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A Sprawling Manifesto on the Art of Drain Exploring
by <predator> of Sydney Cave Clan

When the Sydney branch of the Cave Clan first started back in 1990-1991 we had little in the way of experience about how to find drains and other things of interest.

I personally have now done 147 drains in 6 Australian states, in addition to numerous rail tunnels, bridge rooms, abandoned bunkers and other concealed underground places... this experience led me to compile this .TXT on how to approach the pastime scientifically.

The focus of this .txt is drains, but also has information related to other things of interest. It includes a lot of info from its previous versions and contains lots of new data too.

Why are there drains?
Drains in general used to be creeks, streams, marshy areas or rivers. When cities are built, this eliminates the usual absorption of rainwater into the ground, because concrete and roofing and road surfaces are not permeable.

The rain water pools up, which is a nuisance, and thus the people who design towns, mainly planners, civil engineers and the like, have created ways to rapidly waste this valuable resource by routing it to nearby rivers or even the ocean. Thus are tunnels dug, pipes laid and so forth... this is the process of urban speleogenesis. Usually natural creeks are dug up or concreted-in so when all the fast-flowing runoff hits them the erosion is minimised.

Unfortunately, the Australian mentality towards environmental management of such trunk drainage has traditionally been "Build a pipe and forget about it". Canals tend to empty directly into river systems and there is no provision for a wetland type environment in which one could slow the fast moving runoff, thereby reducing erosion at the riverbank, allowing time for the sediment load to drop out of suspension, and also providing habitat for estuarine river species.

Drains are now the major collector of rain-soaked street refuse which pollutes the river systems, are major source of canine faecal coliform, overflow from the sewage system, and a handy place to dump industrial waste.

They are also, despite being funded by the public, now off limits due to the by-laws of the Water board (Now named Sydney Water) and the Confined Spaces Legislation. A Melbourne company, Pollutec, have designed a nifty separator (which they call the Continuous Deflective Separation system) - it is vetted for installation in a lot of trunk drains and hopefully this will reduce the amount of crap which ends up in the rivers. The Clan has a slight problem with these which will be detailed later in the .TXT.

Why are there drains? Why, so we can explore them, of course!

Why go in drains?
In life, you make choices. You can stay in bed and take no risks, or you can go out and get a life. This involves the taking of risks, telling of yarns, breaking of silly laws which restrict your freedom, finding out things of an unusual or interesting nature. Now, some people take drugs, some people watch TV, some people drive cars faster than the posted speed limit, some people get heavily into teletubbies, some people play golf.

Since we find these things not very interesting, we explore drains. We like the dark, the wet, humid, earthy smell. We like the varying architecture. We like the solitude. We like the acoustics, the wildlife, the things we find, the places we come up, the comments on the walls, the maze-like quality; the sneaky, sly subversiveness of being under a heavily-guarded Naval Supply base or under the Justice and Police Museum.

Drain exploring is cheap since, despite there being a $20000 fine (a bit harsh really) for doing it, it is almost never policed.

We enjoy thumbing our noses at petty bureaucrats and puerile legislators, and their half-baked attempts to stop us going to the places where we go... places they built with our tax money.

We like the controlled nature of the risks involved. We like the timelessness of a century-old tunnel, the darkness yawning before us, saying "Come, you know not what I hide within me."

We like the stupid looks we get when we mention it at cocktail parties.

We like the sploosh sploosh sound when we walk through the waters.

We like going where the bank tellers and council clerks and ticket officers at the SRA never go.

We like telling the authorities that we are software programmers, analytical chemists, civil engineers, telecommunications specialists etc, when they ask.

We like the whole thing and the pettiness of its illegality and poor public perception is beneath us and totally irrelevant.

We are not stupid, we don't like being protected from ourselves, it hurts no-one, we like it, so we do it. Hear us cry...

Public access to Public works!!

How do I find explorable drains?
To find drains you can use a number of methods, all of which are suited to different areas.

1) Get a topological map.
Likely drains are where there are gullies but no evidence of a river per se; deduction: it has been buried (turned into a drain tunnel) or its headwaters have been `pirated'(diverted) to another river or into a drain further upstream. Melb Clan found Gobledox this way.

2) Obtain old street directories and compare them to their newer editions.
Generally you find that when a creek shown in an old directory is no longer shown in a new edition, chances are that it has been entunneled. Also if you see a creek going along and suddenly disappearing, then reappearing somewhere else, you know pretty well what happened to it in between. I found the entrance to a whopping drain in Brisbane by looking in the Gregory's for wide creeks which disappeared adjacent to roads.

3) Check boundaries on cadastral maps.
Back in the good ol' daze, postcode boundaries were often delineated by prominent geographic features, like cliffs, rivers and the like. Thus you can look in street directories or maps of who-owns-what (cadastral maps) and occasionally see non-linear, erratic-looking postcode boundaries. Odds on it is where there once was a river. This is how The Loaf was located.

4) Visit the Water Board, search their library.
A good stash of drain location intel is the annual report which will have a section devoted to how they spent your money on drainage. I used this to find the entrance to Fortress, since the report gave the outlet location.

The other place to look is in their records of outlets and also their drainage maps, which you may have to dig for a little bit. The regional maps are generally somewhat inaccurate - the local level maps are better. Transgrinder, a drain with manhole-only access, was pinpointed by Mullet using this method. The local Council can also be pumped for this info. Say you're getting info for an assignment on: Urban Geohydrology, Stormwater runoff, Suburban river systems, Catchment management, river pollution control, your kid brother's high school geography assessment.

5) Taking the train, driving around... keep your eyes open!
Keep a handy note book to write down locations. Diode made some fantastic finds, Hercules Pillars and Your Taxes, for this very reason. Especially look when you are near a gully.

6) Social engineering / civil engineering.
Dress up in overalls and go around at night popping every manhole you can find. This works better in the city where the concentration of manholes is higher. You need to bring / make your own poppers and it is a strenuous job but if you look the part the cops will drive by without batting an eyelid. Throw some traffic cones around, put on hardhats and reflective uniforms. Expressway median strips and dish drains are also fertile sources of covers.

7) What's that lump doing there?
If you find a public park with artificially built up slopes on either side, there is probably a canal in it or better still under it. Parks and nature reserves are often used as `retarding basins' ie, they are used as temporary buffers for flood water, and have drains going into them.

8) Long, vacant corridors of empty land... huh?
In many cities, land over a tunnel is illegal to build upon... so if you look in a street map you will find long, narrow parks occasionally. They tend to be fenced off and lack large trees. Often a search of these will reveal a manhole in the grass.

9) Ride along the river.
On yer bike! This is easier in Melbourne than Sydney due to their prolific bike paths. Just ride along and scan the shores for entrances. The gaping mouth of Autobahn was found by this method, as was Rocktop and the Grid's downstream canal.

10) In the Trenches.
Get a mountain bike, put on good tyres and mudguards (!), find a canal, and hop in. Thus was located Sin City. There is a tendancy for fences to block your way in. Ignore them... hang the bike on the top of the fence (leave a pedal, in the crank-up position on the top pole, the bike will generally stay while you jump over) and once over the fence get the bike down.

11) All drains lead to the ocean.
So: check the coast or the local waterfront, wharfs, beaches. Newspapers often post details of beaches closed due to stormwater pollution... which means there is a big drain somewhere near that beach. Hopefully.

12) Dear Sir,...
Write salutory letters to companies which make pipes and culverts 6ft in diameter and over, and ask them where they are putting most of their big pipes. Such companies are CSR, Humes and Monier/Rocla, this varies from state to state.

13) "Ve haf vays ov makink yu tork."
When we reveal our amazing, actual-history, adventural exploits to lesser mortals, some of them casually mention "Oh, yeah, I did this huge tunnel years ago, it was twelve kilometers long, ten feet high, had soft lights, piped music, air conditioning and an abandoned electronics factory halfway along it." Sure.

Much of your time will be wasted by such meme-vectors, rumour-spinners, and fraidy cats, who couldn't find their way out of a tunnel without rails, mains powered lighting and a GPS unit.

Whilst they sound very interesting, in our experience such people should be abducted and interrogated at length with invasive electrical devices and psychoactive chemicals, until they reveal the *precise* location of the entrance to their rumoured tunnel.

Those who fail to give precise location details must, as a matter of course, be blindfolded and transported to a remote location, and released at night, wearing sandpaper underclothing and a funny hat, to teach them that ambiguous location data has irritating qualities for those compelled to use it.

14) Gutter Press.
We realise that the media is hardly worth the effort of reading these days. Nonetheless, politicians and pack-rat journalists never miss an opportunity to be photographed in a hardhat near a newly made, big hole in the ground. The location of such is usually mentioned in the blurb.

14) The Good Oil.
The location lists can sometimes be found by pestering Cave Clan through their site at or

It is an old Clan tradition that the person who finds the drain gets to name it. However, since a lot of the names of drains are related to drain features, there is an emerging push that the person(s) who EXPLORE the new drain get to name it. But generally we don't care. Do what you like.

Features, and Techniques for their Negotiation
In drains you will find rooms, slides, staircases, balconies, junctions, pits, grilles, safety chains, waterfalls and turbulence pillars. These usually are easily dealt with using common sense.

One has to contend with manholes, grilles and gutter boxes to get into and out of drains which lack convenient large portals or outlets... drains are much more fun if you can say "Yeah we got in at the beach, went up it for miles and then popped a manhole, right in the shopping centre car park, there all these old grandads and fat women lookin at us real funny, blah blah" etc.

Manhole covers. Manhole covers are generally found in the middle of the street, are made of steel and cement, are rusted and wedged in, and weigh anything up to 60kg in the case of the large square Gatic.

When a cover has been in situ for a long time, factors like corrosion, thermal expansion/contraction, and vehicular hammering progressively jam the cover in its collar. Whilst some (Trimar) covers lend themselves to being popped from below, by having chamfered edges and taking the load only on the corners, often the average 40kg family-sized pizza manhole (so named due to the 8 radial struts one sees from below them) by Durham is an impossibility for anyone without the strength of the Incredible Hulk, and even then sometimes that isn't enough: the cover may have a car wheel parked on it, if might have been cemented over or welded, in the case of some Gatic covers, it could be bolted into its collar with quarter inch stainless steel bolts.

Prevention of car-parking on popular grilles can be achieved by attaching a traffic cone to the top of the grill mesh, with a couple of hose clamps. If the traffic cone has the initials of the local water authority inscribed upon it, it will be left alone by most road crews and council workers, and will ensure the grille is usually not parked upon.

There are, for the first of the listed reasons, extreme dangers involved in popping manhole cover from below unless you know exactly, EXACTLY where you are... you might be faced with two shafts less than 10m apart: one will take you out on the footpath, or to a picnic area. The other one could conceivably earn you a semi-trailer front wheel in the brain at 90km/h. With the exception of some old inner city covers which are "Spiderwebbers" and can be seen through, most are light-tight (so you can't see what lies above you). If you hear a quick "thumpthump" sound, do not open the cover... this is the sound made by road vehicles going over the cover and it is largely impossible to predict if one is approaching from below due to the damping provided by the cover and the weirdly distorted echos in the tunnel itself.

Poppin' Covers. The Clan tends not to pop covers from below for the reasons just mentioned, unless their position is known or the outside world can be determined by looking through them: spiderwebbers are of two kinds, thick and thin. Thin ones aren't used in roads, being common in parks and pathways, due to their poor ability to handle repeated loading by vehicles. The thick ones are about an inch thick (2.5cm) and weigh a mountain, and tend to have cars going over them. Pop a thin 'web by all means; leave the rest alone from below.

Subside Poppin' Tools. When popping a cover from below, if it is really "sealed", tools are useful. The first of these is a mallet. Thumping a cover from beneath can often fault the jammed in, rust-loaded grime which seals the edge. The ubiquitous crowbar can also be used to force the gap between the collar and the cover base. I have high recommendation for devices of a hydraulic nature, particularly the small, cheap and readily available bottle jacks, which weigh about 5kg and can exert a force of anywhere from 1400kg, to two and a quarter tonnes, through a throw of between 5 and 15cm. This can, if placed close to the wall end of the top stepiron, conceivably pop anything except the bolted Gatics; if it fails in this task it will either bend the stepiron, tear it out of the wall or burst out from its position and mercilessly bruise anything nearby. To use these one needs a few small blocks of wood to give the jack the required height to reach the cover's base. The wind-up parallelogram type jacks also exert about a tonne of manhole popping power and their reach often extends to about half a metre - great for awkward covers.

