Behind the raging horseshoe falls of Niagara there lies a secret like no other, a century old redbrick tunnel painstakingly laid. There is no recorded tally of its human cost but in 1906 it would be the biggest tunnel of its type in the world. A dangerous rappel through the treacherous bowels of a decrepit powerstation is the single entrance into this supervillain stronghold behind the crashing waterfall.
With great confidence the three foreigners converged upon Niagara Falls in search of great adventure and challenge. Their hearts brimmed with equal measures of excitement and anxiousness in attempting what less than a fistful before them had achieved. So it was scribed: the unabridged tale of how Jondoe, Stoop and dsankt laid their bold plans to conquer the mighty Confluence, infamous tailrace tunnel of Niagara.
Before this adventurous tale begins a quick primer upon the workings of a hydroelectric powerstation and the need for such a behemoth tunnel. Don't skip this or I'll have the student teacher spank you. Externally the building appears little more than an ornately built 2 story box. Peek through the windows* though and you'll see a long hall populated by large blue cylindrical generators. This is but a fraction of the building which extends another 10 stories below.
(this is important! diagram modification by JonDoe)
The water from the Niagara river enters the penstock which is a massive vertically aligned iron pipe descending into the wheelpit cavity below the generator hall. Layers of catwalks* encircle the penstock to allow workers/ninjas access to the turbines. Inside the penstock the torrent of water plummets 8 stories, gaining speed until it reaches the turbines. The water furiously spins the turbines and in turn the generators above to create electricity. This type of operation takes huge quantities of water which now robbed of their usefulness must be expelled from the turbines and back into the falls. The tailrace tunnels carry this water from the turbine exhausts and dumps it into the waterfall. The construction of this tunnel was a here (scroll to "THE ELECTRICAL DEVELOPMENT COMPANY OF ONTARIO,LIMITED"). Yes I know it looks like a penis you sickos. Primer end.
Confluence is far more than a simple saturday stroll around a haunted barn or derelict powerstation, consequently requiring a tad more gear than usual. We trimmed our kits to the items considered essential for your average hundred year old, 9 meter tall brick tunnel enema and rolled out.
(pic by Jon Doe)
On route I learned the measure of Sub-Urban's meticulous planning, including the inclusion of driving music, most notably including Madonna's song Hung Up. I suffered in silence while contemplating the feasibility of using their entrails as rappelling rope. We rolled slowly into Niagara with an elitist smirk before the spectacle of lights, people and water. It is to be blunt: tourist fucking central. We are to be blunter:* l337 urbexors /sarc
Like three thrifty smut fiends crammed into a stripper booth our faces were stuck to the car windows, eyes wide and mouths agape as the scene unfolded in the glory of Hollywood slow motion. The powerstation and its surrounds were a conflagration of temporary fences, cars, halogen floodlights and workmen. All our planning concerned physical access to the tunnel not dodging workers in the "abandoned" powerstation. We had not even considered anyone might be working here. Murphy and his well known law was all in for the rectal reaming.
We set off on foot for a closer inspection, looking a strange procession indeed: me in ninja black; the dapper English chaps in overcoats and those silly Sherlock Holmes hats. We are of course the consummate professionals. The jackhammers echoed loudly from within the plant, tearing apart what one hundred years ago was the pinnacle of electrical technology. Jondoe and I observed the situation from afar while Stoop took the social engineer's approach.
He ambled casually towards the main gate, stepped into the brightly lit yard and approached a worker. After a brief discussion he slouched right back out. His body language spoke volumes, his words merely confirmed it. "I'm gutted, they're doing 24 hour works. Two teams - one working till 3am the other until 7am. The horrendous racket is jackhammers splitting open the concrete generator shells". This put a certain crimp on our plans.
I dozed erratically in the car, assaulted by disjointed dreams of brick and waterfalls. I woke to Stoop and JD talking quietly. We agreed a live infiltration merely added to the challenge - it would not stop the parachuting juggernaut. To absorb a few hours we trudged around another nearby abandoned powerstation though to be honest none of our hearts were in it. We'd come to play in Niagara's belly.
