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Archive for January, 2012

While out looking for caves today we were unsuccessful, but it was not entirely a bust. We found this place where a vigorous stream bubbled up from the wall of a valley.

We had first seen this spot on an aerial photograph, a mysterious valley from which water seemed to flow. We spent most of the day searching the area in hopes that somewhere there would be accessible cave tunnels. According to the landowner, there are plenty of sinking streams on the plateau above this spot. Doug, (I believe that was his name), pointed out a ridge nearby and called it “the great Divide”, water on the far side flowed toward Lake Ontario and water on the side of this stream flows into Lake Erie – the separate watersheds are governed by the Grand River Conservation Authority and the Hamilton Conservation Authority.

Water in Ontario generally seeps from marshes or oozes from the soil, this natural spring was quite a treat. Somewhere on the plateau above this feature we will eventually find the sink point, in fact we have pinpointed several significant sinks from the map search. The biggest problem is to find landowners on a Sunday. As for the local geology it is promising in that the bedrock is limestone and it is exposed right at the surface just thinly covered by a clayish soil. To it’s detriment the rock is fractured and thinly bedded.

Water in Ontario seldom flows from the earth in the way you see in the accompanying picture, but I do know of one really cool spot near Guelph – the headwater’s of the Eramosa River. It is a place called Blue Springs (in a Scout camp), There is this really incredible pool that’s crystal clear with a carpet of the finest beach sand across it’s bottom. If you look carefully you can see the bottom of the pool churning as the water flows from the aquifer back to the surface. there is shattered karst all along the valley, but at this time the areas tunnels are yet to be revealed.

For more details on cave hunting techniques check out my new book on caving in Ontario here.

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As I look outside into a mid-January snowstorm and contemplate my weekend, I am at least encouraged by the possibility of a caving trip tomorrow. I live in central Ontario and one of the fun things to do in Toronto is caving – an activity that many might think impossible given the supposedly un-cave-like terrain around here, but as far as cool things to do in Toronto, caving certainly tops the list – that and maybe that skywalk around the top of the CN tower – it’s something that i’d like to do in time. Winter caving is an activity that takes an already extreme possibility and multiplies it two-fold.

Firstly, a winter caver must be a knowledgeable caver, and for your immersion in near freezing water, close confines and the remote location of where you generally end up going, there is the very real possibility of hypothermia, and if you are a long way in, or lost, hypothermia can be a killer. There is also the consideration of wildlife. Bat hibernaculums, or any cave with bats is out of bounds for winter cavers, so in selecting your exploration site, you already must have a knowledge of where the bats are. If you waken a bat mid-winter there is the chance that it will die.

So, no pun intended, and without intent to encourage casual exploration of caves around Toronto mid-winter, I say that for me, one of the cool things to do in Toronto during winter is caving. I know of several places where caves have been opened by myself or one of my caving associates – dug from beneath the earth, exposed from beneath a layer of rock, where there are virgin cave tunnels that await our winter exploration. At this time my caving associates and I contemplating a caving trip next weekend. We will be wearing wet suits and have plans for immediate changing back on the surface. The thing that I find most difficult about cave exploration in the winter is the return to the surface. Up top there is invariably a bitter wind and when the wind meets your soaking wetsuit your only thought is to shed it. Taking your wetsuit off in the snow begins simply enough on top of some kind of tarp, but then when the thing gets caught around your ankles you are soon rolling in the snow and kicking and struggling to free yourself from this slimy freezing thing that feels like a sealskin turned inside out and dipped in the Arctic Ocean.

Anyway, back to my point about top things to do in Toronto, or in particular, top things to do in Toronto in the winter, I would say, slithering down tunnels that have never been seen before in icy water, darkness and conditions that most Torontonians would sooner leave to others – namely me, is just about as good as it gets. The picture above was taken deep within the bowels of Marble Cave, a beautiful system north of Toronto that burrows through solid bone-white marble. You can read something of the Marble Cave exploration in my new book, ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’, by clicking on this link. Incidentally Marble Cave is not a cave that should be visited in the winter – it is cavernous enough in its upper reaches to possibly harbor bats.

