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Archive for the ‘cave digging’ Category

Exploring Stone Church Cave, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

When the railway engineers sealed Stone Church Cave they must have thought they’d done a pretty thorough job, and in reading E.D. Ongley’s 1965 BA. thesis, I had thought the same myself, however, on the off chance there might be some surface clues I visited this area with a friend (Jeff) and was immediately able to access the suspected Stone Church Cave as the retaining wall that had been built by the railway has collapsed. Ongley was entirely correct when he theorized that there might have been a buried system in the area, this thought being derived from his observation of an albino crayfish in the railway tunnel.

There is a sizable space that leads off from the railway drainage tunnel and because of blowing air from a hole nearby I suspect that there might still be a tunnel sealed behind the retaining wall on the opposite side of the tunnel as well. When I look at that wall to the right of the above picture I suspect that I can see points from where a tunnel might lead, deeper into the rock. Just because the railway blasted their own drainage route, across the natural tunnel path does not mean that where the water now leaves the rock is where the water always left the rock. There is a low lying area nearby that has been cut off from Stone Church Lake and I wonder if the old drainage route had taken the water that was sinking from the swamp, moved it underground and then either had it meet the surface in that low lying area and from there it drained down through the rubble against the wall of the hill. I noticed that there was a seam of rock about 20 wide in this hollow that was eroded back into the side of the hill. Debris covers the natural seam, but the cleft that is made suggests that the rock is easily worn or decomposed; could this be the subterranean route by which the area is drained?

A surface search revealed a shaft leading down into the natural cave near the upstream insurgence.

To see a short video of the exploration of Stone Church Cave – click here.

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It’s hard to imagine how thrilling it was to see this wonderful yellow spotted newt. He crawled out from beneath a rock as we were digging in Newt’s Nook, a local cave near Toronto (Ontario).

Newt’s have both a terrestrial and aquatic phase to their life, they hatch from eggs at a length of about 1 centimeter and they exist on land, hiding beneath leaves and old logs. Officially a young land-dwelling newt is referred to as an ‘eft’. After about 3 years the eft moves into a swamp to continue the remainder of its life (about 10 years), flippering about in the mud and slime.

I am thinking that maybe the yellow spots have something to do with warning other animals to stay away. I understand there are toxins in the newt’s skin that make them poisonous to everything but a garter snake. Apparently there is a ploy whereby a beleaguered newt flops over onto it’s back to display a belly that reddens in proportion to its anxiety – another form of warning. Once transplanted from the spot beneath the rock that we found it, the newt blinked myopically and then began dragging its feet in a slow but persistent dash for the nearest crevice.

See this documentary video of our dig at Noot’s Nook and the discovery of the above pictured creature – here.

Our intention is to return to Noot’s Nook and continue following downward toward tunnels that appear to exist about 3 feet beneath the solid base of the cavern in which we found the newt. It is possible to see the space below through a narrow crevice. However great our excitement, we must exercise care as safety is paramount on any dig – especially where there is so much loose rock.

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This weekend Jeff and I descend to the bottom of a cold and dripping sinkhole in Ontario, Canada. It would appear that most are unaware of the existence of these pits, thinking that they only occur in Florida and other places where there have been some well publicized swallowings of people and posessions. Sinkholes occur for several reasons, but in stable rock they develop slowly and predictably over thousands of years and it is only the careless who end up lying broken and dying at their bottom.

In Toronto, it is most likely an underground pipe that has broken and eroded the lake deposited sediment beneath the city streets that would pose a sinkhole hazard. On rare occasions there have been collapse windows that have unexpectedly appeared in farmer’s fields, and of course there have been the celebrated cave-ins around mining communities like Cobalt and Kirkland Lake that have resulted in the loss of buildings. I believe it was in Timmins that a school bus was swallowed up one night with a sleeping beggar who had sheltered there, little suspecting that he would wake up entombed within the earth.

See the Documentary video on the sinkhole that we had explored this weekend – a Deep Mysterious Pit in Ontario Canada – here.

I spend my weekends caving and it appears that for the scarcity of horizontal cave openings near Toronto, it is now the vertical shafts that we are breaking open in hopes of exposing buried tunnels. Pictured here is one such shaft that sinks deep into virgin rock.

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Caves near Guelph, Canada, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Jeff and I believe that this small group of shelter-like caves near Guelph, Ontario, Canada might well be the resurging exits to a system that slopes downward from the river valley along the bedding plane. It appears that from the visit that we made, the tunnels all slope downward and are soon filled with clay and gravel.

See the video on a few areas that we were looking at here

It appears that since our visit the previous weekend, the ice crawl into the #8 cave has got significantly tighter. The February thaw and then flash-freeze has almost closed some passages in places. I vaguely entertained the thought of the tunnel freezing shut behind me. That would be a nasty way to die, especially considering that lying on the ice, with my coat pulled up from my stomach I was getting a taste of how it would feel to be slowly freezing.

