February 2, 2002

- Action Squad: Max Action, Slim Jim, Tourettes, & Martian
- THC (The Hippie Climbers):
Hulk & Holy Christ
- Guests:
Tyler & Stewey


We had a huge flippin' crew the night we headed underground determined to set foot on the ground at the bottom of the mystery freight elevator shaft. Slim Jim and I were the only core Action Squad members out of the eight people involved. Tourettes and Martian were friends of mine; both had climbing experience. Martian had been waiting to take part for literally years, but this was the first time it had worked out.

Hulk & Holy Christ were hardcore climber friends of Martian, who'd we'd brought in as expert consultants. As far as hippies went, they were pretty cool; not at all your standard boring-shitty-music-loving-sit-on-the-couch-and-stink variety. Decent guys. And that is a high compliment from a guy who regularly uses "hippie" as a generic insult.

Tyler and Stewey were a couple of guys who had pieced together clues from the Action Squad website and a post Slim Jim had sent to an underground mailing list, and discovered one of our routes into a part of the system. We'd bumped into Stewey underground while going in with the climbers on a scouting trip a week before the actual mission, and, being one heck of a guy, I invited him to tag along and see the shaft. Stewey and his friends had been in some parts of the sewers and the power / gas tunnels beneath Saint Paul. We introduced him to the Twin Cities Rapid Transit tunnels and the Wabasha Bridge tunnels and bridge rooms, as well as, obviously, the convoluted routes to get there. Since he'd come along on the scouting trip, we politely invited him and the leader of his nascent exploring crew, "Tyler," to come along on the actual trip the following Saturday.

So the eight of us made our way in to the elevator shaft without incident, where Hulk and Holy Christ set to work determining anchor points and equipment needs. We finally settled on 2 anchor points: we wedged a handful of aluminum pipes across the mouth of the entry to the hallway, and also wrapped the nylon webbing around the sewer pipe back in the tunnel. As a backup, Tyler anchored the pipes even more solidly by tying them tightly to an exposed girder over in the collapsed subbasement. Soon, the ropes were in place and Hulk was ready to go down, using a carbiner and a belay device attached to his harness. "Get a picture of this," he said calmly, and jumped out into the void backwards. I barely had time to point and shoot, so quickly did he shoot down the shaft to the bottom.



There was a moment of tension. Was anything down there? I steeled myself for disappointment ... but I knew that if the exit at the bottom was buried, we'd be down there with shovels. There would be no getting skunked on this mission. "Anything down there?" I called down.

Expectant silence while he trained his headlamp at something directly beneath us.

"Heeeeeeeeell yeah! There's some huge caves down here! You're not gonna believe this shit!" Hulk shouted back up, and my spirits soared like a little gay birdie.

He returned to the top of the shaft to make sure this was doable, and he and Holy Christ explained how to control one's descent to the rest of us. Holy Christ rappelled down next to help people at the bottom, while I got geared up in a harness and hooked into the rope. The 3 minutes of training plus the rig that THC had arranged were enough to get me safely and easily to the bottom, clumsily trying to bounce out from the wall and drop between jumps.

At the bottom, I slid down the pile of loose rubble, and beheld what I knew were the Cobb Caves; large, voluminous caves carved from the naked sandstone. I unhooked from the rope, and walked into the caves.

Before me, the sandy floor held not a single human footprint. I'm still not clear exactly how many decades ago the Cobb Caves river level entrance was sealed off, but it is almost certain that no one had seen the caves since that time. It was a simply awesome moment.

I gave a triumphant shout, and turned back to the elevator shaft, forcing myself to forgo extensive exploration until joined by Slim Jim and the others.

We soon discovered that the Cobb Caves consist of a massive main cave/tunnel, with two large caves branching off of one side, which were in turn connected toward the back by a comparatively small, 7-foot tunnel. The main tunnel was filled in with debris as it approached the cliff face, where it had once opened up at the base of the bluff along Shepherd Road.

We were able to crawl for 100 feet or so atop the sand and junk that had been bulldozed into the cave in order to seal it off, before the space was sealed off completely just inside the cliffline. A weird side tunnel led to a small closet-sized room, with a 3-inch pipe apparent connecting it to a sewage pipe or tunnel a couple feet away (judging by the sound and smell).



After we'd explored the caves thoroughly, it was time to get back up.

The atmosphere in the caves was perfect for the waiting involved when you have to send eight people up a 60-foot rope one at a time. I sat and enjoyed being in the caves, relishing how damned cool it was that I was there looking at them.

It didn't matter that they were not really extensive, or that they did not contain anything amazing. It was more than enough to realize just how amazing our journey had been. We'd traveled through five separate tunnel systems, twice using connections we'd created ourselves. We'd followed a route so unlikely, so convoluted, and so difficult that it seemed impossible to believe that anyone could would ever replicate it on their own.

We'd explored our way there, through the Labyrinth, without the benefit of maps, rumors, or any idea of what, if anything, we might find around the next corner. We'd hauled over a hundred pounds of gear deep into the earth, into the guts of a building that has not existed for decades, in order to drop down into an old manmade cave system that had lain buried, undisturbed, and almost totally forgotten for god knows how many years.

Perhaps you can understand why I more pleased to have explored the Cobb Caves than I had been in the past after exploring more extensive cave systems.

Anyway, eventually it was my turn to ascend. Martian strapped me into a harness, and Holy Christ instructed me in the use of the etrier, ascender, and self-belay device that I'd be using to get to the top. This basically involved going up step by step by pushing down on a canvas strap looped around my foot. It looked easy, but I've got to admit that I flailed around largely ineffectually for the first 50 feet or so of the shaft, before really getting the hang of the technique.

At the top of the elevator shaft, the climbers packed up their gear, and Jim and I led the gang back out through the Labyrinth to the surface. It was midnight or so when we finally emerged out under the stark winter sky; a perfect hour to celebrate our success with some boozin'.

And that, friends and neighbors, ladies and germs, is the tale of how Action Squad conquered Cobb Caves. Hope that you enjoyed reading about it even a tiny fraction as much as we enjoyed living it!