steep, to the point that I was amazed that I didn’t go ass-up trying to walk down in my twinset. We used the later for all of our excursions, despite the fact that you do need to be careful with potentially dangerous entry and exit points – for one, you could hurt yourself and curtail your ability to dive for a few days. Or perhaps worse, cause yourself a bend from the exertion at the end of the dive in walking up to the car. My “technique” after a trying a couple of the options, was to extend my deco a bit and resting on the surface for 10-15 mins before making the climb with twins still in place and then come back for the other gear once changed etc.
I’d traveled over with semi-jerseyman Roger, and we had met up with Mark Ellyatt in Wales. The plan, was to do 3 days diving for certain, at two dives per day, with the option to stay on and fun-dive for 2 extra days. Roger, being from Preston was going to visit family for the weekend, but soon decided to extend his diving by the extra 2 days. For myself, i was in 2 minds about going to the dive show on the Sunday, but decided to stay and dive too.
We were all staying in a hostel called Basecamp Wales situated in a prime position for people hiking Snowdonia and only a short drive (even by Gsy standards) from Dorothea. Whilst the rooms were sparse, it was cheap, comfortable and had a great kitchen in which to cook bacon sarnies and a large lounge area which was invaluable for classroom work of an evening. Nearby was a small town with take-aways and shops for supplies – mostly Haribo sweets and many, many biscuits…
Each dive started with the required very-brief-ing and gear up, before walking all our ancillary gear down to the jetty, then getting suited up in drysuits, weights and CCR / Twinset before gingerly feeling our way down the Slope of Doom.
For dive one, we were all expecting the water to be freezing, so after making our way down to the water and gearing up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the water was 16 Celcius! After climbing down the jetty steps, you find yourself in about 2m of water, so you need to float as you retrieve stages etc from the jetty just above your head.
Although there are many shot-lines dotted around the quarry, it’s very easy to descend straight from the jetty and make your way out to the desired depth. Straight off the end of the jetty it’s about 2m deep. Here in the warmer water, It’s light but the visibility only 2-3m on average. After a few meters, the bottom slopes off sharply down to about 15m where the water suddenly goes nice and clear, at the same time the temperature drops to around 6 – bit of a shock!
There are a few cars around this bit, and a van slightly deeper. If you head slightly to the left you come across a small open-fronted building which has been adorned with many gnomes and Christmas decorations! From there a right turn takes you into the main body of the quarry and the deep.
A slope then takes you down to about 25m, at which point I was finding it hard to mentally gauge my depth, often expecting that i was much deeper than I actually was. Passing over some large hawser wires from the old workings, one small lonely tree and on to a broken stone drop-off on the right, with a more gentle slope on the left. Both of these routes bring you to the “cafe”, which is a small plateau in 40m with a table, chairs and icecream advertising board. From there you reach the ladder which is attached to a drop-off from 40 to about 65m, with a 50 road sign attached to the ladder at 50m. On this sign is some stickers with arithmetic problems apparently installed by the local BSAC club for their “depth progression” training using a similar method of narcosis testing as you find on the Padi Deep Dive – though slightly more effective in 50, rather than the 30 (ish) found in the Padi program.
Over to the left and ’round the corner of the ladder is a slope, which is where we found ourselves on our first dive with a maximum depth of 45m – a shakedown dive, which went without major incident. With the difficult conditions, and the fact that we were doing repetitive dives over multiple days meant that our plans were padded with a lot of artificial decompression. Further made safe with a plan of spending most of the bottom time in reaching our target depth resulting in very little time actually at that depth.
For some reason, we were struggling as a team to ascend fast enough, something that i normally pride myself on. I’ll just put it here, so i don’t have to repeat myself for every dive. I put it down to diving with a new team, and nobody wanting to crack the whip. I often found myself trying to keep everyone together as Mark “went ahead” and Roger “took his time…”
Day 1 went well, with no real issues, though dive 2 did get a bit cold with swimming around near to the 50 sign for what i felt was too long compared to what was needed to look at a ladder, sign and short cliff face! This dive I was also diving independent 12’s and my left reg wasn’t breathing very well which added to the discomfort – i serviced it that night, the perks of being a tech!
