Anything Goes

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Rochester, Underground

It seems like I have the most exploring success when I try the least. Right as I was ready to stop putting any effort into it at least until after Christmas and bonus time, I heard from a TV producer who was thinking of including me in his show. Of course technical difficulties got the better of us for a while, and a video chat and photo slideshow turned into a phone call, but it seemed promising. Then the next day I got a very frightening email saying that they wanted to see a sample of a 10-minute documentary by the end of the week (!) and weren’t in any hurry to answer my questions clarifying it. Having never shot video before, and being at work for almost all of the daylight hours, I knew I was probably screwed. Eventually I found out I got that message in error, and they didn’t actually need me at all anymore.

During that confusion I made a frantic plan to explore the mental hospital again, even though I thought I’d never go back after having one great chance, so I met up with Casey and one of his friends there. This time, Hell’s Hundred Meters got the better of us, as a security guard (who didn’t even work there a few days earlier, and was borrowed from a nearby apartment complex) stopped us and sent us on our way, just as we were about to climb into the wide open window.

We didn’t do much better at the old church on West Main, only this time it was a relentlessly nosy neighbor who circled the property at least six times while we looked for a way in, which there wasn’t one of anyway.

The next day, I made it to the drains at least, showing some people around the tunnels on a frigid December night before we went for garbage plates. There was a suspiciously placed cop at Maplewood, and it just snowed so we would have had to make a lot of noise and/or waste a lot of time trying to make the cover budge. We settled for the “Motivator” drain instead – we really need to go back and see what’s beyond the river of shit sometime. I didn’t bother to take any pictures, but drains don’t really change from one time to the next anyway.

Finally, last night we got out again, and made it into the deep drains. Even after a few times there, it’s still an amazing experience. The thought of being over 100 feet underground and miles from the nearest exit is one thing, but then there’s the tremendous echo (almost a minute in some parts of the tunnel), the pitch blackness, and the sound of being in the city’s vena cava, a slow and steady flow of a buried river, directly below the Genesee.

The scale of this place is such that I doubt any explorers have even been to the end. Just on the most direct main route, there are about 11 miles of tunnel, from the airport to Durand-Eastman park. Most of the distance, however, is in a network of branches that cover downtown and the entire west side, and being less prone to overflow, have gathered deep, putrid mud. Making matters worse, there is only one entrance and exit to the system, most of the ways out consisting of one of these: a dead end with no way up, and a sheer, dripping 100 foot rise up to ground level.

It’s just the ending I want for a year like 2014 though. Far from the dismal failure I expected, I made it to 50 locations, and even made a few exploring friends, admittedly not as many as I lost, but such is the life of the hopelessly inept.

The Mountain Wins Again

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Concrete, North Country, Outdoors

I woke up the next morning to Jake shaking my tent, reminding me that we had a lot of climbing to do. Everything about the day was odd, from the unsettling rain coming back over the pond, to the sudden gravity of what was about to happen (after I’d already given up on it once just two weeks ago, I was actually on my way to #46?!), to an uneasy feeling of confused, incompetent leadership. I’m not one to value experience much when it comes to exploring, but the facts were there, I’d climbed more peaks than the entire rest of the group combined, and done it all in such unorthodox and epic ways, not to mention having spent so many summers in the Adirondacks, that they started looking to me, like it or not, as a knower-of-things.

We cleaned up as quickly as we could and went to Tupper Lake looking for breakfast, something of a lost cause on a Sunday morning in September with all the touristy places closed for the season and all the local places still closing Sundays in a town that size, so we ended up at the McDonalds in lower town, and then the Save-A-Lot next door for trail food. No one believed me at first just how much of said trail food (not to mention water, none of us had really brought containers appropriate for a 24-mile hike) we might need, but eventually we left with enough for a day on the trail, and the Adirondack skies cleared into that wonderful bluebird blue, and we were on our way to the Upper Works Trailhead!

Little did we know that that would be just the very beginning of our adventure. A few miles out of Long Lake on route 30, at least an hour and a half drive from Canada (and facing in the opposite direction, no less), we came across a border patrol checkpoint. They let half of us through right away, but our other car was behind us, and never followed us out of there. After about 15 minutes waiting on the side of the highway, we decided to go back and see what happened, and of course they were still stuck at the checkpoint. We told the Feds that these were our friends, and what was going on?, and they asked us to go back through the checkpoint then we could wait for them.