So, I would say, one of the best things to do in Toronto Ontario on a cold winter’s day is cave exploration. The kind of cave to choose is one that is pretty well scoured by water in the spring time – this way you know there are no bats there. It should be somewhat more accessible in mid-winter when groundwater is largely tied up in the snow that has accumulated on the ground above. Keep in mind, what might seem to be one of the better things to do in Toronto in the winter could soon turn into one of the worst things to do if you don’t know what you’re doing. Caving in itself ‘serious caving’ that is, quickly cuts your life short if you are doing stupid things. So if you are not already an experienced caver I don’t suggest you try this.

Be safe! Check out my book ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring buried Karst’ here.

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What is an extreme sport – me returning from a solo exploration

Some might ask, “What is an extreme sport?” and in answer I would probably suggest that they are usually outdoor activities that entail some measure of risk. The greater the risk, the more extreme the sport. Some of the better known examples of extreme sports would be half pipe skiing, street luge, and bungi jumping.

The most widely acknowledged of the most extreme sports are those that are the most visually impressive, or those that have the apparently most spectacular of consequences. You might also suggest that popularity is sometimes accelerated where there is an element of competition. It is competition that is most successfully marketed on television.

It’s not hard to classify base jumping into the list of most extreme sports, firstly, a base jump gone wrong is stunning in a ghoulish kind of way; it’s often a mistake that is captured on video in a very public place – an unexpected thump, shrieks of horror from admiring fans and limbs and body parts scattered over the impact zone. It’s all part of the culture, oddball activities with lots of risk – preferably in places where everyone can see.

Extreme sports enthusiasts say they don’t care about the established culture, life is too sanitized, “They want to feel alive”. It is this feeling of risk in extreme sports, that is appealing to both participants and spectators alike. The extent to which the counter cultural element defines extreme sports is debatable. And in this age of sponsorship and marketing it would appear that an extreme sport defines a lifestyle, or visa versa. In line with that mentality, there are huge marketing campaigns that follow certain of the better publicized events, and products that follow from the lifestyle, or supposedly define the lifestyle. Many a snowboarder might feel that they were unable to perform without the appropriate Gortex gear and withoput a Ripcurl wet suit how could a surfer possibly even get upright on their surf board? Red Bull, an energy drink, is a huge sponsor of extreme sporting events and ginseng and guarana often find their way into essential extreme sporting rehydration and energy potions, and don’t forget electrolytes.

Check out Fan Scootering here, it would appear that the people who posted this on you tube are also asking the question of,  What is an extreme sport? In answer, it certainly goes against the grain, but speed bumps might more clearly move fan scootering into the realm of an extreme sport and bell bottoms would add to the danger but look pretty neat blowing out behind a scooterist. (just kidding, but I think they have to re-consider their possible inclusion X Games) – No red Bull powers these guys, possibly diet coke or lemonade (nothing wrong with that).

Though extreme sports athletes once existed in their isolated spheres of endeavor, with only small followings of like-minded enthusiasts to applaud their daring, in the mid 90’s the extreme games concept was pitched by ESPN and now, what started as a risky proposition (appropriate I know) now appears as the X Games with a television audience of over 44 million.

In the extreme sports world, “the reward is in proportion to the risk”. In 2002, there was supposedly 1 fatality for every 60 base jumpers. Wing suiting seems to receive growing exposure amongst extreme sports groupies and the horrific death of one of the sport’s greatest athletes was captured on video when he hit a bridge while trying to fly under it and now the video can be seen on youtube. Far from dissuading potential participants, spectacular demise only encourages the subculture of people who flock to the most extreme sports of all.

Caving is an extreme sport. It has its own odd subculture and stars who are known locally by other serious participants. But caving is unlikely to develop the mass following of adrenaline junkies and arm-chair sporters. Visually, caving takes place in utter darkness, an absence of light that is so absolute that the caver’s headlamp is possibly the first light that has ever been cast upon the tunnel – such remoteness and darkness is not necessarily conducive to television. It’s unlikely that you could ever film some places that the most extreme cavers have crawled into. Cavers are exposed to a variety of risks, but to live long and accident free a caver has only to manage the risk. Cave diving is an example of the management process. Some say that cave diving is the most dangerous sport in the world. Others argue that it is generally those who do not follow the accepted procedures that die. In Canada, there is no cave dive that is within the rules and limitations of basic cave dive training. Cave diving in Canada tops the list of the most extreme sports in the world, but as a marketable sporting event it still sits back in the shadow.

