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

Recon: Storm Drain near Mississippi River

Debrief:
We all have reserves of strength and endurance that most of us have never tapped. I found mine tonight.

It started off simple enough. We had heard about a nice sized storm drain right on the Mississippi that would take a little climbing to get to. As with any recon, the plan was just to find it. Exploring it would come later.

We met up in a nearby parking lot and took one car from there to the starting point. We knew roughly where it was, but needed to poke around to find it. Once we got close, we parked in a nearby residential area and crossed the highway.

The first challenge I ran into was a metal fence a little above waist high for me. I hate climbing fences and this one was just slightly too high to just step over... plus there was a fairly steep dropoff on the other side that made jumping over it problematic. So, rather clumsily (since I also had my gear bag and new bigass flashlight) I managed to get over the fence, while also looking out for oncoming traffic in either direction.

Once I was over the fence, I jumped down off the ledge and slowly/carefully worked my way down the bank. This sucker was fairly steep and I went a few dozen yards before coming to another wall. Fortunately, we could go around the edge of this wall, but this is where it got incredibly steep. Looking down I could see the river, a lot of rocks and a very sheer cliff. One false step and I would have a very long fall, resulting in a crippling injury or possibly death.

I was able to hold on to a PVC drain pipe and swing my way around the edge of the wall and grab a tree. There was no way I could hold onto a flashlight and my bag and do this, so I had to put away the flashlight and hang the bag around my neck. Fortunately I had my red LED headlight, which gave me just enough light to see my footing, but little else.

Once I had a firm grip on the tree I was able to make some progress laterally down the slope toward the storm drain. Almost every step had to be tested and retested since many of the rocks were loose and didn't provide any real stability. Mostly I clung to roots and branches as I worked my way across and down.

I have to say at this point that between not being able to see, and knowing that I was one wrong step away from a very bad ending, I was pretty damn scared. I had gone too far at this point to just give up and turn around though, so my only choice was to keep going forward.

After several minutes of very slow progress (and slipping a few times) I finally made it to the lip of the storm drain. Here's where things got really scary. I was on the outside of the drain, over a very steep drop. I had to gradually lower myself even with the drain and then grab it and swing myself in... while there was water flowing through it (not a lot) and trying not to freak out about the rocks below it. If I missed my mark, lost my balance or slipped, I would be broken. A fall at that height would not have been pretty and my chances of getting back out on my own would be reduced to zero.

It took me a couple minutes to mentally force myself to do it. At one point I started slipping and I thought I was going to fall for sure, fortunately that gave me the incentive I needed to just go ahead and jump.

Once I was in the drain, I could stand up, which was nice... I wasn't sure how high it would be. The first 15-20 feet of the drain were pretty highly decorated with graffiti, but after that it was pretty bare. Since we had gone to all the trouble of trying to find it, we decided to check it out a little further. Funny how our recons often turn into missions of opportunity.

Sadly, the storm drain was a bust. The pipe went about 60 feet and connected to a small room with a much smaller pipe leading further in. There was no way we could have stood in that pipe, and could have barely crawled through it... so we didn't go any further. This wasn't the entrance we were looking for, since we knew that the right entrance would connect us to a large network of explorable tunnels.

Now it was time to get back out of the drain. There were two options and neither were very appealing. The first option was to lower myself off the lip of the drain and drop straight down (hoping for stable footing... and not breaking an ankle in the process) then walk along the shoreline and hope to find a way back up. The second option was to go back the way I came. At least that way, I knew what I was in for. I opted for Plan B.

The only downside to Plan B was swinging around the edge of the storm drain pipe and finding something to hold onto long enough to not fall (again, in the dark, rocks below, water, ow ow ow, etc...) It took some effort, but I managed.

As nerve wracking and scary coming down the slope was, it was significantly worse and a lot more strenuous going back up. It was very dark, and the red headlamp really only let me see what was immediately in front of me, so I couldn't really figure out where I was going half the time. I was getting really tired, couldn't see a damn thing and wasn't entirely sure I was going to be able to make it back up the slope, after all it was nearly vertical in spots and I mostly just jumped or slid from one tree to the next on the way down. Gravity served me well on the way down, but was working against me on the return trip.

Remember those reserves of strength and endurance I mentioned earlier? This is where those came in. Even though I was exhausted and nearly night-blind, I managed to fight my way back to the top of the slope with my heart pounding in my chest the entire way, grabbing branches, rocks, roots, vines and whatever else was in reach. It's probably the most scared I have ever been in my life.

By the time I reached the first wall, I was sweating like a pig and covered in dirt and bugs and god knows what else. I had also crawled through what I'm fairly certain was poison oak or poison ivy at least a couple times. (I guess we'll find out tomorrow about that.) Grabbing hold of the PVC pipe again, I climbed up past the first wall and made my way up the last bit of slope back to the metal fence by the road. Waiting for the highway to be clear of traffic, I sat down for a moment. This was a mistake. At that moment, my body figured out it was no longer in danger and all my reserves were pretty much spent. I could barely stand up again without falling over.

I also realized that packing my inhaler on missions from now on would be a very good idea. Unfortunately, it was at home in my laptop bag. Eventually traffic cleared and I made it over the fence and back across the highway to the car. The other guys in the group were frustrated and disappointed at the wasted mission, but honestly, I thought it was incredible. Even though the storm drain was a bust, the adrenalin boost of getting up that slope (or quite possibly dying) was intense and amazing.

When people ask me why I do this kind of stuff... this is why, and I'll keep doing it.

Posted on Saturday, September 20, 2008 3:59 AM Urban Exploration | Back to top


Comments on this post: Friday Night Recon

# re: Friday Night Recon
Requesting Gravatar...
You need to load up the mission impossible theme on your mp3 player and listen to that when you're infiltrating...

Ok, that's not good from a tactical perspective. I guess that I'll just have to listen to it while I read your posts.

Glad you made it out unscathed and and uncaught.
Left by Rich on Sep 23, 2008 8:09 AM

# re: Friday Night Recon
Requesting Gravatar...
Uncaught, for sure. Unscathed, well... other than being really sore... yeah. Still, it was pretty damn amazing.
Left by Chris G Williams on Sep 23, 2008 8:36 AM

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