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Archive for the ‘rockhounding in Ontario’ Category

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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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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This was our third weekend of digging in the cave we call The Toothtube. We suspected that there was a tunnel entrance in a blind valley and in digging in a likely spot this tunnel was broken open. Glacial clay filled the sealed passages to within about a foot of the roof, but with bucket and garden claw we persevered.

Admittedly its nice to open up a passage but our real goal is to intercept the main branch tunnels that we know must lie beneath. It only stands to reason that there must be some huge underground rivers in this area, all the features point in that direction – in particular some impressive shafts that are partly filled with soil, the lack of surface resurgences, the thickness of the local bedding planes and other nearby tunnel systems that stretch beyond the ability of humans to explore them. This lower level if dug out might provide an eventual connection to this main trunk drain.

See the video on today’s efforts and the downward sloping conduit that we found – video for Ontario cave passage here.

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An unseasonably warm day – early March found JC and I visiting Southern Ontario on a search for abandoned gypsum mines.

Where both the Grand River and the Nith River meet there is the quaint though somewhat aged town of Paris. It has the appearance of having been passed by progress, there are brick and barn board sided buildings in the downtown – somewhat neglected, but full of character. Large mills had once tapped the water power and the mining of plaster of Paris leaves a fascinating terrain of forgotten rail embankments, inexplicable hollows and gullies along the river bank, weirs and beaches where barges once loaded up the chalky material from underground and of course decayed and vine choked foundations.

I was inspired to photograph this backstreet business, ‘The Grand River Experience’ it appears that they offer canoe and kayak rental as well as tours down the river; I believe it was on their website that I had my first glimpse of a riverside gypsum mine – supposedly one of many that are around there. As you might have guessed, there is a connection between ‘plaster of Paris’ and the coincidence of this calcium sulfate material being mined from a conglomerate that underlies the area. It is said that the gypsum comes from Silurian age lenticular deposits on the south east flank of the Algonquin Arch.

Devil’s Cave is one example of a local feature where running water has dissolved away the gypsum and having washed the conglomerate out, there are small cavities lived in by a colony of beavers and decorated by spectacular white speleothems and flowstone.

Having now visited this area several times and followed apparently sure leads, both JC and I are somewhat disillusioned as to the prospects of finding open gypsum adits – though a cave is far preferred. Everything seems blocked up real well (with the exception of a single adit along the river bank downriver from the town). Crossed shovel and pick symbols on a map (available on the internet) generally leads you to a spot where you’ll find an undercut that is pretty much buried in countless tons of soil.

Having long been fascinated by industrial archeology, urban exploration and various forgotten tunnel explorations I’d like to know of where there are old gypsum mines around Paris where an interested person can visit and actually go underground?

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Caving in Ontario – book, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Release of the book, Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst is now imminent. I am expecting that it should be available for purchase through Lulu, or the Edgehill Press site within about 10 days – End of Dec. 2011.

Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst is as much about Ontario’s caves as it is the experience of exploring them, the culture of cavers and the people that involve themselves in this activity. Caving in Ontario is large, colorful and full of fascinating sidebars – experiences of first time explorations in places where no human has ever gone, unusual anecdotes and snippets of geological, geographical and caving information. There are the better known caves such as Dewdneys Cave, Spanky’s Paradise, Moira Cave and others, then there are also the newly discovered caves- some of which still remain only partially explored. If you are into exploring caves, this book will tell you how to find them.

If you are in any way interested in Ontario’s geography, geology or cutting edge exploration, or you’re just simply interested in caves and would like to see some interesting pictures, Caving in Ontario definitely is for you. I have been caving for over 25 years now, primarily in Ontario, where many believe that caves do not exist. Caving in Ontario will show you otherwise.

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