Archive for September, 2010


Me teaching the use of the GPMG – the student not listening all that well

Well – You might wonder what any of these topics have to do with caving – not much I guess except its on my caving blog.

I’ve been on a train the trainer course for the last few days in Etobicoke at the THSAO, now amalgamated with several other companies under a larger company that is somehow linked to both the Government and the construction industry.

The quality of instruction is outstanding (thanks Ivan!) and the end result is that I will have completed a course in principles of instruction (POET). Being in health and safety for a living, I would suggest the course to anyone who teaches for a living. After this initial 3 day course I am then taking their reach truck instructors course.

I did my practical presentation today – that went OK, glad to get it done with as it’s always a little stressful when you are being judged. I taught on the 4 basic principles of a safety culture.

As you can see by the above picture (me kneeling in the foreground, I think I’ve got instruction in my blood. This was 25 years ago when I was a British soldier. As you can see, I am teaching the use of the GPMG to the soldier of another country (guess which one). This guy just couldn’t grasp the concept of 3-4 round bursts – then again it was hard to explain as neither one of us spoke the same language. I remember that I physically grabbed the belt and broke it off when he went Rambo on me. The rounds were going everywhere.

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A cave in Rockwood

Last time I looked this little tunnel was under water.

At the time that myself,  Marcel, and his nephew visited the Rockwood area it was mid winter, there was a faint breeze coming out of this hole and small ice crystals were forming on the topside of the tube.

In Rockwood the strata dips downward to either side of the valley at a pitch of 7 degrees and it was for this reason that we suspected this tube might lead on to something deeper in. Water seeps down this hole (slowly) and in the direction that it initially leads off there is another valley about 300 meters away running parallel to this one.

Marcel squeezed in with only the soles of his boots filling the entire entrance and soon those were gone as well. The picture shows Marcel on his return journey. He managed to turn around inside. I guess at one time a significant stream used to disappear down here – the channel leading up to the depression would suggest that.

According to Marcel, there is a chamber some distance in – with well formed soda straws. The breeze is blowing from a hole in this inner chamber.

I would not fit down that hole and I would not even try. We had initially thought to approach the property owner with the idea of allowing us to dig to widen the entrance and tube. A significant amount of digging had actually widened the main caves in Rockwood to their present size (see my book Rockwatching for details on that)(You can only buy it second hand on Amazon now).

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IMG_8289-1, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I just got back from SNAFU’s which is always interesting and you never know what kind of stuff hes gonna hit you with. He open’s the mind to some really outside the box ideas. Ask me about his musical invention “The Pneumungaphone” one day.

Today it was chamomile tea and dried seaweed as a snack. “What is it that captures the essence of SNAFU? I asked intending to take a picture. He opened his kitchen draws to find some kind of cooking implement to explain the core of his inner being. No, that didn’t do it – he’s an artist in the disguise of a mad genius, or possibly a mad genius disguised as an artist.

Anyway, you might wonder where I got a title like “Man beats hyena with a bone – look at the album cover, there is this guy there with a bone and a muzzled hyena. I’m not sure whether the thing is a pet or a captive that he beats to amuse himself when bored.

SNAFU started at Uof G around the same year as me and though neither of us were particularly well suited to formal education we both scraped through and he’s now finishing his PhD. in chemistry after spending years in Japan as an English teacher.

This record in SNAFU’s hand is called “Lagos Shake” and though I didn’t have the faintest clue as to anything about it SNAFU introduced the album with , “Well presumably you know the basic story (and I was all ears as I had thought he was going to explain the man and the hyena) “It’s a lot of electronic producers re-mixing Tony Allen stuff.

“Whos that?” I ask

“He was one of the drummers for Fela Kuti – a veritable god in African music”.

In the background there is this sound like an angry beehive that is slowly sinking in a pond and bubbling. I believe that was “Flying Lotus”, a group according to SNAFU that plays abstract hip hop. “I thought you might like it, the vocals are from Gonjasufi, but they changed it so much you’d never recognize it as Gonjasufi. “This stuff is similar to “Gas Lamp Killer and the reason that I’m telling you about them both is that Gonjasufi works with both of them and they all had a role in producing this record”.

Listening to a little Flying Lotus and leafing through his collection SNAFU suddenly shouts out “Oh, I love this record, it’s not bizarre but he did a great job anyway”. It appears that the artist is Losfeld and his album is called “Gospel” and “not bizarre” is only a matter of perception.The music starts normally and then gets bizarre with flute trilling in the background and this vocal like the guy is chanting something down a toilet role.

I was assured that “Non” would be entertaining – and that it was. “It’s spoken of as easy listening for those who’re hard of hearing. Here, I’ll just drop the needle wherever”. I only hear this roaring sound that instantly reminded me of the sound before my first parachute jump – a ripping of wind and flapping of coveralls and terrible anxiety as to whether the thing would open.

I don’t like your “Non” lets head off before the Albion fills up”.

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Friar’s Hole – West Virginia

This is me in a small side tunnel of Friar’s Hole in West Virginia. Some years ago I went down there with the Toronto Cave Group. We camped in a valley below Droop Mountain and made several forays into the system.

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.

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Queen’s Regiment in Portugal

If you are wondering who Col is, he is the guy with the sandbag in the middle – full name is Colin.

The Queen’s Regiment (1st batallion) was big on FIBUA and DIBUA, and we spent some time in Portugal instructing those practices to the Portuguese military. I can’t say it was all that effective as we didn’t speak Portuguese.

What we were doing here was fortifying an old abandoned farmhouse (an exercise) and if I recall correctly, it was quite a mess inside (hence the name).

