Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recon and A.G. Caves

As I've mentioned before, Biff and I really enjoy doing a bit of recon on a nice day. Stumbling up and down cliffs for several hours can really pay off, or it can be frustrating and simply not worth the risk of falling to your death. Either way, we both find peace of mind trekking through forests on steep cliffs. 

Biff and I often discover drains and inlets carved into the sandstone walls .

 There isn't much to say about doing recon work. Its fun, good exercise and an essential part of urban exploration.

While poking around a particular cliff, I saw a grouping of rocks that looked interesting and decided to check it out. No more than 2 feet from the rocks I fell through a hole that was covered with branches and leaves and I inadvertently stumbled upon yet another cave without trying.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Labyrinth

The Labyrinth has been an elusive site that ol' Biff and I have been seeking for the past month without any noteworthy success. We spoke with fellow explorers regarding a possible entrance into the subterranean maze under the busy downtown streets of the state capital, only to obtain vague descriptions of the surrounding area and little useful information. After our previous disaster through the 27 inch drain of hell, Biff and I thought it would be wise to take skateboards into the same drain in hopes the going would be easier on ourselves. At the time, we didn't realize that we were yet again in the wrong drain, and although we made it farther this time, we once again bailed out of the claustrophobic drain of doom dirty and frustrated .

They say third time's the charm. Well, this sure as shit applied to our tireless obsession with gaining access to the Labyrinth. The very next night Biff and I went to one of our favorite areas along the river in south Mpls and promptly started a fire and discussed our options.

Biff and I were aware of a drain about 15 yards downriver and figured the ice had frozen enough to walk on and take a quick look-see. The ice was thin near the outfall of the drain, but Biff and I miraculously made it thanks to our knee-high boots and a thoughtful explorer/graph-artist who left a knotted rope near the entrance. The drain ran for 50 yards or so and unfortunately abruptly ended with a giant down-spout. Although we were discouraged, the frozen drain was beautiful and rarely visited.

Safe and sound back in the Jeep, we discussed our next destination. It was still early, and having not had our supper, we drove to a local establishment to warm ourselves and have a bite to eat.

So, we laughed and ate and had a beer and decided that we should head back to St. Paul and try our luck one last time. This was it. This was the night Biff Horseman and I were finally going to infiltrate the Lab if it killed us. Although we were without our drain-boards, we both had the determination to reach our goal no matter what obstacles we had to face.

We finally found it. We had both been dreaming of this moment for nearly a full month. Biff and I had done tons of research, spent hours doing recon, and had subjected ourselves to crawling through a random drain twice in hopes of seeing this vast interconnected multi-level system with our own eyes.

Biff and I soon discovered that one can easily become lost in the lab and decided that keeping track of our progress with chalk was the simplest solution at the time. Tunnels split left and right for literally miles without an end in sight. The water would rise near our knees and then drop to ankle level in a different part of the same tunnel. Water would pour down vertical drop shafts and seep from cracks behind sealed side passageways. It seamed that at every turn Biff or I would say "Holy shit!" or something similar at each new discovery.

Sealed off-shoots and abandoned sewers littered the main tunnel for miles and miles. Biff and I were glad we had the foresight to bring a piece of chalk with us to mark our progress and lessen the chance of becoming lost in the underground world.

Biff and I climbed through holes in walls, scaled over cement barriers, and poked our head into every possible spot we could during our journey deeper into the labyrinth. We encountered abandoned sewers and drains, admired the changing architecture and did our best to keep our heads on strait.  

After climbing through a hole in a small crawl-tunnel, Biff and I finally reached the active utility tunnels that we have heard so much about. This was truly an area that was very easy to become lost and disoriented. The utility tunnels are composed of gas and water lines, telephone and fiber optic cables, and other lines that help the city function. We walked slowly and kept our eyes pealed for motion-sensors, cameras or things that would otherwise indicate surveillance.


