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Archive for the ‘caving’ Category

IMGP1872, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

JC and I have a lead on a Pre-Cambrian marble cave that we will be exploring on Thursday. Most exciting is the fact that the area is host to several known tunnels – they are small but beautiful and where there are some, there are more. Best thought in this area will be to speculate on what is buried. The surface geography will be our initial clue, we will be looking at unexplained dips in the soil, sink points and resurgences, contacts between marble and granite, and possible funnel points that have been created by glacial erosion.

Either way there will be some good pictures of the known cave (assuming that we can find it) and hopefully we can find something else in the area that presently lies waiting for us to discover it.

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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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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 be jeopardizing 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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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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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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Milo Cave, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

JC and I recently visited this fascinating cave that formed as a result of calcite being dissolved from a fissure. There were little in the way of crystals – nothing like the Aladin’s paradise that is Julia Cave, but still it had a beauty of its own.

See video on Milo Cave here.

The most intriguing part of Milo Cave is the bedding plane crawl that leads from its lower resurgence. The crawl is water washed gravel and you are drawn inwards by a cold breeze that blows from somewhere in the blackness. The roof soon came down so low that crawling for me became very uncomfortable and I resolved to return with a shovel as the only thing that was stopping me was this gravel bar and beyond that a large sprouting of ghostly white fungus.

As I backed outwards, steering as far as possible from some truly horrifying monster sized Ontario cave spiders, I chanced to see a pale, translucent shelled crayfish skittering off for cover. Troglobyte adaptation (spelling?) does not happen within a few generations and to my memory there is little in the literature of Ontario cave and karst studies that mentions albino creatures (Ongley talks of one case near in Stone House Cave).

The breeze and the presence of albino creatures is indicative of deeper tunnels further in. Looking on the surface I see that the direction of the tunnel is intercepted by one possible sink point, but more hopefully it might be leading on beneath a massive hill of solid granite – that being the case, clearing a crawl-way through the gravel would open some really interesting exploration. I wonder if there is a sink point somewhere in the forest beyond the granite hill.

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JC and I have been privileged to recently explore an incredible secret cave whose walls are absolutely lined with crystals. (don’t ask where – we’ve been sworn to secrecy)

The cave leads down steeply from the forest in a rift of calcite that has been worn by running water. We initially entered from the upper entrance and worked our way downward beneath a low wall on a sloping floor. Everywhere there were crystals, they are most strongly concentrated in bands, but some of the larger crystals float in the calcite – beautifully formed with sharp and lustrous crystal faces. Some lie loose, having worn out from the calcite. There is a crevice into which I looked and within there was an apatite crystal about the size of a football just lying wedged there and from within that crevice there was a noticeable breeze that was cold and smelling of the earth.

JC and I proceeded up one of the waterways and found ourselves in this pothole pictured above.

see video on Julia Cave here.

Possibly one of the most exciting discoveries was what appeared to be a tiny jelly sack that was lying in the water and within the sack there was what appeared to be a filament like fishing line, about half an inch long but displaying every spectral color – all along its length there was a prismatic effect – like it was fire cast off from a diamond, and around that filament there wriggled tiny worms. So if one morning these worms burst from my forehead you know it was likely some alien species that i’d picked up in the cave (It would not be the first time).

So this recent visit puts us onto thinking about visiting more caves in calcite. Admittedly we are experts in finding limestone and dolostone caves, we have made some impressive discoveries over the years, but we know the clues in sedimentary geology/geography and it doesn’t take us long to root out a dolostone tunnel. Calcite is unpredictable, I can’t imagine that aerial photos will be all that useful, but we now have several leads and have visited two such caves (Both parts of Julia we count as one – there is also Milo Cave that I am yet to post on and the exciting discovery of an albino-ish crayfish which I photographed).

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