The nice thing about round manholes is you cannot drop them down the shaft and kill someone. Trimars can be dropped down their shaft; square Gatics can drop down their shafts end on or diagonally. Getting hit with a cover from 5m up is likely to kill you. So exercise caution with these. They take no prisoners on the way down... understandable really; if I had sat above a drain all my life I'd wanna know what was down there in a hurry, too.

There are two schools of thought about cover popping from below. There is the straight upward force and the tilt'n'flip method. The former is quieter and better for the square and triangular covers but the tilt'n'flip (push one edge up, let the cover tilt up and drop in a bit, then flip over and push away from the hole) requires less strength, since you don't take the entire weight, and just as safe since the round covers won't fit down the hole.

Another thing to remember when popping a cover is: face down. It is better to have a head full of grot than an eye loaded with abrasive mud, which tends to fall out from the seal when you pop it.

Topside Poppin' Tools. Sometimes a manhole will have a pair of lifting eyes cemented in a recessed position in the top of the cover. These eyes will contain a short cross-rod through which a hook or rope can be threadded prior to lifting.

Some lifting eyes contain a strange shape a bit like a top-heavy steel ice cream cone. One has to fit some sort of two-tine hook under this, or tie down to it with, say, 6mm diameter climbing rope using a double fisherman's knot. Otherwise the best tools to use are purpose-built manhole keys. It is useful to contact the manufacturer of the manhole cover (they nearly always have the name cast into the metal or concrete) when wishing to source their particular cover opener.

The simplest for socketted covers is the hand-held lifter the inverted T on the end. You can weld one up simply from mild steel or take a 20mmx8mm aluminium bar and cut it to the appropriate shape. It looks like this:

[key-shaped thing]

To use: Stick the T end in the slot on the cover, rotate 90 and pull up. These are the dimensions for Sydney's Durham covers. In SA and VIC different sizes are used but all operate on the T principle.

Others exist for popping collared spiderwebbers: these are about 1m long.

To use: Stick down a hole near the edge of the cover.

[longer key-shaped thing]

Once seated, lean on handle end. Leverage pops it. Key to the city, you might say.

Bolted gatics can be popped with a socket wrench and a crow bar but this is inelegant compared to using the purpose-built tool:

[key-shaped thing in grate]

To use this:
(1) Clear the dirt and stuff out of the hole on the edge of the Gatic.
(2) Stick the T-end (under the handle) into the hole and rotate so it is securely locked in the hole. Tighten the locknut onto the chassis.
(3) Screw the other bolt down as far as you need till the cover "pops" open.
(4) Drag like hell on the handle to slide the cover away.

The chassis is a measly 10cm across. Uses steel bolts, and doesn't look suss if you are searched by the cops, whereas a crowbar does. Thread diameters vary, so steal a gatic bolt near you to determine the type you require.

Other implements exist, and they are commercially built for the purpose. One is a two metre long item which is operated by inserting one end in the cover and sitting (!) on the handle on the other end, much like a see-saw in principle. This is very effective but rather hard to covertly transport. Another design, which is smaller and hinged in the centre, permits you to pop the cover by locking one end to the cover lifting hole and jumping on the other end. I broke mine. Oh well.

Superficial tack-welds on manhole covers can commonly be fractured or chipped-off with chisels or hammers. This may require that you dress up for the part.

Lift-O-Matics (TM). Big Ears of the Melbourne branch of the Clan has been manufacturing quality manhole lifters for some time now. The Lift-O-Matic(tm) is available from the Cave Clan's Melbourne branch.

Sydney Clan members have also made sand-cast iron lifters, slung with woven Spectra strapping. Spectra (a.k.a. Gemini) is mil-spec, superstrong synthetic fibre available at most rock-climbing shops for several dollars per metre. It is hard to cut, but abrasion-resistant, lighter than wire rope and extremely strong.

I recommend that, if you're looking for manhole cover openers (manhole keys), you are most likely to find them at Johnnie Sumner's Hardware, 819 New Canterbury Road, Dulwich Hill NSW; They do mail orders, their phone number is 02-9-558-2424. The place is recognisable by the enormous piles of junk in the front display windows. Ask for Allan, he is the only person who knows where everything is. They occasionally have cadmium plated Telecom-type keys, and also the jump-on popper I mentioned earlier. They don't manufacture them, but can usually get 'em at auctions. The shop has been going since the 1930's and also has every conceivable spare torch globe you could want.

Doing the lift. Lift with your legs (squat, then stand up) not your back. Where possible more than one person should try to lift the cover at the one time, this reduces the load for each person, and minimises the potential for injury.

Sometimes you will be compelled to open a heavy cover which should not be closed behind you because its sheer mass might prevent you from lifting it from below. In such cases it is safe and courteous to place some reflective traffic safety cones around the open shaft and the cover so people do not fall down or drive into the shaft opening.

Horizontal grilles. The old style grille is a cast-iron job weighing about 25kg. Being cast, they shatter when you drop them, so try not to drop them. The general method from topside, is to stick one's fingers in the gaps towards one end, lift, and get the edge up onto the street level. Then reposition your hands on the opposite edge to the up end, and drag it out. The bottom surface of these is usually concave downwards, so they slide more easily along the road. This method preserves both the grille and your fingers.

The old grilles are also useful to exit from a drain. One can generally shoulder one's target grille loose from within the cramped confine of a gutter box; once loose, use your hands, but don't stick your fingers through. The more recalcitrant grilles may require another approach: Get under the thing, on your back, place your bum on the ground, and force the grille with your feet. It helps to listen for traffic for a period prior to lifting.

There are also light steel strut grilles in service and to date I have found them mostly a joy to use. The tolerance between them and their collar is unfortunately large enough to permit pebbles to fall into the gap and they can get sealed this way, nothing a good thump won't fix. My least favourite kind is the hinged type, whilst they never fall in they can be a nuisance to replace if they come out of their hinge, and opening them from below needs a different strategy since you cannot slide them. The two major problems I find with them are (1) occasionally the arc they open through intersects with the kerb so you can't open it or (2) some twit has put a small spring-loaded hook ended bolt on it and this locks it into its collar, so you need a spanner to undo the nut. If you open one of these, throw the bolt away, they are a safety hazard, and in all likelihood were invented by someone who has never been in a drain in their life.

Vertical grilles. Generally found at the outlet of a drain, but also occasionally in parks, often as a side feature of rooms, vertical grilles are often engineered to permit access, though this function tends to go away when local authorities discover that the drain is being used recreationally. They are often locked (see the locks section below) or welded closed. The solutions to such grilles usually comprises a hack saw, car jack, or oxytorch, depending on the design, though a half-hour with a large shifting spanner can often prove productive.

Sometimes you can, by exhaling and wriggling a lot, go through sideways, though it is a bit hard on your pelvis. There is another species of grille, prevalent on median strips, which is made of tightly-wedged concrete slots. Advice: forget 'em.

A trend appearing of late is to put really huge grilles (made of railway-track or huge galvanised iron rods) across the upstream end of a drain, presumably to separate the water from the junk it carries, such as trees and other major floating refuse. Often these are permanently set in the closed position with a lock or cemented into the ground. The latter is amenable to being prised up with a car bottle jack; you can also bend the bars apart in cemented vertical rod grilles using a car jack, this method proving useful at the seaward entrance of Fortress.

Gutter Boxes. Gutter Boxes, also known as Gross Pollutant Traps, help to trap big items before they get into the main drain. They tend to be covered by heavy concrete slab lids and are often adjacent to street grilles (see above). The only effective way to open these lids is - on ya back, legs-up, place your feet and push like a bastard. When it 'cracks' its seal, stop pushing straight up and direct the thing toward the high edge. Some of these have the added nuisance of a pit below them, in which case I suggest if you can't pop it with your shoulder, get out elsewhere. Pits can often be fun to interrogate for treasure, which should be done carefully, because they are usually home to loads of broken glass and rusting syringe needles.

Topside slab-popping generally involves crowbars, lifting rings and sometimes vehicular towbars, if the conditions permit it.

The general technique for closing it when you've used it to exit, is to stand it on one edge, swivel it from corner to corner to position it and then just let it fall into its hole. Keep your feet clear of the edge.

Anecdote: I wanted to get out of Clantomb, Melbourne due to a torch problem. The box in question was in a quiet suburban street (one finds this out by looking from the gap above the grille), kids were playing street cricket.

I noticed it was garbage night... the night people put their bins full of rubbish out for collection. This was immediately significant to me, because people tend to put their bins on gutter box lids to preserve their lawn from damage by their garbage bin. I put on a mean look, my mirrored sunglasses, and "Mutant Pathological Axe Murderer" profane body language.

I got in, on my back, and pushed. Hard. Really hard. The lid cracked open and about a second later I heard the sound of a large load of bottles spilling from a steel garbage bin, followed by the sound of young cricketers saying things like "Hey Dave, that garbo there just jumped off the gutter!". A few bottles rolled into the gutter box but I concentrated on my task, slowly piloting the heavy concrete slab away from the edge far enough so I could get out. I kept my mouth shut to keep out the dirt.

Two faces appeared in the view above me, tee-shirted youths, one with an SS cricket bat. One of them said "John there's a guy down there!" The other one said something like "Fucken lets get outta here!" but the kid with the bat stayed. The cover was now open enough so I climbed out, covered in webs and dirt and stood before the kid who must be congratulated on keeping his cool.

I grabbed my bag, then clamped the slab in my hands, walked it on its corners until it seated in the collar, and then slowly angled it down until I dropped it with a thud into its original position.

More kids from the cricket game stopped their conversations to peruse the new arrival. I placed the bin upright and put the lid on, leaving the rubbish and bottles where they lay. I crouched before the kid with the bat, said "Sorry about the mess." in an uninterested voice, and putting my torch in the bag, stood, turned and walked off down the street. He didn't say a word. I heard the kids smashing the bottles before I walked round the corner.


Stepirons. Since a lot of old drains have stepirons (those footholds in the walls made from old reinforcing bar) which are corroded, don't use them without testing them first... the shell of rust on the ouside is useless and may disguise a dangerously thin spindle of metal beneath it. The new yellow or black plastic footholds do not corrode, but may be fractured or inadequately glued-in, and tend to be slippery.

Slides. Slides can be tricky, stick to the dry patches. If the slide is steep and not very high you can force your back against the roof for extra points of attachment.

As part of the Clan's ongoing quest to improve drain exploration amenity, the slide in Fortress has had a rope installed so you can go up or down the slope. A rope has been installed at the falls in Milsons Park drain, the slide in Coal Cliff drain, and several ropes have been installed at Swoo ][. These are either 11 or 12mm diameter kernmantle synthetic Edelrid dynamic climbing ropes, or larger diameter nylon ropes, and are pretty reliable, and they have been tied to what will probably remain reliable anchors for some years yet (stepirons, galvanised safety chain mountings, dynabolts or exposed sections of heavy reinforcing rod). The slides are often slippery so you need to crouch at right angles to the cement to avoid slipping. We'll get around to installing a rope at Sydney Slide one day.

Some drain explorers with ties to the rock climbing community have mentioned that it is possible to gain additional purchase when scaling waterfalls, by placing self-loading camming devices (SLCDs - "Camalots" by Black Diamond, or older "Friends" by Wild Country) in cracks between the pipe sections or in the concrete/brickwork itself. These devices bite outwards against the crack edges when you exert a pull on them, and rely on the structural integrity of the crack edge material to maintain its position under load. Since this integrity cannot be guaranteed in erosive conditions such as the humid drain atmosphere, this technique should be used with caution, if at all.

Waterfalls. Attempting to scale waterfalls if they have no stepirons or ladders is extremely risky. Without a rope, harness and figure-8 (or similar) I would be inclined to decide not to descend or ascend it. Boosting people in wet conditions is inadvisable. Often previous explorers have left "ropes" behind, but these are usually highly unreliable (for example, rotting sash cord) and should not only not be used but should be cut off to remove temptation from clueless gits who might be tempted to rely on them.

