I'll make no secret of it...I don't like the Avatar Winds. I do not feel that Mage needs to be any "grittier", and I like Umbral adventures. But this page is strictly according to the rules. There are no rotes here that provide some means of slipping through untouched, since WW has absurdly said they don't work. Rather, this is a page about...Umbral geography?
On the Horizon
First, for the sake of argument, let's clear up a little problem with how the Horizon is handled. It's never made clear just where the Horizon is located--in the Book of Worlds _alone_, the Horizon is associated with the asteroid belt (in the discussion thereof), said to encompass Mars and Venus (in the Deep Umbra section), and then said _not_ to encompass those planets (in the section on the Aetherian Reaches). I assume that this is meant to be more of WW's usual obfuscation about "true reality" in the World of Darkness, but it's an annoying spot for it to pop up.
So...this is how I handle it in my games. The Horizon proper surrounds Earth at the distance of a typical middle- to high-orbit satellite. The Gauntlet, however, bisects or merges with it. (Most Technocracy Horizon Realms are located at the merger point; Tradition Realms are usually on the spirit side. On the physical side, many satellites orbit but Static Reality prohibits Realm formation.) Beyond that point, the Gauntlet/Horizon (the two are now indistinguishable) separates Technocratic physical space and "Etherspace" (the Deep Umbra proper) and extends as far as Mars and Venus before petering out, but is much weaker than on Earth. After that, the distinction between physical and spiritual ceases to exist. The intersection of Horizon and Gauntlet blocks the effects of the Winds from spreading into space.
Where to Go to Go Umbral
The Avatar Winds do make it hard to get past the Gauntlet...but hardly impossible. There are a fair number of sites where the "natural gates" formed by Shallowings exist; it's just that most of them are a bit...out of the way. The Technocracy, as usual, has it easier than the Traditions, although it now has a motive to stop sterilizing nodes...
Why, then, aren't the Masters already making use of the sorts of sites listed below? First, the Traditions have a much smaller number and variety of gates available. Many of the sites they formerly used have been sterilized by the Technocracy, and some of those that remain were locked by former owners, now gone from the Earth (many of the mound sites in the Mississippi Valley were warded in this manner). Even if you belong to the Technocracy, though, it's not as simple as it sounds. The Technocracy has left Shallowings open only in areas remote from human habitation--which, today, means the most inaccessible spots on the globe. To reach them, vulgar magic or high-tech equipment (and a large travel budget) are nearly always required. To make matters worse, the sites are heavily defended from members of different factions (and one class of sites, the depths of the rain forests, is essentially a permanent war zone between shifters, Nephandi and other Wyrmspawn, and the Voidie Weedwhackers). Finally, even if you reach the site in the physical world, it doesn't necessarily open on where you want to go. Unless you're lucky enough to find a site attuned to your destination, the best you can hope for is to find yourself in the Penumbra. Many Shallowings open, at least part of the time, on more distant realms, and travel through the Umbra can be even more hazardous than travel on Earth. If you're trying to reach the Inventium, in other words, don't go looking in the deep ocean.Traditional Sites
Most of the Traditions make use of these sites. The Chorus is, to us Westerners, the most obvious user, but Dreamspeakers, Verbena, Euthanatos, Akashics, and some Ecstatics and Hermetics all make use of different varieties. Gates opened from holy sites usually lead to the Umbral Courts, to "Heaven", or to the Aetherian Reaches (for those who can get there). Rare sites are rumored to open on the Far Shores, if they still exist.
By contrast, very few make use of unholy places (though the Nephandi do). Individual Hermetics secretly maintain a handful of gateways, and so do a few foolhardy Hollowers; the same may be true of a few corrupt Ecstatics and Euthanatos. Gates opened from such places tend to lead into various Umbral Hells, Malfeas, and the less pleasant Far Shores and other nasty parts of the Low Umbra.
Technomantic Shallowing sites (used both by the Technocracy and the Etherites; the Virtual Adepts usually don't make use of them) are more numerous, though many former sites have been "sanitized" long ago and no longer function. (More than likely, the sanitizing policy has now been dropped except for tainted nodes.) They are usually places on the boundaries of exploration.
Low Earth Orbit
The most common region of Technocratic entry, low Earth orbit contains an unusually large number of Shallowings (often euphemistically called "windows"). Despite frequent sterilization, the almost total lack of human presence in the area keeps bringing the gateways back, and the Void Engineers have persuaded the Technocracy to accept the fact, at least for the time being. By traveling down from such an entry point, one can eventually reach nearly any Umbral realm, but gateways that don't directly open into the Penumbra usually lead into the Spires of the High Umbra, or even the Epiphamies. Dreamspeakers have occasionally been known to enter the Aetherian Reaches here in times past, though they rarely manage it in the modern era. The truly unfortunate (and Void Engineers and Etherjammers) open gateways directly onto an Anchorhead and are swept into the Deep Umbra. A few open onto convenient Horizon Realms; the two or three of these remaining are heavily defended.
