Nicollet Island Caves & Tunnel System
|(Click the pics to see them full size)|
|12/22/00 : Part of Mouser Week 2
Members: Max Action, Urban Waste, Jim, Brian O’Brian, Ben, and Mike
Like all the other activities we got up to during Mouser Week 2, it was booger freezin fucking cold the night we went to explore the Nicollet Caves and Tunnels. It was also about to be a very white Christmas, with up to 18 inches of snow on the ground. These factors almost ended our trip before it started.
See, the entrance we sought was one Jim had found on a scouting trip. Two manhole covers in what had been a grassy field, it sounded like an easy entrance. However, we were already frozen by the subzero windchills when we made it to the field, and then Jim realized he was not really sure where those darn manhole covers were, now that there was deep snow all over the place. However, he was pretty sure he knew the area it was in, so we all paced around, prodding at the ground and trying to discern the difference between the sound of a boot or crowbar hitting frozen rocky ground and a metal manhole cover through the snow. We were slowly freezing to death in the meantime; my back muscles ached from involuntary tensing them up as a response to the cold. After what seemed like an eternity of us wandering around in the snow like blind men, Jim, who had wandered away a bit and up a hill, well outside the area he had told us the covers were within, announced “Oh! Nevermind! Here they are!” We joked about killing him, but we all knew it wasn’t really his fault.
Next, we had to get one of the damn things open. The one crowbar we had couldn’t get into the crack deep enough to pop the first cover up; it only lifted it an inch or so, not even clearing the rim, and then let it slip back down. Finally we tried the second one, and after a long period of experimenting with different techniques, we managed to pop it up high enough to cram a stick into, and reposition the crowbar for the killing blow. Steam billowed up from the vertical shaft, and Jim, Brian, Urban Waste and I hustled down into the depths to thaw out; Ben and Mike opted to wait in the car for us. The narrow entry shaft was too tight a fit for them to employ, since they’re not as scrawny as the rest of us.
The shaft led us down into a crouch-height limestone walled tunnel, with a single old water pipe running down the middle of the floor. There were several side tunnels, a couple of which we explored until they started shrinking and making things shitty for us. We continued down the main tunnel until we found the first of the caves through a narrow hole in the wall of the tunnel on the right side. It was a medium-sized space, very cool. Tunnels left its banded limestone walls from various weird heights and places, and the natural ceiling was decorated with bats and plant roots. The cave was in two parts, with a 90 degree bend between them. We went out a different hole and found ourselves back in the main tunnel, which apparently circles the entire island.
Not much further down the way, we found cave #2, which seemed to be man made, and was more of two large parallel shafts than a cave. This led us down to a perpendicular shaft that dead-ended in a neat little shrine some island kids had probably made while they hung out smoking pot hidden from their parents’ eyes. We lit the many candles, and found that they lit the space up incredibly well. The floor was a deep pile of soft, white sand from the sandstone that this part of the system was carved through, and I soon found myself wanting to just fall asleep on it and forget about the later trip to the U of MN Steam Tunnels we had planned. But anticalmer heads prevailed, and we left to explore some more and seek a new way out.
We military-crawled for 10 minutes through a shaft that only led to a dead end and a deep vertical shaft with rotten boards over it. After backtracking, we then took another crawl tunnel into what turned out to be the good old main crouch tunnel again, about 10 or 15 feet down from where we’d entered the 2nd cave. We continued in the unexplored direction, almost certain that there would be another entrance, one which the local kids that built the shrine used to get in. Sure as heck, after a long, winding, back-breaking crouched-over walk, we discovered a vertical shaft leading up to a manhole cover. I headed up to see if it could be opened. The rungs sunk into the wall were heavily eaten away by the elements, and I was kind of nervous about shoving up against a heavy metal manhole cover with only them beneath my feet, but they held up. I peeked out the crack, and over the deep snow saw a suburban street and a fire hydrant. No one was in sight, and I heaved the cover up and off, whispering down the shaft for the others to follow. A giant plume of steam rocketed up into the freezing night, and I pulled myself up into it. Only then did I get to see what had been behind me when I was peeking out: there was a huge house’s porch not even 15 feet away from the manhole cover … we were right in someone’s front yard! We hastily replaced the cover and scampered out of the residential area, cackling wildly.
Finding the original manhole cover to replace the lid was much easier this time around, as we had a giant steam plume to guide us. We kicked it into place, booted some snow over it, and headed over to where Ben and Mike were waiting with the cars. It was about midnight, and time to go explore the U of MN Steam Tunnels.