While on our St. Louis vacation, Hiccup and I went with Memory_machine and Chris to check out Falstaff Brewery one more time.
Hiccup, Memory_machine, and I met up with Chris near the brewery. Last time, I had been the only one with waders, and no one else had gotten to explore the flooded brewery cave below the brewery. This time, I had my waders as well as several pair of cheap vinyl waders I'd bought for everyone else to use. I got three pairs of them out and passed them out and we were on our way.
Once inside the brewery, we were surprised to run into three guys wandering around looking at stuff. We talked to them a bit and it turned out they had seen the place on the site and wanted to check it out. They decided to come watch us go down into the water. I told them if I'd known they were going to be there, I would've brought three more pairs of waders from my vehicle for them.
Down in the cave, we all strapped into our waders and lowered ourselves down a rickety old ladder. I discovered right away that the water was much higher than the last time I was in there. In fact, it was so high that I wasn't going to be able to walk to every part of the cave where the water was deepest. And since the cheap waders everyone else were wearing were even shorter, they were even worse off. Still, everyone got down in anyway and we started checking it out.
We walked the length of the two main chambers, this time with my propane lantern to light the way. I also had my tripod and took several amazing long exposure shots of the interior. Last time, it had been winter and the warmth of the cave had caused a fog that made pictures almost impossible. This time, it was much more accomadating.
We made a big loop through the two chambers then started heading back. I stayed behind for a few minutes to take some more pictures, then I followed along. Everyone was pretty wet from the higher-than-normal water level, but it was still fun.
With that, we stripped out of our waders and made our retreat.
While on our St. Louis vacation, we went with memory_machine to the legendary Carondelet Coke.
We went straight from Armour Meat and parked on a little side street near Carondelet. We headed in and started walking around a large open area surrounded by buildings. It sort of looked like a courtyard, although it had never actually been one. We picked one of the closest buildings and started checking it out.
The inside of the building was littered with bricks, broken plaster, and sheetrock. It looked to be some kind of employee area, since there were lockers in the corner. A homeless person or persons had apparently been living there, since there were piles of food and garbage in one corner next to a makeshift living area.
Our suspicions were confirmed when we attempted to go up to a second story. As we opened the door at the top of the stairs, a voice yelled out sleepily, "Who's there?" We yelled back an apology and went back the way we'd come. Squatting or not, we weren't going into anyone's bedroom while they were there.
At the next building we checked out, we ran across something pretty cool. Memory_machine had told us that thieves liked to bring stolen cars down here and set them on fire to eliminate the evidence. Well, sure enough, a burnt out Dodge pickup was sitting right there. In fact, it had been burned so recently that the tires were still smoking.
When I moved around to take some better pictuers of the truck, I had my second accident of the day (the first being the incident at Armour). I didn't see a nice big nail sticking out of the ashes, and I stepped right onto it and drove it nice and deep into my foot. It hurt like hell, but after taking my shoe off, I could see that I was fine. It hadn't even really bled.
At the next structure we checked out, we found yet another burnt out vehicle. This one was older and rusty and only the back half was left. And as we left that building, we found yet another vehicle, this one also rusty. It appeared this really was the hotspot for ditching stolen vehicles.
After that, we passed along a large pit full of disgusting water and debris on our way into the next building. I offered money if someone was willing to dive into it, but everyone politely declined. The building, however, was the most interesting so far. It was full of huge pipes (many with their valves gone), tanks, and catwalks around the ceiling. There was also electrical equipment and some kind of kiln or furnace. We also found our first evidence of someone playing a massive game of paintball there.
We took the opportunity to head up to one of the higher catwalks and walk around near the ceiling. The floor was mostly stable, but we could tell what parts weren't pretty easily. It gave us a good view of the surrounding property, which was fairly large, and we were able to spy on some construction workers there that were up to something.
Up next, we headed over to a large brick building that seemed to be some sort of furnace. If I remember right, only the bottom floor was easily accessible, and it was full of pipes jutting out through concrete supports. We found paintballs strewn all over the place, so I took the opportunity to photograph Hiccup squishing a few of them. We also managed to get up to the roof, which was covered with vegetation and an old sets of rail tracks. Nearby there was a nifty looking smokestack, but there didn't seem to be any way inside it. Besides that, I'd had my fill of smokestacks.