Less frequently, Shallowings have been known to occur all the way down to the ionosphere, which was apparently the limit of static reality at the time radio entered the Consensus. Still lower Shallowings are sometimes associated with mountain peaks or the areas over peculiar sites like the Bermuda Triangle.
Though they were mapped out long ago, the polar regions have never been hospitable to man. The rarity of settlement, ironically, keeps the icecaps from being frozen into the sterile mold the Technocracy has tried to impose on them, especially on the Antarctic continent. Travel is intensely hazardous, however, and those who reach a node may find it opens on a frozen section of Elemental Water or the endless Winter surrounding the Verbena Seasonal Realm of that name--as well as still less hospitable places such as the Umbral Hells of far Northern peoples like the Inuit. At the poles themselves, travel is sometimes possible to the warmer climes of the Hollow Earth through the well-known Etherite "Holes at the Poles", but the frequency of Void Engineer visitation makes these gateways among the least reliable. Rumors of a free entryway to the Dreaming or a portal to the Inventium near the North Pole can probably be safely denied, but who knows?
Underground environments have long been the playground of the Sons of Ether, though of course Void Engineer teams come here as well. Most Shallowings here lead to the Hollow Earth (though the Voidies are loathe to use that term)--in fact, there are several Etherite nodes that are nearly always Shallowed, producing the "Luminous Veil" that the Gauntlet is reduced to in such areas. Caverns have also been known to lead to the Elemental Realms of Earth and sometimes Metal; in the lowermost reaches inexperienced travelers risk confusing portals to the Elemental Realm of Fire with portals to Umbral Hells. One or two caverns double as Dreamspeaker holy sites, corresponding to the sipapu or world-navel through which certain Native American tribes are said to have emerged.
Cavern regions open to the public typically have Gauntlet ratings no lower than -1 to the surrounding area, and rarely if ever approach nodes, though occasionally a "bottomless pit" near the path leads to a portal far, far below. As one might expect, active nodes and Shallowings are instead increasingly common as one goes deeper.
In times past, the ocean surface was rife with "floating islands" that appeared now and again--for that matter, many islands we now regard as fixed were such. The mapping of the Void Explorers changed that, fixing most islands into place and consigning others to the Umbra. Of the latter, it was once still possible to find portals to them from the surface, but aside from the remote possibility of passing through the Bermuda Triangle or Devil's Sea, the chances are now essentially nil. Below the surface, however, is a different story. Even the continental shelves are somewhat more permeable (though many coral reef node sites have been sanitized, leading to the breakdown of the reefs), and beyond the continental slope the Gauntlet slowly fades away, much as it does in approaching space. Those deep-sea trenches that have been investigated by the Technocracy are known to contain (or perhaps _be_) Anchorheads, but few Tradition mages are aware of this by experience.
A significant number of undersea nodes, also like those in near-space, are floating rather than fixed in position. This presumably has to do with the undefined nature of the seas themselves.
In modern times, not even the Himalayan range manifests much thinning of the Gauntlet when considered as a whole. Unlike oceanic areas, mountains are quite solid and therefore relatively easily fixed in place, and unlike caverns, they can be easily mapped from the air or from orbit. However, some of the higher peaks remain node sites where Shallowings occasionally happen. Interestingly, over these peaks it has been noted that the lower Gauntlet of near-space dips down, though it never actually comes close to the mountain itself.
Deep in the jungles...or what remains of them...lost cities, river tributaries, and sometimes simply the most extreme of dense forest thickets lead, if not into the Penumbra, then into the Elemental Realm of Wood or the Shade Realm of Life. However, these nodes are among the least accessible in modern times. Not only has the destruction of the rain forests obliterated many former sites of power and raised the Gauntlet near others, what remains of the forest is a constantly shifting war zone. Dreamspeakers, Bastet, Mokole, and the occasional Garou or other shifter clash with Nephandi and other servants of the Wyrm, while both struggle with the Technocracy's forces (usually Void Engineers). Anyone who attempts to use these nodes as gateways, unless allied with one of the above factions, is truly taking his life into his hands.
Long ago, the world's deserts were as unmapped as the cavernous bowels of the earth remain today. The shifting sands provided gates to the Elemental Realms of Fire and Earth, to local Hells (and sometimes Heavens, on the boundaries), and to desolate concept realms of contemplation. Today, nearly all those gates are gone; only those maintained as someone's holy sites remain (most of them in the still-forbidding Outback), and few of those. The deserts proved easier to travel than any others of Earth's wildernesses, and the Void Engineers declared the frontier closed and the Arid Region Exploration Teams (Sandtrackers) disbanded before the end of the last century. Still, those few sites do remain, and members of the cabals that maintain them may still have the use of them.