Some people are into mountain biking. Some people enjoy making specialty smoothies featuring one or more hidden vegetables. Others may experience joy collecting colourful bits of shore-trash sea glass, or, perhaps, your sliver of attainable euphoria exists in sewing small pairs of pants made of smooth, exotic fabrics. To each their own, the world kindly, collectively nods.
For eight men in Nova Scotia, happiness is crawling into 150-year-old condemned earth-holes in the middle of the woods once every three weeks.
The Nova Scotia Minehunters unofficially came together in late 2014 and launched their YouTube channel the following summer, setting out on tri-weekly abandoned mine exploration expeditions from May to October. Two years later and about two dozen mines in, the guys are coming to the end of conquering their frontier—having explored just about every one of the remaining accessible hard rock mines in Nova Scotia.
"[There are] over 7,000 abandoned mine openings in the province," a spokesperson from the group told VICE. The Department of Natural Resources has every one of them on file with GPS coordinates.
"That sounds like a lot, but that's not the case. Each one [on record] profiles an opening—a shaft or adit or tunnel or decline—but 99 per cent of them are just a little indentation in the ground, long collapsed in the forest. We're only interested in adits with a horizontal tunnel that you can walk into—so, [there are about] 100 adits recorded in the province, then [you look at] what of the 100 are even a prospect, and that drops to 40, and that's really all we've got."
The men—who insist on remaining anonymous by altering their faces and voices in videos and photos—steer clear of other types of defunct mines in the province, namely coal, which, according to the group's spokesperson, can pose a much greater danger.
"Coal mines are alive—if you want to put it in a simple, one-word term—because coal and the rock around it is always out-gassing because it's a naturally decaying hydrocarbon. Even if the coal is all dug out, the walls are basically breathing gases and methane for centuries, because you've broken up the earth and the earth is going to breathe."
According to him, the mines they explore only pose a moisture-related risk (i.e. the mine completely collapsing on top of them) as opposed to dangerous gases being released.
"We're accepting a certain level of risk, but it's the bare minimum of what could be out there."
The group—which is comprised of eight men ranging in age from 27 to 70—have been getting some bad press as of late, with many saying what they're doing is not only extremely dangerous, but also illegal, since many of the mines are on private property.
"The Department of Natural Resources aren't really comfortable [with what we're doing], but
we're not looking to be idiots or assholes," says the group's spokesperson.
"We would just rather keep at bay all of that direct contact and just get what we're doing done. I mean, we're going to eventually be done. We're going to run out of mines and it will just sort of be this chapter on YouTube that sits there and is a document of all these places—a lot of which will already be hidden and barred over by the province."
The group's spokesperson was the one who unofficially spearheaded the fraternity after sparking some interest among like-minded friends in 2014. For him, the odds of a mine collapsing while they're in it is "about one in a million." But he's not naïve to the dangers posed by other types of mines in the area, having grown up just outside of Pictou County when the Westray Mine Disaster took place 25 years ago.
"The whole place just blew. [It] killed a few dozen miners that are still left down there [today] because they couldn't even go recover the bodies because it was so deep and it was so decrepit when it exploded."
Luckily, these guys only have a few more hard rock mines left to conquer in Nova Scotia, and after this summer, the YouTube channel and Facebook group will likely be defunct. I guess we just hope the odds don't work against them for those last few expeditions.
"We go in despite the danger. Just like, [if you were to say] 'I'm going to climb Mount Everest'—you could die, but [you're] going to do it. [It's] that same spirit of, 'OK, we're going to roll the dice and it's likely we're going to come home safe.'"
Hillary Windsor is a writer living in Halifax, You can follow her on Twitter @hillarywindsor.