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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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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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The above picture is of the inside of Travertine Cave, which is situated at location near Toronto, Canada. We visited one winter day quite recently. While at University I often remember sitting there wondering what I could find to do aside from studying (of which I did precious little) (Toronto University, or possibly University of Guelph, or McMaster University – Hamilton, are close to here).

In the accompanying video – What to do on a winter day in Toronto Canada – Ice Caving Adventure (Toronto University) I detail my attempts to explore the cave and the unfortunate accident that I had which now leaves me aching and bruised.

Of particular interest was the observation that deeper into the cave – well past the flowing water at the entrance, was the realization that water was also flowing outward from within. I had always thought that Travertine Cave was simply a shelter that had formed as Tufa seeped over the edge of a low cliff. Water flowing from within might suggest the possibility of a solution cave and tunnels that are more extensive than I had imagined.

The ice formations in Travertine Cave were also very unusual. A strong breeze blows through the cave and the resulting icicles are flat and bladed with square protuberances at the bottom of each hanging pendant. I am left wondering what freak of climate or geography would so consistently create that unusual shape amongst not one, but all of the icicles hanging in a certain area of the entry grotto.

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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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Caves near Guelph, Canada, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Jeff and I believe that this small group of shelter-like caves near Guelph, Ontario, Canada might well be the resurging exits to a system that slopes downward from the river valley along the bedding plane. It appears that from the visit that we made, the tunnels all slope downward and are soon filled with clay and gravel.

See the video on a few areas that we were looking at here

It appears that since our visit the previous weekend, the ice crawl into the #8 cave has got significantly tighter. The February thaw and then flash-freeze has almost closed some passages in places. I vaguely entertained the thought of the tunnel freezing shut behind me. That would be a nasty way to die, especially considering that lying on the ice, with my coat pulled up from my stomach I was getting a taste of how it would feel to be slowly freezing.

Anyway, we did find a spot with blowing air on our previous visit and we also saw 2 likely spots where digging might open further passage. I am reminded of the dig and railway system that I had once seen in the Cheddar Cave. Eventually those cavers reached the river Axe and from there some incredible stories of underground and underwater exploration.

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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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