Thursday, November 23, 2006

WCCO Urban Exploration Story

This is an interesting story regarding urban exploration that appeared on WCCO yesterday. It features Mike Gilday, a local explorer and photographer. It is a little shallow when it comes to photos and content, but there is nothing really negative in it, no mention several recent deaths in local grain elevators that were rumored to be urban explorers.

Link to the transcript and video at, or watch it below...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Urban Exploration Film Screening

This new documentary, co-produced by Channel Z Films of Minneapolis, delves into the world of urban exploration, a growing subculture of adventure-seekers from around the world who explore places most people would never dream of going.

Doors open to Mill City Museum at 6:30 p.m. with a cash bar and an exhibit of photographs of hidden Twin Cities locations taken by urban explorers during their "missions."

After the screening, audience members can discuss the film with the director and several of the urban explorers featured in the film. Participants can take guided mini-tours of hidden places in the Washburn A Mill, a destination for urban explorers in the decades before it became Mill City Museum, and visit the museum's exhibit galleries, included in the ticket price.
More info:
The MySpace

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jim & Dean


Location: East bank of the Mississippi River
Crew: Cheese and I
Mission Time: about 2 hours of biking and exploring
Difficulty: can't say really

It's been a while since we had done any serious exploring, so after I got off work this after noon, I called up Cheese and we started biking down the West Kitttsondale Drain. I had been there before with Ratophobe, but this would be Cheese's first time. I also took my Sony video camera with me this time too. It has night vision, which I figured would be an excellent asset in the pitch black underground. We climbed down the embankment, and into the outfall. To my excitement, there wasn't the choking mist hanging in the air this time. Once inside we geared-up, and recorded a few seconds of introductory video before pressing on (I'll post it once I convert it).

Up the Mississippi River from near the outfall of the drain.

Soon we reached the first obstacle, a waterfall that empties from a hole in the roof of the drain. I had decided to ware a like-new pair of second-hand Nike Airs instead of my usual shoes. In hind site, it was a poor choice. I started around the pillar of falling water, noticing that either the concrete had gotten slicker, or that the traction of these shoes was for shit.
Then I realised that was was laying on the ground, in the water, and feeling like someone had hit me in the head with a club! I pulled myself out of the water and walked, rather quickly, towards the outfall.

Head pounding, mind going in and out, I sat down to try and collect myself. I noticed that my ear was in pain too, and asked Cheese what he could see. It was bleeding a little I guess. This is about when I realized that exploring without a first aid kit or something of the sort, was a bad idea.

We came to the conclusion that what had happened was a really bad omen, and that it really didn't seem like a good idea to keep going. Then I noticed something just beyond the waterfall, a small light shining from beneath the water... my Mini-Mag. A good explorer never leaves a flashlight behind, besides, my Mini-Mags hold a special place in my heart. I took off my soaked socks and shoes, danced around the water fall, grabbed it, and danced back, trying not to lose my balance slipping on the super slick concrete.

So back up the river we went, to enjoy a perfect late September evening, and to show Cheese some of the other drains of interest.

Further up in the East River Flats area, I spotted an entrance that I had never noticed before. To our frustration, the gate was not locked, but decades of the elements had rusted it firmly into place.

The gate may be rusted shut, but I think I've found another way in, how about you?

We had just about decided to move on, when we were met by a man with long hair wearing a bandanna and what I'd describe as pajamas, walking up the bank. He introduced himself to us as Jim and explained that he was looking for firewood so he and his friend could build a fire. He was very nice and asked us if we would like to join them, and if we smoked weed at all. I told him that I was pretty much straight edge and that we were heading home. Before we left though, he asked us to help him carry back a piece of fire wood. It turned out to be the trunk of a tree that had long since died, but had not yet started to decay, leaving an excellent piece of dead wood to burn. We weren't in any hurry, so we volunteered to help. With a little group effort, we managed to push it down and carry it back to their fire pit, where we meet Dean. Again, we exchanged pleasantries before explaining that we did have to move on to get home for dinner. Before we did though, we helped Jim carry another even larger log over to the fire. He explained to us as a rule of thumb, think of how much wood you will use over night, and collect three times as much.

Jim, left, and Dean, right, sit back in front of their fire. In the background are the logs that we carried over.

In the background you can see Dean's makeshift tent.

