Archive for February, 2012

Further to my exploration of Canadian geography in the the winter, JC and I found an icy precipice down which we could slither into the Elora Gorge. Being more agile JC had led the way, and I followed tentatively, wondering if I could make my way back up again. Admittedly it’s been too long and my lack of confidence was misplaced, tree roots, hanging branches and rocks made for easy climbing and soon our discovery of cool ice formations and a frozen waterfall led me to believe that the effort had been worthwhile.

JC had found a picture of a low slot-like cavity on Flickr, I recall seeing this years ago, but it was never so exposed above the water. Either the water has got lower in the Elora Gorge or my memory is faulty. Elora Gorge is mentioned in several caving manuscripts for it’s shallow shelter caves, and as there are usually more challenging explorations around, I’ve never really paid too much attention – but today, we’re just marking time till warmer weather and then it’s back to real caving. If you are looking for cool things to do near Toronto, a visit to the Elora Gorge would certainly top my list – Just be sure you’re safe, the edge of the gorge is very dangerous, especially in the winter.

We figured that we could reach the slot pictured on flickr by descending into the gorge and then picking our way along the river bank. Sadly this was not possible as the river cut off our expected riverbank access. This hollow might well be a shelter cave, but in looking at the sloping rock wall above it I wonder if it might again be some kind of tuffa formation. You will possibly remember my posts on Travertine Cave, there are some spectacular formations within it (See my book Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst – here) and if the river level has dropped and opened this new passage, I wonder if there are similar hidden treasures – but then again its probably like all the others, a rather disappointing shelter cave.

Any way when we realized we could not reach our intended destination we headed down stream and discovered this cavity in beneath a joint. Elora has beautiful thick bedding planes in many places (lower down) and so you never know what you might come across. Being formed by running river water from the gorge, this cavity does not go in too far, but being curious – cavers usually are, JC stood on my shoulders and as I stood, he hand-walked up the wall to get a look inside the tunnel up above, it too was relatively short. The real treat in Elora are the ice formations, and the frozen water falls – here is one that I saw. Short of re-visiting in the summer to check out the river level slot, winter is the time to go there.

I’ve heard rumor of a few other caves along the river bank – does anyone want to share?

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Argument Hole – so named for the dispute that took place at it’s discovery and subsequent exploration (that was many years ago).

JC and I had spent some time scouting along the bottom of the escarpment beside the sometimes flowing resurgence river. I was real tired and had slipped several times on ice coated rock, not to mention having fallen through several thinly covered snow roofs – beneath there were crevices of varying depths – fortunatly there was nothing that did any permanent damage.

As we were leaving we decided to quickly pop into the Argument Hole and it was then that the real potential of the feature became apparent. At it’s first exploration, the hole had seemed to be going nowhere. Maybe my impression of what was tight was more finely honed at that time. Today, in following inward, the tunnel jogged deeper into the escarpment, over a crevice that had been running with water from deeper inland last time I had visited. Admittedly there is a lot of breakdown, but up ahead, past this mid passage icicle there are troughs that run perpendicular to this crawl way and down which water flows parallel to the resurgence valley. Further exploration is dependent upon the stability of the tunnel.

Check out my video on caves that JC and I made here – It is a brief discussion on Argument Hole, Another Entrance to the Marmora Maze Caves.

Also see my book on caves here – ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’.

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The Marmora area in the winter (a few hours north east of Toronto) certainly gives the impression of pristine Canadian wilderness, it feels wild and remote and it certainly is most beautiful. JC and I made the 3.5 hour drive from Guelph / Hamilton this past weekend with the intention of busting open some cave passage in the vicinity. There is this escarpment that is buried under forest and beneath which we know cave passages must exist. It is not a question of there being caves, it is only a question of how to reach them.

Along our route we passed over the Crowe River and beneath the water you can see the local geology, a karst landscape of weathered limestone, joints and fissures and eroded bedding planes down which the water flows.

As for breaking into the tunnels that we had hoped to reach we were sadly unsuccessful. Everything was frozen together, the slabs of rock were way bigger than I’d remembered and crowbar, shovel and human effort were grossly ineffective. On the bright side we have scouted what appears to be a simpler underground route, a tunnel that is partially clogged by boulders, but which could be clearable with about a day of effort. I believe we could wiggle along a bedding plane and soon reach the spot that up until this weekend seemed only accessible beneath about 100 tons of rubble.

In addition to the escarpment connection tunnel, JC and I also pushed a previously known connection that we had called Argument Hole and discovered that it continued on – possibly into the upper tunnels of the Marmora Maze Caves. We had been avoiding the traditional entrance that Josh and I had uncovered some years ago as it looks unstable and a visit is hardly worth being buried alive.

