It was a long, difficult and cold mission, but the rewards were great. This is the story of our visit to the turbine hall of the beautiful Rankine hydro power station… the hard way…
Back in late 2009 Loops, Little Mike, Snapple, Shane Perez, Silogen, Nel and myself made the trek to Niagara Falls in Canada to see the Toronto Power Company tailrace tunnels (aka: Confluence). That mission went down without a hitch and in the post expo glow we were already thinking of one of the other tailrace tunnels at Niagara: Rankine.
A few of us (including myself) had been to Rankine previously and there is a report about that mission here, but this time we wanted to take things a little further. This time we wanted to get into the turbine hall… via the tailrace.
The last time I made the trek to the outfall of the tailrace was back in 2007 with Micro, Nel and Controlman. Right from the start it was an uphill battle, the wind was in such a direction that the horseshoe falls were being blown over the Canadian side of the river, the same side we were walking on. As you may know, a fair bit of water flows over Niagara falls and walking through the spray is a kin to standing outside in a winter storm, cold wet and generally unpleasant.
In complete contrast, on this mission we were blessed with perfect winds. The huge plume of mist was blowing over the American side, making the trip relatively easy. Anyway, all this means that upon reaching the outfall we were able to take out the cameras and get a few shots of the outfall itself, something that is almost impossible when the mist is coming at you in gale force waves.
Once we’d all taken the shots we wanted we climbed into the tailrace itself. It is funny, that climb seemed very intimidating only three years earlier. But after so much crazy stuff over the past few years, my definition of scary has completely changed. Even the slippery and steeply sloped first 20m of the outfall did not pose too much of a challenge this time.
Myself and Shane hung around a took a bunch of shots, one of them being the first shot you see in this post.
The thing about Rankine is that you don’t have unlimited amount of time in the tunnels. Usually the river level is well over the level of the outfall and the only way to access the tunnels would be by boat or to swim, not exactly a practical option. But at certian times the other active hydro power stations in the area take huge ammounts of water from the river to replenish their stocks and the water level actually drops allowing access to the outfall. When the power stations stop taking water out of the river, the river level goes up again, effectively trapping any unfortunate explorer left inside. This drop in water levels never lasts long beacause it significantly reduces the amount flowing over the falls we would not want to upset the tourists would we. So we had about 4 hours to make it out through the turbine hall or we were spending the night in the tunnels.
Once we made it to the wheel pit the job of getting up into the station above began in earnest. I’m not going to tell you how we did it, if you really want you’ll work it out yourself. But I can tell you that reaching the metal structure supporting the turbines over 10m above our heads was not easy. Full cred goes to Snapple for copping the brunt of the unpleasant job.
Once Snapple made it up he made an assessment of the situation and decided that it was not pretty, hand rails and once solid beams of metal flaked away in great handfuls. It would require a bit of work with the help of Little Mike to set up a via-ferata to the safer levels.
All this time, myself, Siolo, Shane and Loops waited patiently in the cold dark tunnel, getting pounded by the huge amount of water still making its way through the rusty turbine valves. After 45 minutes the cold was taking its toll and we were starting to shiver. Our wait was made more painful by the complete lack of information from Snapple and Little Mike. Not that is was their fault, it is just so noisy in there with the torrent of water from above that no matter how much we shouted at each other our words were swallowed in the cacophony of sound. Those of us waiting below had no idea that Snapple and Little Mike were probably saving our lives.
By this time the point of no return had long passed. A trip back the outfall confirmed that the water in the river had already blocked our one sure escape route. We were committed to getting out through the station or spending the next 20 hours in the cold, dark and wet tunnels.
Just about when we thought we’d really had enough a rope was thrown down from above and we knew we were going up. I was first, so clipped in my ascenders and started making my way up. It was like climbing up through a waterfall, I was soaked to the bone by the freezing cold waters of Niagara falls. Check the photo above that was taken by Siolo as I made my way up into the belly of the beast.
We did not know if the turbine hall was alarmed so we had the brilliant idea of waiting down on the lower levels until everyone had made it up into the structure. Once everyone was there we planned on getting up onto the turbine floor taking a couple of pics and getting out of there ASAP.
Once up on the turbine hall floor we wondered around and admired the fantastic condition of the turbines (in sharp contrast to the condition of the lower levels). The whole place has been mothballed, although it seems to be a fairly permanent form of mothballing.
The sodium vapour lights made taking a decent photo difficult but with subject matter like this you can go too wrong.
We would have liked to have seen the control room but it was well locked up and with time running short we did not want to spend it finding a way in.
The last thing we did was take a group photo, it was pretty strange situation. We were all pretty tired and fed up with being cold but at the same time an enormous weight had been lifted off our shoulders, we had done it, it was a huge sense of accomplishment as well as relief.
With a unusual exit found without too much trouble, we said goodbye to Rankine and steped back into the real world. And the North American bust up of 2009 continues.
Once again, big thanks to the crew, good times.