Four and a half hours later we resumed surveillance, then shortly after 3am a pack of workers left and It Was Showtime. Jondoe volunteered for the initial recon, wired up a small radio, adjusted his lip mic and slipped out the car. Stoop and I watched him scamper away and dissolve between the trees. The radios proved useful, though inconsistent and patchy. We sat tensely with radio clutched firmly in hand. The ability to hear the action but have no way to affect the outcome is frustrating. JD radioed in that all was clear as he'd found a small entrance into the PS and sighted a few workers still moving around. Semi-active or not, we had a fucking entrance.
(looking into the generator hall, courtesy of Jannx)
Inside was a good start* but a blind run lugging all our gear without knowing the access to the wheelpit it was akin to painting a bullseye on our foreheads. The rudimentary nature of our search would mirror my early sexual encounters, lots of digging but not much finding. Social engineer Stoop voiced a far better plan. He primed his British accent, tourist photographer pose then slipped back into the building with a camera in hand. If he encountered workers he'd play dumb, lost and work that sexy British accent. Not genius I admit, but otherwise it was a bribe of the alcoholic variety.
I passed the time of Stoop's absence by imagining what had befallen our companion. I ran through the possibilities over and over, failing to construct some kind of plausible excuse for all gear if the need arose. We'd seen a few police cars pass, probably just doing the border patrol thing. Reassuringly none paid us any mind. Suddenly a figure leapt into view like a man escaped of the encumbering shackles of gravity by some arcane magic. With a positive bound in his step and a grin upon his face Stoop raced through his sentences like a madman, sans punctuation, breathing or pause:
"Saw nobody heard workers outside none in generator hall got halfway through gen hall found steps heading down think found way to wheelpit found another entrance we fucking good lets go!".
A pot o' tea whack to the dome slowed him enough to parse his sentences to Proper English and decipher that he'd found a good way to get under the generator hall and probably access the wheelpit. JD and I reserved our celebrations as these endeavors have a nasty habit of being more difficult than they first appear.
On further inspection our entrance was indeed swift and reliable but too late for this night. Shortly after 0500 we boarded the Durgano and drove for Toronto. It was a solemn drive, a flatline end to the emotional rollercoaster of the night. We were beaten, battered and exhausted but gained valuable information. We vowed to return the following night.
Last edited by Oxygen Thief; January 18th, 2007 at 17:20.
Pumped more than Mr Hands we parked the car and settled in for surveillance. Like the cops in a cheesy movie we ate donuts and told lame jokes. Little appeared outwardly different so we prepped and departed.
Our entrance was still fine and we slipped into the station as the jackhammers echoed overhead, intermittently pausing to yelling voices and a flurry of worker activity. The concrete superstructure of the hall supports the massive turbines above and provides maintenance access to their lower sides. The workers toiled above as we slinked below.
Jondoe peeked cautiously down the hall while Stoop and I took to accessing the wheelpit. We lent our weight to the task, straining and pushing hard enough to slide back across the rough floor. Jondoe ran over and the three of us heaved in unison to create a small, but usable entrance. Light beamed through the scant opening to illuminate a rusty mud covered spiral staircase. This was our red carpet, trumpets sounded in my ears! Through matted hair and sweat my companions dirt smeared faces grinned at me, no doubt a reflection of my own. It had taken two nights but we'd finally passed the generator hall. Where were the save points?
(inside the beast)
The descent of the wheelpit has been likened by others to a journey into the depths of hell. Our headlamps valiantly fought the encroaching darkness, cutting wide shallow arcs that seemed to evaporate as quickly as they formed. The thick humidity lingered over us constantly and I could almost taste rust in my mouth. The jackhammers above shrunk to a dull monotonous clank to be overrun by the dripping of water. Like a vicious poison it seeps through the walls and over the past century bit deeply into every metal surface. We stood above an 8 story drop supported on a pestilence riddled skeleton of steel. Whole sheets of steel mesh had cracked and fallen to leave jagged rusty teeth which bite out indiscriminately.
