Last Updated on January 27, 2022 by Tina
On the last week of November last year, we went on an underground visit to Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company’s (Lepanto) Nayak mine. Lepanto is located in Mankayan, Benguet. My first job as a geologist was with Lepanto in 2005. But last year was my first time visiting the Lepanto underground mine in Nayak. I never had the chance to see the underground because women were not allowed to go underground back then.
They used to have a superstitious belief that a “diwata” (goddess) is guarding it and that she gets jealous when a woman visits the underground. They say that the diwata causes an accident when she gets jealous. And then there was a time when Lepanto couldn’t hire male geologists because geologists were in demand both local and international and the salary offered by Lepanto was much lower than other companies. Most of the male geologists were employed by oil companies abroad. I think a year or two after I resigned from Lepanto, they performed a ritual underground. Since then women were already allowed to go underground.
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A Little Background About Lepanto
Mankayan is a first-class municipality of Benguet in the Philippines. It is considered a mineral district. There are several operating gold and copper mines in the municipality, both large and organized small-scale operations. Lepanto is one of the large-scale mines in Mankayan. There are also several prospects in different stages of exploration and further development. The company I am working for right now is planning to explore here as well.
Now let’s get back to Lepanto. The company has several gold and copper deposits. When they started their mining operation sometime in the 1940s, they were mining copper. The copper deposit/project is called Lepanto Enargite. They mined copper from 1948 to 1996. In 1997, they started mining gold with their Victoria and Teresa gold deposits. Lepanto also owns the Far Southeast Project. It is a world-class, high-grade gold and copper porphyry deposit. It is a deeply concealed deposit. In 2010, the Far Southeast Project was held by Far Southeast Gold Resources Inc., (FSGRI) a joint venture company of Lepanto and Gold Fields.
When the Lepanto Enargite was being mined, the underground access was through the Tubo Shaft. The access to Victoria and Teresa is via the Nayak Twin Decline. More on these later.
Lepanto Underground Mine Visit Experience
Before we went underground, we were first given a safety induction/orientation by the safety engineer of Lepanto. Just like what I said in my previous post about our visit to an open-pit mine, mining companies take safety very seriously. You can’t visit the mine if you are not wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE). You also need to be informed on how to stay safe during your stay in the vicinity of the mine that’s why you need to have the safety induction first.
When visiting the underground you need to wear the following PPEs- hard hat (skull guard), reflectorized vest, safety boots, and face mask. You also need a cap lamp.
Lepanto Underground Mine Visit
After the safety induction, we accessed the Teresa area of the Nayak mine through the Nayak Twin Decline in our company vehicle. The Nayak Twin Decline is a 4m by 4m by 1.2 km ramp from the surface to the underground working areas. The decline also serves as an additional ventilation conduit. Our vehicle parked at the 1150 Level of the underground, near the Lepanto Lamp House. Each of us was provided with a cap lamp. When we were all set, we took the Nayak shaft to get to 950 Level. The shaft is like an elevator. It is used to get to the different levels of the underground mine.
Lepanto utilizes the cut-and-fill method of mining to extract the vein-type deposits. During our visit, we were shown one of the veins that is being mined (Vein 123 if I remember it correctly).
Is it cold underground? Near the shaft, it is cold but as you go far from the shaft it gets hot. There are areas that are really hot even if there is ventilation that is why you could see miners that are sometimes wearing only their underwear.
When going underground, it is very important to bring water so you don’t get dehydrated. You also need a face towel to wipe your sweat because you will be sweating a lot. And bring candies or chocolates in case you get hungry. Below is a video I made during our Lepanto underground mine visit so you can have an idea of what the underground looks like.
Visiting the underground mine of Lepanto was a nice experience and it reminded me of the time when I was working as the supervising geologist of the underground drilling of FSGRI from 2011 to 2012. I used to go underground at least twice a week to inspect the underground drilling operation. Our access to the underground was through the Tubo Shaft (different from the one in Nayak). I and my counterpart Lester were in charge of setting up drill holes. We were also in charge of supervising the underground geological assistants. There were 28 of them, all boys. Most of the time when I go underground I am the only girl there.
I really enjoyed working in a man’s world back then, I felt strong. Our underground workers say they are scared of me when I get mad, which rarely happens. And they like me a lot because I take good care of them. If they have complaints about their work condition I make sure it gets sorted out. I enjoyed my work but at some point, I got exhausted.
I have had some unforgettable experiences underground. One was when I had to stay up for 22 hours because I had to set up a drill hole in the middle of the night. Because I was working even during night time, I was excused from going to work the following day so I could catch up on my sleep. I never got to do it though because while I was asleep, they were calling me up because of some work emergencies.
I also experienced seeing naked underground workers because near the end of their shift, they take a shower before going back to the surface. Their shower area is near the shaft, and because I’m the only girl who goes underground and I don’t go there every day, they take a shower naked because they are not expecting a girl there.
The funniest experience I had was one time that I had to go underground, they were having technical problems with the shaft. We were able to go down but we were not able to go back immediately because it was under repair. Our underground drilling operations were in Level 700. When it was finally fixed, we boarded the shaft. But it has to go down to Level 650 first because there are also workers that need to go up to the surface. But it was only in Level 650 for a few minutes.
When we got there the workers boarded and then the gate was closed. And then suddenly there was a totally naked man running, trying to board the man cage. He was late though because the cage was already closed and the operator had already given the signal to go up. We were laughing so hard after because it was unexpected and I saw his willy dangling while he was trying to catch the man cage. It must have been super awkward if he was able to board. I think he didn’t have time to put on his clothes anymore because he was trying to get on the man cage.
So that concludes my post about my underground mine visit in Lepanto. I hope you learned something from this post and you got entertained with my story. If you have any questions about underground mining, feel free to write down your question below or send me an email or DM me on my social media accounts.