So with handshakes and hugs we departed. Before we got too far we stopped at the roach tube from last time. I crawled in to take a look. At first I didn't see them. Then, as I got further in I noticed them. Multitudes lining the cracks and crevices, along with a host of crickets and spiders. I'll wait until we have a cold snap that kills them all off before I go back.
The evening wasn't a complete loss, not even remotely. My head still hurts as I write this, and my ear is pretty torn up (even though oddly enough it doesn't hurt), but I think we had a bit of an enlightening experience. Maybe there is more to Urban Exploring than I realized. We didn't get to the end on the Triple Helix, but we made some friends, and maybe learned a little something about humanity and ourselves in the process.

The sun setting in the West as the day draws to a close.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poking Around Near St. Anthony Main


Location: Near St. Anthony Main
Crew: me
Mission Time: About 20 minutes
Difficulty: None ;)

It has been a while since our last post. Quite a while. Being in school all day and working on the weekends is probably going to cut down on the time we can spend exploring. I know I promised an update by Labor Day, and this is a pretty sad excuse. I didn't even think to take a few seconds of video, just for the sake of posting something interesting.
Honestly, I didn't expect to do anything remotely urban exploration related. I was going to bike over to my old school to give my old art teacher a hand with posting some of the student's art on the web. I was not sure he would be there and, well, he wasn't. It was a really nice, cool evening so I decided to bike a few blocks over to an area that I knew to have entrances to several... points of interest. I started looking for the entrance to
The NSP Power Plant Tunnels, which are somewhere near by.
By this time though, the sun was getting low. The area is unlit, overgrown, under kept, and popular with homeless people, drunks, and others I didn't really feel like having a confrontation with, so I left with a few photos of a tunnel entrance that might be worth coming back to another time, but I am not going to hold my breath.

This is the tunnel entrance... no, really.

...looking in.

///UPDATE/// -2/28/07
So I've been back there since and this tunnel unfortunately dead-ends after a few yards. There is plenty of other very interesting stuff in the area though.
What I'm excited for though is the completion of a new park area closer to the falls, where the fireworks are usually launched form during Aquatenial and the 4th of July, ect. It should give easy access to a great view of the falls, starting this spring.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

West Kittsondale (Triple Helix) Drain, and East River Flats Tunnels


(I've omitted some of the locations we explored from this map, due to the fact that either I don't wish to make there entrance points over-obvious, or I can't place them exactly on the map by memory.)
Location: East Bank of Mississippi River, near the **** St. Bridge
Crew: Rataphobe & Spaz (me)
Mission Time: 2 hrs, 40 mins
Difficulty: Moderate

The West Kittsondale (Triple Helix) Drain:
Today we set out with two objectives:
  1. Explore the Minnehaha Amphitheater Drain.
  2. Locate the West Kittsondale (Triple Helix) Drain entrance.
As we biked down the West River Road though, we spotted on the far bank, drain after drain, after drain, after drain. I felt like a kid in a candy store (okay, that is kind of wierd). The clincher came when we reached the **** St. Bridge, and looking across the river, we could see a massive concrete entrance into the cliff, the West Kittsondale Drain. Minnehaha became a secondary priority.
Locking our bikes up, we climbed down a steep, sandy embankment beneath the bridge, and made our way over to the concrete tunnel we had seen from across the river. There was actually a smaller brick tunnel adjacent to Kittsondale entrance, and we decided to explore it first. It was of walkable height, but ended quickly at the foot of a dropshaft.

The steep sides of the tunnel made it difficult not to get our feet wet.

No, the roof didn't collapse, it seems that the tunnel's builders found the sandstone stronge enough to warrant not spending the time to add in an unnecessary layer of bricks. That, or a cheap sub-contractor was trying to cut costs.

Next, we dropped into the large concrete outfall of the Triple Helix Drain, and the mist that poured from the gaping entrance. This thing is big, big enough to drive a car into. It even crossed our minds to ride our bike's in next time (if we didn't mind going through the inches of water that flowed through the center).

Looking back at the entrance of the West Kittsondale Drain.

Rato in the sewer.

There was something extremely photogenic about this part of the tunnel. Too bad the rest was chocked with mist.

So we pushed on, jumping over the stream of water, from one side to another, to avoid the occasional waterfalls that poured in from the ceiling, filling the already dank air with drops of water that made photography in most of the drain impossible.

Visibility was nearly nill. There is one of those water falls here too, somewhere behind all this mist... I think.