After hours of exploring, we decided that it was time to head back to the surface and celebrate our victory. We were overjoyed with our time underground. We saw things that very few people have the privilege of seeing. Biff and I are cautious underground and want to continue exploring as long as we can. We will be back to the Lab someday soon. For the time being, we'll let the heat die down and explore elsewhere.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Zen Cave

This was yet another cold winter night where Biff and I had very little information about the exact location of a site we were desperately trying to infiltrate. There are some fellow explorers that are more than happy to generously provide basic information about a particular site, and then there are some that prefer to keep things to themselves. Let me say, there is nothing wrong with the latter. Doing recon on a site and discovering things for yourself is half the fun of exploring the forbidden and elusive world under our feet. That said, Biff and I headed out with a faint idea of the point of entry and the possibility of finally reaching the underground maze known as the Labyrinth.

According to Jeff Chapman's (Ninjalicious) book, Access All Areas: A Users Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration , Max Action (of Action Squad) in 2001 "found a vast maze of interconnected utility tunnel systems under [MPLS] St. Paul that he dubs the labyrinth...." (p.235). This underground "Holy Land" was just the thing that Biff and I were trying to discover on our own.  We had heard epic tales about the intricate and vast system of tunnels that seemed impossible to access by novice explorers such as ourselves. So, with ambition in our hearts and a overwhelming desire to reach our goal, Biff and I hopped the fence that separates the naive general public from people like we have become. 

If you haven't had the pleasure of scrapping your knees and elbows for 70 yards through a 27 inch drain, your really not missing much. We entered the drain with hesitation and dread as we pointed our lights down the dirty claustrophobic tunnel of hell.
 (To give you an idea of how small a 27 inch drain is.)

As I said, this was out first attempt at gaining access to the forbidden Labyrinth that we had heard so much about. Biff and I absolutely needed to see what all the fuss was about regarding this maze of epic tunnels and man-made caves under the busy streets of downtown. The problem was, Biff and I are a wee bit bigger than your typical explorer, so the going was rough and our complaints to one another did not go fall on deaf ears. (and we were several hundreds yards downriver from the actual access point). Well, Biff and I gave up after 30 minutes in that awful tiny drain, and headed back to the jeep and decided to try our luck on the opposite side of the river.

 Ol' Biff and I have had plenty of luck finding caves and noteworthy drains in a particular 2 mile stretch along the east side of the river, and this particular night was no different from the rest. A fellow explorer dropped a few hints about several more caves in the area we were presently obsessed with, and decided to once again try our luck blindly stumbling up and down the bluffs in the dead of night with nothing but flashlights and each others company.

Our mood at the time was so foul it fogged the windows of my Jeep. Biff and I jabbered on and on about how we bailed on the initial mission and simply headed to familiar ground, just to feel better about ourselves and our night. So, we parked the Jeep, got our gear and shit, and took the 3/4 mile walk to our underground playground we thought we knew so much about.

As we walked past a familiar landmark, Biff noticed a break in the foliage and promptly took charge of the situation.  As I followed Biff up the frozen valley of doom, I soon spotted what he had his little weasel eyes focused on and prepared myself for another underground adventure.


We had again inadvertently stumbled upon a closed cave we had heard vague stories about while in the process of searching for something completely different. Zen cave is yet another underground system of huge tunnels filled with construction debris, concrete, and other jagged rusting pieces of metal the CiTy thought would make for an appropriate dumping ground.


As you might imagine, the going was not easy. Biff and I had to scamper over all sorts of shit and duck underneath caved-in side tunnels while exploring this cave. There were times when Biff would glance back at me and made sure that I was on the same page as he, just to confirm that we were still trekking forward through the underground jungle-gym of pain.

Apparently, in the late 80's and early 90's, if someone told you to meet at the bottom of the "Stairway to Heaven", one would know exactly where to go.  Well, Biff and I weren't exactly exploring then, and have since discovered that this was the same cave system explorers of the past were referring to. With that in mind, we finally reached our destination of the long forgotten "Stairway to Heaven". 

So, we went up and up, without the faintest idea what might happen. Perhaps we would stumble upon another way out of the caves, or we might be forced back down the loose sandstone ladder made by explorers decades before we were born.

Little did we know, the vertical shaft we were climbing had an unexpected fork in the road, and we were forced to chose the left tunnel or the right.