We passed by a big concrete area next that was sunk about three or four feet into the ground. It was mostly empty, but it had some round concrete pillars in places which people had decorated or thrown barrels over. It sort of resembled a weird swimming pool.
On our way across the railroad tracks, where we barely beat a train to get to the other part of Carondelet, we spotted another burnt out car. We reached a flat concrete area, and there were two more vehicles there. One of them was a fairly new truck that someone had gotten turned upside down. It was really strange.
Finally, we headed to the coolest part of Carondelet, something I'd been dying to see. It was a huge metal structure at the edge of the river for loading barges. We followed one of the conveyor belts on the structure down underground to a flooded little chamber with a sealed tunnel at the rear. It would've been cool to check out the tunnel, but it probably would've been a scary wet mess.
We headed out onto the actual structure after that, where huge metal pillars in the water held everything up. There was even an old rusty barge parked at the base. We spent a little while climbing around on everything and ended up on a nice long section that stuck way out over the river. It was probably thirty or so feet up from the water, and I was tempted to shed my clothes and have Hiccup take some video of me bailing into the river from it. Common sense won out, though, because there was no telling what might be under the water ready to impale me.
With that, we got a phone call from Chris and left Carondelet to go meet him for some further exploring.
While on our St. Louis vacation, we returned to the Armour meat packing plant to climb the smokestack, which ended up being a HUGE mistake.
Disclaimer: Do not climb the smokestack after me, or YOU WILL DIE! Seriously!
We met up with memory_machine in the city that morning, then headed across the river into East St. Louis. He led us around to where Armour Meat was, since I didn't know the way there myself, then we parked and started loading up our gear. We had more gear than normal, because we were planning on doing some fancy rappelling stuff off of the smokestack.
We went inside and made our way through the building. We went up a few flights up stairs and came out onto the roof. From there, we went over to the base of one of the smokestacks, which extended about eighty feet or so up from the roof.
Believe it or not, I actually had a pretty good plan for climbing the smokestack safely. It involved a sturdy rappelling rope, a good harness, and a few carabiners. Unfortunately, I made a few errors in my plans. For one, my carabiners were too small to go easily over the ladder rungs embedded in the smokestack. For another, I had underestimated just how hard it would be to futz with the carabiners while perched precariously on a ladder. So, it looked like my plan for doing it safely wasn't going to work.
And right here was where I made a really stupid decision. I let the fact that I've wanted to climb a smokestack for years and that I'd been semi-obsessed with coming back and climbing this one seriously cloud my judgement. So, since the rungs felt pretty sturdy, I decided to just give it a go and climb up, then have memory_machine follow once I was at the top. Then we'd attach the rope to whatever we could up there and rappell back down.
At least, that was the plan.
I started climbing up the ladder, and everything went splendid. The rungs were strong and secure, and it seemed like it was going to be okay. It was a little scary the higher I got, but that was to be expected. Climbing great heights like that was always a little unnerving.
Around the last ten rungs, things went VERY wrong. For whatever reason, those last ten rungs, and only those last ten rungs, were extremely rusted and worn. Unfortunately, since I was focused on just climbing and not falling, I hadn't noticed just how badly--until the rung I was currently standing on STARTED TO BREAK!
People have asked me afterwards why I went up at that point instead of down. Honestly, there wasn't time to think about it. It was basically a moment of mind-numbing sheer terror. I just went for what instintively seemed safest, and that was to try and go up to the next rung and grab the top of the smokestack, which was just a couple feet out of my reach. Trying to go down, while I was already standing on a rung that was cracking like glass underneath me, just hadn't been what my panic-stricken body told me to do.
As I hurried up the last few rungs, all of which were cracking and bending underneath me, I ended up with another problem. One of the rungs at the top was missing, which forced me to put both feet on one rung to reach the top. That was something I'd been avoiding, and I'd actually made sure the whole way to be in constant contact with at least three rungs. When I put my full weight on the rung, it cracked and bent quickly, but I was able to step up and grab for the top.