Not too far in we found a set of rungs leading up the side of the tunnel, into a small hole in the concrete over our heads. As I stepped beneath it, I was hit with a blast of air. There was a continuous wind blowing out and down into the tunnel from it. I climbed up and looked in. The air, again, was very thick, making photography all but impossible. I emerged into what appeared to be a very tall concrete tunnel. At my level was metal grating, over six feet beneath me, was the tunnel floor. The roof was high enough to making walking atop the grating easy, but I didn't trust it and was concerned about the source of the air, so we decided that we should continue down the main tunnel, in search of the "helix" spiral staircases that give this drain its name. I have no idea what that place was, if anyone has any idea, leave a comment, I'd like to know!

This tunnel had the worst visibility of any underground place I have ever been in. The air, especially near waterfalls, was thick with large water particles and slime that floated through the air. Not only does it hamper photography, but makes breathing unpleasant, and cuts the effectiveness of flashlights. My Mini-Mag could barely reach over a dozen feet, and my LED head lamp was nearly useless.

Eventually, we found a side tunnel. The air was about as thick as where we were coming from, but there was hardly any water so we started down in. The roof was low, low enough that I hit my head once when I wasn't paying attention to it. The tunnel turned to the left, and pretty soon, we came to what looked like a stair case. We had reached the first helix.

Water flows down the stairs at the base of the helix.

I'm not great at judging distances, but we climbed a long way up the stairs, of which the steps were rather small and seemed to be made with the idea the people might need to climb them in-mind.

The designers may have chose to add these steps to avoid the erosion that would otherwise be caused by water dropping such a long distance.

We reached the top of the stairs winded, and entered a room, with a hole in a wall leading to a manhole shaft high above, and a large circular culvert leading a short distance to another dropshaft. We took our first break of the entire day before we stated back down the helix, to push on further into the tunnel.

Video from on the way back out.

We didn't go much further into the drain. The roaring sound of what we hoped would be a massive waterfall turned out to be just a large volume of water flowing swiftly out of a side tunnel. It kicked up a disproportionately large amount of mist though!
So we turned back. Having spent over an hour walking at least a mile into the drain, we set our sites up-stream, at some of the smaller ones we had spotted on the way down.

Part of a fish vertebrae Rato found on the beach near the outfall.

East River Flats Tunnels:
The rest of the tunnels we explored were in what is called the East River Flats, a park and recreation area along the river. Here were several very interesting tunnels that are likely often passed up due to there small size.
The first was close to the path, and difficult to get into with out getting ones feet wet. Bending over I started into the small brick tunnel. Very soon, the tunnel started to slope up, enough that I was worried about slipping on the slick bricks. The bricks that were placed down the center of the tunnel, over which the water flowed, were red, and surrounded by a troff of concrete, while the roof of the tunnel was constructed out of orange brick.

Looking down the tunnel (you can make out where it levels at the base), I got the idea that after a rain storm, this tunnel would make an excellent water slide, if you brought something like a lunch tray to sit on.

Just a soon as I was really starting to appreciate the work done on this drain, it stopped. The drain ended at the base of a dropshaft not far from where the picture above was taken.
Biking on, we found, on the outside at least, another intriguing drain. The tiered outfall led back into a rather large brick tunnel. Walking back into it, we came to (surprise!) another dropshaft.
Then, I found something really interesting. At first glance, I barely thought anything of it, a concrete pipe, barely two feet in diameter, with a trickle of water running out of it, into the river. As I got closer, I noticed something odd. There was steam coming out of it. That got my attention. Inside, another surprise, roaches. I have never seen roaches in a storm sewer before. They like warm, damp places. Drains are usually cold, that is unless they link to, say, a steam tunnel.

Cockroaches in the pipe.

The roaches were definitely not a factor in why we did not investigate further.

Time was starting to run short, so we left the steaming pipe.
Not far from the pipe, we came upon a steam tunnel entrance that I remember seeing on a map of the system. Locked up tight, but it did get me thinking even more about the pipe.

The entrance, with an "oh so intimidating" amount of warning signs.

What the flashy signs failed to do, a locked steal gate did, but there is always another way in.

So we didn't make it to Minnehaha, but I'm not sorry. What we found was far more interesting (I'm not even convinced that it doesn't just end a few yards at the foot of a drop shaft).
Still to come:
Pushing deeper in to the Triple Helix, and finding the source of our "steam pipe".