Day 2 we were joined by “Big D”, for a 55 and a 65. These also went well, apart from Rogers’ SMB reel deciding to pay itself out on descent, trailing out over the slope which took a few minutes to sort out – not a problem really as it meant less time at target depth and added to the conservatism of the dive plan. Mark actually thought it was sabotage on my part in an act of slowing the descent and congratulated me on my ingenuity – i assured him that though a great idea, i couldn’t take the credit and that should go to Rogers dodgy reel…
Day 3, we were joined by “Little D” and his Kiss rebreather to do a 60 and 75. On the 60, D practiced his diver tow / ascent with the only available open-circuit tosser (me), but i wasn’t the best student. The ascent was from 55m up to 40 at the “cafe” but i felt the speed was a bit fast, and it felt like i was out of control. Not wanting to get bent, i bailed the ascent and signified this by shouting “Fuck You”, dumping my wing gas and grabbing on the ladder! In D’s defense, it wasn’t that fast and he was in control, but in my defense it was day 3 and i was on OC. For the record, it was 55 to 40 in 1 minute.
Day 4 was just 1 dive, a lovely bimble to 85. This went really well with a huge cliff and reaching the bottom at target depth with something to look at. By this point, there is almost no natural light, but the water is very clear. The topography in this part of the quarry is spectacular, with the smooth rock face for nearly 30m sheer. The rock here actually looks like wood, due to the layers of the slate in the stone. This was my favourite dive, with a drysuit and cold-water PB and no worries, beyond the normal worries you should have being 85m underwater!
Day 5, Dive 8….
This was supposed to be to the sump at the very bottom of the quarry in approximately 100m.
Preparation physically was pretty good, well fed and watered and personally no alcohol for a week – nothing special at home, but normally whilst away i’ll have beer every night.
Dive prep was ok, but my gas could have been better. Due to running low on Helium, we’d boosted this, and transferred that to fill my tanks. I’d wanted 13/45, which on the bottom would have given me a P02 of 1.4 and an END of 50, meaning that it would have “felt” like i was in 50m when actually in 100. I ended up with 15/33, which gave me a P02 of 1.65 on the bottom with an END of 63m. I made the decision that it would be manageable provided that the workrate was kept low – END was no worry, and the P02 could be easily managed at such short exposure.
An important point, which which will come to light later, was that though we were diving as a 4, both Roger and I had stayed on to fun-dive, with Mark teaching with D. Though it was never explicitly said, it was the case that Mark would focus on D, whilst Rog and I would do our own thing. This is totally understandable, as 100m is no easy dive and there are many things to go wrong. It’s not fair to expect one person to take all the responsibility, without it being planned. It’s also fair to say, that whilst i’m qualified to dive that deep, i’m not experienced enough to hold any hands.
Time to dive…
We geared up as normal, apart from i would also be staging a 3L of 02 near to the jetty. At the very start of the dive, i descended to put it somewhere, and chose the boot of a car nearby in about 7m – I thought that everyone else knew that i was doing this, and had said what i was doing as i got in the water.
I returned to the jetty, met up with the others and off we went, this time with a surface swim over to the shot that led down to the “cafe.” Down the shot, down the ladder and then off to the Left, down the 85 drop-off and onto the slope to what we though would be an arch leading though to the magic 100.
As we swam down the gentle slope from 85m, we started to eat into our short 15 minute bottom time. I began to think that 89 would be our lot, so i went over to Rog and shook his hand, something i’d made a mental note to do before the dive, as i thought that he would like it and that it would be a good memory to have. Shortly after the hand-shake, it became apparent that we were not going any deeper before out bottom time ended, so we started to turn and head back for the cliff to avoid a super-boring mid water ascent.
At this point, we weren’t swimming hard, but we were moving. A combination of that hardish fining and the fact we had moved closer to the bottom for the handshake meant that some silt had be disturbed from the bottom and the vis was closing in.
As i made my right-hand turn i became aware that there was more distance in between the divers and because of the poor vis i couldn’t see everyone. I could however see Mark above me, so i knew i wasn’t off on my own.
At this point, due to poor vis and my high END, my narcosis level was very high. Of course it’s not something that you normally hear from any diver, but i’m not afraid to admit it. I felt in control, and i was still driving my bus, but i wasn’t paying much attention to others, or to continue the analogy, capable of helping you drive your bus! I could have ascended and lessened the narcosis, but i was worried that in doing this i would have lost reference to the bottom and if the vis was bad above perhaps lost everyone. So i kept in sight of the bottom until the vis cleared and then rose up to join the others to my right. At this point we were only at 11 mins ish, so there was no need to ascend off the bottom from a schedule point of view.
I was now back in control, with my head pretty clear. I looked around, to see that there was now only 3 of us. Clearly that cloud had not gone well for someone else!
