The Niagara falls. You’ve heard of them, right?
The vast majority of people visiting the towns either side of the US/CA border are there solely because they want to say they’ve seen the bit where the Niagara river falls off some cliffs. Once you’ve stood and looked over the railing at the hundreds of thousands of gallons per second shooting off the massive drop and confirmed to your self you’ve now ‘been and done it’, it doesn’t become long before you realise there is actually FUCK ALL to do in Niagara. Well, nearly.
If you’re happy dicing with the prospects of being picked up by the border patrol or are any good at abseiling, there are a few half decent things to do around town, and myself and GE066 managed to happily tick one of them.
The William Rankine generating station was a hydroelectric power stations built by the Niagara river in 1905. It sat merrily generating electricity for an astonishing 104 years, until it was taken off line in 2009 due to its awkward 25Hz generating frequency and the fact that everything inside had gone a bit out of alignment due to shifting bed rock.
What is interesting about this one is that the old brick tail race tunnels (the huge conduits that carry the water away from the power plant once its been through the turbines) are still accessible to those of a curious nature, and with a little hop skip and jump (and providing no one sees you) you can get yourself down to the outfall and climb on in.
The sound of the falls at this proximity is incredible, and on reaching the mouth of the tunnel, all the jaded traveler nonsense got kicked right out the window. 150,000 gallons a second. That’s a lot of gallons and not very many seconds.
After a brief dip in the the Niagara, myself and my compadre were very slowly edging up the down-hill entrance of the tail race tunnel. The floor in here is slippy as hell from the residual stream that has been making its way through all the ancient pipework and flow control from the river above, down into this huge cavern and out into the Niagara river. About six or seven feet from reaching the crux of the slope (and congratulating myself on remaining dry), I took a bad decision on choosing the next landing place for my left foot, slipped on my arse, and slid *all* the way back down the tunnel on my side.
Once the panic of shooting out the mouth of the tunnel and landing in the freezing cold river had subsided, I pulled my self up, confirmed my camera was still dry and had to endure the whole bloody lightfooted climb again although with addition of GE066 standing at the top absolutely pissing himself all the way up.
Into the tunnels we trudged, the sound of the falls getting fainter and fainter and the brickwork getting progressively more knackered until we finally got to the main event, the wheel pit.
All being considered, The only thing I could think of when looking at these HUGE pipes, was ultramassive dread.
This picture should put things into perspecive (from the NF library):
This old shot shows the level of water in the tunnels when the powerstation was in full operation. All I could think about when standing in front of these massive pipes, was how quickly i’d be squashed, smashed and drowned if someone in the powerstation above decided they wanted to open a sloose gate, or if any bit of the hundreds of bits of ancient rusting gear above were to give way and release the Niagra down the plug hole and into my face.
Come at me bro!
Once we’d had enough of being soaked to the bone, we made our exit. It was high time for breakfast.
Most people do this at night for two reasons. This first (and most obvious) is that its much less likely that you’re going to get called in. The second (and not so obvious) reason, is to do with the still functioning hydro plants on the river. When these plants are in full swing, they actually cause the level of the river to drop and subsequently the falls become much ‘less impressive’ as they divert such a huge amount of water from the river for power generation. It was decided in the 1950s that electricity generation should be done at night so as not to upset the tourists wanting a decent view of the falls. In the day, the water levels around the falls actually get much higher due to the throttling back of the power plant intakes, which means the ‘hop’ from the mouth of the tunnel to dry land actually becomes more of a ‘swim’.
On reaching the exit of the tunnel, my heart sank a bit, both at the level of the river, and the 8 strong teams of workers in yellow oilskins doing work on the cliff wall abotu 300 yards up river. Fuck fuck and fuck.
There was nothing for it, and with some unbeliable luck, we avoided a total soaking and a total arresting, rushing up the banking and hugging the cliff face to an out of sight section to de-wader, hop the fence and make out way back into tourist land for some good coffee and a some toast.
Love to GE066.
A few clips here :)