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Chris G. Williams Beware: I mix tech and personal interests here.

Mission: Storm Drain near the Mississippi River
Status: Active

We met up shortly after 9pm (around dusk) at a small park within walking distance of our entry point. Same gear as before, with the addition of my sadly underutilized HD cam. We discussed the plan, and the need for discretion (and quiet) on our approach. The danger factor was significantly lower on this mission than the previous one, but the trouble factor (if caught) was quite a bit higher (misdemeanor.) Basically the opposite risk factor on both counts.

Oddly, there was one other car in the lot, right next to ours and this one was occupied. Not sure who she was or who she was waiting for, she was there quite some time (more on this later.)

Getting our gear together, the four of us started walking up the road in the direction of the drain. Having already scouted the area a few days ago, our "guide" warned us there might be some homeless folks hanging around near the park, but to just keep walking and we'd be fine.

After about 8-10 minutes on foot, we veered off the road and into the weeds, approaching the river. Hearing voices ahead, I briefly wondered if it would be necessary to scrub the mission. Fortunately, it was just a couple guys going by on a boat. We stayed out of sight until they passed and then covered the rest of the distance quickly.

Upon reaching the entrance, it was simply a matter of popping the manhole cover and slipping inside. Unfortunately this was complicated by the fact that it was a) still light outside and b) there was a steady stream of boaters on the river, most likely trying to get home before dark. Every time we got ready to breach the drain, we'd hear more voices and another boat would be coming around the bend. Each one seemed slower and slower than the last, no doubt due to our own eagerness to get inside undetected.

Eventually, the timing was right and one of our guys popped the manhole cover, carefully setting it in a prominent position in front of the hole so no passers-by would accidentally fall in. Chance are though, based on our location, anyone who might come across the opening was probably another explorer (good), a city employee (bad) or a cop (very bad.)

We quickly slipped inside and down the rungs. One of the first things I noticed was the rungs appeared to be made of plastic, rather than metal. Given the amount of water and humidity, it makes sense. Metal rungs would rust pretty quickly and become unusable and possibly hazardous.

The climb was about 10-12 feet, maybe a little more. It was hard to get a good perspective when the wall is 6 inches from your nose. Once we got to the bottom, we looked around and we were in a large square room with outlets into the Mississippi river and 2 large tubes extending into the drainage system.

Flashlights on at this point, since it was pretty damn dark.

We took a quick glance down both tubes and picked the one on the right. The tubes were about 4 feet off the floor and required some careful maneuvering to enter since they had a steady (although very light) stream of water pouring through them, and of course I had my gear bag around my neck and my flashlight in one hand.

Once we were in the tube, it became apparent that this was going to royally suck. There was too much water on the floor to crawl, and the ceiling was too low to walk upright. So we all crouched or bent over and proceeded forward. Being the tallest one in the bunch was a definite disadvantage this time around. After what was probably 300-400 feet, I caught up with the rest of the guys and could finally stand up straight. My back was pretty sore by that point, but it passed rather quickly. Other than the occasional "watch your head" moments, I was able to stand up straight from this point forward.

At this point, it was time to get out the HD cam. Digging through my bag, while holding my flashlight in one hand and walking forward through water, proved to be quite a challenge but in a minute or so, I was up and running again. I kept the cam running all the way until we turned back, nearly an hour later. (I'll make the interesting bits available eventually.)

One of the neat things about the tunnel system is the various shapes of the tunnels. You would think they were all round or rectangular, but in fact they aren't at all. During our exploration, we found round tunnels, square/rectangular tunnels, triangular tunnels and what could only be described as "bread pan" shaped tunnels (so named because of the flat floor and rounded ceilings.)

The triangular tunnels were a pain in the ass to walk in, because even though the floor was relatively flat, you had to walk in the middle (where the water was) to keep from hitting your head or shoulders on the walls. The round ones were a problem, because they were slippery (actually ALL the pipes were slippery) and curved, so it could be difficult to keep your footing, especially if you were tall and holding a flashlight and a camcorder and walking and talking all at the same time. The bread pan tunnels were the easiest to get around in, but there weren't many of those.

There were also a few surprises in there.

One surprise was the overall lack of graffiti. Sure, there was some, and it was fairly faint having been washed thousand of times by the flood of rain water that flows through these tunnels on a regular basis. I just expected there to be more. Maybe the taggers don't feel its worth the effort, or maybe they just don't know about place. Hard to say. Most of the spray painting we saw involved street names and references to intersections.

Another surprise was the amount of craftsmanship found in the tunnels. There were large areas of pre-fab concrete blocks and tubes of course, but there were also long stretches of what was obviously done by hand. Brick ceilings and archways that were likely over a hundred years old.

We walked for a bit, probably the equivalent of a couple city blocks before coming to our first branch in the tunnel. Briefly conferring, we opted to go right and see where it led. Along the way we passed under a few manholes that were pouring water. An interesting thing about this is that the manholes were almost always situated above an alcove and shaft and not directly over the main passage. Another interesting thing is that I don't recall seeing rungs for any of them. Just a manhole cover at the top and a very long drop to the bottom. Definitely not a preferred way to get into the tunnels!