I had a good look around, to make sure that i wasn’t crying wolf. Then signaled to Mark, who didn’t see the signal. Having only glanced about, I thought that it was his student, D that was missing. I then looked back again and could dimly see a light, perhaps they are coming. This was when we reached the wall, i signaled to Mark that we were 3 and not 4. I then notice that it was actually Roger that wasn’t there, which gave me the best example of narcosis I’ve ever had….
We are still in 85 at this point, at the bottom of the cliff. With a largely high END, my thought was just “nothing i can do, i’m open circuit and near the end of my planned bottom time. At this depth any extension is going to ruin my plan and anything more than a few seconds is probably going to mean running out of gas and not being able to complete my extended decompression” To do otherwise would be silly, because at this point I have no idea what has happened to Roger, he could be absolutely fine, and i know that he’s experienced as a solo diver. He could also be dead. Either way, there’s no point to me risking myself.
As we ascended, at 10m per minute through about 70, my narcosis level dropped to the point where i felt comfortable and slightly merry. I started joking about in my mind, thinking “oh shit, that’s my ride gone” and “I wonder where the fucker put the keys” – at this point there wasn’t really a thought about how Rog was.
At around 60, the narcosis dropped another notch and i started to worry about what had happened. On a CCR as Roger was, there are lots of things to go wrong and really, i couldn’t think of a reasonable excuse for him to have left us. I also knew that he was really keen to do 100, and in the back of my mind i thought that maybe he’d blown the team and plan to try and get a bigger PB (89 was already a PB). This meant that i switched from worry to anger, with a split of maybe 90/10. Knowing that we cannot do anything other than complete our plan, means that we had an hour wait before we knew for sure.
So, in the space of 30m ascending, i’d gone through lots of thoughts and emotions, also remember that this is only 3 minutes!
At this point, my head clear, I started to “what if” and in my mind started to think about search and recovery, thinking whether Mark and I could stay in Wales longer, was there room at Basecamp, and how we’d need to get more Helium.
I then started to think about how and when to report it. Remember what i said earlier about who was responsible? Sudden;y i’m thinking about being investigated!
Those last 2 points were in my mind over the 60 mins or so of decompression, believe me, i didn’t want to think them, but it’s a long time hanging about not doing much.
There was also a point where we lost D at about 15m, by this point it was back to joking with Mark – what the hell was going on!
After a minute of so, we reunited with D and carried on searching for the jetty slope, this dive we had come up a slightly different way, so weren’t sure which way to turn. As it turns out, we went the wrong way.
Obviously keen to reach the surface and see if Roger had made it, Mark was able to switch to his computer for real-time deco on his CCR, so he left D and I to finish our decompression schedule, taking a compass reading and heading towards the jetty. On completion, we surfaced to make sure we were heading the correct way and then went back to 3m for the swim back – which is why there is 2 “teeth” on the profile, in case you thinking it was poor buoyancy!
As we near the jetty, we shout to Mark asking if Roger is there, or if he can see him. The answer comes back negative. Remember, that he is on a CCR, so no bubbles to see even if he is alive.
At this point, there is nothing to be done apart from focus on my own post-dive stuff. I remember that i need to go and retrieve the pony of 02 from the boot of the car. I descend onto the 4m slope by the jetty in search of the car – the vis is pretty poor here and i’m not exactly sure where it is.
Boom… I come face to face with a diver, and he’s wearing a rebreather. At first i think that D has followed me down, but no it’s Rog!
I’m really happy to see that BASTARD! Fucking Really Happy to see That Bastard!
I pop up to tell the others, before going back down. He looks quite happy, he’s not showing the worry that we 3 have done for the last hour. And to top it all off, the Bastard is gleefully carrying MY pony that he “found” in the boot of the car! Turns out he hadn’t heard or seen my staging it in the first place. So if i had have extended my bottom time and needed the pony for my deco, it wouldn’t have been there, not good!
I’m not a parent, but can now imagine what it’s like when a small child runs off. When they come back, you are both relieved and angry with them and not sure whether you should hug or shout and scream!
Afterwards, Roger said that he saw another cliff as we turned, so thought that we should continue up that side for a different view on the return. That’s it!
So the lesson here, is
FOLLOW THE BLOODY PLAN & STAY WITH YOUR TEAM!
Unless there is a problem that makes you deviate. Anyone that knows me knows that i’m a big fan of solo diving, perhaps there is call for it in this type of diving. With that, at least everyone knows where they stand
So, a great week and a fantastic experience, one that i’ll remember for a very long time!
Thanks to Roger, Mark, Big D and Little D for a great few days. Special thanks to Rog for the lift.
Hopefully we’ll be back next October 2018 – Let me know if you fancy a trip!
For more pics, check out the album…