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Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Papua New Guinea 375-001, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I recently conducted an interview with Anne Gordon, a well known Canadian travel writer. Anne had just recently returned from Papua New Guinea and in particular, a trip up the Sepik River where she visited local tribes and learned something of the Malagan culture).

See the Papua New Guinea documentary interview with Anne Gordon here

As a travel writer Anne speaks about the benefits of belonging to NATJA and other travel organizations, the benefits such as sponsored trips and the professional development opportunities that are open for travel writing.

As Anne said, “New Guinea is undoubtedly the most exotic and fascinating place she has ever been, there are over 900 tribes scattered throughout the island and an an ecosystem that spreads both above and beneath the surface”. Many of New Guinea’s tribes maintain customs and cultures that hold a special fascination for us in the west. Head hunting and cannibalism still exist in isolated pockets and have been practised quite commonly within the last 100 years.

Anne Gordon’s interview centres around the Sepik River and the carver’s of the Malagan culture, in particular the master carvers of New Ireland, she shows many incredible pictures of the tribes in that area and the tribal culture of New Guinea.

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For cave exploring in Ontario this one is possibly one of the more exciting possibilities. This past weekend Jeff and I explored the tunnels for some short distance, but we were turned back by the conditions which were less than favourable – namely the cold, the prospect of a storm on the surface and my knee pads which kept sagging down and so my knees were torn to shreds.

nevertheless, for Adventure in Ontario I am still optimistic of eventually reaching the end. Thus far several pushes have not revealed the sump-point. On one trip we reached a spot called the aero-foil and past that a squeeze then bigger tunnels beyond.

I am thinking that the cave goes deep and the many sinkholes in the area must meet up with these tunnels somewhere beyond where we have crawled.

see the video here for Adventure in Ontario, Exploring the Wasteland Waterway Cave, Caving in Ontario, Canada

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For some this would be a winter caving hell, and admittedly, the weather was 30 below zero and wallowing around in that muddy tube was getting a little cold. We cleared a space through about 5 feet of bedrock, dredged the water down by bailing with buckets and rubber boots, then we entered the tunnel on our bellies – see short video on Winter caving hell – adventure sport in Canada – here

At the end of this tube the water and tunnel roof came to within about an inch of each other and there was a good breeze blowing through the gap. Unfortunately I finally lost my nerve as the tunnel along which we’d come was refilling with water, and underground water (midwinter or otherwise) can be a little numbing. My caving partner at the time had traced the resurgence of the water in this passage to a spot several hundred meters distant.

When I finally emerged from the tube the front of my wet suit was pierced by innumerable rusty spines from the barbed wire that had once lain over the top of the feature, I suppose I must have looked like an industrial-age porcupine that had run into decline like the many factories of the region. Oddly, though my skin had also been punctured I had never felt a thing, but knowing they were there and pulling them out was a little creepy – I’m surprised I never got tetnus.

This project took place around 10 years ago and it certainly presented a few challenges, amongst those obstacles the need for me to loose around 20 pounds to fit in the tube and make it back alive.

 

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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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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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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 Niagara Gorge is rich in history. From the disasterous assault by American militia on Queenston Heights to the geological record in the Gorge’s rock there is no shortage of things to see and learn about.

Of particular interest to me was the story of the short and disastrous life of the Niagara Gorge Railway. It runs along the bottom of the American side, just above the river. It is said that the construction was the most costly stretch of railway ever to be blasted. And not only was the line costly in money, but there was a heavy price in human life as well.

See the documentary video on the Niagara Gorge Railway and the wrecked train that we found while hiking along the Niagara River.

Amongst the more memorable disasters for the Niagara Gorge Railway were the sewage pipe explosion beneath the tracks, where passengers were showered in raw sewage, and there was also the huge landslide that killed 9 people. As mentioned in a coment about a recent accident in the gorge, NenaSan says, “The Gorge is a beautiful but unpredictable place that needs to be both feared and respected”. true enough, several helipads are marked out beside Devil’s Whirlpool for the recovery of injured hikers and the all to frequent bodies that are fished from the river.

Pictured above is the boiler of an old train that we found while hiking in the Niagara Glen. It lies beside the Niagara River just across from the spot where the landslide wiped the Niagara Gorge Railway from existence – oddly, I suspect it might not have been the train that was used on that line.