Of course it wasn’t so easy to get through this time. They had a drug dog looking for, and unsurprisingly possibly smelling, contraband, and just like that, we were stuck on the side of the 30 too, waiting for them to finish processing our friends! Luckily, they were rather helpful, having much bigger fish to fry than a bowl or two, which we had the opportunity to toss into the lake to just sting a little, and save everyone the paperwork. But the entire scene must have looked so suspicious – camping gear, cameras, gas masks, a bunch of mostly college kids wandering around (and Allen, of all peaks to claim to be going to – did we not even research our alibis?) While they searched us, of course, the other car left, not realizing we’d come back for them, and wanting to get as far from the checkpoint as possible, so by now we were in quite the hurry too, trying to get back with our friends AND escape without any tickets.

Did I mention these cops were the very model of Super Troopers? They apprehended us, and searched us, in the most farcical, condescending manner one could imagine, either making light work of us since we weren’t what they were looking for, just a few violations at most, or perhaps hoping to disarm us with humor and make us reveal something, even though we had no more to show. One of them insisted, all through this, that I was tripping, shroomy or both. I could hardly imagine going through that experience on mushrooms… although I really could have used some once we got out of there!

We went on all the way to Upper Works not entirely sure if the other car was following ahead of us at all, or if they’d gotten lost, or given up altogether (consisting of mostly non-climbers to begin with). The way to get there isn’t exactly intuitive either, involving a few county roads and a notable lack of signage at every important turn. Somehow, miraculously, they showed up at the exact trailhead, only about 30 seconds behind us! We were almost ready to go on without them too, it just seemed impossible that someone who had never been would find this place… so we had a huddle, after losing two hours to the Super Troopers, about what we should do, and decided that some of us would attempt Allen, and everyone else, a carload of people, could climb the much shorter Mt Adams, which, mind you, were the only two destinations possible from this trailhead, but a more or less perfect fit.

We started hiking in surprisingly cooperative weather, an easy, mostly flat logging road to the Allen/Adams split, where we took a group shot before we went our separate ways.

Getting to the base of Allen, climbing it aside, is quite an adventure in its own right. Just like finding the trailhead, there is an extraordinary absence of signs, not the least bit helpful to us when the climb was such a last minute decision we didn’t even think to bring a map! We guessed our way through bush roads and cairns and finally found the hand painted “ALLEN” sign that leads to another trail register and the start of the SECOND approach to Allen. Yes, really. After 6 miles, there is literally another trailhead to let you know you are STILL just beginning.

Seeing this, and realizing that #46 would be an epic on its own, even just being one peak, I started having some serious second thoughts of going any farther. I think I was sending all sorts of mixed messages to Hayden and Jake at this point. I didn’t know if I wanted to climb it, and I didn’t know if I could climb it — well, I knew I could (although I’d read more than enough about the “red slime” to be psyched out about the slides at the top) but it wouldn’t be nearly as quickly as two ex-cross-country-runners could manage it, and time was starting to become of the essence, as the distance to the peak went from long to simply incredible! And here I was, almost within reach of #46. Almost within reach of something that it had taken me only 11 days to go from promising I would never do until Christian came back east, to just as suddenly betraying my best friend of ten years, with whom (or at least, attempting to be with whom, as you might have noticed from my recent writings) I’d climbed nearly all of the first 45. Needless to say, around mile 11 or so, as the climbing got steep, I got to be a real mess, struggling disastrously to keep up with a much more athletic group, while intensely questioning whether I should be doing so at all, whether it was even right for me to go to #46.

It became a moot point after a while, as I let them get too far ahead to ever catch up with, and for some reason I kept going through the motions of the climb (probably the half of my brain that wanted #46 in the first place), making it to about 3900 feet before meeting up with them again in the opposite direction, coming back from a more successful, less dubious battle with the Bastard Peak. This settled it, even though I really already knew: I would be a 45er, and I would be a 45er for quite a while, probably.

Deflated and confused, that first mile off the mountain was far more of a struggle than it should have been, and this time I was legitimately slow, and not even sandbagging at all. I had already lost, or won, or whatever you wanted to call it. A physical defeat, a moral victory, a failure on the same levels as it was a success. But existential messes aside, the fact remained that it was getting dark, and we were still 9½ miles from the car. Or something like that, from what I remembered of reading the one ambiguous page in the Adirondack guidebook that described it, in insufficient detail so to preserve the mystery of the 46ers’ just dessert, the one everyone rightfully saves for last.

