Karst geography near Toronto – a likely spot for caves
To be successful as a cave hunter, that is a person who searches the countryside for caves, you must combine a variety of skills. In particular, by experience, the mind now tips me off to areas that are likely cave locations. A sound knowledge of sedimentary geology is helpful, understanding a little about physical geography will certainly add to your success, and most importantly, cave geography really tips the scales. In Ontario it helps to understand something about how glaciers influenced the landscape and of course the human interaction on top of that – in particular the tendencies of farmers over the last 150 years and their preference for plugging openings in their fields with coils of wire and other household debris.
Jeff and I went out searching this past weekend and we found a likely cave location on this area of land above a valley. Thus far researchers have visited and dye traced the most obvious spring out to a resurgence in the side of the nearby valley. We followed along and tried to intercept a possible tunnel entrance. It seems to be that in some cases tunnels get bigger deeper in. In this case we found a large soil pipe that had the sound of rushing water flowing beneath its clayish plug.
As it was a beautiful warm day in early April, JC and I headed up to conduct some further exploration on the Bruce Peninsula. Our intent was to try and locate a stream that we had heard of; apparently this stream drains a sizable plateau and normally flows with at least 10 cubic feet of water a second. Being a plumber JC estimated that a 1 foot high by 2 foot wide pheratic tube might flow with about 4 cubic feet a second, but 10 cubic feet might possibly be human sized, also considering that we have had an especially dry winter so who says that the tunnel will be full of water. An ambitious caver might slither up that worm hole and find bigger passages on beyond that entry portal.
Well we never found the stream as we were sidetracked by a visit to a well known local sea cave (see the picture above) and then as we were heading up toward the stream that we had heard of we we were again way-laid by what looked like depressions in the forest. Well one thing led to another and those depressions morphed into incredible solution shafts – several of them grouped together and deep, deep, deep (but that’s another post). We spent the rest of the afternoon assessing the local geography and seeking to understand the situation with all those pits. We are in no doubt as to the possibility of a cave system beneath – the surface features kind of remind me of the sinks and their dispositions around Museum and Leopard Frog Cave, its just that they appear to be totally relic from the ice age and subject to some heavy water pressure beneath a glacier (Museum and Leopard Frog are still obviously recharged with surface running water).
More to follow on this exciting new cave possibility (including video). It makes C-Hurst look a lot less impressive for the depth and volume that these new solution shafts encompass.
Tucked away in the back of Michaelangelo’s plush event room is the dinner table of several Ontario cavers. The event was FOTEK’s annual dinner and dance fundraiser 2012. There were at least 400 people present. After dinner conversation was punctuated by various speechs from politicians and the raffling of a print of Josh Tiessen’s, ‘Guardian of the Karst’ painting. Josh is a member of FOTEK – Friends of the Eramosa Karst’. Our table won 5 of the 20 door prizes. It felt like the odds were in our favor, so it was especially hard to accept our loss of that wonderful painting to a non-caving guest.
Dinner was either beef or chicken, roasted potatoes pasta to start and steamed vegetables – money well spent for both the cause and the company. Moving around the table left to right, myself, Jeff Collens (my regular caving partner), Steve Worthington and Marcus Buck (co-authors of the report – Earth Sciences Inventory and evaluation of the Eramosa Karst Area of Natural Scientific Interest), Marcus’s wife Norma, two ladies who I had not met, and Nina. People who were present but not in the picture were Greg Warchol – schmoozing with some local dignitaries and my wife Maggie who took the picture.
It was Greg Warchol who had first investigated the Eramosa karst area and exposed the significance and possible loss of valuable Niagara escarpment features to the caving community – in particular Marcus Buck, and it was Marcus (who had been the key-note speaker at last year’s event) in co-operation with Steve Worthington who had undertaken all the scientific study to legitimize the Eramosa Karst’s value as an area of natural scientific interest – thus preserved from the impending developments. Derek Ford, a world renown cave scientist from McMaster University had supported the project in saying that the Eramosa Karst was one of the gems of the Niagara Escarpment.
Of greatest interest to cavers are the features of Nexus and Potruff Cave. Unbeknown to everyone in the the room (with the exception of our table) is the incredible occurrence of another similar caving feature within about a 15 minute drive of the Michaelangelo’s Conference room. Jeff and I had discovered the cave last spring and since then we have made several forays into the tunnels. we call the feature Wasteland Waterway and in response to our request to Marcus to accompany us in the near future on a mapping expedition Norma said, “he’ll have to bring his walker.” (there’s a story to be told on that). Anyway, the point is, there’s a lot more in Ontario than people might imagine – especially around the Hamilton area, my book Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst speaks of the province’s undiscovered and yet exciting caving potential.
First and foremost limestone is a sedimentary rock. As seen in the picture above, it erodes and redeposits in fantastic and ornate ways. Limestone is made of the skeletons of corals and tiny sea creatures, but it can also be made of calcium based chemical precipitates. The colors of limestone are many and varied. It is most typically a result of chemical impurities, and when subject to heat and pressure limestone meta-morphs to marble; a banded and crystalline rock that is seen in some Ontario caves as beautiful swirling bands. As is the case of the Silurian age Niagara Escarpment, when calcium is replaced in part by magnesium, dolostone forms, and although it is similar to limestone it reacts entirely differently to water.
