GES185 - Rankine Tunnel, Canada
I wasn't aware of this tunnel, only of it's neighbour that emerges behind the falls. It was mentioned by a Canadian explorer I bumped into in London. A bit of back up research, and all looked possible. It rose to become one of the potential highlights of the trip, but also one i was rather nervous about. Mainly due to it's location, right next to a busy border crossing, and beneath the visitor centre for the Canadian side of the falls.
The plan was to arrive in Niagara Falls the night before, and then rise early to get in before the town woke up. Plans are great things to have, but in this game, rarely work out as envisioned. We ended up leaving Pittsburgh around 9pm, and then I floored it up north on Interstate 79. I was tired from the outset, so this was going to be tough. I made the first 100 miles, and then we pulled over at a diner to grab some human fuel. We also had some sickly sugary strawberry lemonade drinks with free refills. In retrospect, a bad option, as they just dehydrated me even more. We left Erie behind, and hit Interstate 90, a road I know very well. It runs from Boston to Chicago, but I've mainly travelled various sections from Boston to Buffalo in the past.
Tired and sleepy, we arrived at the US border sometime after midnight, and sailed through, crossing the Rainbow bridge, and seeing our target somewhere below. We drove randomly to a residential area, and parked up. It wasn't long before we were both asleep in our seats. Cruelly, a few hours later at 5am, we woke, and set off on a mission impossible. To try to find a garage that was open, harder than you might think, as the satnav took us to a number that were closed or had closed down completely. Eventually we parked up near the falls, and looked into working out how to pay the car park fee with no local currency. GE074's credit card came to the rescue.
We set off towards the falls, and dropped down towards the Niagra River, dodging cameras and such like as we went. There was little cover, so it was somewhat precarious. I had visions of being spotted from the American side, but we were fine. A mesh fence surrounded the building in the picture below, but unfortunately they hadn't secured it to anything at one end, so it was ridiculously easy to circumnavigate. We then got onto the roof of the decommissioned power station, and found a spot to change into our waders. The Rainbow bridge is in the background here, and the American falls off to the right.
The main falls beyond, along the top of the old power stations roof. The adrenaline was flowing nicely at this point, would we be spotted from above, or the other side?
GE074 flying the flag for Britain with his Tesco bag, while my waders sit in a nice Hammersmith & Fulham recycling sack in a stealthy shade of orange! You can also see the debris scattered around, as people chuck or drop rubbish from above. There were a couple of cameras, handbags, brollies and such like littered about. Obviously a few of the locals were aware of this, as the battery & memory cards were missing from the smashed cameras, and the handbag was empty.
Getting down to the outfall meant a horrible decent down a steep slope of sharp slate and wet grass. Then a tricky navigation around to the access point. Note the level of the water by the tunnel mouth, as later on it was much higher. The horseshoe falls in the background.
Some teamwork, and we were inside the tunnel with all our gear. It was amazing to be here, and I had a big grin across my face. (This picture was actually taken at the end of the explore, and although not clear, the rivers level had risen by a foot to be almost level with the tunnel mouth's lip.)
The next problem was getting up to the main level of the tunnel, which involved navigating the 'very' slippery slope below. I was pretty nervous, as i'd done a tapdance like routine at the mouth of the tunnel already, and managed to stay on my feet. I quite literally inched my way up the slope. GE074 tried to walk up the side and slipped near the top of the slope, and ottered (draining term for falling in a watery tunnel/culvert) his way down the slope towards the river. My face was gripped with fear as he shot away from me. Thank fully he managed to stop just before the lip. He then crawled up the slope to join me. The throat of the beast.
Top of the slope, and all sorted out, we set off into the tunnel. Note the large bricks.
Turning around, we were faced with a normal size brick tunnel. An amazing construction feat. It made the outfall of the Fleet back in London seem tiny. The flow was tiny, barely 5cms deep.
As we disappeared down the tunnel, the natural morning light diminished. Our torches picking out features ahead in the darkness.
The tunnel clearly showed signs of lack of maintenance. Bricks were crumbling everywhere, from the walls and the ceiling. One can see debris in the photo below. The left wall has lost a complete layer of bricks. This photo is looking back to the outfall, the large smooth arch marking the beginning of the outfall tunnel. Behind was an area below the power plant, where the water flowed through the turbines.
Moving deeper into the area below the power plant, huge pipes sat in the walls, the potential volume of water that could be released unnerved me somewhat. Depending on your screen's brightness, you can see the roof if flat and girders run across.
Turning 180 degrees from the pic above, one was faced with this amazing sight. Two huge pipes dropped from the ceiling, and beyond them, two lower super huge pipes. Their gaping mouths capable of discharging huge amounts of water. A chill rose though my being, as the thought of how much water could potentially charge through here took hold. No wonder the walls are pretty screwed, with the amount of water that must have come through here. Behind the first pipe, you can see a walkway just below the ceiling.
Looking back towards the outfall from behind the first of the ceiling pipes.
The second of the 'smaller' ceiling pipes, complemented on the sides by more similar sized pipes. In the background the first of two, possibly 3, large mouth pipes. Unfortunately as GE074 quickly found out, the water level got much deeper after the second pipe above.
Having reached as far down the tunnel as we could, we turned around and headed back. It was then the fun and games of descending the slope to the outfall's mouth.
We chose the same methods we used to ascend, and made it ok. However what we weren't expecting was the level of the river to rise, almost reaching the mouth. Looking out the water looked quite threatening. GE074 hopped off, and I passed his and my bag. He received a gentle soaking. Luckily, being taller, I managed to escape that, as i precariously jumped off to the side. We sorted ourselves, and set off to climb back up the horrible slope of sharp slate and slippery grass. As we were halfway up, GE074 pointed back behind us. There were 3 guys all wearing thick yellow waterproofs. Luckily they were looking towards the falls. We scrambled a little faster and quickly got back to some cover. Changing and then looking to try to not look suspicious as we headed off into the morning rush of tourists.
Thanks to GE074.