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Archive for the ‘Ontario’s geography’ Category

Dragonfly at Feldspar Mine, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

This past week I was looking at an old feldspar mine near the former MacDonald Mine (Bancroft). It would appear that the whole area is pitted with abandoned diggings through the forest and the mineral varieties range from amazonite through to Ellsworthite and uranite, a deeply shadowed quartz (smoky) being indicative of the radioactivity that is inherent in several of the local mineral species. In fact in the 1950’s the Bancroft area was a major location for the mining of radioactives. This namelss mine that I visited in the bush was especially well endowed with the typical feldspar minerals.

As soon as I can get my Camtasia video editing software going you will be able to click here to see a short video on the trip.

Anyway this particular mine was along a barely distinguishable track that was lined with tailings which made great rockhounding possibilities. A word of caution, without even realizing it both Jeff and I cut our hands to pieces on glass sharp shards of quartz. Unlike feldspar which has a tendency to break cleanly and smoothly along natural cleavage plains, amorphous crystalline quartz breaks in a random, haphazard way with concoidal fractures – exactly like you would see in glass. You might recall that the Aztecs used to cut the chests of their sacrificial victims open with obsidian blades, this quartz is much the same.

Though bug season is now mostly behind us, they are still pretty bad in places, in particular around the stagnant water of the place that we visited. Perched on a rock in front of me was this giant dragonfly – I’ve never seen one quite as large as this. From end to end the dragonfly was probably about 4 inches in length and it sat dead still as I photographed it. You can see the circle of lights from the close-up function of my camera – reflected in its eyes. The best thing about dragon flies is that they eat blackflies.

Hopefully the dragon flies do their thing over this week as the Rockhound Gemboree 2013 is this coming weekend and those mineral gathering trips are always better when the bugs are fewer.

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What is adventure travel in Ontario is for cavers a regular Sunday afternoon. Rob, Jeff, Jeff and I revisited this marble cave to hopefully explore other, thus far un-visited passages.

see video on Adventure travel in Ontario – Exploring marble caves, here

At this time we have discovered several other likely cave leads in the area, in particular, a sinking stream (thanks Steve M.) with massive potential for tunnels, but unfortunately it will take some land-owner permission and then a concerted effort by a team with capabilities of heavy rock removal.

Within our already visited cave we explored out into the darker nooks that I had missed last visit. We found several going passages. This particular spot as seen above – with the wad of flowstone marks the entrance to a tube that we are yet to explore. Getting to this spot is somewhat disarming as you wade through about 18 inches of water and 2-3 feet of soupy mud. Every step causes the water around you to literally boil with escaping methane. You can feel sticks and branches down beneath the mud and in their decomposition they are releasing gas. I am wondering what effect open flame might have on the journey across the expanse that leads to this spot.

Anyway – distant as this location is from my home in Guelph, it seems to be rife with caving possibilities so the focus for our caving exploits seems to be increasingly concentrated in this area. There are many karst features in the limestone right at the edge of the shield – in part due to the rocks natural suitability and in part due to the acid water running off the shield.

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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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In the Fall 1998 edition of the Canadian Caver, Brad Wilson relates an interesting experience that he had while exploring a remote cave in the Canadian Shield. He says that he could see a small room beyond a horribly tight squeeze so instead of going face forwards like he would normally do, he went feet first and after a little struggling he suddenly slipped through into a tube – chest deep into icy water. As Brad points out, to have gone head first would likely have been the end of him.

Exploring the rock from within, as we did at Twin Trickles Cave was certainly an amazing experience. The marble and calcite was incredibly sculpted and at the bottom of the shaft pictured above, there was a room that was bowl-like, and entirely striped black and white by the surrounding rock. When I mention a cave in the same sentence that I mention Bancroft, I do not for an instant suggest that it is a site for rock and mineral collecting. Caves are natural wonders that have been thousands of years in the making. They should be left exactly as they are found.

Check out this video documentary of exploring rock and minerals from within (Bancroft) here.

Twin Trickles Cave is some short distance into the forest and on the day that we visited, it was horribly inundated with ferocious black flies – food for the bats that reside within. although Twin Trickles is not a large cave, the rooms are sizeable for Ontario and there is a long tubular tunnel that seems not to have been followed either by ourselves or Brad’s group in 1987 – obviously it is no easy task and it dips down toward the water table. There are plenty of unprobed leads in the area of Twin Trickles so there will be more trips up in that direction this coming summer.

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Embryo Cave, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

JC and I spent the weekend at one of our favorite northerly destinations exploring both Embryo and Twin Trickles caves. Both these caves are seldom visited and if it were not for the initial visit by Marcus and Brad they likely would be entirely forgotten by now.

Both Embryo Cave and Twin Trickles are marble caves at the edge of the Canadian Shield (near Toronto Canada), but they are very different in character.

Much as you might imagine, Embryo Cave is a cave that is smooth inside, easily traversed, the long borehole crawl being in soft silt, while Twin trickles is a cave in which you shred your knees, cave suit and anything else on or around you. The rock in Twin Trickles is sharp and jagged, the cave dips quickly downward through jagged portals and though the marble is beautifully banded there is more a feeling of intimidation in this cavity, it varies between tight and spacious, dry and soaking wet, jagged and more jagged, with lots and lots of black flies – see video on Embryo Cave here.

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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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Stone Church 1, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

In 1965 E.D. Ongley produced his much sought after caving manuscript, ‘A Study of Caves in Southern Ontario’. In that work Ongley mentions the existence of Stone House Cave, a tunnel that had been blasted by the railways to drain a swamp that was seasonally flooding the nearby railway. In that blasted tunnel Ongley had found an albino crayfish and he speculated that the side of the tunnel, which had been blocked by a human-constructed rock wall, likely led onto a deeper, natural cave.

In the attached video, see – Looking for Stone Church Cave here, I show the caving possibilities at the edge of the Canadian Shield and I explore the small tunnel pictured above. This is not the fabled Stone Church Cave, but it is context for the next post that I will publish, which is the now revealed – Stone Church Cave.

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