Friday, July 21, 2006

U of M East Bank Storm Drains


Location: East Bank of Mississippi River, near the Washington Ave. Bridge
Crew: Cheese, Deadhead Bob, Rataphobe, & Spaz
Mission Time: 1 hrs
Difficulty: Easy.

We wanted to meet at 1:00, but it turned out we didn't leave my place until past 3:00. Rataphobe, the newest member of the crew, slept through his alarm (which turned out to be "in his head"), and then got lost on his way over! Eventually though, the four of us got on our bikes, and road over to campus, where we locked up our bikes near the river bank. On the way to the storm drain outfall, we passed the blocked steam tunnel entrance. We were going to give it another look, but someone was catching zzz's in it this time.
Minutes later, we were crawling through the spider tunnel. "Why?" Quite simply, to see what was in the other side.
We made our way down the concrete tunnel keeping our feet dry by straddling the trickle of water flowing down the center. That was, at least until we reached the half way point, there water flowed down a mini water fall from a pipe above (there was also a drop shaft on the left with about a foot deep pool beneath it), and a damn of debris trapped enough red, rust colored silt on the on the other side, to make a several inch deep mess. Some us changed in to sandals at this point, some kept their boots on, while the rest went bare-foot.

Looking down the tunnel. The floor is covered in some very wet sand, but easy to walk on.

Soon the floor became covered in pebbles, and we could see a wall blocking our tunnel. To the left was another dropshaft.

The End. The drop shaft of The Cess Pool of Death is just out of sight, to the left.

The glowing Cess Pool of Death (illuminated by my head lamp).

That was pretty much it. On the way back we noticed a few things we had not seen on the way in. First was a metal grate in the ceiling near the half way point, and just above us, what looked like a steam tunnel, running perpendicular to our drain. It wouldn't budge for us. The next was a similar hatch in the roof, but this one was a solid sheet of metal, which had been bolted in place, and then the nuts soddered. Bummer.

Left to right: Rataphobe, Deadhead Bob, & Cheese.

A very cool shot with the lights on.

Spider webs on the roof of the tunnel near the entrance.

I actually ended standing up right into this stuff when we climbed in. The webs got in my hair, and then I had spiders hanging in my face, crawling on my neck, oh it was fun!

At least I got some cool shots. We discussed biking down to Minnehaha, but our stomachs, wallets, and schedules dashed our hopes of exploring the Amphitheater Drain, at least for the day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

U of M East Bank Storm Drains Recon


Location: East Bank of Mississippi River, near the Washington Ave. Bridge
Crew: Spaz (me)
Mission Time: 1/2 hrs
Difficulty: Easy

I happened to find myself biking down the river road this morning when I remembered seeing something on some person's web page late one night, about a tunnel entrance on the opposite bank, near where I was. I spotted not one, but two concrete structures on the far bank, and having nothing but time to kill, decided to check them out.
I crossed back over the river, through the university, and locked my bike up down by the long stairs from Coffman. From there, I hiked along a foot trail beneath the cliffs.
The first structure was just a concrete tunnel leading back into the river bank. A sign near the entrance warned of high pressure steam and CCTV surveillance cameras. S
surveillance cameras, yah right.

The mouth of the tunnel was blocked by a iron gate. There was no way this was gonna budge

A look through the gate, and down into what becomes a sandstone tunnel. Beyond the darkness, the lower level U of M East Bank Steam Tunnels.

Defeated, I decided to move on to my next objective.

Looking back across the river at the Washington Ave. Bridge from the blocked steam tunnel entrance.

A few minutes later, I was looking down at the other structure that I had seen from across the Mississippi. It looked like the entrance to a bunker. I walked up to the door, to see if there was a way to open it. Unfortunately, the door was barred, by three bars of iron, bolted across the heavy door, but
where there is a will, there is a way

The entrance to what ever is on the other side was barred shut. No one has gone through there for years.

A very large spider sits in the middle of its web near the door, only a taste of what is to come.

There is always another way in, especially in Urban Exploring, and what you seek might be closer that you think. That is what I did, I stopped to think... and listen. Soon I was ducking through a cement culvert beneath "the bunker", waving my spider wand (a stick I used to clear the nearly solid masses of sizeable spiders and cobwebs) in front of me as I went.
A few yards in, I arrived at a spot where a metal grate that would have welcomed people entering through the door, had been broken down (not an easy task), to provide access up in to the tunnel.

Water flows through the drain from campus above, through the tunnel, and into the river.