Waterfalls are the primary reason one doesn't go exploring drains when it is raining outside. You *might* survive being flushed through a tube, dropped over slides and dumped violently in a mangrove. You DON`T survive being thrown at a wall and then falling any number of metres to a cement floor, at an angle you cannot control. You die and get found rotting on a trash rack by people walking by the riverside a couple of days later. Simple as that.

Stairs. Take stairs one at a time. Big stairs (like Greatstairway) demand this since the steps are all a metre high. Test and use handrails if present.

Ladders. Ladders should be inspected first and tested by getting on the bottom rung and trying to shake the ladder. Hawker's Folly has possibly the most dodgy ladder in history with three out of six attachments to the wall missing.

Balconies. Balconies generally have handrails next to a shaft of some kind. Testing handrails by swinging on them is not a life-prolonging practise for reasons which should be obvious.

Pits. Step over pits if possible. The deeper ones (like Bourbon's in Melb) are anything from knee deep to over your head. They tend to have sharp rubble at the bottom of them so tread carefully. There is amusement to be had by fishing around for buried coins and other such items in gutter boxes and GPTs, I have already recommended the use of gloves, but also suggest a small shovel for this activity.

Sometimes a flooded GPT can be drained: look for an outlet pipe at ground level and open the cap (eg: Yoda's in Sydney). Siphons represent another more tedious method for draining a GPT but were used successfully by Mullet, Diode and myself in the GPT behind the round doors at Scorpion's Flaps, to remove several cubic meters of water in the course of an hour. We used long sections of 100mm PVC gutter pipe, right-angle elbows and duct tape to seal it. Small siphons such as the one at the far end of Fortress can be emptied using small pumps and batteries, or even manually though this will be a tiring and possibly pointless exercise unless you are fanatical about sifting the bottom for exciting treasures such as expired credit cards, rusting engine components and sand-scoured twenty-cent coins. Occasionally there are good finds to be made in GPTs, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Natural formations. Animal habitats, unusual geological formations (stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone) and similarly interesting things are best left alone so the next explorer can enjoy them too.

Safety chains. Replace safety chains once you pass. Don't just leave 'em dangling. They can be used to assist you in getting up slippery waterfalls... throw a weighted rope over it and, if you don't pull on it too hard, you can use the rope to help pull you up. In general they are reliable but should be inspected before use where possible.

Pillars. The pillars I have in mind are three-storey turbulence-inducing jobs at Hercules Pillars. These are on a slippery slope. What I tended to do to pass these was slide down and grab a pillar, then walk to the side of it and repeat the process, which prevents the build-up of speed.

CDS Units. A new addition to the bottom end of a lot of trunk drains in the future will be the aforementioned Pollutec CDS litter-trap. They consist of a Nautilus shell shaped cavity with a cylindrical stainless steel perforated plate in the centre of it. Water goes thru this, and anything bigger than a ciggie butt won't fit through the plate. They have an overflow of unspecified dimensions which might be usable as an explorer bypass. CDS units are really a great idea, and the rivers WILL be cleaner for them (maybe it is too late for the Yarra!).

However... they omit a certain safety requirement: they assume that no-one is ever going to be in a drain when it floods. Regardless of wether the person/s unfortunate enough to be trapped in such a device have legal permission to be in the drain or not, at the moment they have NO WAY OUT of the separator and if it fills right up, they'll drown. There are no stepirons in the stainless steel separator plate, and apparently nothing in the way of an easily-lifted access/escape hatch.

I spoke to the environmentally-friendly, suit-wearing Pollutec rep droid about this at Ozwater/Ozwaste trade fair in May 1996. Got that glazed look in his eyes, like it had never crossed its mind that their legal arses could be on the line about this if negligence (in not providing a way out for a trapped person) in the event of a drowning, could be proven attributable to a CDS unit.

It is fortunate to note that these things seem to be installed on the side of large "dam" rooms (such as the first main room in Yoda's) which means that during a flood an explorer will not necessarily be sucked into the CDS unit, instead being slowed down by the water already in the dam. An irritating aspect of these dams is that they represent an murky, deep and hazardous obstacle full of sharps and rotting biological material when the unit is not emptied regularly.

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE! You may wish to raise this with Pollutec via:
also see

No flames or abusive noise please!

4) Locks and their neutralisation
We are not stupid. We know why locks are there... to cover the legal clauses in the public liability insurance that the large public works authorities use to prevent themselves from being unable to pay if sued for damages in the event that some litigious git's relative gets killed in a drain, bridge (etc) and charges them with negligence, intention to provide fun without a license or some other such delusional jurisprudential nonsense.

We also know that locks are there (ostensibly) to prevent kids from getting into bridges and drains (etc) and exposing themselves to - gasp, how dare they - danger. The deaths in the mid 1970s of children exploring the bridge at Pheasant's Nest illustrate this danger. However, we are not children.

Historically, works authorities were asked for keys but refused to reply to, or even acknowledge, requests for keys. So it used to be that locks would be picked or smashed and replaced (with our own) on more worth-it explored structures. It was pretty obvious from the graffiti around the lock where to write if you wanted a key. (Strange, no-one ever wrote for a key.) Eventually though we found it was just cheaper and easier to take the locks off and not replace them, 'cos all we got were items of legal-threat fascist hate-mail and our locks cut off.

The usual arms-races ensued: if there was a lock, and it couldn't be picked, it would disappear. Then there'd be a new lock and that'd go, too. Then there'd be a really good padlock on, pick-proof, re-keyable, and then that lock would also be decommissioned. Then they'd shackle-shield the replacement for that lock. If a lock was shackle-shielded, then the entire door would mysteriously unhinge, or disappear, or a few bars from nearby grilles would... er, go away. Then the door would be replaced and welded shut so the access war would simply move to another door. All of which was pointless. Why not just use locks which keep most people out, and be prepared to accept that there is a small group which will get in no matter how much money was spent trying to keep 'em out? Lock removal technology will always outstrip lock technology.

Maybe we should use tandem locking (see below). There will always be drain explorers, and other kinds of curious, determined people. There will also always be jimmy bars, oxy torches... often, an el-cheapo hacksaw (like the MiniHack - a plastic handle from which the hacksaw blade protrudes - permitting the blade through tight gaps which are not accessible with a normal hacksaw) can be used cleverly to provide access while leaving the lock in place. Even quite large bolt cutters can be concealed on the person: most of each handle length is cut off, metal tubing sections of slightly larger diameter than the bolt cutter arms stumps are then chosen with diameters enabling the arms and sections to tightly telescope. When required for use, the tubing sections are sleeved over the stumpy arms of the modified bolt cutter, and cutting proceeds normally... so exclusion approaches to access control will always ultimately fail.

This is not an advocation of gratuitous lock removal, it is raising the issue of rethinking public access to public works. I think a policy of maximum access is better, since this enables people to have a look (at their own risk), doesn't involve smashing locks and also enables people to get out in a hurry if needs be.

Methinks when people are old enough to smash locks, people are old enough to take responsibility for the subsequent damage that may occur to them as a result of being in the once-locked area. Conversely, the authorities should realise that locking grilles and welding manholes is a very good way to trap people in a confined space.

Those familiar with Zen will see shades of Ganto's Ax in the following story, related to me by a Melbourne Clan Co-Founder (mystic music please...)

"Ages ago, the grille at the first split in Dungeon had been left closed and the lock was locked - but not locked around both hasps, so you could still open the grille. We were sick of smashin' endless Board of Works padlocks off the grille, so we bought a lock and locked the grille - through the other hasp of the grille AND the shackle of the Board of Works's lock. So they had keys and we had a key (actually a lot of us had keys!) and whoever wanted in could get in, and be responsible with the locks by locking 'em up in tandem after going through. This worked for about two years."

"Anyway, one day we came along and found our lock had been oxy'd off, and the Board of Works lock was back on, and the grille was locked up again. So we came back and took their lock out, and went in. Then we saw the notices pasted on the wall of the drain from Victoria (Uphold the Reich) Police, saying blah blah tresspass, blah break'n'enter and blah they'd press charges and all that shit. So after that we'd break off their locks and remember how it was.... eventually they gave up and now the grille is always open."

The local locksmith must have loved it.

Tips and techniques
Day vs. Night. Whilst the time of day can be often considered irrelevant to the sacred practise of urban speleology, I would like to suggest a few advantages to choosing exactly which hour of the day one would consider doing a drain.

I have generally found that the exploration of drains in daylight slightly less fun than the night-draining. One's night-vision doesn't really kick in for several minutes and coming out is a blinding, dazzling experience. Ouch.

However, day-draining gives you a better idea of the cloud conditions which are prevalent just before you get in, and it is also fun to have the drain occasionally lit up from sunlight pouring in through a small grille in the top of the drain or through the diffuse beam of a lit side tunnel. The warmth of the long-forgotten sun can be a pleasant embrace after slogging along subterranes for an hour or three.

The night drain is one done for reasons of stealth. There are some places you just can't get into or out of during daylight without having some guard waste his time and yours by asking a whole lot of questions and getting answers he is probably too stupid to believe, despite your having torches in broad daylight. Try and be quiet and avoid external torch use if possible.

One finds the smell from the surface wafts into the drain at night. In general one can pop questionable manholes with considerably greater safety at 3am when there is all but zero traffic. Coming out of the drain with the munchies and having nowhere nearby to sell you food is sometimes a bit of a drag, but there are good japes to be had by, for instance, shining your laser-pointer beam on the inside ceiling of cars stopped at traffic lights, from your cosy position in a nearby gutter grate.

Drainwalking. One of the things the neophyte drainer discovers is that drains are slippery. That is, the surface is either covered in algal slime or is just implicitly smooth due to erosion and wetness. There is a wide variety of conditions, ranging from virgin rough concrete to slimy red brick, cement pipe, plastic, surfaces covered in pebbles, mud, broken glass and assorted members of the slime families. Until one is used to it, one tends to just fall over a lot, usually to the mirth of ones colleagues.

It is also noticeable that the "boomp" sound of your shoes on the concrete changes pitch upwards as the diameter of the pipe you're in decreases.

Appropriate footware helps. Something with a soft rubber sole and a lot of tread, particularly spiky tread, is better than the smooth soled stuff, and Blundstones, Doc Martens, and the like are now known to cut the mustard (contrary to my previous claims). Sneakers are ok, but don't handle the slime too well, and their spongy sole construction offers less protection to penetration by rusting nails, broken glass, etc.

To walk in a drain without falling, don't attempt sudden movement. It is the acceleration or deceleration generated by sudden moves which will cause you to lose traction. Generally an even pace, with weight spread evenly over your sole, will provide better grip than an edge-step or toe-creep.

Naturally if a drain is dry (ie, has the small trickle down the middle but dry everything else) walk on the dry sections. In the smaller diameter round tunnels, parabolics, oblate ellipsoid, and larger oviform drains one can use a rhythmic pattern of walking three or five steps on either side of the water running down the middle, to wit, place feet as follows:

[weird two-step pattern]

Believe us, it makes life easier on your ankles, it tends to keep your feet on their appropriate side more of the time, and is less strenuous than walking each foot on its own side of the water all of the time. Of course, you may opt for the simpler but occasionally more slippery approach of just walking in the water itself, but keeping dry has its advantages, especially after prolonged sessions underground where wet feet become unpleasantly soggy and painful to walk on.

Some drains are slightly shorter than the explorer, which demands some contortion. Crouching rapidly sets thigh muscles on fire; walking with head towards one shoulder, or with hands beind your back to remove some of the strain of stooping forward, helps. For a little while.

Move your eyes around! Paying attention only to the drain flooring leaves you vulnerable to walking into the occasional pipes/beams slung across the tunnel roof, or protruding inlets, because you didn't see them. Yes, top-of-skull impact with steel, rock or terracotta is usually painful.

