Her friend had told her that the hole in the ground was already there when they built the outhouse; all they’d had to do was erect the shack over it. However, what he’d apparently failed to mention was that the hole was rather large and deep – and that it had its own ladder leading down into its depths.
“Imagine our surprise,” the Russian blogger subsequently wrote. Of course, rustic latrines are nothing unusual in the sparsely inhabited Republic of Karelia, a remote Russian territory straddling the heavily forested border with Finland. It is, however, quite unusual for any outhouse to conceal a secret entrance to a vast subterranean world long ago abandoned by its builders.
Fortunately, this particular blogger was no stranger to dark, dirty and derelict places. Indeed, her past exploits have included trips to a dilapidated iron foundry, a flooded power plant and, most famously, an abandoned Soviet rocket factory outside of Moscow. Her name is Lana Sator, and she is a hardcore urban explorer.
According to her blog, Sator had in fact only intended to make a brief stop at her friend’s cottage in Karelia, as other destinations beckoned. But when she saw the abandoned mine shaft hidden in his outhouse, what else could she do but ready her tripod, set her camera’s ISO sensitivity to high and begin her descent into the dark chasm?
So, after descending the ladder, Sator and her companion arrived in a surreal wonderland of frozen decay made all the more weird given the summer temperatures at the surface. “[It] brought a sense of extreme buzz being in the kingdom of ice and snow at the time of the July heat,” she wrote on her blog.
Hinting at possible dangers ahead, channels of icy water wound through a labyrinth of carved tunnels. Dilapidated mining equipment was strewn here and there, too, including what appeared to be a half-submerged carriage previously used for transporting miners deep into the complex. Sator and her companion would have no such luxury, however.
Proceeding on foot, they arrived in a tunnel flooded with dirty brown water. With an array of icicles suspended from the ceiling, the temperature of the water must have been near freezing. But, undeterred, the urban explorer and her companion waded in up to their knees.
Soon, they arrived in a low and cramped chamber, ice crystals sparkling under their headlamps. Like the inside of a giant home freezer in need of defrosting, the ceiling above them was crusted thick with banks of ice. To the left and right, meanwhile, ominous passages receded into the darkness.
One thing was clear: the mine was certainly no place for a claustrophobe. In fact, some of the tunnels were so low that Sator and her companion had to stoop or crawl on all fours. Fortunately, this particular section was dry and appeared to be solidly built.
Elsewhere, vertical shafts appeared to plunge to an indeterminate depth – a sight sure to induce terror in vertigo-sufferers… And now, at this point in their journey, Sator and her companion stumbled upon an intriguing array of wood-built structures, including this extremely slippery-looking wooden ladder.
In one section, they also discovered a rickety old scaffold with platforms and ropes and what appeared to be an elevator to the surface – although it was long-disused and apparently unsafe. And in another tunnel they found a helter-skelter heap of rusted equipment, the passage before them ruptured and blocked by earth.
Besides which, the deeper they descended during their exploration, the colder it seemed to become. Soon, the floor beneath them was entirely sealed in an opaque veneer of thick white ice. Dusted with frost, the beams above them twinkled like malevolent ghost lights, seeming to beckon them further into the darkness.
Deeper still in the otherworldly maze of frozen tunnels, bizarre formations of frost clung to the slats in distended banks, their crystalline projections fed by the imperceptibly slow drip of water. Still, although surrounded by jagged ice blades, Sator and her companion bravely continued into the darkness.
The ice stretched from floor to ceiling in a forest of icicles, and it was soon so thick that the passage was virtually impassable. Sator and her friend were determined to continue, though – but if it were to get much worse, a pick-axe would surely be needed to break through.
Meanwhile, was this an underground waterfall in motion, its surface only appearing to be solid thanks to the slow shutter speed on Sator’s camera? Or was it literally frozen in mid-flow? Cracked ice beneath her feet, Sator ventured deeper into the labyrinth, and things just kept getting weirder – and more hazardous.
Some of the passages were almost entirely flooded, with water levels just a few feet from the ceiling. Getting through it might’ve meant Sator wading up to her neck in icy, dirty water, with no idea of the potential hazards below. One wrong step could’ve seen her foot trapped by hidden rocks, for example.
Throughout the mine, though, random shafts led straight upwards to the surface of the Earth, potentially facilitating rapid escape. However, the slats on this ladder look half-broken – so only a fool would try to scale that hole without firm shoe grips, a helmet and proper climbing gear.
Without a doubt, then, the subterranean complex was pretty large. Leading off into the unexplored gloom, what appeared to be the remains of rickety old railway tracks still punctuated parts of it, begging the question – what was actually mined here?
It’s unclear exactly what the purpose of this particular mine was, but the Republic of Keralia is so rich in minerals that mining accounts for around a third of its industrial output. Moreover, diamonds, iron ore and vanadium are among the many resources currently being extracted by the region’s 53 mining companies.
Regardless of the mine’s history and former life, though, Sator and her friend did a great job of documenting it. Who would have thought that a simple outhouse concealed such exciting treasures?