Standing up through the grate, and looking in to the still blackness beyond. This is as far as I got.

Lacking flashlights and backup, I didn't go any further in, so I went and ate breakfast/lunch at Coffamn, but will return soon. It is possible that this storm drain tunnel links to the U of M Steam Tunnels further back.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Return to the Nicollet Island Utility Tunnels (Satan's Cave)


Location: Nicollet Island
Crew: Cheese & Spaz
Mission Time
: 2 hrs (underground)
Difficulty: Moderate-Easy
After an unsuccessful attempt to make a return trip several weeks ago (in which incompetence on the part of all involved caused us to believe that we were trapped beneath the manhole through which we entered the tunnels), Cheese and I returned for a more thorough exploration of the complicated tunnel network (as that is what it was revealed to be).
Unlike in our previous expedition, we took time to explore many of the side caves (due in part to the fact that dry weather made their exploration possible without walking in several inches of mud), leading off from the main brick tunnels. Most were dead ends, or were blocked by sand, but more led into other small caves. We also realized that the main brick tunnel snakes all over the island. At one point, we found a manhole leading to the surface above with climbable rungs. It turned out that it surfaces right in front of someone's front yard!

This large sanitary sewer pipe crosses one of the first side tunnels we encountered after our decent. The iron panel is, in fact, a door that opens inwards to provide access, as we found later...

A more typical side tunnel for the first section of brick tunnel.

Pipes and hoses protruding from the water pipe that runs the length of the tunnel, into a hole in the wall.

Interesting drip-formations beneath a rung less manhole shaft.

We proceeded down the brick tunnel, and to the small hole in its side that leads to the first cave.

Cheese crawling through a side tunnel that opens up into the first cave.

The sand stone in this section was eroded up into the cave's limestone ceiling.

We made our way through the first cave more slowly than in our first visit, when we believed it to be the actual Satan's Cave, and were expecting to stumble upon the shrine, just around the next turn,

Cheese, about to climb down into the first cave.

On each side of the first cave is an entrance to a sandstone tunnel. I don't know where either lead, and will need to check them out when we return.

An entrance to tunnel that crosses the cave.

The tunnel continues on the other side.

A look at the roof of the cave, and what could come crashing down on us (however unlikely that would be).

"Dragons ^"

We continued on, back into the brick tunnel, passing by Satan's Cave for the moment to have a look at where else it goes under the island. We explored many sandstone side tunnels that at times became quite small. They connected to each other, and back into the brick tunnel in several places.

Another sewer pipe, very similar to the one in the first side tunnel, maybe another part of it. Note the open iron door in the brick-work.

"mommy, what does raw sewage look like?"...

Time waits for no man, and we were running short, so we decided that we had better check out Satan's Cave and the shrine before we had to leave.

graffiti on the wall, next to where we dropped in from the brick tunnel.

Looking back, in the opposite direction of the shrine. Barely visible to the right is the part of the cave that leads back the the drop-point.

An evil smiley carved into the sandstone near the shrine.

Another demon face.

This wax (actually, I think it is plastic) head sits in an alcove carved into the cave wall, and is probably the creepiest thing down there.

Another shot of Wax Head (and yes that is a proper noun now).

Cheese brought his Zippo down with us this time in hopes of lighting the numerous candles, but most had already been burned down to nothing. Note to self: Bring new candles.

Does anyone know Russian? What does the flag on the shrine say?

The shrine, with the one candle we managed to light.

Cheese poses with his Zippo.

About a minute of video from Satan's Cave.

More graffiti. Any NOFX fans out there?

"The Earth keeps some vibration going there in your heart, and that is you, and if the people find you can fiddle, then fiddle you must, for all your life."

"The world was not given to us by our parents, but loaned to us by our children" (actually a Kenyan proverb)

We eventually decided that it was time to leave, and headed back to the drop-point, facing a challenging climb out. On the way, I spotted a small sand stone tunnel, just large enough to crawl through. I had heard that there was a crawl tunnel that led from the cave, back up to the brick tunnel, and figured that this must be it. It followed a slight incline for several yards, before emerging back into the brick tunnel, just feet from the drop-point. I highly recommend this path as an alternative to the drop.

Cheese, about to start making his way through the crawl tunnel.

So yah, we came, we saw, we kicked some cave ass, and we will be back. We aren't finished with Satan's Cave yet.

Looking back down at Cheese again, as I climb back up the manhole shaft to the surface.