Going Much Further Up Drains. Sometimes there are worthwhile, large tunnels which can only be reached via small tunnels. Hence the keen drain explorer may need to crouch, squat, crawl on all fours or belly-grovel for a period. Generally this will demand that you get wet, unless you bring a transport aid. My investigations into the cut-off bottom half of domestic shopping trolleys demonstrated they are heavy, hard to conceal, look suspicious, are too large to go in anything less than metre wide, and - true to form - do not steer very well.

Pipe diameters are standardised. In less restricted pipe (say, 750mm diameter or more) there is adequate clearance for skateboards. You can use these in 525mm diameter pipes, but you're really forcing the issue. In a 450mm pipe, forget trying to lie on the plank. A 375-dia pipe will just fit the skateboard but not much else.

The usual technique is to lie upon the deck face down, (face up means your hair gets caught under the wheels and everything you see is upside down!) after placing some layers of padding (towels, carpet underlay, urethane foam) on the deck to prevent body bruising. Some people don't care about the direction of the plank relative to them, some prefer to reverse their plank and have the skid-pad end near their head. Push with legs/feet and steer by leaning in the direction you want to go. Gloves help - they protect fingers from debris and also keep them dry, and warmer than the ambient concrete temperature. Armoured kneepads are good too, but may chafe the skin behind the knee joint.

Drains are skateboard-hostile. You cannot prevent abrasive grit (suspended in the water) from penetrating the bearings, but you can use serviceable bearings from Naachi, which are $20 per set of 8, and when servicing them, re-pack them with Castrol anticorrosion boat-trailer bearing-grease, and they will last a long time even after prolonged submersion in salt water.

Im my experience a skateboard is also good for towing items. An eyehook can be screwed into a standard (er, Toyworld $20 `disposable') deck, and attached to the explorer with a length of rope, this was standard practise at many of my drainage worksites. A standard skateboard is not so good for personal tunnel transport without modification, because there are pipe sections with enough debris to bog normal wheels under body weight, or rubbish which becomes caught around the trucks and axles, or the standard 60mm diameter wheels drop into and jam in the joints between the pipe sections. You do get sick of the "ooof" "ooof" "ooof" feeling on your ribcage.

Sydney Clan's Mr India uses large diameter wheels on his radical, customised drain-plank - sourced from Manly Blades [ 029 9763833, Shop 2, 49 North Steyne, 2095]. They stock drain-proven (but a tad expensive) gear such as "Deckhead Dozer" 125mm diameter, alloy hub, urethane wheels with knobby tread, for $160 per set of 4 (with stand-offs to stop the wheels chafing the underside of the deck). Another wheel, by "Censored Performance" has a solid nylon hub in a 76mm diameter wheel, which is about 45mm wide; 4 for $65. They also sell "Independant" extra-wide 215mm aluminium trucks for $50/ea. Note that wide trucks and large wheels will improve debris clearance, minimise bogging and joint-jamming, but the price paid for this is that you're a little more cramped into the roof of the drain.

Skateboards will fishtail (auto-swerve) in round pipes, tending to oversteer and overcorrect constantly. You can lathe standard wheels into a truncated cone (mounted on the axle with small end pointed outwards) and this will act to centre the skateboard automatically, but will increase bogging and wheel wear on flat sections. One can also fit narrow, in-line skate wheels (rollerblade wheels) onto skateboard trucks, though you will need washers or sleeves to account for the missing wheel thickness on the axle, they aren't very comfortable to ride, and they bog quite easily in certain types of debris.

My TruToys, scratched-up, delaminating-from-water-exposure-and-I-don't-care, skateboard deck is 760mm long, and hence won't turn around in a standard diameter pipe section from the 750mm size down. I wouldn't be too upset about shaving 10 or 15mm off the ends, the whole board is worth next to nothing. Long, 38 inch (965mm) boards are more comfy to lie on but less likely to be able to be turned around in a given drain (need a 1050mm diameter pipe to turn in).

Skateboards can be fitted with lights and batteries, which leaves hands free to push if you have no head torch (you will appreciate this even if it looks silly topside). Mind your head, and do try not to run over your fingers. Additional trucks don't significantly improve stability, and they degrade the steering but do minimise the bowing in the deck.

Note that small-diameter tunneling presents its own problems. It is not always a given that the air supply is adequate. Further, you cannot turn around in a conduit with a diameter (or long diagonal) less than the distance from your patella (kneecap) to the back surface your pelvis (hips). This distance is mostly the femur, (thighbone) : your spine and head length can be longer than this but they are flexible and can curl to conform with the pipe wall whereas the femur is solid bone and will not (wow, just like a skateboard). So, when one approaches a small pipe, one must consider the possibility that not only will the forward crawl/skateboard roll be a trying episode, but may have to be done later in reverse. Get in the pipe and try to turn around right near the entrance. If you can't, decide on the basis that you will not, after say 200m (!) of grovelling, find a convenient shaft in which to turn. You might find a nice, deep erosion scour pit to turn in, but don't bet on it.

You can squirm along a pipe of diameter slightly more than your cross-section, with your arms stretched out in front of you. It is serious physical effort, not something to be undertaken lightly, squirming in reverse is even harder. There is also scope for life-threatening panic for those who do not focus and concentrate. If you are in a small conduit and it rains, you won't be able to squirm much faster than your normal squirming rate. The consequences of this are obviously significant.

Navigation. Don't rely on maps, mostly they are old and they have been known to be notoriously unreliable, with bypasses and overflows and tributaries added to the drain long after the map was printed. Taking a compass is ok in some drains (rock, red brick and plastic) but round cement and precast reinforced sections have enough iron in them to yield completely erratic results (a compass needle will do a complete 540 degree donut in the space of 2 pipe sections in some cases) since these sections commonly have their own fields.

Holding your torch next to your compass when taking a reading is also a good way to get a bad reading because the torch has its own field, generated by the current flowing through the torch itself.

As for getting lost, with the exception of Dungeon (with a 3D figure 8 space loop) and Maze (which has so many alternate routes it is all but impossible to memorise) this phenomenon is rare... mark your entrance manhole with some ribbon or spraypaint. If all else fails, remember that water always flows down hill and make a mental note of which way it was flowing when you first got in. Eventually you will end up at a beach or similar outlet if you continue down stream. A street directory is sometimes a useful asset.

Propaganda. Back in the early history of the Clan it used to be that message bags with cassette tapes or reading material were left in the far upper reaches of drains. For example when the Melbourne branch of the Clan came to Sydney they would put a cassette into sticky-taped plastic film bags and attach them to some part of the drain. This was so other drain explorers would find the material and try to make contact with the Clan. Sadly they were often wrapped inadequately to protect the contents from attack by floodwater, bacterial growth or humidity, by the time we got to them, if they were still there (in some cases half a decade later) they were unreadably degraded.

To ensure that a message (or, say, a copy of Urbex) left in a drain will last for a long, long time, roll the material up and insert it into a clean, well dried 1.25L PETE drink bottle. For extreme dessication you could add in a small bag of silica gel, but this probably won't be necessary. Screw on the lid tightly. Take a cable tie and lock it around the neck flange of the bottle, and through that cable tie, thread in another cable tie, which you lock around a stepiron or something like that. Cable ties are cheap, they do not rust (like wire) or rot (like string) or unravel (like inadequately tied rope), and last for decades. It is appreciated if these are left for total newbies - people with existing Clan membership should get their Il Draino/Urbex from the back catalogue instead of undoing all the work which went into placing the message bottles.

Photography. Drains are not a friendly environment for cameras. Apart from being wet (and hence fatal to the camera if you drop it in the water) they are humid, and vater vapour from the drain will tend to condense on the camera lens if the camera lens is cooler than the drain's air, smudging your photos. Some Clan photographers transport their cameras in sealable, zip-lock baggies, or have looped rope on their cameras to keep them attached to their wrists.

Nonetheless the Clan has taken thousands of photographs in drains, and many of these have gone on to grace the illustrious pages of Urbex or Il Draino, the magazines for the thinking drain explorer.

Sydney Clan's sooper-haaardcore photographer ///Siologen feeds his camera rig 400ASA film, but changes it to 800ASA if he thinks there's a need for greater field depth, but general field depth is not something he worries about because drains, usually being depth-similar, don't generally need it - what they need is maximum aperture due to the dimness of the light.

Long exposures can be used to interesting effect in drains which are either dimly lit from outside or drains which are lit by moving torchlight. The colour temperature of the light source changes the tone of the shot, for example a long exposure shot will look yellow if lit by tungsten filament torch globes, but will instead gain a pleasant hue of vomit green if lit by fluorescent tubes. Xenon flashes are spectrally white so you get a white shot if you paint with a flash, which also gives a strobe effect if your subjects move.

The surface texture of the drain influences the granularity of the shot. While red brick gives a crisp definition, something amorphous like rockblasted stone does not, so focussing is difficult and the shot can become a bit murky. Some drains lack visual cues to act as a size scale, so it is useful to include one or more persons in the shot, which also eliminates the dark fogginess of the center part of the drain, which reflects no light. He uses a reasonably large, collapsible aluminium tripod for some of his shots, and says "Fuckin' tripod!" a lot when getting through tight squeezes or when getting out in a hurry.

My personal kit is a 35mm camera with a timer delay, a flash, a small telescoping tripod, and a slave flash unit where possible. I use a fairly fast, 400ASA colour film, because that's as long as I can keep the shutter open without manual intervention. But, since my camera is old, I can lie to it about what film speed it is using - like, using 400ASA film but setting the camera at 200ASA gives it twice the exposure it should get.

Flashes are a must, but don't use them if, say, exploring an abandoned factory at night. Use IR diode array floodlights and IR sensitive film. Note that a standard camcorder detector element will see into the IR spectrum pretty well.

Cameras are a little bit risky insofar as they contain a record of your, uh, trespass. Hence, it may be necessary to pop the cover and expose the film (or crush the disk, if you're using a digital camera) to eliminate the evidence. When I get my exposures developed, I use one-hour fotomats, pay cash and give a false name, to minimise the chance of my name and address details being passed to various interfering anti-fun authorities.

Tagging-up. Otherwise known as graffiti. We recommend the non-ozone-destroying aerosol paints available in hardware stores, since paint is absorbed well and we have found it stays a long time compared to artline textas. Charcoal is all but useless in drains, being washed off by the next flood. Crayon is ok.

Melbourne Clan have painted whitewash on certain parts of certain drains to facilitate message-writing. The Pentel white correcting-fluid pens are good and things written with them last a long time, but concrete rapidly grinds the plastic tip down and they require squeezing to get the ink running, which gives hand cramp when writing ornate graffiti.

Textas remain the tool of choice for discrete, precision tag-up.

Modern-day textas tend to use an organic aldehyde as the solvent for carrying pigment down the tip by capillary action. Textas can be made to last longer or rejuvenated when they dry out, by unscrewing their tips, or unplugging their plugged end, and adding solvent to the fibre inkwell. Makeshift solvent material is cheaply available from hardware stores - acetone. Don't use too much solvent or the texta writing will be thin and washed-out, or the texta will leak. Flooding the texta is not a good idea, you want maybe one or two millilitres of solvent.

Certain types of concrete tend to clog or erode the tips on artline textas. usually one can prevent this by wiping the concrete smooth and dry before writing. If you want to tag and your texta has "died" it may be possible to tag using the inkwell directly. Unscrew or unplug the texta, shake or pull out the fibre core (hard to do on aluminium artline textas) and use it to write your tag.

The real advantages to spray paint are that it can write on the rough sufaces and can also be used as a pesticide. I find this useful for clearing redback spiders from gutter grilles; since there is never methane buildup in these open-aired grille-boxes, you can safely convert your spraypaint to an impromptu flame thrower and nuke the little mothers (gouts of flame emerging from drainage grilles may arouse suspicions, however). Dispose of your empty can in a responsible way, dont just flick it in the water. Puncture your can extensively to allow rapid natural oxidation after use if it looks like going to landfill.

Stickers were a popular method of tagging, and they last a long time, but tend to work better on smooth, clean, flat surfaces - for example on top of previous works of graffiti.

The Clan tends to put their PO box and http addresses in the drains they explore, along with the handles of members present on the expedition, and the date... the wrong date. We sometimes date it so that we were supposedly in-drain a few days before we actually were, or a few days after.