Check out this amazing video on caves and karst landscapes. It speaks of how limestone is corroded, how sinkholes develop and what the impact of caves is upon geography – video on karst topography here.
The different types of limestone are many and varied, but two broad classification systems govern the names you will hear them by. The Folks system considers limestone upon the basis of the composition of its grains and interstitial material, while the Dunham classification is more focused upon the texture of the rock.
In relation to its cave forming potential, limestone in Ontario is situated in either the west of the province, deposited during the Devonian age and still as of yet hiding its caving potential beneath the thickly deposited glacial tills, or it it is found at the eastern edge of Ontario, at either edge of the lobe of the Canadian shield that juts southwards, down towards Kingston. Being situated at the outer edge of the former Michigan Basin, these eastern limestone’s are considered the most favorable in the province for the development of caves. The most notable cave forming limestone’s are those of the Bobcaygeon Formation a rock of the Ordovician age.
About 10% of all sedimentary rocks are classified as limestone. Other rocks that are commonly found inter-layered with limestone are sandstone, dolostone and shale. The presence of a shale layer is especially favorable to the development of caves. In our newly discovered cave – Wasteland Waterway we are expecting to come across a layer of the Rochester Shale soon. As shale is impermeable we expect it will change the nature of the system.
To read more about caves and limestone in Ontario check out my newly published book on caves, Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst. In this book you will see mysterious tunnel systems that have developed in the limestone of the province. I also feature caves that have developed in marble and dolostone. There is a fantastic story of exploration that has remained somewhat unspoken of till now.
This is an extract from my book (a screen shot of part of a page), that is finished as of now – with about a half hour before the new year. It should be available for purchase from Lulu or the Edgehill Press site within about 2 or 3 days (depending upon the size of their backlog). You would not believe the complications at the final stage of preparation. I have spent my every spare minute since the last post uploading, downloading, readjusting, making PDFs, more uploading, using photoshop, learning how to do things I never wanted to do; any way it’s done and the book looks amazing.
This section of page from my new book, “Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst”, speaks a little about how cavers see spelunkers. To be called a spelunker by a caver is a derogatory remark.
So the point is, and I need to make it quick, as there is no more than about a half hour before midnight(new Years Eve) and I have a big glass of scotch and my hot tub waiting – if you are a caver, or underground explorer of any type, somewhere near Ontario, this book is a must have (excuse the massive sentence). Caving in Ontario tells you about the caves, how to find the caves, the geography of Ontario, the geology of Ontario and the culture of the sport of caving (in Ontario). Caving in Ontario is in full color, and it contains information and pictures of places that have never been publicly seen or written of before.
You think you know Ontario? I bet most have not seen it from this angle – a caver’s angle (looking from below).
I was out scouting for a possible cave dig location today. Caving in Ontario can sometimes involve a little digging. Beaver Valley has a few promising possibilities. Investigations from a past trip revealed the likelihood of a bedding plane tunnel, there was no remarkable amount of solution taking place. Again I was drawn back here. There is too much sinking and all the signs that would suggest that something very active is taking place beneath the surface – huge sinkholes all lined up, elevation, exposed rock (the right kind of rock) and plenty of serious corrosion on the surface.
There has to be more to this place than beautiful colored leaves.
Check this out – it was under the search term of a “sink”, but it’s really a washout, but still worth seeing. I gotta ask myself what the odds of catching this on video was. Here
This picture was taken on a recent exploration that JC and I did in an area that has long been suspected of being “cave rich”.
In Ongley’s long forgotten cave manuscript he relates the impression at the time of Ontario being a cave desert – a paucity of karst! not so! Theres lots of caves in Ontario you just gotta find them. Marcus Buck said that 90 -95% of Ontario’s caves are found beside a road or path – still true, its because of our rugged terrain and people’s unwillingness to hack through the bush. JC and I do that quite often and sometimes we hit lucky.
My book on Ontario’s cave geography “Rockwatching” is again available at Amazon. It appears that it had risen quite significantly in price while it was out of print - Teebooks1 - $156.13, The_Meirin_USA – $94.00, and any_book for – $56.46.
Rockwatching is back on at Amazon for $20.96 – buy it and stop e-mailing me for directions to caves, you’ll learn in the book how to figure those out for yourselves.
But for now, I hope to update you in the next month or so on our further explorations of Broken Rowboat cave – it all depends on whether the location is totally snowed in for the winter or not. It’s a hike of several kilometers through some pretty rugged terrain.
Where does the tunnel go from here? Is there airspace or do the passages descend beneath the water table?
Next visit we will remove the wheel and try back-float the passage in a wet suit.
A short distance through the mud left me up against this wheel – a good place for mud bogging if you can get your monster truck past the entry squeeze. Notice the scalloping where the water funnels down and the alternating layers of rock above – the tunnel goes on – but it will be a water crawl from here.
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)