(descending the wheelpit. capture by Stoop)
We descended about 6 levels passing reams of bright yellow caution tape, I think it read "I Dare You". At the base of a ladder bolted to the penstock we found a level which appeared to stretch the length of the hall. The vapor laden air impeded our vision and even the 3 million candle supertorch. The floor was constructed of metal I beams upon which sheets of thick mesh were laid to allow traversal. Devoured voraciously by the atmosphere the mesh hangs in various states of decay. Workers reinforced various sections with wooden planks but they do little to reassure anyone crossing this minefield. We peered through the gaping mouth like holes at the fetid water and the distorted metal shapes within it. Turbines, pipes and cogs poke through the water's surface like the ribcage of an ancient dinosaur partially exposed above the desert sands. There were no floors between us and the flooded wheelpit, we desperately hoped the tunnel access to be on this level.
(the flooded turbines. capture by Stoop)
Stoop tentatively began towards the upstream end of the powerstation across what I do not embellish in saying is surely the most dangerous floor I have ever seen. It's urbex nightmare material. With each step slabs of rusty metal broke free, fell for a brief moment then crashed loudly into the water. A fall from that height wouldn't kill unless one were skewered upon the assorted pungi rust sticks below. Stoop clambered across the edge of the walkway taking what scant purchase he could. I worked the other way from the ladder heading downstream into a sturdy concrete area. Every few moments I'd hear splashes as Stoop moved further away.
[worst floors ever. capture by Stoop]
At the downstream end of the station a once staunch iron door guarded a 7ft brick corridor. It sagged open lazily upon its hinges. Inside the corridor I was engulfed by a howling wind pulling me in. The corridor opened into a tall arched chamber along whose upstream edge ran an 80cm slot cordoned off by a rusting metal guard rail. I pushed lightly on the guard rail and it snapped in my hand. A section of rail the length of my forearm clattered through the slot and banged against the insides. A brief silence was followed by a loud splash that knocked my jaw to the floor. Below was the monster.
With us we carried the hopes of our friends, who had stood upon the brink of the void above the roaring beast below and under-prepared walked away. Through the hazy the narrow slot yielded a glimpse of ankle deep water rushing past and the echoing crash of the falls. I buzzed inside like never before. My wang could have doubled as a taser.
All celebrations yielded to business as we prepared for our rappel. Stoop whipped out the drill like a gunslinger and went to work. The first anchor was bolted slightly shallow which rendered it unsafe. An anchor not flush mounted to the surface will improperly load. Jondoe muttered uneasily as Stoop drilled the remaining two anchors marginally deeper. The Brits finger primed the holes, eased in the virgin bolts, then punched them home with a hammer.
(drilling the first anchor)
Resident SRT expert Jondoe set the ropes and I checked and dressed the knots. We bunny eared the anchors then tied the tail to the only backup we had - the rusty base of the guard rail. The base seemed somewhat sturdy and we straight Mr T'd it without any breakage. With a glowing confidence we examined our handiwork. Our single rope access to the tunnel was literally a lifeline. The only other exit from the tunnel is to brave a plunge into the backside of the falls. The anchors or rope failing were not an option.
(tying the backup anchor)
Stoop demanded to go first as he was most experienced with a mid-rope change over (descending to ascending) so if things went bad he could come straight back up. He donned the harness and slid over the edge. The rope drew tight, creaked softly and held. I looked down at the tiny silver plates bolted into the concrete and smiled, brilliant. Stoop's headlamp was engulfed by the hazy abyss. A few tense moments later a great whooping and cheering echoed up the slot. His maglite beamed towards us victoriously. I jumped into the harness, breathed deeply and succumbed to the beast. Jondoe followed quickly thereafter.
Affixed to the spot we stood with mouths agape like a line of circus clowns. I felt like a tomb raider standing in a hallowed place none has stood for the longest time. The attention to detail present in such an isolated place is a testament to the construction ethic of generations past. Rough cut granite blocks trimmed the edge of the tunnel downstream of the slot running part-circumference of the tunnel. Their blue grey colour and rugged texture contrasted the smooth redbrick construction of the tunnel itself. Just upstream from our position was the underwater outlet of the subtunnel which joins the tailrace to the turbine exhausts (see diagram top).