Technical and safety stuff which matters
The basic rules of drain exploring.
1) When it rains, no drains. Check the skies, get a weather report. DO it!
2) Always go in numbers (3 is good, more can get a bit crowded).
3) Tell a third party where you are going. In some cases you might arrange someone to come looking for you, if you haven't called them by a prearranged time.
4) Take a reliable torch. Also take a reliable spare torch.
5) Check the air for noxious, unbreatheable or poisonous impostors.

Lighting. Torches are your lifeline in the drain. Drains are so dark that your brain fools you into thinking that you saw something, just cause it is so used to seeing that it is uncomfortable when it isn't. There is not a visible-spectrum photon to be had. Wave your hand in front of your face and you won't see it, you'll only think you did. So forgive me, but I will go into this topic in some detail.

It goes without saying: don't use candles, you can't smell methane.

Always carry a spare torch! I'll say it again, always carry a spare torch. Make sure they both work when you go in. Examples of unsuitable light sources can be found at the end of this section.

Photonic ettiquette. Do NOT shine your torch or fire your camera flash into other explorer's eyes. This is rude and messes up their night vision for some time. The reason why you need surprisingly little light to see by when your eyes have dark-adapted, is that dark-adapted human eyes have extreme sensitivity to light, because of the HUGE signal-gain of the processes intrinsic to retinal rods and their rhodopsin-based photon capture machinery. When the irises are fully dilated and your eyes have adapted to detect single photons, it really hurts to have several thousand trillion of 'em pumped into your retina.

Whilst usually not critical in a drain, carelessly shining a light, or firing a camera flash in a nocturnal topside expedition will invariably attract unintelligent pest organisms like moths and security guards. Practise "light-care". Let your eyes adapt, and then travel with as little illuminant as possible.

Torches in general. There is a tendancy among newbie drain explorers to carry a macho-lookin' photon-blastin' torch, which is a little silly insofar as they are hard to conceal when walking to or from a drain, or when being interrogated by proto- porcine authoritarian low-lifes.

Small torches are easier to hide on your person, as well as being easier to cover when lit for "light-care" reasons.

Cheap torches are less of a hassle to abandon or lose, and tend to be less reliable than good quality torches but can be made more rugged in numerous ways.

Since the drains are wet and dark, the first requirement is that torches are reliable. Reliable is good. You need your light source more than it needs you. Turn your torch off and try and walk along in the dark to demonstrate this.

Second requirement is waterproofness. Water will short your torch or corrode its guts, making it unreliable. Unreliable is bad.

The next requirement if the torch is not attached to you in some way, is that it floats... drop a Maglite in the water and it'll sink like a brick, possibly to where you can't get it back, so add a wrist-loop, or forget 'em, unless you feel you need a torch which doubles as a truncheon (or is that a boat anchor).

A certain amount of ruggedness in design is useful.

The early Dolphin torch, the Series 1, whilst bulky, fulfills these requirements. Its seal is straightforward, it is easy to assemble in the dark by feel (one should know how to reassemble one's torch and replace the battery/bulb in the dark) but is relatively hard to hide.

Keyring-mounted mini-maglites are good for emergency use.

The Petzl Zoom headtorch (with added silicone waterproofing, custom LED globe and NiCd batteries) is my illuminant rig of choice. Clones of Petzl head torches also exist for less money and use flange-fit bulbs in lieu of the Miniature Edison Screwbase bulbs used in genuine Petzl units. The most common failure mode of the Petzl head torch is breakage of the copper strands in the wires leading from the battery compartment to the headlight, either near the headlight or the compartment case. This is cheaply remediated with a length heavier duty wire of the same outer diameter. The Petzl carries a fitting for a spare globe.

I recommend SRT Australia 97096299, 11 Nelson Ave Padstow NSW. They sell: Princeton head torch. No zoom, very waterproof, uses 4 x AA cells $75.65 Petzl Zoom head torch. Zoom, water resistant, uses 3 x AAs or 3LR12 $78.50

Some reports have stated that the Princeton is somewhat brittle and susceptible to case fracture with hard shocks.

I usually back up my petzl with a two D-cell flashlight, and also a finger-mounted orange LED micro-torch. Spelean (92642994) is the sole Australian proprietor for Petzl, though there are other licensed distributors.

Occasionally people bring fluorescent-tube torches into a drain, and they work fine for local viewing but aren't so good for shining light into the middle distance, and they also break relatively easily in our experience. Cuts from broken fluoro-tube glass take a long time to heal up, healing is inhibited by the rare-earth phosphors inside the tube.

We are all envious of TV crews and their high-powered Sun Gun systems, with belt-mounted batteries. We are not envious of the effect these devices have on our dark-adapted eyes. Ow!

Cyalume sticks are a good emergency light source. They are bright for about 3 hours then go for another 5 hours. Shelf life is about 3 years. Freezing probably helps preserve the protein component which makes the light. It is fun to make these glow, then cut them open and pour the glowing goop on the street at night, people get it on their tyres and leave glowing treads going off into the distance... just don't get it on your clothes or it will permanently stain them. They can be obtained from disposal stores ($5-10 each) or from Sigma Aldrich: Unit 2, 14 Anella Avenue (or PO BOX 970) Castle Hill NSW 2154; in red, yellow or orange (12 hr duration), six sticks for $40 (+ $15 P&H), though Sigma no longer have green, white or blue for some reason.

Incandescent Filament Types. I don't bother with Halogens. They are very bright, but also very hot, are power-hungry, expensive and eventually go yellowish. Kryptons are more efficient than the standard globe but also a little dearer, and many people use them happily. Globes come in bayonet, MES (miniature edison screwbase) and flange fittings. The voltage and current ratings are usually stamped into the metal fitting. The filament is usually tungsten, the globe is usually backfilled with an inert gas like krypton or xenon to minimise filament evaporation.

Making filament globes last for longer. Say you have a 4.5V globe in your torch, and you feed it 4.0V. This means it isn't quite as bright as it could be, but human scotopic vision is very sensitive, and the percieved dimness problem goes away once the eyes have dark-adapted.

Filament globes last a LOT longer when you operate them below their designated voltage - globes are manufactured to have a certain life - a few hundred hours - at their correct operating voltage, then they die, forcing you to buy another bulb, however they often die faster than this, because a freshly recharged battery will deliver slightly more than its rated voltage, and this excess voltage will quickly evaporate the filament (or migrate the dopants in the case of semiconductor light sources), shortening its lifespan. Using them at lower voltage means you win two ways, buying fewer batteries and killing fewer globes.

Semiconductor Types. For prolonged, medium output light, you can employ the new high-intensity light emitting diodes (LEDs) which are now available. They work for 11 years continuously, and come in a variety of sizes and colours, including white.

You can use red ones if you don't want to mess up your night vision, and you can use infrared ones if you want to make an IR floodlight for use with a nightscope. LEDs are very power efficient because they waste almost no energy as heat. They're hard to break, being made of epoxy, not glass.

White LEDs do have some significant drawbacks associated with their use. They are costly, polar (must be fitted right way around) and their total brightness is currently much less than a typical cheap incandescent globe. If you're with other people who are using regular torch globes, the LED light will appear dim relative to their torch light. They are prefocussed and hence the Petzl's Zoom function doesn't work with the LED source.

1) They don't like being over-voltaged. For example, a LED which likes to run off 20mA, pushed by a 3.6 volt source, will die quickly if fed with 4 volts. Also, the LED needs at least 3.6 volts to light up, some batteries may not deliver this voltage after some period, even though the cells still have lots of energy left in them - they will be dim if fed their required current at less than their required voltage. Getting around this requires a DC/DC converter and tricky support circuitry.

So, they're best used for single person operations, as close-up light sources, or emergency use.

Crudely retrofitting a globe with white LEDs is simplicity itself. Choose a LED with the right voltage for the sort of battery with which you power your torch, or include a 0.25W resistor of appropriate value in series with the LED for use with a particular LED if there's excess voltage coming from the DC source.

Voltage:     Resistance 
 3.5               0
 4.5              33
 6.0              82
 9.0             180
12.0           270-330
24.0             680        (ex: DSE)

Take out the normal glass bulb, break the glass, solder the LEDs (in series with required resistor) onto the protruding wires where the filament used to be. (LEDs are polar so ensure it's soldered into the globe the right way around.) You can cut short the leads on the LED to make it fit where the bulb used to be. Some LEDs give more light than others, some have better beam focussing than others. Once it's all soldered up, you can seal it with silicone, let it dry, screw it into the same socket as the original bulb used to fit in.

I built a LED globe for my Petzl, using three white LEDs at six candela each. The current drain is 60mA, and it's quite bright - staring into it is painful. It goes continuously for a couple of days off my abovementioned NiCds. Its sole drawback is its lack of a focussed spot at a distance. I have since made a MES screwbase accommodate six such LEDs after filing the LEDs into 60 degree wedges, but this was quite tricky.

These LEDs are $7 retail at Jaycar. Note that because LEDs have low current drain, NiCds don't "die" as drastically as they do with conventional filament globes.

Cave Clan Research and Development Division are in the process of making white LED globes with inbuilt overvoltage protection, current regulation and undervoltage compensation, for cavers, drain explorers, rock climbers, and other connoiseurs of miniaturised, high-tech, energy efficient lighting. For details see - there is no guarantee that the production model will be ready prior to circulation of this .txt but the URL is where the first mention will be made thereof.

Laser pointers are hazardous to dark-adapted eyes and hence should not be used carelessly, if at all.

Care and Feeding of Batteries. I recommend Alkaline types for the casual expo and high capacity (4 or 5 Ampere/Hour D cell) NiCd types for light weight, and prolonged rechargeable power, over a life of several years.

Australian Consumer Association did tests revealing that Energiser alkaline batteries do have a more gradual close-to-flat discharge curve than equivalent size Duracell batteries. Both Energiser and Duracell are far more expensive than Woolworth's "Acme" brand alkaline cells, which perform very similarly to both Energisers and Duracells.

Take batteries that are "known about" - that is, don't borrow gran's torch in the hope that she keeps the batteries fully charged. Life really sucks when your torch goes flat. Especially in a drain. Especially at night. Especially if it isn't your &@#{%$* torch.

My current favourite torch, The Petzl Zoom, (variable focus) uses a special Duracell 4.5V 3LR12 (MN1203) battery, which including 12% tax, thanks Mr Costello, costs a lot, $11.10, and outlets are scarce. You can drop 3 AA's into the adaptor it comes with but they are expensive. Accu rechargeable batteries for Petzls cost too much ($80.00, you could get another head torch for that!).

So I have retrofitted my Duracell Petzl batteries : I used 'em, then cracked 'em open, pulled out the dead alkaline cells and fitted three 1Ah 1.2V NiCd A cells each (in series with a polyswitch protector rated to trigger at three amperes) to give 3.6V DC, 1 amp-hour. They're silicone-sealed for waterproofness, the tag-ends solder-coated to minimise corrosion. Wicked.

Note that The Cave Clan Research and Development Division will also retrofit old, dead Duracell 3LR12 batteries with rechargable 1Ah NiCds and polyswitches on request. See the URL for white LED globes (above).

Different cell types differ in their discharge/voltage characteristics.

Alkaline cells, Nickel Metal Hydride cells and the standard Zn/NH4Cl "carbon" cells, will get dim gradually over their life before getting totally flat. By comparison, NiCds will not dim much at all, but will then go from nearly flat (dim) to totally flat (dark) very quickly.

What this means is, say you're using alkalines, and you notice the globe dimming. You might have half an hour before the alkaline battery is totally dead, whereas once you percieve a similar size NiCd going dim, you might only have light left for a couple of minutes. This is something which although not threatening in itself is something of which the NiCd user should be aware.

The steepness of the NiCd discharge curve is not such a concern if you use a LED globe (see below) because LEDs exhibit low current drain and will still function on an almost-flat NiCd for some time. This is not an excuse to go in drains with half-flat NiCds.

Make sure NiCds are totally flattened before recharge, to remove the 'memory' effect. I deep-discharge my 3.6V NiCd battery with a 2.2V LED until it doesn't glow any more (each 1.2V cell is flattened down to 0.73V) then charge them at the "charging current = 0.1 x the total battery amp capacity" rate for 10 hours or so. Do whatever the manufacturer recommends for your battery. Some NiCds will self-destruct if you fast charge them at rates higher than the 10 hour rate.

