Discovering a New Drain

As we cautiously moved forward into the darkness I stopped my buddy and pointed ahead; a section where the weight of the buildings and earth above us had partially crushed the steel pipe in which we found ourselves. Not dissuaded, but much more cautious, we continued deeper into the Sandy Freeway.

Since my last explore in April a lot has changed in the world. The spread of the COVID19 Carona virus, and the subsequent withdrawal of society, made going out on mundane excursions feel like an urban explore – deserted streets, abandoned shops and an overwhelming feeling of stillness gave the streets of my hometown an eairy feeling. As the days stretched into weeks and then months I began to become acquainted with the new normal, and it wasn’t long before I began planning my next explore. Besides, what better way to practice social distancing then by retreating into the city’s storm drains where it was almost guaranteed to be devoid of other humans.

An accidental discovery

My latest explore, which I am titling the ‘Sandy Freeway’ (the reason for this name will become clear later in the post) was one I discovered purely by accident. While my first two drains were well documented and a sort of “worst-kept secret” this drain was one I discovered purely by chance, making it all the more exciting. While walking to lunch with a friend one day, we found ourselves following a popular walking trail which surrounds a sort of bog. during our walk, I couldn’t help but notice a 12-1300mm drain which outflowed into the creek and I found myself wondering where it led. Over the next few days I consulted city maps and came to a pretty decent conclusion of where the drain might run – it was time for a little on-scene recon work!

I headed out to another local creek where I suspected the drain might originate and was rewarded for my efforts by glimpsing a huge opening, probably about 6′ in size! This was definitely the entrance I was looking for! Barely able to contain my excitement, I snapped a couple of pictures and headed home to try and convince one of my equally crazy friends to join me on another underground escapade.

The entrance to this drain was big

Sadly life, work and scheduling conflicts would intervene and it would be more then a week before I was able to get back to the new drain, but finally a holiday Monday arrived and the scheduling gods would smile down and my buddy and I were able to make an attempt at an entrance.

A failed first attempt

Just after 9am we donned our boots and slipped into the creek. Despite the area being a reasonably popular walking trail, there were no people in site, besides, my previous escapades had helped to bolster my confidence that even if there were walkers about, our vests and hard hats would provide sufficient cover to avoid any questions. The entrance to the drain was covered by a large metal grate, which as it turns out, could be moved and slipped around fairly easily. The first few steps into the darkness would be as far as we managed on this trip though, as I quickly discovered the water level was much higher then anticipated.

With neither of us being particularly fond of soaking wet feet we decided to head back home and get some more appropriate footwear for this particular trip. I looked longingly into the darkness, crossing my fingers that we would be back later that day to continue our sub-subterranean adventuring.

One lunch and two set’s of hip-waders later we found ourselves knee deep in creek water and slish-sloshing our way into inky blackness ahead. The waders were definitely the right call!

Two things immediately struck me about this drain – first of all, like the Douglas Darkie this entrance was made of metal pipe, and the inside of it was coated by a similar tar-like substance. As both drains were in the same municipality, I began to suspect that this would be a recurring theme with steel drains in the area. The other thing that struck me was the sheer lack of graffiti, or really any example of human presence. Near the entrance, I spied two tags, but the rest of our journey would be utterly devoid of any of the colorful tags or artwork that adorned the walls of the Douglas Darkie and Hall of Wonders. This was some uncharted territory and I was excited.

The First Chamber

As we crept through the darkness of the tunnel, the light from the entrance fading behind us, we encountered our first anomaly – a concrete chamber in-front of us, marked by a chain stretching across the entrance. Having read stories online about drains with sheer drops, I immediately stopped; wondering if this chain signified something similar. I crept towards the wall, and slowly, carefully ducked underneath the chain and inch by inch, ready to pull myself back at a moment’s notice, crept forward into the chamber. After spending some time feeling around, I determined there was no drop-off and that it was probably safe to continue. The chamber itself was unremarkable, one manhole up above, and the walk-able, steel pipe continuing at a 45 degree angle to our right, the start of which was marked by another chain. We ducked under the chain and continued onward into the blackness.

The first chamber; marked by a chain

While the next section of pipe was likely the same size as the first, it certainly didn’t feel like it. Over the years, the stream had deposited so much sediment along the bottom that we were probably walking on about 6-12″ of hard packed sand, in places I even needed to crouch to fit though the 6′ pipe. After a few minutes found ourselves something else unexpected – the top of the pipe had been crushed inward, presumably by the weight of the roads and buildings above us. We cautiously crawled through the crushed section, hoping that it wouldn’t decide to take this moment to collapse further.

