Tunnel Vision

A sub-urban caver preps for Paris

Duncan in underground London (Steve Duncan)
Duncan in underground London

STEVE DUNCAN is the undisputed king of urban explorers. Granted, it’s a small club, a cultish group of city dwellers who’ve been spelunking through subway tunnels and climbing suspension bridges for more than a decade. But Duncan, 33, has drawn new eyes to the quixotic, and generally ­illegal, pastime thanks to ­Andrew Wonder’s short film Undercity, which captured Duncan’s forays into Manhattan’s underground infrastructure and took home the Director’s Choice Award at Mountainfilm in Telluride last May. Since the film appeared, Duncan, who started exploring New York City tunnels while an undergrad at Columbia University, has been featured in The New York Times, on NPR, and on NBC’s Today show. More impressive, the photographer and public-history master’s student has made a living from his passion, selling images of his expeditions and lecturing at places like the Explorers Club. “The underground is one of those things everyone wants to learn more about,” says Duncan, a wiry Maryland native. “But not everyone is willing to spelunk a sewer.” This fall, Duncan sets off on his most ambitious project yet: a three-day odyssey through the 124-mile catacombs beneath Paris. “Traveling from ancient catacombs to 19th-century sewers to modern subways will show how the entire history of the city can be told through its under­ground infrastructure,” says Duncan. It also requires safety gear. To cope with the Paris sewers’ smelly, germ-infested waters, Duncan is bringing hip waders, puncture-resistant gloves, and a helmet—to keep the cockroaches out of his hair.

Get more tips on city living in Outside's Urban Survival Guide.

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