The 13th Floor

Swimmers Horrified as “Portal to Hell” Opens in California Lake

When a gigantic whirlpool suddenly opened in California’s Lake Berryessa, many onlookers thought some unseen supernatural force (or a freakish natural force, for that matter) had opened up a gateway to an ominous abyss, threatening to draw nearby swimmers to a horrific death.

As it turns out, this bizarre hellmouth is neither a natural nor supernatural phenomenon, but a feat of human engineering: Lake Berryessa contains a spillway — nicknamed the “Glory Hole” — which is designed to drain excess water from the lake to prevent it from overflowing; it pretty much works on the same principle as a bathtub, when the drain-plug is pulled.

It’s a rare occurrence (it’s been over a decade since Berryessa last exceeded peak levels), so it’s entirely possible many visitors aren’t even aware of the spillway’s existence — the low metal rim of the subsurface portal only becomes visible when the drainage is underway.

Image Credit: Jeremy Brooks/Wikimedia Commons

With that said, the danger of this watery vortex is very real; the whirlpool claimed its most recent victim in 1997, when 41-year-old Emily Schwalek swam too close to the spillway as it suddenly opened, and despite her struggles against the powerful current, she was eventually pulled under and drowned.