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Archive for the ‘niagara escarpment’ Category

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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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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On the surface it was sweltering and buggy, but in the dolostone rock beneath the water was icy cold and I was plagued by a constant drip, drip, dripping that frequently found my eye.

Jeff, Greg and I had returned to the cave that we had recently found to do some digging and hopefully expose a tunnel that we thought must exist somewhere beneath the choke of branches and leaves.

We were absolutely stunned by what we found in about two hours of digging – mind you my thighs and back are paying for it now. In front of us the tunnel wall fell away and beneath we could see a passage.

See video on Prometheus; cave of the alien – here

Although the tunnel is tight we theorize that this might be a feeder tunnel as the scallop orientation suggests that possibility and also the size of the in-flowing stream also leads us to suspect that we are yet to make the most significant discovery.

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Today we busted open a tunnel in cave that we had thus far called the Void, it was somewhat nondescript, but Martin Davis said that he had seen a small passage when he visited the area 30 years ago. Well after exploring a nearby shaft on cable ladder (video on that later in the week) we went over to the void and began digging where we thought the water must go down.

We worked on clearing a plug of leaves and sticks. After about an hour the front digging wall fell away and the floor started collapsing and there in front of us was a passage that was fantastically ribbed – as Greg said, it reminded him of the trailer for that new movie Prometheus. So we have decided to rename the cave Prometheus, and of all coincidences, I got home to learn that my son was hoping to take me to that movie next weekend – obviously the cave was destined to be named this. If I recall correctly, was Prometheus not the Greek hero who bought fire to man and for his efforts had his liver torn out by an eagle?

Anyway Jeff has a theory that this is a feeder passage to the main tunnel that we are yet to unearth. I think there is a possibility that this is possible. I have been trying to determine from my picture of the scallops which way the water was running. I recall last weekend I copuld hear water rumbling away beneath the rocks in an area that was quite different from where we dug to open this passage.

Hopefully within a day or two I will have some video up on the initial opening of Prometheus, and maybe some video of aliens – actually no – I’m gonna sell those to News of the World.

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IMGP2229, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

It is a well known fact that 90-95% of Ontario’s caves are within 100 feet of a road. As of late we have taken to exploration in dense tracts of forest over a karst terrain that has been long suspected to harbor the best caving possibilities in Ontario.

As a rough guide we have been using an old manuscript that was produced by Martin Davis, he had already visited the area andf for the most part his initial reconnaisance has been invaluable to our success in finding, or re-finding significant karst features. we believe this shaft was first marked on one of Martin’s maps and in looking down it appears to exceed the depth of the abyssthat we found last month and also several other cave shaft features that we had recently happened upon. Most exciting about this shaft is the belling out of the bottom reaches so that we cannot see the bottom of the wall beneath where Jeff is standing – in fact we are believing that it could be a tunnel as a surface joint also leads in that direction. We are intending to descend the pit this coming weekend and answer the question as to whether there is going cave tunnel at the bottom.

Check out this video of the cave shaft and also another feature that we are calling the void – cave shaft video here.

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We descended by cable ladder into the cave that we call the Death Bell. That morning we had no idea what we would find. My greatest fear was rattle snakes. I have come across the Massasagua rattle snake in caves before, but being in Ontario, we are fortunate that the Massasagua is the only poisonous snake.

We cleared loose rock from the lip of the shaft and Greg joked that it was like an episode from the X – Files where Skully and Mulder found the black slime alien in a cave much like this one.

See video on the Death Bell here.

As we followed into the cavern – down the swinging ladder it soon became apparent that this shaft was like no other that we had visited. You step off the ladder onto a boulder that is perched atop a 10 foot high mound of bones. Some of the bones were those of animals likely thrown in, along with some garbage from a nearby farm, but by the size of the mound you would imagine that it would have taken thousands of years to grow and depending upon the initial depth of the shaft, the pile might go down well beneath ten feet.

A tunnel led off at the deepest point, following downward along a joint. I crunched through a sediment of tiny black nuggets similar in appearance to charred rice. A puff of wind blew from the terminal pinch-point. Possibly the tunnel goes onward, but it has been blocked by the crunchy fill-in. I believe it must be the casings of a thousand years of maggots that have feasted on the ever-growing heap of corpses from fallen animals.

I am optimistic that this is a solution cave as opposed to a sea cave. Sea caves in Ontario; Rover Cave or Grieg’s Caves for example are generally wide mouthed and narrowing like a funnel. This cave seems to have no surface connection but the porthole in it’s roof, and that hardly provides a suitable portal for erosion.

Whatever the case, an animal that falls in to the Death Bell is doomed to a slow and lingering death – there’s no way out. And for a human, much the same without a ladder.

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As JC was in the process of studying for a test today, we could only make a short trip. Our excavation of the Tooth Tube will have to wait till next Saturday. We initially visited a place near Paris called Sinkhole Swamp and that was a bust though the place was quite beautiful. I suppose we should have known it from the start, the whole area is too thickly overlain by till.  On the way back to Guelph we made a diversion to the Galt Shelter Caves as I had never seen them.

I believe I had first learned of the Galt Shelter Caves from Ongley’s Manuscript. He described them as “small”, I add to that description, “shallow nooks in the cliff along the shores of the Grand River – humble in appearance, and by the added blight of spraypaint, not worth the struggle down the cliff face and through the vicious thorn bushes”.