Naturally Biff and I decided it was in our best interest to explore everything we could, and both vertical shafts pretty much ended with the same dead-end at the very top of the climb. We were  both ecstatic and bouncing off the wall while we sat at the top our sandstone summit. We had set out to find one particular site, and again inadvertently found something that we had hardly known about. Although we failed to find an entrance to the elusive maze known as the Labyrinth, we congratulated each other on an eventful evening and  promised each other we wouldn't give up until we achieved our goal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Candy Man Cave & Temple of the Drowned Cat

This was a cold December night. The ground was covered with a fresh layer of snow and the air was crisp and full of adventure. Biff and I had plans to meet some fellow urban explorers in Temple of the Drowned Cat, so off we went. We headed out with very little information about where exactly the entrance was to the "famous" drain, but felt confident as we had explored the area quite extensively the week prior. We were told where to park, which way to head, and to simply follow the footprints. We walked around looking for what was vaguely described to us for an hour or so and turned up with nothing. Cold and frustrated, we decided to trek back to the Jeep and call it a night. On our way back, Biff noticed footprints leading up the bluff and we decided it was worth a look. Little did we know, we had just accidentally stumbled upon the epic Candy Man Caves.

The entrance to the cave is sketchy at best. The climb up the bluff proved to be more difficult than we had imagined. Biff took a little ride down a good part of the hill on his rump, only to come to an abrupt halt with the help of a downed maple tree. After poor Biff gathered his belongings and navigated his way back up the bluff, we braced ourselves at the hole in the ground and agreed that it was go time. The warm underground air blew a steady plume of steam into the frigid night air, so naturally Biff and I followed the rope intertwined with an extension-cord down into the warm earth.

Candy Man Cave is one of those caves that have been filled in with construction material and other debris in hopes of keeping people like Biff and I out. After some time, the concrete and metal underground jungle opens up to wide tunnels filled with graffiti and beer cans.

Candy Man Caves were obviously home to partying local teenagers and graffiti artists for decades. The caves have been sealed and closed for years, but thanks to the work of determined urban explores, the caves are open and accessible to crazy sons of bitches like us again.

Our banter soon ceased when we noticed a single light heading towards us through the darkness. Was this our acquaintances that we were planning on meeting? A law official risking his life simply to apprehend urban explorers and make an example of us? Nope. Just a kid, no more than 19 years old, tripping on some narcotic, lost from his own group of urban biffs, pupils as large as nickles. We wished the lad the best of luck and continued on our journey deeper into the unknown.

Eventually, the caves dead-end and we were forced to turn around and head back towards the exit. But, before we returned to the surface, Biff and I had to check out what is known as the Stairway To Heaven/Hell. The stairway, if you can call it that, is a vertical shaft carved in the sandstone that goes up 75 feet or so and mysteriously ends in a wet crawl-tunnel.

Looking up the "stairway".

Looking down at Biff bravely following me up the stairway to Hell.

Safe and sound back on the surface, we were overjoyed with our discovery of the caves and happily walked through the freezing night air towards the Jeep. Biff and I were chatting about how we were more than okay with not meeting up with our underground posse in the elusive Temple of the Drowned Cat when suddenly we both froze in our tracks. "Why would so many footprints be surrounding a manhole right here?" , Biff asked with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. So, down Biff and I went into what is known as Temple of the Drowned Cat.

As Biff and I traveled along the tunnel, the air became warmer and soon the graffiti became less frequent. Thankfully Biff and I both had on our knee high Biff-boots, so we made good time underneath the streets of St. Paul. After some time we finally reached our destination admired and explored the unique underground architecture.

The large circular grate has holes the size of small pumpkins that trap debris before emptying into the river.

Looking up a utility ladder that ends in a room close to the surface streets.

This night was one for the record books. We discovered far more than we had ever hoped to find. We were both cold, dirty and hungry and ready to chalk the night up as a complete success. Biff and I were proud of ourselves. We set out to find one particular site and inadvertently found a cave that we had been looking for, as well as a forbidden and unique drain system.