Anyway, we did find a spot with blowing air on our previous visit and we also saw 2 likely spots where digging might open further passage. I am reminded of the dig and railway system that I had once seen in the Cheddar Cave. Eventually those cavers reached the river Axe and from there some incredible stories of underground and underwater exploration.

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Winter cave trip – Rockwood, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I love the underground ice formations, they are especially abundant after the type of recent freeze and thaw that we have been experiencing here in Ontario. Most of the more impressive decorations are concentrated at cave entrances.

Up in Marmora the cave ice is greatly varied – in particular in the tunnels at the entrance to Spanky’s paradise. I recall beautiful crystal clear curtains that I actually wacked my helmet up against before I realized they blocked the passage. It seems that in Rockwood it is the ice stalagmites that are most common. see the video here of a short excursion that we made into the entrance of number 8 cave.

See video of Rockwood cave ice formations here.

We avoided the main cave as bats are sometimes known to over-winter there – the extent to which there are any surviving bats in the Rockwood Caves is questionable as they are heavily traveled and badly trashed. We did however discover a small hole with some future potential exploration – a summer trip. The amount of roof encrusted ice crystals indicated the possibility of air blowing from within. These crystals lined the roof along the passage for at least 10 feet and shortly past the entrance the air became moist and foggy.

Check out this video of a cave trip in the UK – wish I was there, looks warmer – near tropical in fact

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Conservationists from the ‘Friends of the Eramosa Karst’ and cavers from the ‘Toronto cave Group’ have joined together over these last three weekends (Nov – Dec 2012) to hopefully expose the tunnels that all suspect lie beneath the clogged entrance of Kinney Cave. Three weeks ago this karst feature was no more than a pile of glacially rounded boulders stacked at the edge of a walking path, now there is exposed entryway into the underground.

Vern, a local resident had first bought this spot to the attention of Brad, president of Friends of the Eramosa Karst. Vern could recall playing in this spot as a child, the hole was supposedly infested with Copper Heads and rattlers. Some time between then and now the cave had been filled in with enormous field-stone boulders. That is the norm in Ontario – farmers fill openings to the underground with rocks.

Anyway this dig has been an epic event, a collaboration between the Toronto Cave Group and the Hamilton based ‘Friends of the Eramosa Karst’. Both have come together in appreciation of what nature has given the area and to preserve for future generations what some obviously fail to see today. For the most part the conservationists are not cavers, but they can understand the idea of preserving something for its own sake. I could hear them talking about the highlights of the area, a stream flooded to the edges of its banks, trees swaying in the mist, dewdrops on bare branches, and various small creatures that they have proudly kept a habitat for – priceless.

This tunnel dig, as was pointed out, is returning the environment to what it was before farming and developers – and for me, I have this curiosity to know whats under there.

Today we dug downward and along a tunnel just beneath the surface. I struggled enormously with some of the huge flaked off pieces of rock, and moving them to the surface was exhausting. Jeff Collens spent his time deepening the entry shaft and in retrospect my time would have been better spent helping him. We all suspect a tunnel down at the bottom of the pit. There is said to be at least 30 feet of elevation between this sink point and its resurgence a few hundred meters away. Marcus explained how the water that sinks here and the water that sinks at another nearby stream cross paths, obviously at different levels – resurging in places that seem to make no sense.

See the video for the dig at the Eramosa Karst (Dec 2012) here

In comparing this entrance (Kinney Cave) to one that I had helped excavate at the initial clearing of the Eramosa Karst, they are very similar. Over a decade ago we began our investigation of the area at a place we called the Olmstead Caves. In a shaft much like this that we called ‘The Birth Canal’ I dug all day and the bottom finally dropped away with a distinct inward sucking of air and there beneath was a crawlway that led on to a chamber beyond. I made it as far as the chamber, but Nina Mueller and Marcus Buck (and maybe others of a slimmer build than myself) actually pushed the tunnel system way further, wiggling beneath rock flakes that are precariously wedged in muddy tubes way beneath the ground.

There is so much in this area, sinkholes everywhere that are rapidly being buried and secreted away by development interests. Jeff and I are still to explore the further reaches of our epic Wasteland Waterway discovery – it is in a similar geological setting and we often worry that in not making its whereabouts known to preservationists we might beĀ jeopardizingĀ its existence. Its a tricky situation and we are hope to resolve it eventually with the good advice of those who care about this kind of thing – the caving and preservation communities.

For more information on caving in Ontario, buy my book, “Caving in Ontario; Exploring buried Karst”. There is a link on the side of this page that connects to “Lulu” where the book can be purchased.

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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.

See the video here to learn more about how we search for caves in Ontario.

The above picture is a spot near where we found our promising soil pipes – it is a blind valley where a small stream disappears under ground.