(the left hand tailrace before the junction)
Moving downstream large sections of the ceiling littered the tunnel floor in shards of brick and mortar. This ominous sign concerned us until we saw the falls and all was forgotten. The coloured spotlights on the bank shone through the thick waterfall in a mesmerising rainbow like display. Over the years the mouth of the tunnel has filled with eroded rock creating a picturesque lake the end of the tunnel. A kaleidoscope of colours dance across its surface and* the sirens beckoned. We could only oblige. The chilly water crept slowly up our bodies as we inched along the very edge of the tunnel probing with our toes for any sudden drops. The roar grew louder and filled our ears as the falls loomed ominously above us.
From the nipple-deep lake we scrambled onto the pile of rocks and rubble at the tunnel mouth. I stood tall in the maelstrom of water and wind, like a fucking kungfu master weathering the storm upon the mountain top. I was Pei Mei. I was Milamber of the Assembly. The water pelted me from all sides stinging my naked torso. Gusts of furious wind battered me to and fro inside this elemental cauldron. I yelled in unashamed triumph from the depths of my chest for every drop of Niagara's sweet bukkake that stung my face and trickled down my cheeks. A very primal instinct exists in this place.
(Stoop right behind the waterfall. photo by Jon Doe)
Stoop returned to the rock pile to get some extra footage when suddenly the sound of crashing rocks filled the tunnel. Something began to collapse at the falls. This colossal tumbling and breaking drowned even the sound of the falls and reverberated throughout the tunnel. Stoop frantically scrambled down the rock pile and leapt into the water. If the rock wall collapsed all the water backed up in the tunnel would suck us over the falls. JD and Stoop pushed valiantly through the water making little progress. It appeared to be composed of molasses they moved so slowly. They were pale faced and exhausted; shivering, shaking and breathing hard.
(getting fresh with niagara. capture by Stoop)
The junction is an immense underground space, I've never been anywhere like it. Again the details are striking - acutely angled steel plates layer over the brick wedge where the tunnels merge. Metal supports hang from the ceiling which appear to have originally suspended a walkway. Consider for a moment the men a century ago who man have walked above the surging waters of the tailrace.
Jondoe scooted up through the slot and left me under the instruction of Stoop for the awkward art of ascending. We snapped a charlie's angels type shot, stowed and stashed our gear, bid the tunnel goodbye and began the ascent. All traces of our visit were removed and at 0330 we slipped quietly out of the powerstation.
straight faggin charlie's angels got nothing
I've little left to say really - Stoop and JonDoe are hardcore, organised and dedicated. With any one of us absent the trip may never have happened. We had a rough plan, and good info from Kowalski and Siologen. We chose to go it alone without any of the locals which caused some friction but overall made the adventure more exciting and well, adventurous. We wanted the full Confluence experience without a guide and got it.
The tailrace is the most incredible underground space I've ever seen. As we left the building we relaxed enough to let go out supervillain fantasies of reclining within a dim candle lit chamber behind the waterfall upon a throne of massive dinosaur bones directing global armies of zombie fetuses to attack school buses and steal gold bullion, all while I downing mouthfuls of embalming fluid from a platinum chalice. Any supervillain of suitably ill repute would be proud to call it home. I hope we did it justice.
Re: DIY Guide: Your own Supervillain Hideout aka tailrace tunnel of Niagara - REPORT
Originally Posted by dan_the_v8man
that is quite amazing to say the least
wonder if the tunnel is getting erroded away like the stone or maybe the brick work is standing up to it, maybe possible if they used a good engineering brick, which you'd imagine is what they use to line tunnels
The last 200ft of the tunnel is in fact made out of concrete. It was designed to easily erode with the falls itself, which at the time in 1906 was about 10ft a year. It's a lot less now because of the reduction in the volume going over the falls from the hydro plants.
As the falls have eroded it has built a small shelf of back filled rubble at the exit. This meant it was great to stand on without fear of being pushed over the edge but did mean we had to swim out to it in 6ft of icy cold water.
While I was standing on the edge being pounded by the water huge rocks could suddenly be heard crashing very close to us. This is all captured on the video which I'm editing at the moment.