NiCd's are very cheap in the long term despite the initial capital outlay. They handle abuse well; for instance, they won't degrade if left fully flat like lead acid cells will. NiCd's also have practically zero internal resistance, so don't short them out as this causes the electrolyte to boil and the cell will split or the internal tabs will melt. Short-out damage can prevented by putting a bimetal strip switch (Klixon type) or better, a polyswitch in series with the cells in the battery. A polyswitch protector acts like an infinitely resettable fuse. Polyswitches (positive temperature co-efficient resistors) are obtainable from Jaycar:

 Trip Current (amp)     Jaycar Cost (each)
     3.75                    $3.25
     2.8                     $2.85
     2.4                     $2.75

Choose one rated way beyond the expected current loading of the battery (say, over three amps), so it won't interfere with normal operation loads. Using polyswitches in your battery rig is excellent cheap insurance to protect your investment in the battery itself.

Dropping charged batteries in salt water, especially fully charged, is highly unrecommended, hence the recommendation to use good silicone sealant.

My charger hangs off the mains, but you can also buy or build ones that will deliver 6V off a 12V car battery. Mains-driven ones may consist of a stepdown transformer, a bridge rectifier (WO-04 or equivalent), an optional smoothing capacitor, resistors to bring the voltage down to that required by your battery, and alligator clips for attachment to terminals. The typical circuit is on p247 of the Dick Smith Electronics Catalog, but it's a pretty wasteful circuit. There are other circuits which use three-terminal regulators (for example, the LM317T regulator in a TO-220 (solder-tags, not chassis-mount) to give you the required voltage, these are more efficient.

Note that Alkaline and Zinc-carbon cells develop 1.5V, NiCd cells develop 1.25, NiMHs develop 1.2V, lithium cells 3V, - pick a bulb voltage appropriate for the number of the type of cells you will use. Four 1.5V cells, or five 1.25V cells, develop 6V, so use a 6V globe, or for longer globe life and generally a cooler globe (important in plastic torch fittings which can and DO melt) use a 7.2V globe and feed it 6 volts. You get the idea.

Battery Specialties, at Unit 5, 8-10 Deadman Rd, Moorebank NSW (02) 98240033 sell a nifty sealed lead acid battery : PS650L, 6V 5Ah for $25.00 (incl tax) and deliver for $10 to anywhere in Oz. It's a spring terminal battery in a standard lantern battery configuration, so it will fit in a dolphin. These require storage in the charged state and are less tolerant of shorting, possibly they are also a little heavier.

Alkaline cells are costly unless you re-use them, and they *are* rechargeable, since the advent of electronic chargers-on-a-chip which pulse-charge the cell and then sense the back-voltage of the alkaline cell to prevent the cell from overcharging. Oatley Electronics, Lorraine St, Oatley NSW (02)-95843563 sell a mail order a short-form kit ($24 + P&H) to build or the full form kit (including the power supply, it uses 240VAC) for $36 + P&H. I have no data on their performance, though the late Mullet thought they were pretty good.

Do -NOT- buy the Eveready PKL-1200 rechargable lantern battery. It is fucked - overpriced empty space, has woefully little capacity for its volume, is not waterproof when you buy it, and doesn't even give you 6V (a measly 4.8). It uses el-cheapo cells and an unsealed bimetal strip switch to prevent internal overheating (they could have spent extra cash on a decent Polyswitch resistor, but no...) in the event of a short. Eveready's fascist technical staff won't divulge the schematic of the simple charge board inside that battery, which you need to reconstruct because it will eventually corrode if exposed to moisture. Low-quality pricks.

Another crappy Eveready product is the rechargable RC-290 flashlight. Whilst the parabolic reflector at the front does a very good job at focussing the globe's light into a nicely collimated beam, the torch has a woeful, measly internal 2.4V 0.28Ah NiCd inside. This torch is marketted as a power-failure operated rechargeable flashlight... I think I'd want a LOT more than 0.28Ah (about 1 hour of light) stored up inside a torch I'd purchased in preparation for a power failure. The RC-290 can be retrofitted with 2 of 1Ah "AA" NiCds, and the existing NiCd pile removed. Real estate inside the case is tight, the 1N4004 power diodes on the printed circuit board should be re-soldered to the copper-track side, enable the new NiCds to fit. Such a retrofit will give about three hours of light.

You can cheaply build a good 6V 4Ah NiCd rechargeable lantern battery! Buy a 6V lantern battery with a plastic case, use it till it dies, carefully open it up, pull the guts out, and shove five of the 4Ah 1.2V NiCds, and a series 3 amp polyswitch, into it. It's a tight fit. Solder the cells together, use insulated, medium-duty conductor. Seal it. Charge it. Re-use it for the next twenty years, and be happy. You can usually score two of these excellent 4Ah 1.2V NiCd cells from emergency "EXIT" lights, which use them as a backup if the power fails. They come with metal tags terminals in this case. Hmmm... take the whole EXIT sign and use *that* as a torch... um, nah.

Cost of 5 4Ah 1.2V NiCd cells is about $80 at DSE, though there are places around that sell 'em cheaper. Jaycar (city) sell a really great D-cell sized 1.2V NiCd with 5.1Ah capacity! $17 each, $15.25 each if you buy ten or more. They're Vinnic brand, Catalog number SB2466. Their fone number in Sydney in the city is 92671614

Gates Energy Products of Gainesville, Florida make 4Ah 1.2V NiCd D cells as does a French company called SAFT, so does Vinnic (at Jaycar).

Here is some more free advertising for nEveready: despite the most useless battery on the market, they did make a great torch, once - the series 1 Dolphin, of which I think you can still get a good Republic Of China copy, from DSE for thirty bucks... Performer brand or something. Ha ha, sucked in, Bhopal Bastards.

I have no personal experience with the new, high capacity Nickel Metal Hydride cells. I would recommend them on the basis of the fact that per unit volume they store twice as much energy as NiCd's and exhibit no memory effects. I don't know about their discharge voltage characteristics. A high level Clan man attempted to recharge some NMH cells in a NiCd charger... once. One of the cells detonated and blew the end off the charger, so at least I can tell you to be meticulous when recharging NMH's.

You can often calculate how long your rig will provide you with light. If you're using a globe which uses 3 volts, 0.22 amps, then a 3 volt battery (two 1.5V cells) rated at 1 amp-hour gives 1Ah 0.22a = 4.5 hours of light.

LEDs use weenie amounts of current, sometimes 0.02 amps, so you get light for much longer time off the same charge.

It is prudent to do a test session with your torch and batteries to find out how many hours of light you can expect from your particular rig. Set up your torch with a globe and a battery just like you'd usually use in a drain, turn it on and start the stopwatch, time how long it takes to go dim and die. You might be surprised at how little you get. My Petzl rig delivers about 7 hours light from a 4.5V 0.22A globe, even though it operates under its rated voltage, and I carry a spare battery. The 3-white-LED globe will go for about two days. I'm rarely underground for 14 hours these days, but it's nice to know if I am, or if I come out in the dark of night, I have the light to go the distance.

Spare batteries are a good idea too, especially in your spare torch (ho ho). The spare torch should be immediately used to check out what's wrong with the main torch, if possible, so if the spare torch also fails, you still have your main torch. I'm a bit iffy about lending my spare torch, because then I and the person I lend it to have no backup torch. It sounds a bit fussy, but all these backups assure you can still see where you're going.

In dire emergencies, Clan personnel have used camera flashguns, cigarette lighter flint-ignition sparks, lit matches, laser pointers, flashing lights from roadworks, Vistalite bicycle safety blinkies and the backlit displays of mobile telephones as light sources. These do not perform very well and we do not recommend them.

Air quality determination. First, a few words from Inspector, a non-clanman who sent us this info to our filebase on the late lamented WebBBS:

A Confined Space is a space of any volume which:
a) is not intended as a regular workplace.
b) has restricted means for entry and exit.
c) may have inadequate ventilation and/or atmosphere which is either 
   contaminated or oxygen deficient.

In the working industry, there are mainly 4 different categories for confined 
spaces. Three of the four categories require the use of ventilation, gas 
testing and monitoring.

Hydrogen Sulfide
Gas Detectors are set to alarm at 10 parts per million, indicating for 
relevant parties to evacuate the area immediately. The area must be 
ventilated and re-tested before any personnel may legally enter the confined 
space. Hydrogen Sulfide is a dangerous gas as the sense of smell diminishes 
with this gas. One could have a false sense of security if they smell the gas 
and continue to stay in the hazardous area. The Board's Instruction 800 
states that you must evacuate the area immediately.

Hydrogen Sulfide is a colourless gas and is very flammable, which sometimes 
has the odour of rotten eggs. It is heavier than air and is often detected at 
the bottom of manholes and trenches.  After 2 to 15 minutes exposure humans 
lose the ability to smell Hydrogen Sulfide and it is then that Hydrogen 
Sulfide becomes dangerous as its presence is no longer apparent without 

Carbon Monoxide
Carbon Monoxide is colourless, odourless, flammable and very toxic. Its 
presence can only be detected evenly by proper testing. Don't be fooled in 
thinking you can smell this gas because you can smell exhaust fumes from a 
car, as said before this gas is odourless!

This gas is a chemical asphyxiant and is readily absorbed by the haemoglobin 
in the blood. Then haemoglobin is unable to transport oxygen to the body 
tissues and the body becomes oxygen starved. Actually, the body will absorb 
carbon monoxide 300 times more readily than it absorbs oxygen. Excess Carbon 
Monoxide causes headaches, heart palpitations, with a tendency to stagger 
when walking, mental confusion.

Gas Detectors are calibrated to alarm at 50 part per million of atmosphere. 
Any reading above this must be treated as a hazard to your health, as this 
gas can also kill you if the level is high enough, and the dosage is 

This is another odourless gas which is also explosive. Hydrogen Sulfide and 
Methane can be tricky gases. One example is that the area can be deemed safe 
by using a correctly calibrated gas detector ...but the trap can be that 
there is sludge on the ground which once disturbed (e.g. by walking through)
can emit toxic lethal doses of Hydrogen Sulfide and Methane which can kill 
you.  There are a few case histories in the industry where an employee has 
collapsed and his colleague has gone to help (natural instinct) and has also 
fallen victim and collapsed and died too. This HAS actually happened and has 
been documented!

Gas detectors are set to alarm at 5% of the lower explosive limit. This is 
considered to be a safe working precaution under the Board's Instruction 800.

Oxygen levels must be in the range of 19% - 21% to sustain a premium supply 
to the human body.  Lower levels will cause head aches, dizziness, weakness 
and finally collapsing. No oxygen, means no life!  Also too much oxygen can 
cause unusual behaviour in you or your colleague. One can become irrational, 
suddenly happy (etc) and too much oxygen is also a fire risk (it vigorously 
accelerates combustion)! Experiment...get a normal rag and try to light it 
with a match...take note how much effort is needed to ignite the rag to burn.   
Now get an oxy bottle and hit the rag with a burst of oxygen for a few 
seconds... now light the rag again - WOOSH! You will be surprised at the 

Oxygen may be used up by the rusting of fittings and steelwork and by aerobic 
bacteria (i.e. oxygen-using bacteria). Oxygen may also be displaced in a 
confined space by heavier flammable gases, toxic vapours and inert gases.

The effect of Oxygen is summarised in the following...

21%     Normal behaviour
16%     Increased breathing/pulse rate; headaches; nausea
12%     Dizziness; nausea; reduced muscle power
10%     Turns pale, becomes unconscious
8%      Unconscious, fatal in 7-8 minutes

Drain exploring can be challenging and adventurous, but you must think of
what you are doing as dangerous and you must consider having a professional 
attitude. Think intelligently and be alert!!!! If Hydrogen Sulphide is 
lurking about in the atmosphere or trapped under sludge in a confined space, 
don't think "Hey this dude is an experienced Clan man, it won't bother him". 

