There’s a crevice that cuts under a cliff face. It leads to an underground lake that just goes on and on. Dan and I spent about two hours underground wandering waist deep in water. I am thinking that the mine is somewhere between 100 and 170 years old.
Back in the 1820′s and 30′s there was a serious demand for building stone in Southern Ontario; Whirlpool Sandstone was one of the most valued materials. It was extracted from a layer just above the Queenstone shale.
Near Belfountain you can see this rock at the base of Church’s Falls. See the chapter on Belfountain on page 69 of my book “Rockwatching; Adventures Above and Below Ontario” The rock that came from there was a maroon color and was used to build Queen’s Park and various buildings at University of Toronto. Down here in the more southerly areas of the escarpment the Whirlpool Sandstone seems a lot higher on the escarpment than it is further to the north. It is also more varied in color and I am told that it is possible to find azurite and malachite in chert pockets in that rock.
Anyway the construction of the Welland Canal generated a great deal of demand for building stone as did the increasing size of the urban structures around the “Golden Horseshoe.” Finally around 1900 the skyscraper came into being. The strength of the modern skyscraper comes not from its rigid outer shell but from its internal steel girder skeleton. This change in design meant that standard construction stones suddenly lost their market and materials such as Italian and Indian marbles started showing up. They formed a thin veneer as did materials like glass, labradorite and granite. they were in no way responsible for the buildings structural integrity. Sandstone had seen its day and the mines closed shortly thereafter.
Some years back year Jeff Mirza and I traveled up to Belfountain to see if we could find our way into one of these underground tunnel systems. Apparently there are several deep passages above the hairpin bend as you wind down from Belfountain into the Credit Valley. Jeff had even seen a picture of a shaft in the forest with a ladder leading down into the mines. After a day of trudging along the hillsides we came to the conclusion that the entrances had all been blasted shut. It was not the case here. The tunnels lie wide open. It was as much a historical exploration as it was a geological one. The rooms were quite low though generally very wide and initially lit by small shafts that cut up to a brambly plateau above. The vegetation was so thick that it was almost impossible to progress on the surface, nevertheless, the shafts of light on the underground lake were really picturesque.
At times high banks of rubble rose out of the water and it was necessary to slither along on our bellies. In places deeper into the mine calcite deposition had made a hard, translucent shell across the top of these banks and we had to be careful so as not to damage the profuse clusters of soda straws that were forming on the roof. The bats seemed quite perturbed by our arrival in their world and somebody was cheeping angrily from up a crack in the roof. On several occasions they fluttered by and I could just catch glimpses of their chaotic flight. I was surprised by the extent of speleothem formation in the mine. I had believed that under good conditions soda straws could grow at about an inch every hundred years though in remembrance of a winter excursion Jeff and I had done up a storm sewer in Hamilton a few years back, that one inch can be quite drastically stretched.
As we waded through the lake there were tunnels that branched off in every direction, the air seemed dead and the steam that rose from our coveralls clung to us. it made photography quite difficult.
The water was so still and clear in one spot that I was surprised by the ripples when I crawled right into a pool. We continued on along a mound that was just beneath the surface. Dan wandered off to the side into the deeper water and suddenly found himself hip high in really treacherous mud. I had a similar experience moments later and we decided that further exploration would have to be done with an air matress. Up ahead it sounded like a heavy rainstorm and I think that there must have been a spot where the water was pouring in.
Well as much as I have used the post title before, it comes as no surprise that it should be used again, because if you keep on looking, you just keep on finding. As seems apparent both JC and I are two stubborn dogs who just won’t quit looking so we find our share of local (Ontario) caves each year. Last year it was “Broken rowboat Cave, the year before it was “Broken glass Cave”, now it’s wasteland waterway”
Sitting in the Centennial Parkway parking lot of the Home Depot we checked out the aerial photos of our target area. Jeff pointed out that there had been past mention of sinks around the destination. Well we drove there and after about an hour of slogging through the forest we came across a karsty sort of terrain – sinks about 20 feet deep and runnels cut through the clay overburden within which flowed cappuccino colored streams. We followed one such stream to where it disappeared underground and we had our first glimpse of the cave that we baptized “the Wasteland Waterway’ – henceforth it will be called as such.
As you can see, size-wise, the entry tunnel is about 4 feet wide and about 3 feet high and a brisk stream flows within. I believe there are some similarities to Nexus Cave and as we soon hope to discover, possible size comparisons as well, but being a cave and not knowing what is around the corner till you get there we also remain realistic to the possibility of disappointment – more to follow soon.
Well, Rockwatching has been up and running for a number of years now (5 to be exact) and I believe it has contributed significantly to the interest of people like myself who like caving, rocks, the outdoors, gems and minerals in Ontario.
We are just a few short days from 2011 and I believe it’s high time we made some resolutions -all of us (you my loyal fellow bloggers as well).
So in the interests of all involved a few ground rules to follow on Rockwatching from now on
1) Lets not carry a personal vendetta onto this site which is meant to be a forum where like minded enthusiasts can interact in a positive way.
2) Lets respect each other and try not to get personal when we are frustrated.
