A photo exploration of an abandoned coal mine in Svalbard.
While I was visiting Svalbard in June 2019, I learned a couple of local secrets. Among them was the access to an old, abandoned coal mine.
Personally, I love urban exploration and poking around weird, neglected buildings, preferably those where I’m not trespassing (the danger notes in the mine building said that movement in and around the building is at your own risk, it was just forbidden to enter the actual mine shafts).
You can see coal mining industry remains all around Longyearbyen and the mine pithead building I explored is visible up on the mountainside from the main road. The slope is horribly steep, with lots of loose, jagged rocks, so it’s not something you want to hike unless you’re pretty committed to it. I went with two of the locals who knew where we were going, but it was still a pain, especially because I had hiked up to the glacier ice cave earlier that same day.
This particular building is the pithead of Mine 2, a coal mine established in Longyearbyen in 1913. The mine entrance was later relocated to here, which became Mine 2b and the pithead building is known as Santa‘s summer hideout among the local kids. I don’t know who thought that an old, decrepit abandoned mine pithead is a good spot for Santa, but every year the local kids leave mail for Santa in a special mailbox down on the road below the mine.
As is traditional for urban exploration, I won’t tell you exactly how and where I managed to get in, but I will tell you that there are multiple available entrances, depending on the snow conditions, and that it is very wet and dark inside (as usual). The guys who were with me weren’t interested in going in, so they stayed out on the terrace with some other Finnish guys we met there (the mine is apparently a chill spot for a select group of locals).
The wooden structure was still pretty stable, although I had to be a bit light on my feet in certain sections. The pithead building consists of two levels: there are workshops and offices on the first level, which still had some tools and personal items leftover from the miners. Obviously I left them as I found them. 🙂
The boarded up mine shafts are also on the first level and they’re all equipped with warnings of suffocation due to possible gas pockets inside the shafts. These guys here went inside the actual mine tunnels, but personally I wasn’t dumb enough to do that, because collapsing mine tunnels full of deadly gas are just not my idea of a good time.
The second level can be reached down a steep set of rickety stairs, which were full of snow when I was there, so I was sliding down on my butt – the climb back up was even more fun and splintery. It consists of a large warehouse, which served as the coal packing facility from where the coal was distributed onwards via the cable car system that can still be seen in town. That’s also where the unofficial visitor logbook is located and of course I signed it too.
According to the note inside, the coal mine pithead 2b was in operation between 1937 and 1968 and the building is now part of cultural heritage. Mine 2 was bombed and burnt in 1943 during World War 2 by a German battleship and reopened in 1947, then had a gas explosion in 1952. Between 1960 and 1964 Mine 2 lost a bit of its importance due to low coal prices and the thriving Mine 5 and was then finally closed in 1968.
Now, a few words about exploring abandoned buildings, although I’m by no means an expert: obviously it can be dangerous as the buildings you’re visiting are no longer completely safe, so always bring proper boots and wear clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty ot torn (a rope and a flashlight can be handy too). It’s also good to let someone know where you went or preferably to go with other people in case something goes wrong. The main idea is to take only photographs and leave anything you may find alone for others to enjoy too, so always follow the rule of leaving only footprints behind.
Personally I don’t approve of breaking and entering when exploring abandoned buildings, so if there’s no existing entrance, I say leave it alone. Similarly, I think private property and places with security are best left alone unless you’re a hardcore urban explorer who knows how to get themselves out of trouble with the law (trespassing is illegal, after all). Alternatively, you can ask permission to visit those properties for photography purposes, which will apparently be granted quite often according to some of my friends who are more into this. As you can see I’m pretty tame in terms of urban exploring, because there are plenty of legally accessible abandoned constructions out there and this is not my main focus, but it definitely is fun. 🙂
How about you, do you ever poke your nose into old, deserted buildings? If this is not your thing, you can also take a guided tour of Mine 3 in Longyearbyen.