Some of the features were in the upper portion of a heavily fractured cliff face. We climbed a short way to access most and where for the most part pretty disappointed. There was nothing but gutted hollows – cave vandalism at its worst. Fortunately I don’t believe there were any formations to break, just the usual empty cavities of a shelter that had been worn by running water.

Two things that work against preservation of these features, firstly they are well known by local kids, and secondly, they are easily accessible as they are literally within an urban area. Can you imagine the impact of people who did this kind of thing visiting LS Cave or Rovers or the Tooth Tube or P Lake Here.

I am very selective about whom I share locations and this is why..

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This is a shaft at the back of a well known sea cave on the Bruce Peninsula. It might appear that I am desperately fighting a giant serpent that is in the process of swallowing me. Well gravity is on it’s side and I slid quite easily down its throat.

This particular weekend was a very successful one for caving in that area. JC and I located a swarm of deep rock shafts and we are returning quite shortly to conduct further investigation. We had been pointed in this direction by the exploits of cavers from decades past. The majority of our cave discoveries had been from building upon the investigations of others.

See my video on some caves beneath the Bruce Peninsula here – video on caving beneath the Bruce Peninsula.

It is here at the very tip of the Niagara Escarpment that Ontario caving is at its very best. And the discoveries of what lies beneath is just beginning. There are countless kilometers of bush and limestone alvars that remain to be explored.

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As it was a beautiful warm day in early April, JC and I headed up to conduct some further exploration on the Bruce Peninsula. Our intent was to try and locate a stream that we had heard of; apparently this stream drains a sizable plateau and normally flows with at least 10 cubic feet of water a second. Being a plumber JC estimated that a 1 foot high by 2 foot wide pheratic tube might flow with about 4 cubic feet a second, but 10 cubic feet might possibly be human sized, also considering that we have had an especially dry winter so who says that the tunnel will be full of water. An ambitious caver might slither up that worm hole and find bigger passages on beyond that entry portal.

Well we never found the stream as we were sidetracked by a visit to a well known local sea cave (see the picture above) and then as we were heading up toward the stream that we had heard of we we were again way-laid by what looked like depressions in the forest. Well one thing led to another and those depressions morphed into incredible solution shafts – several of them grouped together and deep, deep, deep (but that’s another post). We spent the rest of the afternoon assessing the local geography and seeking to understand the situation with all those pits. We are in no doubt as to the possibility of a cave system beneath – the surface features kind of remind me of the sinks and their dispositions around Museum and Leopard Frog Cave, its just that they appear to be totally relic from the ice age and subject to some heavy water pressure beneath a glacier (Museum and Leopard Frog are still obviously recharged with surface running water).

More to follow on this exciting new cave possibility (including video). It makes C-Hurst look a lot less impressive for the depth and volume that these new solution shafts encompass.

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FOTEK Dinner and Dance, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Tucked away in the back of Michaelangelo’s plush event room is the dinner table of several Ontario cavers. The event was FOTEK’s annual dinner and dance fundraiser 2012. There were at least 400 people present. After dinner conversation was punctuated by various speechs from politicians and the raffling of a print of Josh Tiessen’s, ‘Guardian of the Karst’ painting. Josh is a member of FOTEK – Friends of the Eramosa Karst’. Our table won 5 of the 20 door prizes. It felt like the odds were in our favor, so it was especially hard to accept our loss of that wonderful painting to a non-caving guest.

Dinner was either beef or chicken, roasted potatoes pasta to start and steamed vegetables – money well spent for both the cause and the company. Moving around the table left to right, myself, Jeff Collens (my regular caving partner), Steve Worthington and Marcus Buck (co-authors of the report – Earth Sciences Inventory and evaluation of the Eramosa Karst Area of Natural Scientific Interest), Marcus’s wife Norma, two ladies who I had not met, and Nina. People who were present but not in the picture were Greg Warchol – schmoozing with some local dignitaries and my wife Maggie who took the picture.

It was Greg Warchol who had first investigated the Eramosa karst area and exposed the significance and possible loss of valuable Niagara escarpment features to the caving community – in particular Marcus Buck, and it was Marcus (who had been the key-note speaker at last year’s event) in co-operation with Steve Worthington who had undertaken all the scientific study to legitimize the Eramosa Karst’s value as an area of natural scientific interest – thus preserved from the impending developments. Derek Ford, a world renown cave scientist from McMaster University had supported the project in saying that the Eramosa Karst was one of the gems of the Niagara Escarpment.

Of greatest interest to cavers are the features of Nexus and Potruff Cave. Unbeknown to everyone in the the room (with the exception of our table) is the incredible occurrence of another similar caving feature within about a 15 minute drive of the Michaelangelo’s Conference room. Jeff and I had discovered the cave last spring and since then we have made several forays into the tunnels. we call the feature Wasteland Waterway and in response to our request to Marcus to accompany us in the near future on a mapping expedition Norma said, “he’ll have to bring his walker.” (there’s a story to be told on that). Anyway, the point is, there’s a lot more in Ontario than people might imagine – especially around the Hamilton area, my book Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst speaks of the province’s undiscovered and yet exciting caving potential.

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