The usual deal with DIBUA (defence in built up areas) is to make it real costly for the opposing force to try and take your position. There were many ways to make the battle a little slice of hell for your opponents. Walls, windows and stairways all needed to take their toll. (remember the lessons of Stalingrad). Think how can I arrange this house to kill whoever might want to visit? The defender needs to be the ultimate malicious host.

And guests, they arrive not by a polite tapping at the door, but in an unexpected showering of bricks as their mouse hole charge opens a crawl way through the wall. And don’t expect a bottle of chardonnay – it’s grenades that are coming next!

Success for the aggressor is based on, speed, momentum and a solid supply line to keep the ammunition coming and efficiency to keep the dead and wounded flowing back to where they came from.

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Aragonite in Asni – Morocco

Here I am in Asni Morocco, Joe is to the right of the picture, Mohammad is to the left.

You may notice in an earlier blog that I wrote about Mohammad and the evening that we spent with him and his little brothers in one of those mud-walled Berber dwellings. Here he is at his job – selling crystals beside the road.

We learned from Mohammad that he got his crystals from a valley near there – a hidden wrinkle in the dry red hills that was absolutely lined with amazing crystals. Several of us hiked up into the mountains the following day and found the valley that he told us of. At the time I did not know a great deal about crystals, gems or geologic wonders and I assumed because of their color the crystals must have been amethyst. I recall the rock from Thunder Bay and to me this rock from Asni looked pretty similar. I took several large clusters of crystal with me, but as they weighed my pack down I eventually discarded them somewhere in the sands at the edge of the ocean or down toward the Sahara.

In thinking about it and knowing more (with the aid of the internet) those crystals must have been aragonite. Asni is well known for this crystal. Aragonite is a pseudomorph of calcite. This means it has the same chemical formula, but the ions are packed differently. Apparently if aragonite is heated at 400 degrees it reverts to calcite. The color that I have seen on the internet is identical to what I remember seeing in Morocco, varying from a fruity, brownish purple through to relatively milky and in the quantity that I saw, it was like an Aladdin’s cave of gems.

Mohammad had several species of rock with him, I only remember that one place he sent us to.

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Essaouria – Morocco

Bought the hat from a herder somewhere between Marrakesh and Essaouira – check out the tassel hanging down the back. As far as hats go Moroccans take the prize. How could you compare a John Deere baseball cap or a jays cap – I defy you with a fez; attire of extroverts like Oscar Wilde and any number of barons, princes, knights and eccentric English gentlemen.

You’d never recognize me without the beard. I’m just chillin at a cafe somewhere along the shoreline. There is some association between this place with its medieval appearance, city wall and defenses and Jimmy Hendix’s song “Castles in the sand”.

Though it seemed a quiet and somewhat unassuming backwater, a place where Moroccans come for honeymoon, Essaouria has quite a feisty history.

Mohammad III chose Essaouria as his port city, like many before him for its sheltered anchorage, but also because he wanted to cut off trade from Agadir, a rival city to the south. This was also the closest spot between Marrakesh and the sea.

In the past the waters offshore were harvested for Murex shells. It was from these thatpurple dye was extracted to mark the line in Roman senator’s togas. Today the Canaries Current makes the water off-shore particularly well suited to the swarming of large schools of sardines and super-size Conger Eels.

As I later learned, It’s not considered good manners to go shirtless in public. Normal attire was flip-flops and shorts and a hat of some unusual variety.

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Training in Portugal – NBCW

My father had always said that sleeping in a hole was comfortable and warm. I beg to differ!

This is Bev, a friend of mine an incidentally also my section commander while were were serving together. This picture was taken in Portugal somewhere. (It was either a place called Santa Margarita or Pucarica)

This picture brings to mind the hideousness of “digging in” while wearing NBC equipment and then experiencing some kind of air burst attack with less than lethal gas.

Above Bev you can see the roof is caving in – there was dirt above and then the unpleasantness of sleeping in an NBC suit with dirt and sweat in every crease in your body. To top the experience off we had these primitive field telephones and in the middle of the gas attack where the stuff was streaming down from these big concussions above us the phone rang. I really hate the phone, but something unexplainable made me lift my mask to answer it. Well I soon wished that I hadn’t done that.

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Devil’s Cave formations (Ontario)

Being a cave formed in gypsum, Devil’s cave is relatively well decorated for Ontario. Flowstone has formed in abundance and it appears to have literally blocked the route onwards.

If it were not for the cliff face having collapsed out into the river it would not be possible to enter the small cavern in which I took this picture. In the not too distant past (before the cliff collapsed) nothing any larger than a rabbit could have entered because the tunnels from the outside to the interior were too small.

The lower entrance as detailed in the rumor must have been buried in the slide, though in seeing the upper cavity, one can only wonder as to what lies beneath.

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Devil’s Cave – Ontario

As promised, my next few posts will be on Devil’s Cave – Ontario. Admittedly the most common name for a cave is something along these lines so I’m talking about the one that is situated south of Hamilton and north of Lake Erie.

Some time ago I had heard rumor of a cave along the side of a river where you entered a cavity from beneath the water. The person who told me of the cave had said that a tunnel led from the cavity and a string was needed to go on beyond (so you wouldn’t get lost). Since the initial conversation my source had died in a tragic sporting accident and though I had done my best to find this so called cave, I eventually gave up as there were more promising prospects to devote my time to.

I had shared this rumor with a friend and co-explorer (Jeff C) and he managed to locate the cave by an exhaustive scouring of the suspected area. Important point is that there is almost always something in a rumor.

On the day we visited we found was a cave in which the formations were relatively well developed and in which the area seemed likely to deliver other prospects with a little bit of looking. (more to follow)

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