The Transforming Tunnel

As I crept forward, the shallow water splashing around my ankles, I quickly came to the realization that this drain was not the one I was expecting. And I wondered just where it would lead.

Since my last post, I’ve gone on a several more explores, which I’ll get to posting about in good time but I wanted to post about my latest adventure while it was still fresh in my mind; the Transforming Tunnel – one of the longest drains I’ve explored to date.

An accidental discovery

While examining some GIS maps, I came across what I thought was a jackpot – one of the classic Victoria brick drains which appeared to be easily explore-able via the outfall! I was overjoyed by the discovery, since most of the brick drains I’ve seen pictured are accessible only by manholes – something I wasn’t super comfortable with yet.

I messaged my buddy who I’d dragged along on a couple of explores in the past, and It wasn’t many days before we found ourselves knee deep in creek water creeping towards a grated outflow; a grate that I hoped would be possible to bypass.

Entering this drain was slightly more nerve wracking then my previous explores, simply owing to the fact that the outflow was in a very public area with a popular biking/waking trail next door. As we entered the creek, however, my confidence began to grow – no one was paying us any attention – our hard hats and high vis vests clearly making us look like we belonged. A couple quick strides brought us to the mouth of the 5′ outflow, and the grate which covered it. We made quick work of the grate – there was no lock and a bit of elbow grease allowed us to raise it enough to slip under. With the grate behind us we turned and continued forward into the darkness.

The first section of this drain was a circular concrete pipe

This is not the drain you are looking for

After a few moments I quickly realized this was not the drain I was expecting to be in. While the drain I thought we were going to explore was supposed to be oval in shape and constructed from brick, this drain was made up of uniform concrete pipe. While we pondered turning back and scouring the rest of the creek for the other drain, we ultimately decided that an unknown tunnel could be just as exciting – after all, who knew where it would lead?

The first 5 or 10 minutes of exploring were fairly uneventful; it was a relatively featureless concrete pipe with some water flowing through it, punctuated by manholes every so often. Unlike the drains I had previously explored this one was entirely devoid of graffiti – I suppose the metal grate at the outflow was enough of a deterrent to keep the local teenagers at bay. At one I spied some markings on the concrete walls, which on closer inspection revealed themselves to be a date: July 19th, 2000 – likely that date that section of pipe was constructed.

Just as I was beginning to wonder if this pipe would ever end…

Look at this awesome chamber!

Hey look! A cool chamber!

The pipe opened up into a chamber, maybe 8 ft high, 8 ft wide and about 10 ft long. There were a number of pipes feeding into this chamber and most exciting of all… a waterfall!!

An underground waterfall!

At the top of the waterfall was a manhole and a cool looking square tunnel – I immediately insisted we had to climb up there and was overjoyed that I would finally be able to use the rope I insisted on bringing to every explore “just in case.” Mad kudos to my buddy for scrambling up the slippery surface, rope in tow and looping it through the manhole ladder. While I could have done it myself, I’m sure I would have been a lot less graceful!

Once I pulled myself to the top of the waterfall I found myself in a 4ft by 4ft square tunnel which stretched into the distance. We began the slow trudge into the great unknown.

After what felt like a long time, but in reality was probably only between 5 and 10 minutes, we arrived at a point where the tunnel height dropped significantly. I looked at my friend, he looked at me, I shrugged, crouched down and continued forward.

I quickly realized this was a poor decision as the ceiling continued to drop and I quickly ended up on my hands and knees, eventually needing to be pulled back by my more cautious friend. I did see at the end of the section a 4′ round pipe, so there is hope if I was to come back with a longboard to roll on that I might be able to explore further!

At this point I was thoroughly drenched and needed to shed my jacket, but the adventure was far from over since there was still a 4 ft pipe in the main chamber to explore. We traveled back through the square tunnel and climbed down the waterfall, using our rope as a handrail and arrived back into the main chamber. We decided to leave the rope in place as a courtesy to some potential future explorer.

