St Paul tunnel Labyrinth
I am a bit sad to say that Action Squad has most likely hit our underground peak (as oxymoronic as that may sound) with the Saint Paul Labyrinth. It's simply difficult for me to believe that any tunnel system we explore in the future will ever be as awesome as this system is. Why? Because the Labyrinth is un-fuckin-believable. How's that for an answer?

Fine, fine, let me try out a somewhat more detailed response.

Where to begin? Allow me to ramble a bit …

Seven distinct yet interconnecting, tunnel systems. A stunning variety of architecture, with each system featuring several unique styles. Well over 15 miles of multi-level, interconnecting tunnels. Multiple manmade caves, and lost levels of long-demolished buildings. An almost perfect absence of graffiti, explained by the lack of access points achievable by anyone but truly dedicated explorers.

The Labyrinth has been the most rewarding site Action Squad has ever explored. We've wiggled through holes too small to crawl in, and we've dangled from ropes in 60-foot voids. We've faced seething walls of cockroaches, been charged by sewer rats, and been dive-bombed by tunnel pigeons. We've constructed ladders up and dropped rope ladders down vertical shafts. We've spent hours digging tunnels through solid sandstone using butter knives and other primitive tools to bypass barriers that stood in the way of our exploration.

We've rappelled down an abandoned 5-story freight elevator shaft. We've soaked our feet with sewage, choked our lungs with powdered bird shit and dust, and filled our clothing with fine sand. We've exited in the pre-dawn hours from a manhole in the middle of a downtown intersection. We've exclaimed dozens of variations on the theme of "holy fucking shit!", as we found still more amazing places to explore after thinking we'd already seen it all.

God, we love that place.

Action Squad has launched dozens of missions into the Labyrinth in 2001 and 2002, often entering at dusk and not leaving until dawn. We've never seen another soul down there: the system has been our private exploring paradise. The little graffiti that one can find is almost all left by tunnel workers: much dates back to the 1940's and 1950's, with a couple notable sandstone carvings dating back to the infancy of the Labyrinth in the 1800's.

Even when we'd only discovered two of the many tunnel and cave systems, Slim Jim Hollison (the official Action Squad cartographer) was already pointing out that the infamous "catacombs" of Paris are vastly inferior to the Labyrinth, in terms of the sheer diversity of interconnected tunnel types. (Obviously, they kick the Labyrinth's butt in terms of human remains and history, but hey, we're in America here, buddy.)

I recall that the repeated Slim Jim refrain as we explored the Telephone Tunnels was "This is totally Paris style!" It became kind of a running joke with the rest of us; "hey, this (random silly object) is sooo Paris style!" However, once we got into a different section of the tunnels and connected to a whole new system, we were all amazed to hear Jim say, "Holy shit! This is way cooler than anything in Paris!"

This from a guy who absolutely loves the Paris underground, and has spent weeks over there exploring and mapping the extensive underground quarries of the region. Not too shabby!

Now, to be honest, I don't really know or give a shit about how the Labyrinth compares with other underground systems around the world. All that matters is that the place is plenty amazing for me and for the rest of the Action Squad. I suspect it would be enough to wow any urban explorer, even those guys with the silly accents from France. I treasure the memories of the days and nights we've spent exploring it, and I'm proud that Action Squad had the opportunity to play a pioneering role in its comprehensive exploration.


Action Squad's map of the Labyrinth


Cross section of the area beneath a typical street

Lateral cross section of a downtown street


Top view of a typical street's tunnels