Whittier Tunnel Walk
This photo won in the "long exposure" category of the 1st Illumination UE photo contest!
Operatives: Freak and Spartacus
Spartacus and I went to the 2nd annual "Walk to Whittier", a free open-house type event where 300 random people walked through the 3mile tunnel from Bear Valley to Whittier. I brought my own hardhat and was the only one nerdy enough to have a headlamp on it, although there was a Ham radio nerd with an antenna sticking out of his. We set a fairly fast pace through so we'd have time to mess around in the Buckner building on the other side, although we stopped at one of the safehouse shelters to look around. I took some nice time exposures which came out really well in the tunnel lighting, and a lot of flash pictures which didn't come out at all (reflective signs eat all the light).
When we got to Whittier it was raining sideways, so we took the bus into town rather than walking and looking at the tank farm and other areas near the tunnel. When we got to Buckner we decided to look for the pedestrian tunnels again, starting with the power plant tunnel. <censored> and the tunnel was magically open! We headed down this past a third place where an anti-stoner barricade had been erected and later breached, then found that the tunnel past this point was inhabited by large boat engines and enough spare parts to make a small hardware store. I thought for sure that there would be a side passage into Whittier Manor, but we went all the way to the old powerhouse without seeing any cross-connections or even manhole entrances. At the bottom was a dead end under the former site of the power plant, and a stairway up to a concrete lid with a steel hatch in it. Later we were able to find this entrance on the surface at a boat yard where the power plant site was. The tunnel doesn't follow the route I had thought, so we still don't know what the concrete column in the cliff behind the boat yard is for.
We looked through the basements of Buckner some more, but found no other pedestrian-size tunnels. We followed the drain under the railyard on the surface, looking down manholes but not finding any that could be easily opened without attracting attention. The regular 6pm train had arrived with an extra passenger car to take the last of the walkers back to the Bear Valley parking lot, so we said goodbye and good riddance to Whittier again. on the way back to Anchorage we stopped to look at the ghost tosn and rail yard of Portage (where angry seagulls live), and at a small microwave repeater station along the railroad tracks.
The registration booth provided free return bus tickets and loaner hardhats.
Upwards of 300 peole head into the tunnel. Moo!
There are 8 emergency pullouts and fire shelters between Bear Valley and Whittier, the 1st and 8th are equipped with three jet fans for ventilation. During the walk the 5th safehosue was open for people to look at, and a truck parked outside provided water to the walkers.
The floor of the tunnel is made up of precast concrete road sections with grooves for the train rails. Power lines and storm drain pipes are hidden under metal panels between the rails. Cameras and motion detectors monitor vehicle traffic and tunnel security.
Emerging on the Whittier side, into typical Whittier weather (sideways rain and thick fog).
As an added bonus, we got into one of the steam tunnels under Whittier,
a large one that used to run between the Buckner building and the power
plant. We were surprised to encounter a sucession of boat engines and assorted
hardware as we approached the lower end of the tunnel, by the time we reached
an access hatch under the boat storage area the tunnel resembled the stock
room of a small hardware store. I had hoped that the tunnel would connect
to other rumored tunnels under the city, especially two that were supposed
to connect the Buckner and Hodge Buildings. Unfortunately it appears that
these may be only rumors, the extensive search of the basement (for the
3rd time) turned up nothing but more crawlspaces, and a manhole popping
expedition showed that the steam lines between the two buildings are buried
directly and accessible only through vaults rather than tunnels. We did
find more manholes into the large storm drain under the rail yard, but
none that offered inconspicuous access.
Click here for more
photos of Whittier from a previous visit.