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IMGP4157, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

At the top end of a precipitous limestone valley near Toronto JC and I had found this pipe that ran up into a concrete barrier. That day we had been looking for caves on a tip from andrew. I believe we may have found what he had described (more on that in another post), but more to the point of this picture, we found this curious rusty pipe. well it was hard to ignore the mole in me and I soon found myself crawling up it – wondering where it went.

See video here that shows a little of that day and the crawl up the pipe and what I found at the end.

I suppose there is still room for urban exploration out in the countryside, and sweeter yet is something that is old and decaying in a forgotten valley.

Stay tuned as this coming weekend JC and I are again heading northwards for some serious Ontario cave exploration. We have several leads, in particular pushing Milo Cave and hopefully opening the extension of the tunnel that leads on beneath a granite hillside. Of course the semi – albino crayfish are encouraging.

see Milo cave here

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Descending a pit is a somewhat awe inspiring experience, especially if that pit has never been descended before. This particular area of Ontario is absolutely pocked with holes and solution shafts through the rock and this past weekend we found another cluster somewhere near the cave that we call the Death Bell.

See video on the descent of the pit – here

When I got to the bottom of the pit I discovered that I was standing on a boulder choke and beneath that choke you could see a shaft that dropped down at least another 30 or 40 feet. Any dig of the boulder choke would have to be done very carefully as there is the hazard of engulfment where the floor could collapse away and you would find yourself tumbling down amongst hundreds of tons of rock. Bottom line – diggers would have to be roped off.

The size of this shaft is out of all proportion to the water that presently drains into it so I would imagine that it is a relic from the glacial past – in fact the clusters of shafts in the area are generally aligned along some prominent joint and there is little that would explain why they had formed there. Without surface wear marks that would suggest a river that had drained into the shaft the only other thought that I am having is that the shafts formed beneath a glacier with an enormous pressure head that injected water deep along the bedding planes – kind of similar to the formative process of Museum or Leopard Frog Cave.

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As I am still recovering from my mexico trip – (a nasty ailment that leaves me wishing that I’d been a little more cautious in the cenotes), we thought that we’d take it easy this weekend and though we pass Greig’s cave several times a month, we finally stopped in for a visit. Cost is $10 per adult and there is a nice picnic area, washroom, free walking sticks and the use of a flashlight, having my caving helmet I did not inquire about the cost (of the flashlight rental).

When I was younger I recall seeing that great and tacky classic ‘Quest for Fire’ and so it was with some amount of recollection that I viewed one of the larger caverns and I believe it was there that one of the epic battles between the Neanderthals and the other hairy guys took place. Another vivid memory was that unforgettable scene when the three stone-age morons were sleeping up in the tree and one of them had eaten all the leaves. I believe he was taunting a lion or a tiger beneath when the branch he was sitting on broke.

Anyway, more significantly, after a very interesting trip to Shallow Lake and the observation of one of it’s sinkholes, JC and I donned our packs and helmets and spent a little time looking for evidence of something other than the usual sea cave formative processes at Greig’s. I can’t really be totally sure of what I was seeing, I sometimes like to mull over what I have seen before I come up with a theory. For the most part there is a lot of collapse and evidence of wave action, but there was this one spot where a massive joint cut into the rock and from there a low crawling tunnel branched off along an anastomosing route – quite different from the smooth worn walls in other areas. It may have just been a rotting corroded section of rock, but the tunnels were somewhat regular and unchanging in size and one passage that I should have crawled down further, but was filled with porcupine feces, seemed to be quite promising – not so much for what you could see, but rather the floor was dirt and I wondered if there was anything that could be unearthed with a little digging (like a passage that had been miraculously overlooked). Several people have suggested the possibility of solution tunnels playing a part in the formation of Greig’s Caves – I’d like to prove that theory.

The above picture is of a little squeeze beside a pool. Up ahead JC’s camera on a telescopic extension revealed a small cavern that slopes down to the left with the possibility of further going tunnel, but that is just a guess by looking at his pictures. We both tried fitting through here, but neither of us had either the ability or inclination, but Jeff is strongly considering giving it another try – I believe he will fit. It seems that there are sseveral passages oriented along the bearing of a joint that runs somewhat parallel to the clif face – one is quite long and the crawl was increasingly painful in jeans and tanktop. I hope to prepare a little video sometime later in the week.

All in all, the $10 was well spent. The property is very scenic and we suddenly realized that we’d spent several hours in speculation. Admittedly this is not a wild cave, but it certainly has some interest and who could possibly shun it for the fact that it was the setting of that great theatrical masterpiece of my teenage years – Quest for Fire. If you are looking for a casual outing with your kids, providing you keep a good eye on them as there is plenty of opportunity for injury, this could well be one of the fun things to do near Toronto. This is a good example of what cavers call spelunking. I felt a little overdressed with my helmet, but what the heck.

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