In my recently published book, ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’ I write of this most extreme of activities,  a sport that might top the list of most extreme sports. Few will see a caver in the pursuit of virgin passage exploration and yet in Ontario, it is an activity that happens several times a year. Like half-pipe skiing, caving can also be a winter sport, a wetsuit and lack of bodily feeling makes caving in the winter a distinct reality.  Some of Ontario’s wild caves have been explored in temperatures that are well below freezing – in fact I’m considering a trip into extreme winter sports next weekend (not a cave with bats – there are certain ethics that must be followed). Any takers for a sponsor? Maybe Cadbury’s hot chocolate?

Anyway, if you are into caving or exploring you might find that my book ‘Caving in Ontario’ tells you something of an adventure that takes place beneath your feet where you had never thought to look for thrills. Who says that an extreme sport has to be screaming adrenaline and energy drinks? Caving is measured, paced, logical and tenacious where you might wriggle for hours through freezing mud to reach a place where no other human has ever gone. And to add to the perversity of the situation, you can do this within a short few hour’s drive of Toronto (or less). Caving is an extreme sport without the public spectacle and cheers of admiring fans.

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Success in the Filth Pit, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Digging for caves mid-winter through a matt of frozen leaves. Need I mention how cold it is. My hands are frozen numb. In walking back through the fields to our car my muddy clothing was frozen into a shell of ice.

I suppose success is relative to your frame of reference. To me, success is finding human sized cave tunnel irrespective of the conditions or work required to get there. The dig at Shelburne took place over several years and despite the massive effort and quantity of bones that met the sunlight like crumbling logs, going cave tunnel – though just beneath the water was never entered. Here JC and I dug on only 2 consecutive weekends and beneath us there is a crevice in the rock that when enlargened opens into a crawl tunnel that possibly connects to another nearby system.

See the video here – video to the Filth Pit

Important note: (Jan 21st) – Expect just a brief delay in the availability of my newly published book, “Caving in Ontario”, I am making some brief adjustments to the global distribution rights. This being said, I need to re-check the finished manuscript and then it will go back into general access and you will again be able to purchase from Lulu. or if you are a bookstore or library or person who would prefer not to use Lulu, then you can buy from Amazon at wholesale price etc. For the private individual your best deal will be from Lulu as I have marked it for a 15% discount. ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’ should be accessible on-line again by mid next week (25th of Jan 2012)

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Check out the article in Cave News here, book on caves,  Also my book on caves, ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’. Buy my caving book here

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Jeff and I spent the day digging for connecting tunnels around the Wasteland Waterway System.

At the end of a blind valley, where a stream disappears we began our excavation. Digging was mainly by following toward the sound of running water. Several times we bent down and listened for the noise and then that is the direction in which we dug. Being early January, despite the harsh sunlight, the water was very cold. Soon we were covered in a stinking goo of rotting leaves and slimy clay which when dried was very painful to pick free, it had matted like scabs on my arm hair and the only way to free yourself was with a garden hose and a frigid stream of water.

We hacked through clay and leaves and sticks. Finally with a puff of warmer cave air we found ourselves peering through a crevice into a passage underneath, and within there was the sound of running water. Next weekend we’ll break through the cap rock and then we’ll be into virgin tunnel. It looks like the passage is pretty clogged, but I’ll bet it is similar to the main entry, where it starts off tight and grows into something bigger. We can excavate some of the debris and crawling will be easier. This tunnel possibly links with the main Wasteland System, but there’s no guarantee.

See the mess that was our surface dig on youtube here – Digging for Caves in Ontario, and if you want to learn how to find your own caves, or just read about some really extreme explorations beneath Ontario, by divers, cave divers and explorers like myself buy my book,  Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst, here.

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This picture of me  (Michael Gordon) was taken the first time we (JC and I) went deep into Wasteland Waterway. The cave is initially a watercrawl along elliptical; pheratic tubes that wriggle around on a relatively level plain, but after our escape hole (Blue Barrel sink), and the huge spiders there, the passage quickly drops down deeper and becomes narrower and more jagged.

Some time this winter we will push beyond where we have explored thus far, into passage that remains unseen by any other human,  and hopefully find the chasm that we believe exists somewhere up ahead.

Read more on the exploration of Wasteland Waterway in my new book on caves in Ontario and see the momentous occasion of the arrival of my first copy from the printers today – new book on caves in Ontario here.

If you are interested in purchasing “Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst” click here. It looks like you can save 25% on any purchase from Lulu today if you enter the code onemorething at checkout – but deals like that change from day to day so just check the screen for codewords any day you order.

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