Parts of this drain were badly crushed

After what seemed like an eternity of walking in a straight line I began to hear the sound of falling water, and it was not long before we found ourselves in a second underground chamber.

The Second Chamber

Like the first chamber, this one was also marked by a chain across the entrance. I still exercised caution as I crept forward, but after my experience in the first chamber I suspected there would be no unexpected dropoffs here. This chamber was larger then the first, with the 6′ pipe continuing on our right at a 90 degree angle, and a waterfall directly in front of us. Above us was a manhole; which, like the first manhole in the Douglas Darkie, had a rope tied to the ladder. After walking the route of the drain above ground afterwards and identifying the location of this manhole, I am starting to suspect that some drainer long before us had helpfully marked some of the “safe to exit” points.

A rope marking a safe manhole

At the top of the waterfall was another, much smaller pipe which my buddy and I agreed needed to be explored on the way back, but for now we wanted to continue down the main tunnel to see where it would lead!

The second chamber with a small waterfall

Like the first two sections, the next section was constructed of corrugated steal and coated in a tar-like substance. Our journey along this section was mostly unremarkable, except for what again, was a large amount of sediment deposited along the bottom. In some parts, we even found sediment islands, where you could crouch entirely outside of the water flowing around. This section of pipe seemed to continue on forever, but after looking at my watch was in reality only about 7 minutes. I was surprised at how little time had gone by and how my perception of time was totally screwed up by being underground.

End of the Line

Eventually, we came to another concrete chamber, this one being quite a bit more exciting then the first two. Directly in front of us, the steel pipe came to an end and the chamber curved to the left. The camber then split into two parallel concrete sections, both of which went who knows where.

A fork in the road

We crept into the first fork and were disappointed to find it was rather short, maybe 50′ in length. The concrete section ended in a much smaller steel pipe – one that at one time was probably about 4′ in height, but was now only half that owing, to the amount of sediment deposited along the bottom. We backtracked, and followed the second fork only to find the same thing. With neither of us particularly fond of the idea of crawling an unknown distance, we decided to cut this section of the explore short and head back to the waterfall. I made a mental note to bring a laser pointer during the next explore, which might be able to give an idea of how long dark sections of pipe were.

End of the line – it was too small to continue

10 minutes later we found our selves back at the second chamber and clamoring up the waterfall to see what lay before us.

We found an approximately 4.5′ section of steel pipe which continued forward, but gently curved to the left. I hunched my shoulders and began marching forward into the blackness.

Our Great Escape

5 min of steady walking brought us to another chamber, once again marked by chains. This chamber was much smaller then the others, and was just barely tall enough to allow me to stand upright; something I took full advantage of. The pipe split into two forks ahead of us – one 3 ft pipe to the right, and a second 4 ft pipe to the left. Not relishing the idea of crawling; we decided to take the left fork.

To the left a 4′ pipe – to the right a 3′ pipe

By this time, I was starting to suspect we were getting close to an entrance; The air was easier to breath, there were more large rocks along the ground and occasionally I could even feel a breeze. It wasn’t long before my suspicions were confirmed, and a faint light at the end of this tunnel could be observed.

Crawling through the 4′ pipe

We crashed our way out of the pipe, and stood, blinking in the afternoon sunlight, knee deep in a creek. I looked around and realized, I had no earthly idea of where we were!

Where we found ourselves upon exiting

Getting out of this creek was… interesting. It was a fairly steep climb on either side, and the tangle of blackberry bushes, trees and other vegetation made it difficult to blaze a trial. After a couple of false starts, a ton of bushwhacking, and a couple of blackberry pricks we crashed, with all the grace of an elephant running from a mouse, out of the bushes onto a residential street. The looks we got from a couple of passing pedestrians was hilarious, god only knows what they thought of the pair of us.

As we changed out of our waders I managed to get my bearings and realized we were only about a 5 min walk from my buddy’s place. While underground we had crossed beneath a major highway, and emerged in a residential area on the other side. This meant that my original theory about the origin of the drain I spied all those weeks ago was wrong – and there was still another drain in the area to explore!

At this point though, we were tired and wet so decided to call it a day. I decided to name this drain the “Sandy Freeway” on account of all the sediment and it’s proximity to the highway. Despite the disappointment of not being able to explore the whole thing I felt the day was a success, and knowing there was still another section, likely further along the creek we left from, meant there was more to do another day.

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