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Some time ago I did some winter hiking near Toronto (Niagara Escarpment) and explored behind a waterfall to see how it would look with all the icicles. Needless to say it was amazing – exceeded my most hopeful expectations. Most impressive was this low rumbling sound that filled the whole cavity, it was a new dimension to my unusual Ontario based travels – sound.

Check out this video of behind an Ontario waterfall – here.

In line with the publication of my first book in 2005 (Rockwatching), in the video that I have linked to just above, I show a little bit of the local rock and the contact between the Queenston Shale and the Whirlpool Sandstone.

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Secret Tunnel to Dracula’s Garden, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Leaving from Jeff’s house in Guelph, the three of us braved the winter evening and followed a secret tunnel to a place that is known as Dracula’s Garden. The garden is really a secret room beneath a city in Ontario. The trip there and back was exhausting. We were underground for just over 2 hours, crawling, duck walking and stooping. We waded through an old and crumbling passage that is known as the blood sluice – and at the end, a most incredible place that is decorated in soda straws and various other formations that are usually found in caves.

See video on the secret passage to Dracula’s Garden here

Jeff found a strange green marble that we called the “Dracula’s Eye” and SNAFU discovered a symbol part way along the hidden passage that was etched into the wall; I say it is for the Illuminati, but that is only wild speculation.

Most intriguing about the speleothems in Dracula’s Garden is the fact that they have formed so incredibly quickly.

Soda straws, curtains and stalactites are composed of calcite that has been leached out of the soil and rock above and re-deposited within an underground cavity. The basic process is that carbonic acid dissolves the calcite as acid laced ground-water passes through calcium rich substrate. Cool temperatures, lots of water and the presence of organic matter adds to the concentration of the acid. By the time the carbonic acid rich water reaches an underground cavity, and is is heavily laden with dissolved calcite, it gases off carbon dioxide and becomes super-saturated with calcite, thus it dumps this at the edge of a speleothem and grows it as some fantastic lacy rock pinnacle or curtain or cave pearl.

In Dracula’s Garden the speleothems have grown with amazing rapidity. Decorations like those seen here are usually thousands of years in the making, these formations are pure and white and hard and yet they could not be older than the cavity in which they’ve formed – about 100 – 160 years in age. Conditions for speleothem growth must be ideal. I had once seen a single soda straw in a sewer in Hamilton  (Stairway to Paradise), but it was puffy and porous – more like tufa than the pure and well formed soda straws in this spot.

Two hours of crawling and duck-walking leaves my legs in agony today. I can barely walk and I’m sure my companions are suffering some similar pain as well – SNAFU more his knees being a problem as being the tallest he found the height most dehabilitating and he crawled more than duck-walked. In the video you can hear this strange whump, whump sound in the background, that’s him crawling in his hip waders. As it is now dark I think a little hot tub therapy might ease the pain – standing after sitting is the worst and going down steps is almost impossible (I have to go down backwards on my hands and knees).

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A visit to Sian Ka’an is one of the oddest experiences that I’ve ever had. Who’d think that a day in the swamp is a day well spent? And yet the haze, the turquoise water and holes from which the lake bubbled were intriguing.

The Mayan ruin of Muyil is one of many Mayan treasures crumbling in the forest and sinking into this oddly scenic place. There is a very unique feeling to the landscape – nothing like the sterile desolation that the well traveled tourist ruins at Tulum have become. And in amongst the grass and crocodiles there is a rusting narrow gauge railway. There is also a channel that connects the lake in the middle of the swamp out to the Caribbean Sea, and a current of incredible strength flowing down this channel which was dug by slave long dead and sacrificed.

In the accompanying video on the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, we wandered amongst the pyramids and climbed to the top of one such crumbling edifice that Manuel called the castle. It was over fractured blocks that I clawed my way up to a platform way above the canopy. One misplaced handhold would have sent me bouncing back down the pyramid – a fall that I’d not survive.

I assume it was an alter that I found myself leaning on and behind me a grotto from whence I gazed across the swamp to a structure known as the Customs building. In the shadow I noticed a kneeling figure up against the wall, just a faint outline where the light caught the edges of raised plaster. It seems that the fresco must be decaying in the humidity, and the building is supposedly slowly settling into mud.

Check out this video on the Sian Ka’an –  Mexican documentary, Exploring the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

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