I looked around me, and I saw a drain grate a few feet from me. I approached it and could see quite a lot of water rushing past. It was very difficult to get a sense of scale since the water was rushing along, but I thought to myself, I really have got to check this out at some point. I returned to the drain sometime later. In the absence of further torrential downpours, the water level was an inch deep if that, so I could see that this drain was very large and completely walkable.
I told friends about it, and they soon spread the word such that many people wanted to explore the tunnel. I decided to go one night on the weekend when the campus was largely deserted. I brought a flashlight, a pair of boots, and a rope to lower myself down with. A total of eight guys besides myself and one girl (who shall remain nameless) tagged along. Between us was exactly one flashlight, one pair of boots, and a rope. Talk about amateurs!
We took off the grate and they held onto the rope while I slid down. The water was mere centimeters deep where I went down and (as you will see in the pictures below) the tunnel was large enough to drive a small car through. The shaft from the drain to the tunnel was approximately two feet down with the tunnel being roughly six feet high in this section. The rest of the guys made their way down as well, the last of them managing by tying the rope to the drain grate and having the girl sit on top of it to keep it from sliding. Naturally, we left her topside while we went exploring. Hey, don't judge, she wasn't invited anyway; she just overheard our plans earlier in the week and quietly followed us out to the site.
Not knowing which way to go, we headed downstream. This turned out to be the better choice because the tunnel grew uncomfortably shorter upstream. Eventually we came out in a canal on one other side of the campus.
Once we were back above ground, we headed back to the drain grate where we started (and where the girl was waiting), and saw a campus cop circling the area. We split up and I went back to my dorm with my then-roommate. The other group headed toward their dorm where the cop cornered them. These guys, idiots all, spilled the whole story about where we had been, so the cop was there interrogating them when I returned to their dorm (following a quick shower). He couldn't really charge us with anything, but he was especially amused by the fact that we all insisted that the girl has not joined us. He was convinced that she had been below as well and that we were just covering for her.
Over the course of the next year, I returned
to that tunnel perhaps a half dozen times or so, first to explore the upstream
portion, then the next section on the other side of the campus. We
explored several other interesting sites around the campus and town as
well, but this tunnel is by far the highlight of the town.
SLU's campus is covered in the map below. Working from down- to up-stream, you start at a canal ("Start") across the street from the campus, then go all the way across it, under a sidewalk by the library (#1), until you reach the road (#2) and then go down one side to the corner. At that point (#3), you join perpendicularly with a canal. To the left was just a mud ditch (now replaced by a covered over smaller tunnel), but to the right is an actual concrete canal (looks like railroad tracks on the map).
If you go down that for a few hundred feet down the north side of the campus (#4), you end up in another concrete cave which is covered in the SLU Tunnel Number Two gallery.
*Note that the line through the
campus is approximate, as I didn't exactly have GPS coordinates to work
from at every step of the way! (I also drew this from a 10 year old memory
before we revisited the campus.)
|This is the downstream entrance to the
system. This part empties into a canal on the opposite side of a
road from the campus.
I've never followed the water much beyond this point, but there is a nice spot where it goes beneath some railroad tracks, and there is another four foot high culvert that also empties into this canal. I explored that one as well when I went to school here, but it wasn't worth commenting on here.
|The tunnel is pretty large along its entire
length. It does get shorter as you proceed upstream, but only becomes
a "back-breaker" in the last third. The width does not vary.
There are very feeder tunnels along the length. There is only one noteworthy culvert that empties into this system, and that was just over four feet in diameter. Everything else was less than 12 inches.
|This was an odd sight: a pair of rebar
rods sitting up without any means of support. They were just stuck
in the mud and not attached to the walls. Judging by the debris,
water has clearly submerged them, yet they were not knocked over in spite
of the fact that I could move them with my hand.
We found loads of other junk as well, including a step ladder and literally dozens of Mardi Grad beads. Seriously, people, clean up your mess!
|This is looking out of one of the drains. Note that you aren't seeing the sky but rather the overhang of the library. This was in part how I was able to trace as much of the path of the tunnel as I did.|
|This is very likely the very spot where I first climbed down here all those years ago. I guess it's obvious why I needed the rope. The total drop is about eight or nine feet (two feet of the chute plus six or seven feet for the height of the tunnel).|
|There are apparently plenty of animals
that find their way into the this part of the system, presumably from the
canal where we entered, although this is a fair distance in. Then
again, I have seen far stranger things at this point in our explorations.
That's water falling from the ceiling, in case you're wondering.
|Continue to Part II|