3) Lets respect the basics of conservation and eco-minded thought.
4) Lets not assume stuff we don’t know for sure (hence the survey at the bottom of the post).
5) Lets keep in mind that this is all about enjoyment.
6) Lets keep in mind that just because the topic is on the table, every single aspect that pertains to it is not an open book.
7) Lets respect people who are not on the site, private property, reputations etc. Just because there is discussion of a site or feature does not mean permission has been granted to go there.
8) Lets not get petty, self righteous or important. Stop correcting my grammar, spelling or use of terms. I am a writer at heart and so I believe I can use the language as I please (providing it’s in good taste, or if I choose, not in good taste).
9) Lets not waste my time by having to re-direct you to one of the above rules.
You can pretty well tell that this picture was taken in one of the Marmora caves. The rock in that area, though much the same as that in Dewdney’s Cave (Bobcaygeon Formation) is wickedly sharp – comparatively, the rock in Dewdney’s is much smoother.
This tunnel was formed above the water table by water running along a joint, you can see the wear along the wall and the incision inward along a bedding plane.
In the spring these particular tunnels are entirely submersed by running water and so bats seem not to find them suitable as a hibernaculum, in fact, in my experience, most of the tunnels in the Marmora area are unpopulated by bats.
Looking at a map in the winter /spring issue of the Toronto Caver the progression of “White Nose Syndrome” in bats appears to have made it into Southern Ontario this year (2010). The disease was first seen in 2006 in Schoharie New York. Initially the White Nose Syndrome is thought to have spread southwards in the States, but mysteriously it was not confirmed to be present until it was discovered at several sites including Moira in 2010
By the map in the Toronto Caver it would appear that distribution of White Nose Syndrome is on a North/South axis – in fact quite narrowly confined to certain areas. As Kirk MacGregor says, the fungus responsible for the symptoms that are referred to as “White Nose Syndrome” (Geomyces destructans) has been identified as far north as Kirkland Lake and yet at this time there is no evidence of it being east of Ottawa.
Geographically you would wonder what it is that is defining the spread of disease … Travel patterns of the bat?
Below I copy an excerpt from an e-mail that a friend and I were bouncing back and forth in Feb. 2008 …
“not being a bat scientist or anything, but would the fungus not be indicative of what is going on inside. Is the fungus growing on some kind of sputum that the bat is exhaling? What type of medium does this fungus usually grow on? Is there any connection between that and the sputum? How fast does this come on? Consider that the bat is dormant and its body temperature drops so drastically – what kind of weird virus would grow inside a creature at those temperatures? Does the bats temperature rise – might that be what is killing it? Notice in the picture(although it is only one picture), but the bats in the middle of the picture are most heavily affected and as you get further away, the fungus seems to be growing less profusely. I wonder if that suggests the bat in the middle was affected first and then the disease spread outward from him – spread in situ that is – as the bats were dormant. I wonder if the disease is even cave related as bats obviously leave the cave. Can the bat act as an incubator like the pig does in transferring influenza from the chicken to the human and mutating it along the way?
Lots of questions 2 years ago and yet, no doubt answers will eventually follow.
Information for this post in part, was obtained from an article in the Toronto Caver …
MacGregor Kirk, “White Nose Syndrome Moves into Southern Ontario, published by The Toronto Caver, The Toronto Caver Winter and Spring 2010, pg. 5
Map showing distribution of White Nose Syndrome as of 12th of May 2010. Map by Cal Butchkoski, PA Game Commission.
On one of those days I did a solo side trip in through the Snedgar’s Saltpetre entrance while most of the other cavers were doing a shaft somewhere off at the edge of a farmer’s field (it dropped into a section called the “Cobble Crawl”. The tunnel’s are massive – way bigger than anything yet known in Ontario and during the Civil War slaves had kept digging in the accumulated bat guano to keep the South supplied with Saltpetre. I always wonder how many of those poor people disappeared into the darkness never to return.
Anyway I got back to the camp sometime in the afternoon and two cavers who had not been with the other group asked if I wanted to join them on another trip back through the Snedgar’s entrance. Typically, not wanting to feel responsible for the actions of others who were possibly less experienced than me, but more ambitious – I declined.
Later that night (around 11pm) it occurred to me that the two cavers that had invited me on their trip had not returned.
The Toronto Cave Group (TCG) were fortunate to have several highly experienced cave search and rescue people who were members of the club and who were also on the trip so search teams were quickly organized and we started hitting up the likely locations where we thought the lost cavers might be stranded.
Several American cavers who were returning from the cave joined us and assured us that they could set a call out process in motion and have at least 200 cavers from nearby grottoes there by morning (if things still were unresolved within a few hours).
Incidentally Friar’s Hole is endless, literally one of the most extensive known systems in the world. As one experienced American caver pointed out – “Some tunnels nearby will take you quickly deep into the system and from there you are lost forever”.
