Steam tunnels are the things that run under universities and have steam pipes and light bulbs in them. At my university, the tunnels were covered with 1/2" thick steel plates that took four people with crow bars to remove. The best time to break into the steam tunnels is from 3-5 am, especially while it's raining, since this reduces the possibility of passers-by. Be sure to have a getaway car and a spotter or two. Be careful, you might get into trouble if you're caught. I wasn't. The police will consider you a thief, or at least charge you with breaking and entering, if they get you.

The whole point of doint this is to have fun, which is something that some people like mundanes, normals, induhviduals, fundamentalists, and prudes don't understand.

The tunnels at Caltech can easily be found by looking for a "Danger: Asbestos Hazard" sign on otherwise unmarked doors in the subbasements of most buildings.

The steam tunnel system connects nearly all the buildings on campus and is often used by frosh retreiving their chemistry homework from Gates Lab at 4 am.

Getting Caught

Caltech security is rather leinient--since most undergraduates have "south" master keys and the honor code here actually works, just make sure to have your student ID with you and they'll let you go. However, the chances of actually meeting security are slim to begin with as long as you avoid the round tunnels, which contain motion detectors.


Due to the lax security over the decades, the tunnels have accumulated a lot of artwork. There are several large murals throughout the tunnels, as well as random graffiti and bad poetry nearly every foot of the walls and steam pipes. DEI, FEIF, GDBG, and Beward of the Leopard are popular. There's also a large "Caltech sucks" from some Harvey Mudd students who got themselves lost in the tunnels for several hours.


Watch out for the radioactive rocks the geology department stores down there. There are also, of course, hot steam pipes and asbestos. It would be interesting to do a study on rates of lung cancer in Caltech alums.

As all of our friends were splintering off to go to various parties or other social events, about 5 of us were giving looks of mild disinterest to all who would ask our company to go out. We wanted some adventure. We wanted to find the steam tunnels.

Case Western Reserve University is in the small bubble of University Circle in East Cleveland, an island of culture in a sea of ghetto-ness. Someone had told us of steam tunnels that connected all of the major buildings together with the University Hospitals. They were rumored to be long and hot, and very exciting.

Walking around the main quad, we tried every door. One random opening took us to the large auditorium, and where we found out how to operate the lights of the stage. In the 500 seat auditorium with the spotlights centered on the stage, we all agreed we had found the perfect place to do a chick. Taking some popcorn from the concession stand, we continued on our search.

Wandering outside of the chemistry lab, I was looking into the large pits that house the air conditioning units when I noticed the open door. It was a little crack of light that let us in, the result of a power cord left in the door frame. Once in we found a vast network of power generators and loud water pipes. We looked for an offshoot, and found the main steam tunnel. The tunnel went as far as the small flashlight we had could show, so we started to follow it.

We made a few turns, and an Indiana Jones move over a pit later we found ourselves in a passage no more than 5’x4’ large, with blistering hot pipes on one side. We shuffled down the passage, the central person shining the light at the ceiling so we could all see. Suddenly Derek shushed us to quiet. He had heard a sound. We heard it again. It was a chain. Wait, no, it was a pipe rattling. Once our hearts started again we followed the tunnel to its conclusion. It ended in a small boiler room with “BRB” labeled on the wall. We took that to mean Biomedical Research Building, which led us to believe that we had traveled close to ¾ of a mile underground. The gate was locked and had a magnetic sensor. Not having any tools or a desire to get caught, we turned around.

About half way back, I was leading with the flashlight when I heard a yell from behind. Someone had found blueprints. Blueprints for the floor, wait, blueprints for the entire building. Everything, wiring, ductwork, underground layout, steam tunnel access corridors. It was a work of art, and it only weighed 50 lbs. We picked it up and hurried down the tunnel, having to pause several times due to the odd noises and finicky senses.

We made it outside ands stashed the prints in a bush when a campus security car drove by. Aaron made the comment that he “wanted to become an engineer someday” and that “maybe we should put those blueprints back.” After a short silence of us contemplating going to jail, we snuck back in the massive roll of paper back.

We left with a story to tell, and several copies of the 2nd floor wiring and duct layouts, as souvenirs and wall decorations. The real benefit of the trip was telling one girl, who now insists that I take her and her friends the next time I go.

RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) has its own "steam tunnels", but unlike most colleges, they get a lot of use out of them. Both the academic and the residential sides of campus are undermined with various tunnels; these tunnels have plenty of pipes and wires going through them, but they also are easily accessed by way of the elevators and stairs. Rochester winters are really bad, so most people are pretty glad to have them when the snow starts to pile up and the Quarter Mile turns into "the wind tunnel".

On the residential side of campus, students have been allowed to put up murals on the tunnel walls (after applying for permission, of course). These murals include everything from Star Trek to Led Zeppelin and are of varying artistic quality. The recently added College Republicans mural is working its way toward the title of "most vandalized".

The RIT tunnels are also home to the res-hall post office and several stores.

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