As soon as we lost the sun, we gained the rain — pouring, thundering sheets of it.

Finally, I was in my element. This was the kind of hike that I was meant for, the kind of struggle that got me and Christian to 45 in the first place!

I think this is something that one would have to experience at least once to understand, but once things get this hairy, when it’s just you, one or two friends, and the dark, wild mountains, there is something transcendent about it. The closest I’ve ever managed to come to describing it, and this doesn’t even do it justice, is that we become part of the forest, that we are transformed, for as long as we need to be, into wild humans. It’s not precisely the savagery that would come with a survival situation; not an adversarial feeling at all, but a feeling of belonging there, of it being a natural thing to do to hike for 20, 30, 40 miles at a time. Or maybe I’m just some kind of freak, and those of you who know what I’m talking about are too.

Anyway, the climb up felt so intensely wrong, but the endless, logically miserable slog through the mud was completely right, and whatever is wrong with me that it was exactly where I wanted to be? They wanted to get out, of course, and on a purely rational level so did I: I had work at 8:30, less than 12 hours away, and I’m still in the mountains! But I enjoyed every minute of that hike out, and even started going faster and faster (see, it wasn’t bullshit when I said I do my best 12+ hours into a hike… that’s just my normal, when I do it, I do it “right”)

And that was that, I’d managed to save two of my friends from ever having to climb Allen again, and here I am, still a 45er. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever go back for #46. The mountain made it vastly, abundantly clear that I shouldn’t — if the Ledge wasn’t a sign, if the Super Troopers weren’t a sign, if the struggle halfway up Allen wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what else I missed.

I’ll admit, I sandbagged this one. Whether out of self-doubt, or moral obligation, or both, I didn’t give it my 100% when I probably could have made it to the top. We all probably could have together, if we didn’t get stopped by the cops and had more time on the way up, and just a tiny bit less of a hurry. Someone, somewhere, will judge me for what happened on that mountain. I’m not even sure I did the right thing. I’m not sure if, or when, I’ll ever climb again — even less sure I ever want to go back to Allen. What matters the most though is we all went looking for adventure, and that’s exactly what we found.

Sunset Mills

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

We continued on to the North Country, a merry band of adventurers, overwhelming the Five Guys in Watertown for dinner and soon wandering along route 3 to Deferiet. This place has been something of a curse for me: it’s my fifth time there, and I’ve never once gotten to it more than an hour before sunset, so I’ve always seen little bits and pieces of it at a time. This time was no different, getting there almost too late to matter. But I wasn’t about to let all those gas masks we bought go to waste, and there was already question of whether we’d explore the next day or climb something, so into the toxic mess we’d go even if we couldn’t see it all.

The Newstech company, the last users of the mill, left abruptly in 2004, taking the village of Deferiet down with them. Out of 600 or so residents, a vast majority of working-age villagers worked in the mill, along with hundreds of others from neighboring towns and the city of Watertown. Ten years after closing, only about half of the village’s houses are even occupied, with no retail to speak of, and an abandoned post office, firehouse and credit union bordering the mill. Deferiet did, however, have one last literal blaze of glory on November 29, 2009, when Fort Drum tested a few bunker-buster type bombs on parts of the complex, leaving massive craters of twisted steel and burned concrete next to more or less intact buildings, presumably a successful demonstration of the surgical precision the Army boasted on these bombs.

The offices didn’t do so well around water. The mold and mildew here are extreme, despite only having been closed for 10 years, and the offices even being somewhat operational through most of that time in search of new buyers or developers.

BOOM!

