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Archive for the ‘Caving in Hamilton’ Category

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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The above picture is of the inside of Travertine Cave, which is situated at location near Toronto, Canada. We visited one winter day quite recently. While at University I often remember sitting there wondering what I could find to do aside from studying (of which I did precious little) (Toronto University, or possibly University of Guelph, or McMaster University – Hamilton, are close to here).

In the accompanying video – What to do on a winter day in Toronto Canada – Ice Caving Adventure (Toronto University) I detail my attempts to explore the cave and the unfortunate accident that I had which now leaves me aching and bruised.

Of particular interest was the observation that deeper into the cave – well past the flowing water at the entrance, was the realization that water was also flowing outward from within. I had always thought that Travertine Cave was simply a shelter that had formed as Tufa seeped over the edge of a low cliff. Water flowing from within might suggest the possibility of a solution cave and tunnels that are more extensive than I had imagined.

The ice formations in Travertine Cave were also very unusual. A strong breeze blows through the cave and the resulting icicles are flat and bladed with square protuberances at the bottom of each hanging pendant. I am left wondering what freak of climate or geography would so consistently create that unusual shape amongst not one, but all of the icicles hanging in a certain area of the entry grotto.

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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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Waterfall in cave, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I suppose on of the most gratifying things about cave exploration is the ‘buzz’ that you get, and everything in existence seems to be encompassed in the yellow circle of your headlamp. Outside your headlamp there is mystery – turn your head and the mystery reveals itself. Each turn, corner and passage feels like it’s own first time discovery – I guess its something like the gambler’s buzz, and once you leave the cave the buzz dies away and then I feel like i’m in this slump and the rest of the week is grey and gloomy.

First human in a place that has lain untouched for several thousand years – beat that! How can you? The greater the challenge, the more the buzz. If somebody has already gone before you and poured a concrete sidewalk where’s the wonder there? I believe caving can become an addiction, and having caved for 26 years now I am hooked just like a junkie. And oddly I’ve become a connisour of rare and unusual sights – a flowstone dam, cave pearls, speleothems and speleogens, crawling in tunnels that are washed by frigid streams, deep tannin stained pools in marble, dolostone, calcite and limestone – privy to a sleeping porcupine’s bedside, wondering if a bear lies just beyond. Where does the waterfall come from? What wondrous crystal is that? some would pay a fortune at a mineral show, I prefer the mineral exactly where it sits – a concept of eco-mineral exploration which is something quite closely allied to ethical cave exploration.

See my latest cave trip here to the incredible beauty of Marvin’s Cave and its mysterious tunnels through marble beneath a forest escarpment.

I’d have a problem topping this discovery – Mountain River Cave here.

For more on caving see my book, ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring buried Karst’ – there is a link on the right side of the blog that will take you to Lulu where the book can be purchased.

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We visited a beautiful – pristine marble cave in Northern Ontario this week. The cave had initially been discovered in 1964 by Bob Burns and it was documented the following year in an archive that was managed by Derek Ford. The last visitors to this cave were Marcus Buck and Brad Wilson who spent the time to make a highly detailed map of the underground tunnels. This cave had been known by another name, but we had to change it to protect it’s location (on the advise of Brad and Marcus) The new cave name is after the former owner of the cave who has since passed away.

By its most simple understanding, the rock in the area dips quite steeply into the earth and there is a large swamp with a dry valley running parallel to it. We began our search for the cave based on Marcus’s memory of his visit many years before and so we made a few wrong turns before we finally found the cave. Whereas it is relatively easy to predict cave entrances in limestone – whose surface topography depicts what lies beneath quite accurately – here in the north, the contortions of marble and calcite veins are not so simply seen upon the surface. On the bright side, we did find a small sink point in the dry valley that might justify a second look.

See the video of Marvin’s Cave here.

When we first stumbled across Marvin’s Cave we actually came upon the point where the upper cave took water directly from the swamp, broke onto the surface for a short distance and then dropped down through a series of crevices into the lower system.

Marvin’s Cave is typified by a number of small cataracts that move its stream beneath the edge of a small escarpment in the forest. JC and I made a chilly October exploration up its stream that was still darting with minnows in mid-October. The main features in this cave are its two bowed out stream passages through incredibly banded marble. There are several sizeable rooms within the system, heavily littered with breakdown.

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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