Our approach in searching was to target the area that could be most easily reached and we would blow a whistles down the bigger passages and listen for a response. Fortunately we got a response within a half hour and shortly after that one of the two cavers came hurrying into our headlamp beam – so fast in fact that she dropped down a relatively deep hole between us and came steaming up the other side without a pause. Most would have considered that a relatively serious fall, but she seemed to not even notice it. The two cavers had got lost in the Saltpetre Mine in amongst the old mining implements. We found the second caver sitting on a ledge – having eaten all his granola bars he just seemed kind of dazed.
The cavers had climbed down into a passage through a hole in it’s roof and when it was time to return, there were a myriad of possibilities down around eye level – the hole in the roof had entirely been forgotten. When we blew our whistle at the entrance to the passage the energetic caver had headed in that direction and eventually seen some kind of faint light from the hole above her.
Needless to say, there is a lesson here and that is to know that as confident as you might feel you gotta know your limits. Inexperienced cavers without a fear of consequence can quickly find themselves in a whole world of trouble.
I had been carefully picking my way through the dust and breakdown in the upper level of an obscure cave in Ontario’s marble. The marble forms in bands of especially pure white rock in this area; it is very hard and sharp – thus gloves, elbow and knee pads are essential for cave exploration.
I know of several areas in the shield that have significant potential – some discovered while cruising through the internet, others by looking on topo maps. This particular cave is already a cave that is somewhat known to the older members of Ontario’s caving community.
At the far end of this series of underground chambers I came across a huge embankment of mud from which grew strange elongated stalks – some kind of germination whereby seeds carried in by bats, rodents or the underlying river were deposited and in growing never finding the light but stretching upward into the darkness for nothing. For some reason, I found the tunnels a little depressing – sure they were interesting and where I stopped at the clay/mud embankment I set my lantern for greater light and progressed a short distance down a nearby incline toward the river that enlargened and carved all these fissures in the rock. I never really saw all there was to see of the system – I will return one day and make a better effort.
Much has been said of the mysterious disease that had been killing bats this spring. Having just seen numerous bats in Northern Ontario (Bancroft area) I was unable to notice any of the white fuzz around the nose. This disease might possibly have just shown itself earlier in the year – or maybe it has not hit the mines up around Bancroft. These bats are sheltering up at the end of a shallow drill hole and numerous other bats were flying around in the tunnels.
The picture is a little blurry but I thought that I would post it today in memory of a time not so long ago when I was able to go outside without my nose almost freezing solid.
This is Donald of the SQS – a Quebec caving organization. Donald, Corneilie, Marc Andre and I had entered this Ontario cave and we followed it to its sump where there had been an especially harrowing diving accident some years ago. Two divers followed the underwater tunnels inward and only one returned. Fortunately the diver who came back went back to the surface for extra air tanks and then returned to rescue his buddy who had found an airpocket somewhere.
What was especially cool about this cave – aside from the dip at the entrance was the bats. They were fluttering around in the tunnels in significant numbers – possibly leaving the passages by an entrance other than the one we had used.
In reaching the furthest extent of the passages I was very interested to see the sandbars which seem re-worked each year. I cant be sure – maybe I was just confused by the map but in retrospect I think that maybe a passage; that is not mapped has been exposed from behind a sand bar. I hope to visit when the weather warms up to be certain. I was reluctant to probe further on my last visit as I did not want to disturb the sediment but with a map in hand I can seperate my confusion from reality. It’s probably just wishfull thinking though.
Here is something that we are likely to see less and less of with the accumulation of greenhouse gasses.
Living in a cold climate with somewhat restricted caving opportunities the ice formations are a special treat – though – keeping in mind, the bats hibernate through the winter in many caves and so dont cave in known bat caves during the colder months – waking bats at the wrong time could kill them.
The above spike towered up beneath the surface well after the surface snow had melted. My caving partner and I made a late spring exploration in one of our favorite caving areas to enjoy this unusual phenomenon.
In alpine and polar regions cave ice develops much as it would under regular circumstances however the formation of temperate region cave ice is a more complicated process.
In a multi entrance cave that has entrances at different elevations the air flow changes with the climate. In colder months the freezing air is drawn through the lower openings and vented out the top. In the summer the process is reversed. Obviously there needs to be a greater flow of cold air through the cave than warm, hence, “A colder climate than the temperature” (Emil Silvestre – Perennial Ice in Caves in Temperate Climate and its Significance) – though sadly as has been pointed out, there is no longer such a thing as temperate caves that are showing an increasing balance of ice accumulation – everything is melting.
Where I live – an area once referred to as “The Cave Desert” there are many examples of “the ice box phenomenon”. The Niagara Escarpment is riven by deep crevices and they act as pools where cold air can accumulate and preserve ice well into the summer months. The cold air trap is most usually found in single entrance caves that dip down at a steep angle – eg. a crevice cave. Cold air slides down as it is heavier and warm air is pushed out the top of the shaft. The entrence to these ice box traps needs to be large enough to allow a suitable exchange of air to overcome the “geothermal flux” – the rock is in need of constant cooling from above as it maintains its own ambient temperature from the crust beneath.
Following the release some time ago of my book "Rockwatching; Adventures above and below Ontario", I am pleased to announce the release of my new book "Tamarindo; Crooked Times in Costa Rica". It is a story of opportunity. Edgehill Press is the publisher. (www.edgehillpress.com)