Self Rescue Gear
Self Rescue units can be purchased. (I don't know the prices) They come in 
differing configurations usually consisting of a gas cannister and a hood, 
and are carried by a belt around the waist. They can save your life but are 
mainly for short term self-rescue - 5 minutes or so until oxygen is depleted.

There are other units also available which work on a rebreather principle. 
Once popped open, they can supply approximately 30 minutes of oxygen, (if you 
keep calm). They work by the vapour from your breath reacting with the  
crystals in the canister, [potassium superoxide, KO2, which gives KOH, H2O2 
and O2 gas when it reacts with the water vapour in your breath - ] which 
gives off pure oxygen. The canister has a mouth piece (similar to a snorkel) 
which is used as you evacuate the area. They can only be used once, and then 
must be sent to the supplier for refitting and resealing.

These guys are pretty tough, and some people are mis-informed as they think 
when they lift a manhole and see a hundred or so hanging about under the 
top of the manhole, that the air is OK. The reason they are doing this is 
because they are trying to get OXYGEN.  Don't be conned and think cockroaches 
mean it is 100% safe.

Summary: Confined Spaces Hazards
A lot of this above info probably applies more to SEWER environments but 
remember, don't get too confident, as gases and toxic fumes can form for a 
variety of reasons. If you start to get stinging eyes or a headache...chuck a 
"U" turn - pronto!  Don't think you failed your exploration, but evacuate and 
think it through and see if you can make the environment safe somehow. Better 
another attempt than than being dead. If your mate has collapsed unconscious 
up ahead or down a manhole from gases - the Board's Instruction stipulates NOT 
to rescue, (as you may become a victim too) but to get help. Human nature
being as it is, usually results in the individual attempting to help his 
friend, but realise you are doing this at your own risk, be on the ball
and use your common sense.  Only you, can be the judge to make the decision.

Ventilation is the key to help controlling the atmosphere in a confined space.  
The atmosphere in a Confined Space can change rapidly at any time. As well as 
hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, combustible gases, and oxygen 
deficiencies, such gas as nitrogen oxides, chlorinated hydrocarbons, cyanide, 
petrol vapour, and combustion engine exhaust fumes may be present. If any 
unusual feature such as suddenly increased flow, a change in the colour of 
the sewer/water, you must cease immediately!!

The CLANNING Spirit only live once!  "When Clanning, use planning."

Inspector has spent 19 years in the confined spaces area and again I thank him for his suggestions here. Instruction 800 has been recently superceded by another Sydney Water directive but for some reason they won't provide us with it. There are now programmable gas detectors on the market which, in my opinion, beat shit out of the GasTech units and are cheaper to service and self calibrating, too! Lash out on one - wicked.

Checking it out before getting In. Usually you can get into a drain by climbing into a canal (use the stepirons or carefully jump down onto a dry patch of concrete) and walking along until you reach a tunnel. Or you might find a gross pollutant trap, and just climb down the grille and walk in from there. Sometimes, though, you'll be entering a grille - shine your torch through it and look down first (some are really deep) and occasionally you'll even be doing a manhole.

Ok, so you have just popped a cover in the middle of nowhere, and a drain yawns invitingly below you. Now then, is it safe to breathe? You can always lash out on pellistor-detector driven gas analysis systems, (Jaycar sell a kit (KG9178, $35) which picks up carbon monoxide and flammable volatiles, I don't know anything about their accuracy) but usually the average drain explorer will not have these things handy.

Manhole shafts tend to have spiders and cockroaches living in them. These organisms breathe oxygen like us, serving as a useful way to determine if O2 is actually present. Note that they can live on a lot less O2 than we can, and that just because there are a heap of cockies down there it doesn't mean the air is OK. Total lack of it will kill them as well as us, of course.

Breathe into the shaft. Usually they are humid and droplets of your condensed exhaled water vapour will form. If the vapour stays relatively still, that is an indication of stagnant air. If on the other hand it moves down into or up from the shaft that is a good sign, since drains are generally not big enough to support barometrically-driven tidal `breathing'... it means there is an air current in the drain. Better if it is going down the pipe than up, but it's a current nevertheless. Since drains are usually open systems (with the common exception of some sumped drains) with an air outlet at the downstream end and lots of side tunnels, grilles and gutter grates in the catchment, you usually have an air current.

On old, stagnant shafts, you might find a concentration of methane in the shaft. Methane (CH4) is lighter than air per unit volume and displaces oxygen, so it floats to the top of shafts with good seals, after flowing along the ceiling for any distance. Drop a lit match into it, and stand away from the shaft collar. The match may go out since the methane will not support burning without oxygen mixed in with it. If it ignites you'll get a WHOOMP! and a flame, and I would advise you to seek other entrances :)

With the possible exception of anosmics (people who can't smell) you will find your nose a useful thing in drains. Sniff cautiously, breathe through your nose for the first little while. You may find yourself recognising the thin reek of town gas stenching agent, either SO3 (extremely toxic) or tetrahydrothiophene (THT... unknown toxicity) since sometimes leaks in town gas systems escape into the drains. You will smell sour humidity and the smell of rotting vegetation. If you are in a town where the city gas still has carbon monoxide then leave if you smell the stenching agent.

There are other risks. H2S (hydrogen sulfide, rotten egg gas) is highly toxic. Methane is a flammable suffocant with no odour, so is carbon monoxide. You might need to be aware that CO2 is denser than air and accumulates in low points and behind rubber-sealed hatches (a la Scorpion's Flaps). As Inspector mentioned, walking up a tidal drain can disturb the mud at the bottom, releasing methane and hydrogen sulfide, so be careful of this, too. H2S is a particularly insidious toxin due to the human nose's reduced ability to detect the stuff after a while.

Ammonia is poisonous (but noticable), as are nearly all the vapours derived from illegal dumping... diesel fumes, cyanides from various industrial processes (smells like bitter almonds), solvents (acetone, M.E.K., light petroleum) and an endless list of other goodies like electroplating waste, etchants, etc. Illegal dumping varies from city to city, but tends to occur late at night and in the suburbs near the place where the waste was picked up.

Headaches, feeling dizzy, tingling fingers and toes, increased respiratory effort... all these point to oxygen deprivation. Note well and live by it... if you think anything awry with the atmosphere, then leave. The sooner the better, back the way you came. If one of your party needs help, provide it but think about your own preservation at the same time. Something to look for along the drain route is small feeders from gutter boxes and grilles, these often take air from the outside by the Venturi effect and can be a useful source of clean air for a brief time.

Is this, uh, a... sewer? Sewers can occasionally resemble drainage tunnels very closely. There are some sure indicators that you're in a sewer, if you are not certain (this is generally following a manhole entrance). Look at the water. If you're in a sewer, it'll generally have small fragments of white paper floating along in the stream. This is toilet paper. Along with this you will also notice there are turds rolling along in the stream, and you will see the occasional tampon or sanitary pad, too. Along with this you will notice the water is sort of greyish, and the smell is sort of like a cross between shampoo and washing powder (which get put into the sewage in huge quantites). If you are in a sewer, you want to leave.

Ed Note: I put this in since I was invited to do a drain by some new drain explorers... we got the steel cover plate open with a car jack and got in, I looked around thinking ... this is a sewer. They'd done a small section of it before, and thought it was a drain. I wasn't sure, so I looked in the water and sure enough, there was someone's processed dinner, a used condom and a small island of stranded tampons. Time to go, I thought.

Determining shaft depth. You can always carry a tape measure but a quick and easy method is to just drop a stone from the top and time the interval between the start of the fall until you hear impact noise from the bottom. It isn't very accurate unless you are pretty quick with a stopwatch. A stone will drop 9.8m in the first second, 19.6m in the next, and 29.4m in the one after that, ignoring air resistance.

Yes, things do live in drains
Macro. The megafauna (eels, spiders, rats, turtles, yabbies etc) are generally not a problem unless provoked. Redbacks and Funnelwebs are killers so either kill 'em or leave 'em alone. Eels get stroppy if stood upon so look out for them... eels seem to have a particular dislike of light sources, and will attack submerged torches when not trying to hide. Rats will hear you coming and go away quickly, but will fight when cornered. Leeches are rare. You may find the odd snake in a 300mm side feeder or gutter box. You will sometimes find bats, birds and their nests. Large numbers of hibernating bats are sometimes found on the roof of drains. Some may carry Lyssavirus, which was responsible for a fatality in Queensland in 1996. They will not attack you, just leave them alone. They will do their utmost not to fly into you.

Mosquitoes tend to aggregate in stagnant puddles, they are worth your vigilance due to the pathogens they carry.

Burzum discovered a chicken (bock bock b'gerk) resident in a drain in Bankstown in 1996 but this is somewhat unusual. Apparently the thing was unlucky enough to find itself in the canal upstream of Wormhole, and it is unable to fly out. It lives on cockroaches and worms in the sediment.

I have yet to see a saltwater crocodile in a drain but I wouldnt be surprised if such were found in Darwin, where the tides are huge (8 to 10m) and the crocs are plentiful. I could only suggest that you carry a 12-gague shotgun with solid load shells, since crocs are fast, powerful and vicious. They are also patient, and if you go up a shaft will probably wait for you to come down again. These dinosaurs have not lasted for as long as they have by being stupid. Note that discharging a shotgun, pyrotechnic or explosive device in a confined space like a tunnel will significantly damage your hearing if you wear no earplugs, and the smoke from the burnt propellant is a respiratory irritant.

If one night you are in a tidal drain and notice the water glows green around you, do not fret; it is not radioactive waste causing this (which usually glows blue, if you're interested), rather a planktonic dinoflagellate called Noctiluca Scintillans. These bioluminesce (luciferin/luciferase oxidation) when disturbed by physical shock, heat or electric current. The chemistry they employ to make light is copied in Cyalume sticks. They're pinkish, transparent and about 1mm across, and completely harmless.

Typically bottom feeding fish also inhabit tidal drains, mullet particularly so... these will leap out of the water as you approach, and since they don't fly very well, they will sometimes hurtle from the water right into your face.

Humans, perhaps more than any other animal, should be treated respectfully. Don't hassle 'em. Security guards, and cops, are best avoided, due to their intrinsic and amazingly tenacious stupidity. They can often be socially "engineered" into ignoring you, via the use off "righteous presence" body language, especially when this is assisted by props like hardhats, overalls, and work boots, but this will not always work.

Occasionally you will meet someone who lives in a drain or abandoned factory and they may consider you a trespasser. Since the economic rationalisation of the mental health system more and more disturbed individuals have been turned loose to fend for themselves. They tend to live in cheap housing such as the places we explore recreationally. When one is a guest, one respects the wishes of the host. If they suggest you should fuck off, don't wait for a stronger invitation. Sometimes, however, they are quite friendly and enjoy a visit.

Micro. Generally it is the microscopic inhabitants which cause trouble. Drains carry significant amounts of sewer overflow, dog shit, rotting plant material and the occasional dead animal. Particularly after rain, drains contain elevated levels of sewer material, since the sewer is built to overflow into the storm drainage system instead of bursting out ino the street where the population can see it and get ill from it. If cut in a drain, attend to it as soon as possible with ethanol or other disinfectant. Deep puncture wounds (stepping on nails, broken glass, etc) are open routes to clostridium tetanii (tetanus).

Faecal Escherichia coli bacterium is common... indeed, most of the waterborne pathogens and parasitic organisms are available to you, including things from the pseudomonas family, the vibrios, the aerobacters, the proteus group, paracolobactrum, salmonella, various tubercelle bacilli... all of these are happy in water and use it as a transmission vector.

Those above are treated by antibiotics. Shigella tends to not show up, nor do moraxellae, the bacteroides, and the putresing animal inhabitants like sphaerophorus are uncommon. Strep and staph are unusual, though clostridium botulinum and bifermentans are known to take aquatic vectors on occasion.

The virii are another matter. These pathogens are generally rare in storm water, preferring aerosol vectors (expelled droplets). Some use insects as their preferred mode of transmission. A somewhat newer player on the molecular scene is Ross River fever, which is a virus and carried by mosquitoes; the first case of this was reported in Sydney occurred in Jan 1995. Experimental DNA vaccines exist for this virus but I am unaware of them reaching commercial availability. Mozzies will breed in stagnant poos of drain water so explorers, particularly those in the northern climes, are advised to seek pre-treatment for this too. As mentioned, some bats now carry Lyssavirus. Contact a pharmacist and your GP.