The Transforming Tunnel

The next section of this drain is responsible for the “Transforming Tunnel” title as I lost count of how many times it changed on us. It started as a round concrete pipe, changed to corrugated steel, back to concrete, and then took on a verity of different rectangular shapes and sizes. The tunnel also curved, turned and bent so many different ways that I lost track of just what direction we were even heading in. We had definitely encountered uncharted territory!

After about 30 minutes of sloshing our way through this maze of underground tunnels we arrived at a much welcomed taller section where we could finally stand full height. This section was also notable because of all the roots hanging down from the ceiling and walls. The “Root Cellar” is what I decided to refer to it as.

The “Root Cellar” featured some interesting tree/plant roots

At this point we stopped and took stock of the situation. We were quite tired, but the drain continued on for quite some ways and I was hopeful that if we kept going forward we would eventually find an outflow or grate we could pop out of. Ultimately, curiosity factored into the decision and we pressed forward, out of the Root Cellar and through the next series of oddly shaped tunnels.

We traveled underground for what was probably another 10 or 15 minutes before coming to another chamber. While this one was only about 5 ft high, did it offer a place to sit down, and I was more then happy to take advantage of the impromptu seat.

At last! Somewhere to sit

While I rested, we took stock of the situation, behind us was a long backbreaker of a tunnel, with enough debris on the bottom that I didn’t relish the though of crawling back. To our right was maybe a 4ft pipe and directly in front was a 900mm plastic pipe with some light at the end!

Our great escape

The thought of journeying through the 900mm pipe was not terribly appealing, but neither was the thought of going all the way back to the outflow. We decided to start by taking the right fork, and travel no more then 5 minutes down the 4ft section to see where it would lead. As it would turn out, 5 minutes was not strictly necessary, as we quickly discovered a grate above us.

Standing on a small chunk of pipe, I managed to raise myself up to the grate and peer upwards. I’m sure if someone happened to be walking by we would have made quite the site – 2 exhausted, soaked guys blinking at the sunlight above. As it would turn out though, no one was looking down the grate and I managed to spy a nearby antenna tower which give me a point of reference. We had certainly traveled farther then I expected.

Unfortunately, while the sight of the outside was encouraging, the fact that the grate was seemingly immovable was not. A few minutes of heaving and hoeing lead us to the realization that this may not be the easy way out we had hoped. Back we turned, and headed into the chamber and the 900mm pipe with the light at the end. “God I hope this is a way out” I said, “There is no way I want to have to crawl through this thing twice!”

Heeeeaaaaallllpppppp

As it would turn out, I would need to head back through that tunnel, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

After crawling through the 900mm pipe, we found ourselves below another grate, not the outflow I was hoping for. This grate was much higher up then the first, and about halfway up the ladder, had a place where one could stand and push. I gave the grate a little nudge and did feel it move. Encouraging!

Could this be our way out?

Not knowing exactly where we were, and not wanting to accidentally pop out in the middle of a road, I decided it was time to enlist some outside help. Fortunately, being this close to the surface meant I had cell phone reception and I was able to reach out to my friend and roommate who begrudgingly agreed to help get us out.

While we hung out beneath the grate, I took advantage of the situation and sat down on the ground. As it turned out my waders were indeed waterproof and my legs thanked me. It wasn’t long before we once again got in contact with our man topside and began the painful process of trying to describe exactly where we were.

“I think I can see some grass” I exclaimed at one point, as we realized the futility of the endeavor. While I had a decent idea of the general area, my sense of direction underground was poor and the line of sight I had was limited. It wasn’t long before I realized it could be the worst game of Marco Polo I had ever played, and it might be best to head back to the other grate, where I could see an antenna tower and knew which building it was beside.

We packed up and headed back through the 900mm pipe, into the chamber and over to the first grate. While talking to my friend on my cellphone, I heard a car pull up. Could it be!? “I think I can hear you” I yelled at the sky. “Ya! Where are you?” came the reply. Before long I spied a friendly face peering down at us. At last! we could make our escape.

While I pushed from below, and my friend pulled from above we managed to quickly dislodge the grate and pull ourselves into the bright afternoon sun.

While our journey underground was way cool, and I loved the experience of the Transforming Tunnel, I was certainly happy to be back in the real world.

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