When I grabbed ahold of the top of the smokestack, I ended up with another terrifying surprise. The bricks CAME OFF IN MY HANDS! I jerked away the top few bricks as quick as I could until I reached ones that held, and then jerked myself up onto the top of the smokestack. I'd been expecting the top of the smokestack to be fairly thick, but it was actually only like two bricks wide, so I ended up having to straddle it.
It sounds longer in my description, but only a few seconds passed from the time the rungs started breaking to when I pulled myself up onto the the top. And let me just say, because it's absolutely the truth, that I have NEVER been that scared in my life, not even close. When those rungs started breaking underneath me, I experienced a panic that I have never felt in my life.
However, sitting at the top was almost worse. After almost dying, I was now trapped eighty feet up with two rows of bricks underneath my crotch to keep me from going down. And if I fell, I'd go straight through a skylight below, then three stories down into a room full of rusty machinery. To make matters worse, there was nothing up there to attach the rope to, so there was no chance of rappelling down. I ended up just taking the rope out of my backpack and throwing it down so I wouldn't have to carry it again.
I yelled right away to memory_machine to not climb up, then I sat there for about ten minutes freaking out. I had no idea what I was going to do. I would've done anything, ANYTHING, to keep from having to go back down that ladder. If I'd thought there was some way the fire department could've come out and gotten to me, I would've just sat my ass there all day until they came and rescued me. I was honestly that scared, and I'm not someone who scares easily. However, the smokestack came out of the roof of a pretty wide industrial building. Short of them getting a rescue helicopter, there was no way to get me down. Personally, the idea of sitting up there for hours waiting on a helicopter was almost as sickening as the idea of climbing down.
Finally, I decided I didn't have much choice. I'd just have to go back down and be really quick and careful about it. I started clearing away all the loose bricks around the top, chucking them down inside the smokestack. I wanted to make sure I had a secure edge to hold onto this time.
When I built up my nerve, I swung my legs over in front of the ladder and lowered myself down the front of it. Only when I had to, I grabbed onto the rungs over the ladder, being careful to grab them near the base of them where they connected to the smokestack to put the least amount of pressure on them possible. I started making my way down the ladder as quick as I could, and the rungs again cracked and bent underneath me, just a hair away from breaking altogether.
As I went down this time, I was able to see that those last ten rungs, for whatever reason, had rusted where they connected to the smokestack until they were just rusty knotty pieces of metal not even as thick as a pencil. If I'd seen it going up before I climbed up on those rungs, I would've stopped and gone the other way. As it was, once I finally got back down past those rungs, I had left some of them bent down at forty-five degree angles. It was a miracle they hadn't given way underneath me.
The rest of the ladder went as smoothly as before, although my legs were shaking violently once I got past the bad part. When I finally reached the ground, I was pale and felt like I was going to throw up. I'm no chicken, but that was way too close of a brush with death for me. I just collapsed on the ground and lay there for about five minutes.
We might've stayed there at the base of the smokestack for five more minutes or an hour. As screwed up as I was, I have no idea how much time passed. But I know it took me a while just to get where I felt like my legs weren't going to fall out from underneath me. My little near-death experience had left me pretty shaken up, and I'm usually pretty unflappable. I was determined to keep exploring the rest of the day anyway, but I really just wanted to go back to our room and lie down.
When I finally felt somewhat like myself again, we started getting our stuff together. Before we actually left the roof, though, we saw someone walking down inside the building through the skylight. It was a man that memory_machine recognized as the caretaker, and he had a woman with him that he also knew. She was a professor that had been working on a large canvas painting of the inside of the plant.
We went down below and admired the professor's painting for a while. It was of the large room below the smokestack with huge machinery it, and it definitely captured the coolness of the decaying plant. As we were heading out, she was just coming into the room, and we chatted with her a bit. She said that even though we loved her painting, most people weren't into it. We told her that if she ever had an exhibition of abandoned places in art, we knew plenty of people that would come see it. We talked with her a little bit after that, and Memory_machine and her made some plans to meet up another time, then we said our goodbyes.
With that, we headed back to our cars and started on toward our next destination for the day.
Here you can read about White Rabbit's day-to-day explorations and adventures.
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