From the fungi and worm families, one finds the Ctenomyces interdigitalis (tinea) eumycete is uncommon, though the pathogens for ringworm and the favosan tinea dermatomycoses are present usually. Histoplasmosis is a fungi mainly obtained from pigeon shit dust which contains the spores... another reason why these pests are known as the rats of the air. It can become chronic and has permaturely ended lives of cavers, generally knocking the shit out of your lungs first, then ulcerating the respiratory tract, including nose and ears, eventually going for bone marrow.

Protozoans are rare, the amebiasis and the Toxoplasmosis Gondii pathogens mainly reside in the sewer system. As for the elusive cryptosporidium... who knows. If it can get in your drinking water, you'll probably find it in stormwater too, and if ingested this protozoan will cause diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Giardia is also occasionally found in stormwater.

Worms tend to use a snail vector which is not common to Australia. Many kinds of algal single-celled life exists but have only caused trouble in plague numbers (red tides on seashores or blue-green algae in well-lit rivers with excessive fertiliser loads) and are generally not encountered in such numbers in drains.

In theory one could conceivably get anything from a sewage overflow into a drain. Cuts are common when one falls over, and people have occasionally ingested runoff unintentionally. VERY nasty things are more common in sewers than stormwater: Leptospirosis, for instance, is contractable via the skin, and can live for 3 weeks in fresh water (but is killed relatively quickly in salt water). Leptospiria icterohaemorragiae, the causative agent, will kill you in a week or so, or at least damage your hepatic and renal systems. Trouble is, it appears as a cold, rapidly degenerates into pneumonia, and then kills you due to fun things like hepatic failure. You have to smash it with antibiotics during its incubation period, after which time it is too late and you tend to die.

One never can tell when it will happen. To date no-one in the Clan's 15 year history has died as a direct result of being in a drain, though some members have suffered physical damage at the hands (or feet) of the constabulary. We have had deaths through cerebral annuerism, suicide, motorbike and mountaineering accidents but our safety record is so far unparalled.

Thus I suggest prior immunization. I am immunised against meningococcal meningitis, typhoid, Hepatitis A, Polio, diptheria and tetanus, amongst other things. You can also take boot-to-armpit waders, however this may not be acceptible to followers of Catholicism who tend not to believe in barrier methods. They are a little constrictive but really do keep you dry, as I found when I was wearing them 6 hours a day working for a drain repair company.

Hey... are we professionals or what?

Oh shit, it's raining, help!
Catchment, tides, rain and what to do in a flood. Hopefully you will never need to use this info but I am putting it here since it may save your life. Prevention is certainly better than cure. Now then, all drains have what is known as a catchment, that is, the area where rain falls and eventually goes into a drain. Many drains have very, very large catchments and you can often tell this by their size - a general rule of thumb is that the bigger the drain, the bigger its catchment. When it rains over the main catchment of a drain, it takes a few minutes to actually get the system loaded with water... there are gutter pits to fill, roads to be wet and the like.

It is these few minutes which, when used appropriately, can make all the difference to the length of the rest of your life. A large catchment can dump a couple of megalitres of water into a drain in a few minutes. This and its entrained debris (wood planks, old refrigerators, bottles, etc) will travel down the drain with frightening speed... 50km/h and higher, you will be continually bashed around by the turbulence and totally powerless to grab anything at such a speed if it catches you. If you don't drown you will probably suffer serious physical and psychological trauma.

The last thing you want is to inflict the responsibility of rescue upon some poor SES member or fireman who really doesn't need to risk his life getting you out. To jeopardise the lives of such people is selfish and stupid. So, don't permit yourself to relax so much underground that you fail to heed the signs of impending disaster and get into a situation you cannot control.

Rain and the legendary flash flood. The media and authorities point to the alliterative "flash flood' phenomenon quite a lot. Flash flooding - flooding without warning - is bullshit. It does NOT happen. You have between two and four minutes to get out, up a shaft or on a high ledge before the system is primed... IF you know how to read the signals and don't mess about getting to high ground. You can generally tell if the drain you're in has ever flooded to the top, look for polystyrene bits stuck to the roof or bits of plastic and stick protruding from high stepirons or joints in the pipe or walls.

Pay attention to what's going on. Things to notice when a drain is filling up: the air currents change, as does the noise level. A quiet drain soon gets noisy as the side tunnels and drop junctions start dumping into the main canal. When lots of water goes into a drain, the air is displaced, and you notice big gusts of wind... this is particularly true if the roads were hot when the rain landed on them; the warm water goes into the drain, heats the air above it, which expands, pushing cold air out in front of it.

Ok, so you're up a drain and notice the side tunnel flow increasing a bit. Check the water. Is it dirty? Is it oily? If yes, it is likely to be raining and you're in something far worse than deep shit if you don't do something about it.

Temperature of floodwater can be an important clue, especially on hot summer days. During a sunny day, the roads and roofs heat up. If it suddenly rains on these hot surfaces, the rainwater gets very warm, then it goes into a drain en-route to the ocean. Generally the feeder pipes are buried deeply enough to remain cool, and they will cool the runoff before you get to stick your hand under it where it drops into the main pipe where you are. If there is a LOT of rain on a hot surface, there will be enough runoff staying warm enough to be noticeably warm by the time it reaches you in the main pipe. Hence, hot runoff is very bad news.

Note that in colder months, everything is cold, you can't use this clue. If you're unsure, assume rain... underground it is a case of the quick and the dead.

All these are warning signals that a lot of fast moving H2O is coming your way in a hurry, and that you should get out of its way. 1000 litres of water weighs a tonne. You get a lot more than that in a flood, and it's very hard to walk against it. Can YOU stop a 1-tonne car rolling toward you at say, 10 meters per second, by standing in its way? Not very much.

You will occasionally get false alarms, like the time we were in the Tank Stream, and a pipe started pissing out water, and stopped 30 seconds later. We later determined that this was a council street sweeper truck spraying water into a drain then moving on.

Brown Water Rafting. If one has a lilo or inflatable dinghy one can actually ride the underground rapids, as some individuals in the Clan have been known to do. It is loud, fast and an excellent rush, but barnacles, nails, exposed steel reinforcing, broken glass and rough cement are very unforgiving of equipment and adventurers. Cheap dinghys are available - K-mart's legendary $17 Explorer 100 and Explorer 200 series represent a dinghy which will do the job, and is cheap enough to condemn (or abandon) if seriously damaged. Stormwater rafting should obviously not be attempted in a tunnel with a waterfall, staircase, sump or steep slide downstream of your point of access, and is not generally recommended to those who wish to live into old age.

Emergency escape tactics. First thing to do is keep cool and rational, don't panic. You are in control. Then leave in a hurry. What if you're 2km from the entrance? Well, use your brain. Water heads for the lowest point... so go to the nearest, preferably downstream manhole shaft and climb up it, and wait for the flood to scream by below you. You need not pop the cover, just stay in the shaft, and climb higher than any `bathtub ring' of polystyrene balls and dead grass you see on the shaft wall. Be warned, you may be up there a long time before the raging torrent desists. It will be loud and frightening, but breathe calmly, conserve your airspace.

If there is a protruding wall and you can't get up a shaft in time, get in close to the downstream side of that wall. This is not very safe but it is better than standing in the path of the oncoming maelstrom. Hanging from a grille is not so good either, you will be dumped on (and may lose your grip) but that might be better than being flushed a few km at high speed. Staying out of the flow is mega-priority... nothing can ruin your day like a derilect lawnmower in the back of the head, and there are nastier things in the feeder canals than old 44 gallon drums; roofing beams, bits of rail track, shopping trolleys. The flow smashes them all along, and they are bad news.

Another option in the tidal drains is to get in the tidal water. This water represents a momentum buffer to all the junk in the drain, and it tends to slow the current down, but only a little. You wind up getting pushed out into a harbour or bay or mangrove, wet and dirty but generally unscathed, though you might be significantly abraded by the barnacles and other encrusting organisms (molluscs, bryozoans, etc) which tend to live on the walls in the intertidal zone. You need to be at least as deep in the tidal water as the depth of the oncoming flood to get any protection. There is often a raft of floating junk caught behind a pollution boom, and this is another risky nuisance, diving below it may help prevent your entanglement in the morass.

Anecdote: A friend and I were in a drain (Sin City) with a large, far away catchment. We got in and rode bikes about 400m up the tunnel. I noticed the wind change and told my mate to stop. He stopped. I said "Funny, you don't generally get this sort of air movement in here. I think we'd better go." I turned my bike around and the gust increased, becoming warmer. My mate looked reluctant, but I hopped on. "We," I said "are getting the fuck out of here. Right now." which we did, reaching the exit in maybe two minutes.

We tossed our bikes out of the canal and climbed out. We sat on the edge for maybe a minute before the flow reached the exit we had just stood in. First a leaf-strewn fan of street refuse on dark water, then a spume of floodwater the best part of a metre high thundered around the corner and out of the tunnel. We looked at each other without saying anything as the juggernaut spewed by below our view. A beer keg clanged by us, as did a rapidly disintegrating television set (they float!).

Nearby were some broken concrete sections. My friend and I both strained hard to manouevre a slab of the stuff to the lip of the tunnel, and it dropped in with a loud `sploof'. We waited for the flood to subside. We looked where the maybe 60kg of reo-cement fell in and there was no trace of it 'cept a dent in the canal floor. Amazed, I then decided to find out from where the flood came. Riding fast upstream on the road by the canal, I ended up at a sharply defined boundary where the road was dry and suddenly wet... the cloudburst boundary. I was 3km from where we hopped out of the drain.

Tide-lock. Another hassle one experiences is tide-lock. That is, being up a tidal drain which you entered when the tide was down and rising, to find that when you go to leave by this route, the water is up and the roof disappears underwater.

This is an avoidable problem, many boating shops and marine equipment supply places give out tide charts for free and there is a Dial-a-Tide service on the telephone. We advise you not to try roof-sniffing in order to leave, since wave action can suddenly deprive you of air. An emergency method of leaving if you have a lilo or dinghy is to breathe from it, as you drag it along downstream as you walk underwater to the exit, though this is a tricky procedure and you will have limited vision, not to mention a lot of drag from the lilo against the roof, as you do it. You will need to use one hand to prevent water going up your nose as you go along, and the water pressure on the lilo will force it to 'blow' into you as it deflates and you breathe from it. Only do this if you know how far you have to go. The lilo will go skyward when no longer confined by a roof; don't let it go - plug it if you can and use it as a buoyancy aid. You can commonly get 50 or 60 lungfulls of rubbery or phthalate-smelling air by doing this. We don't recommend it. Tides in Sydney are just over 2.4m at High Astronomical Tide (the December king tide).

Well, that's it. I think I have written more than enough about the fine art of drain exploring. Thank you for your attention, kind regards... <predator>

Disclaimer / Job-creation scheme for bureaucrats and related parasites: Cave Clan and its membership probably doesn't know or care what you think. Companies + organisations mentioned herein probably don't condone Cave Clan. Cave Clan denies responsibility for actions consequent to perusal of this document. They didn't write it. This file comes free, exclusive of dealer, statutory and delivery charges, and no guarantee of satisfaction is expressed or implied. <predator> declares preemptive indemnity against prosecution for use of unauthorised thought processes during the compilation of this .TXT. All care is taken to ensure data contained herein is correct but <predator> doesn't give more than about 0.06 of a shit if it isn't. Responsibility for personal actions rest with their respective enactors. Written under the freedom of the (key)press and the freedom of information act (which is purported to exist in Australia but really doesn't), <predator> 1995, 1999. Updated/revised 1996, 1999. This file is available for free distribution, and may be quoted from if the source URL ( is accredited. Censorship be fucked forever. Send us a blank, stamped envelope and we will use it for our mail. <predator> thanks and acknowledges Cave Clan members for their help and suggestions during the compilation of this file. Resistance is futile. Go in drains. You must comply. You will be assimilated.

a Cave Clan Sydney production
October 1999 Australia
S. Hemi, Planet 3, Sol