As we progressed deeper, we found a few more offshoot passages that were typically very narrow and went deeper than we could see. We explored a few of them for about 20-30 feet before coming back each time to continue in the main passage. One of the neat features we found in this branch was the triangular shaped tunnel. Curious about why a drain pipe (if you can call something so large a pipe) would be this shape, all I can think of is that it has to do with the weight supported above us. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that we were under a road at that point.

Eventually we came to the end of the branch, completely bricked off. We took a few pictures and headed back to where we deviated from the main drain and resumed exploring.

There wasn't a lot different about this pipe than the branch we explored earlier, although the water was flowing a little deeper in parts and the air was full of mist to the point where our flashlights didn't give us much visibility beyond a few feet. The nightvision on my cam was good for picking out faces, but I still needed my flashlight if I wanted to capture any interesting features in the tunnels.

We went for a few more city blocks and occasionally detoured into a few side passages along the way before spotting a slender passage that had a plastic sheet over it. That was the first time we had seen anything like that, so of course we had to check it out. The footing was pretty tricky but once we were in, it opened up a bit. One curious feature was a rather high shelf filled with dirt that had some type of plants growing in it. I don't have a clue what they were, although they resembled bean sprouts. The passage went for about 10-20 feet and curved around, branching off several times. Another thing of note, this area had some of the biggest buildup of limestone and what resembled wet stalactites. I didn't touch them, since I'm pretty sure they would have crumbled if I did.

We poked around a little and decided that since I only had about 30 minutes of battery life left in the cam, it was a good spot to call it and start heading back. The trip back out was a lot faster since we weren't really taking our time to stop and look at every little thing. As we got closer to the entrance, we decided it would be a good idea to be really quiet in case someone had figured out that we were down there and the possibility of a police welcoming party didn't really thrill us.

One of our guys went ahead and scoped it out while we waited behind. A few minutes later we got the all clear sign (4 blinks on the flashlight) and we climbed out, free and clear. The drains never really stank, certainly not as much as the mill, but it was still nice to breath fresh air.

Walking back to our cars, nearly 90 minutes later, we noticed that the young lady was still sitting in her car. We didn't really want to discuss the mission so close to the location in front of a stranger, even one who seemed harmless, so we decided to head to a nearby bar and have a few beers and figure out what to do next.

It was right about then that we realized one of our group had locked his keys in his car. Fortunately we had 2 other cars, so we resolved to head to the bar and call AAA after a few drinks. By this point it was a little before 11pm.

So we headed in to downtown to find a bar. Along the way, we spotted an old, closed down, brewery. It looked so interesting we couldn't help ourselves and decided to do a quick recon mission and make plans for a private tour. Looking around for a place to park, I found some street parking and started to park.

As I was parking, this guy on a bicycle comes out of nowhere and swerves directly towards us, buzzing the car. I stopped backing into the spot and watched him for a second as he swerved around and started to come at us again. Seeing as how we were planning to do some recon on foot, I wasn't too comfortable with this asshole following us around and making trouble so we decided to abort the sightseeing mission until after the bar.

Pulling out of the spot, I drove up to the end of the block and made a u-turn (no point getting lost in a crappy neighborhood.) Apparently the guy on the bicycle thought we were inviting him to play because as we were heading towards him, he threw down his bicycle and started charging us on foot. Figuring he was drunk or tripping, and definitely not worth the trouble, we went by him and headed to the bar.

We found a decent spot, had a few beers and talked about the drain mission, the crazy bicycle guy and the interesting looking brewery. After a lot of tortilla chips and a couple bowls of salsa we decided to hit the road.

Heading back to the brewery, we scouted the area for hostile cyclists and found a decent place to park. One thing we noticed as we were crossing the street and walking towards the brewery was the number of patrol cars in the area. We weren't technically doing anything wrong, since we were staying on the sidewalk, but it was worth noting for later visits.

It took us about 30 minutes to walk the perimeter. Along the way, we spotted several "interesting" features and possible access points. Making our way back to the car we decided to research the area, and the brewery, online to get more information and to see if we could dig up any evidence of prior visits, police activity, etc.

By this point it was nearly 2am, so we decided to head back to the park and get our cars. Our friend called AAA, got his car unlocked and we all headed home.

Looking forward to Mission #3.

Posted on Saturday, August 2, 2008 8:32 PM General Interest , Urban Exploration | Back to top

Comments on this post: Friday Night Fun

# re: Friday Night Fun
Requesting Gravatar...
While not as big of an issue in storm sewers, you need to be alert for pockets of methane (odorless, tasteless, deadly) while doing urban exploration.
Left by J on Aug 03, 2008 9:29 AM

# You're my hero
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No really - I've been reading this series like it was a Clancy novel. Keep it coming.
Left by Rich on Aug 04, 2008 8:17 AM

# re: Friday Night Fun
Requesting Gravatar...
Man, why do you seem to be interested in the same stuff I am? Coding, gaming, urban exploring, etc.

I haven't done any true urban exploration in a long time, but these blogs are making me want to plan a trip of my own.
Left by Chris Eargle on Aug 04, 2008 2:17 PM

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