We only got very slightly into the rest of the building before it (of course) got dark on us…

So we continued on from there to our camp at Paul Bunyan pond in a slightly unsettling rain which stopped just in time to set up camp. By the fire, with some liquid wisdom coursing through us, we confirmed a very, very bad idea: we would climb Mt Allen tomorrow after all, the most difficult of the High Peaks, and the 46th and last of my Adirondack adventure…

Sweet Science

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

This was one of those rare times that everything just happened to work out. It was unlikely enough that we managed to save the North Country trip at all, even if it’s a few weeks early and none of the people I invited actually showed up, Hayden pulled it off and got not only the biggest meet in a few years, but a way to get there too, and off we were! After a few stops on the way to pick up food, beer and gas masks (mostly intended for the paper mills later on in the trip), we found our way to route 3. It took some convincing to even try, but the 9th Sesqui-Annual Semi-Cold Urbex Camping Extravaganza started off with a wild guess of a location, something I’d heard was abandoned, and huge, but didn’t know if there would even be a way into. To our surprise, despite looking more or less solid from the highway, an entire wall was missing from a botched or forgotten demolition, and just like that, we walked right into the former Nestlé chocolate factory.

At the time of its first closure in 2003, the property was the world’s largest, and America’s oldest, working candy factory, and its closure came as a shock to not only Fulton but the entire industry, as production moved to Europe and a few smaller facilities in the Southeast, as a cost cutting measure. Demolition started this spring, but came to a screeching halt under legal and financial pressure from the city of Fulton, with the property suffering from tax foreclosure and an unforeseen asbestos problem. Unable to break ground on time, Aldi nullified their purchase of the factory, and now it sits in typical abandonment limbo, with no definite plans and nebulous, or no, ownership, and none of the potential owners wanting anything to do with it.

Immediately after entering, we realized we were onto something: not only had no one explored this place yet, but there wasn’t even much graffiti, and the smashy people barely even had a chance at it, except for the gaping demolition wounds.

Not to say it was pristine: much of the machinery was sold at auction, and what remains are the unsold lots, auction tags still hanging off, or the units simply too heavy to move or unsuited for any other location.

I think these were packing lines of some type, filling hundreds of bags (or bottles?) of product at a time through the grid of nozzles.

Nobody bothered to clean up on the last day of work. Some of the floors are covered in a thick, noisy layer of sugar syrup!

The scale of this place is truly incredible. There are nine interconnected, multi-level factory buildings, not even counting the substantial part that they did manage to demolish over the summer.

It was enough of a maze that sometimes we went in circles without even realizing it.

Unnecessary, ironic gas mask selfie? (I imagine this place didn’t even stink, let alone was toxic, but I’d just directed everyone else to buy them thinking we were going to the massively toxic paper mills!)

This was signed as the “bean hall”. I can imagine there being ceiling-high piles of hundreds of tons of cacao beans here, waiting for processing into chocolate… it did appear though that the bean-counters had been through, as unlike the sugary residue around most of the place, the floor was swept thoroughly clean of the deliciously bitter fruit.

…And then we got into pulling each other around on danger carts.

Yet Another Building — we didn’t even have time to try this one I don’t think

For some reason we crossed this little minefield instead

and tried to get lunch in the employee cafeteria but the kitchen was closed

We hurried out of this place having seen maybe a third of it. There wasn’t much choice, we’d found far more than we’d ever planned for, and we were barely even on our way to the North Country!

Holy Holy Holy

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Buffalo, Concrete, Religious

After the terminal, we continued on to a nearby, reliably open church. Sacred Heart served the Catholic community for most of the century, before ending its useful life as an evangelical church, a pattern that seems to happen often in decaying cities.

Despite being almost completely emptied out, or perhaps because of it, the cavernous sanctuary hasn’t lost its mystique

…Even though someone took out all the pews, and left all the seat cushions

We tried to go on into the convent, but on a hot summer day, the reeking jugs of bum piss and holy, holy, holy shit (seriously — look at my photos from last time) were just too much, even with gas masks… not that there was ever much to see in that part of the church, even without the risk of stepping on and letting another of those burst!

Our adventure ended at the Scajaquada drain, which, unsurprisingly with all the rain in the last few days, was much more watery than we wanted anything to do with today. Not that it really mattered, that just means more places to go once we get the Concrete Collective back together!

Buffalo Will See It Through

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Buffalo, Concrete, Railroads

One of the best things about going with new explorers is, you can be at a place for the 10th time and it’s still an adventure, there’s still more to it than going through the motions and taking the same photos over again. So here I was, back at Buffalo Central, and maybe things changed, maybe not…

At least there’s some new art to take in… seems like Buffalo’s graffiti scene is finally taking off!

This part here is the departure hall, separated by the tracks and a now missing bridge from the rest of the grand concourse (not included here since it takes a tour to see!)

Even the freight warehouses were interesting this time…