Learn more about the Marmora Maze Caves and their discovery in my book ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’ here.

So for a winter exploration near Toronto, I’d say we had a pretty successful day, but now a day later I feel absolutely shattered and I believe JC can hardly feel to much better – he’d wrenched his shoulder when the ice gave way along the escarpment edge and he fell into a crevice. I’ve felt like I’ve had lead weights attached to my limbs all day and no matter how high I crank the heat up, I still feel like I’m sitting in a snow drift, and the toes, they haven’t recovered from the hours long submersion in the ice melt that had trickled into my boots while I was crawling down iced-in cave passage – see a picture of some tunnel in the area – here and here.

Check out this video that I’d taken – showing something of the Marmora area, and also this video that shows one of the places where water sinks underground beneath a shattered karst landscape – Ontario karst landscape here.

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possible cave bearing sinkhole, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

It seems that the cave geography repeats itself. To a farmer it is a curse but to me this sinkhole is very much like the Blue Barrel Sink and as you might already be aware, there is cave tunnel beneath Blue Barrel sink. and again, just like blue Barrel sink there is the surface depression that connects to the nearest sinkhole in the patch of trees in the distance.

Ontario’s karst geography is screaming “CAVE” and so few can hear the noise. Put your ear down in the bottom of this sink at springtime, when the snow is melting and if you can hear the same roar that JC and I heard from the river beneath Blue Barrel, well then you know to dig and you’ll open up a cave. This whole are is pocked with sinkholes, but most are taking surface streams.

This steep sided cone-shaped sinkhole seems indicative of soil being eroded from beneath. If you are searching for caves in Ontario, this is a very good indicator that there is a tunnel below. I think that those larger tear drop sinks that take small streams are seldom home to larger tunnels, but where the tunnels all meet up underground in a single trunk passage, that is the real prize. Without apparent surface flow, these dimples in the field are likely to be your most profitable use of time – they are eating soil because there is water flowing beneath.

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Wolf or Coyote – cave hunting, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

As mentioned in a previous post, courage or weather withstanding JC, Wolfmaan and I would be exploring virgin tunnel this last weekend. Well a failure on all fronts. The weather around the Wasteland Waterway Cave was just outrageous and, additionally, my courage failed as well – I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am by nature a coward. As for an outdoor adventure in Ontario, it would not be happening that day. I imagined leaving Wasteland Waterway after crawling underground sometimes in water, sometimes not, and then trying to strip off that freezing slippery neoprene in blizzard-like conditions and well, to be honest, looking at the blizzard, it was hard to face the elements and we postponed cave exploring until the weather gets a little warmer.

Having traveled through some very poor road conditions that morning in my Hyundai Accent to meet JC down the Home Depot – our usual meeting spot – we didn’t have the heart to entirely waste the day so we went out anyway just to follow some likely cave leads.

Trudging over frozen plowed fields and drifts that were blowing and at times created virtual whiteouts we saw this wolf or coyote thing that was running between small patches of forest to evade us. It was not so much the forest that interested us but rather the sinkholes around which they clustered. By aerial photos JC had identified several teardrop shaped patches by which we have come to expect the terminus of a disappearing stream. Wandering into one such depression it looked familiar and soon I came to recognize the now forgotten site of XS Wire Cave. On a similar freezing day several years back we had broken through a layer of rock and immersed in water I had crawled along a tunnel in possibly some of the most painful caving that I had ever done. The tunnel was short but at 20 below the conditions were abominable.

My book on caves, Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst has a chapter that details something of that discovery and the experience of the steel porcupine quills. As for cave exploring, the exploration of XS Wire Cave had truly been a challenge.

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Natural cave gate, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Last weekend we enjoyed a feeble sunshine and weather that made it seem like spring was just around the corner. On a plateau that was totally cleft by grykes and pocked with sinkholes we found a joint that had several likely entrances into the underground. Jeff also explored a crevice cave that soon became a solution passage.

This is an intriguing shot of tree roots that spider over top a water worn crevice on the surface. As you can see the soil is thin and tree roots block entrance to this crevice. No big deal, it looks like a natural cave gate, and a short distance further in the tunnel is blocked by sticks and twigs.

It seems that the water percolates through many fractured rocks and leaves the nearby clifface from multiple locations. It’s not that the rock is un-cave like, its just that the water remains unconcentrated. When wear is spread over so many possibilities, the tunnels can only be small and crawley. For good cave tunnels you need nice thick layers, less joints and fewer points of water entry. That natural cave gate hardly brings me much concern. In what they are calling a potential flash freeze, Wolfmaaan, JC and I are preparing to do a wetsuit crawl in some very exciting circumstances. Weather and courage permitting I will have some amazing cave pictures by tomorrow night.

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What is limestone?, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

What is limestone?

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.

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