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Posts Tagged ‘caves in Canada’

IMGP7322, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Jeff and I made a recent reconnaissance in the Wasteland Waterway Cave system as we suspected that with the filling of the Blue Barrel sink, the cave passages had been blocked and so the deeper reaches of the cave system would now be sealed forever. But nature is more persistent than that and the sink had cleared itself out from beneath. On the surface there is a slight indent, but below the tunnel is perfectly clear.

see the video of Cave exploration in Canada – Wasteland Waterway here.

I suppose this now brings to light the question as to when we are going to push the tunnel to its very furthest endpoint. We strongly suspect that beyond the ‘gulch’ and the aerofoil the tunnels get bigger again. You ask what is stopping us? It’s a long cold crawl and a tight squeeze at the end of that which makes me somewhat leery.

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Yesterday was living proof (thankfully), that caving is more about the brain than the body. Branko, Ricci, Jeff and I explored an Ontario cave that has long attracted a certain kind of interested adventurer, but has kept something of its true extent hidden to all but the most dedicated explorer.

Branko – a large man (well over 6 foot with a sturdy frame) squeezed through a tortourous gap that he called ‘the jaw’ to access thus-far remote and difficult terrain.

See video of Branko going beyond the Jaws of Death getting stuck underground, here.

In returning back from his incredible exploration Branko become momentarily stuck underground in a situation that an ordinary person would have found appalling. Again – mind over body, where most would have been contemplating a gloomy future of hypothermia and eventual death beneath a cold, grey bed of rock, Branko found it within himself to think logically and calmly, resting and practising relaxing techniques to ensure that panic did not swell his muscles. As Branko said, “This is between me and the rock”. And in the end Branko seems to have negotiated his way beyond the impasse and returned to the surface unscathed.

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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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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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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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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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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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Waterfall in cave, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I suppose on of the most gratifying things about cave exploration is the ‘buzz’ that you get, and everything in existence seems to be encompassed in the yellow circle of your headlamp. Outside your headlamp there is mystery – turn your head and the mystery reveals itself. Each turn, corner and passage feels like it’s own first time discovery – I guess its something like the gambler’s buzz, and once you leave the cave the buzz dies away and then I feel like i’m in this slump and the rest of the week is grey and gloomy.

First human in a place that has lain untouched for several thousand years – beat that! How can you? The greater the challenge, the more the buzz. If somebody has already gone before you and poured a concrete sidewalk where’s the wonder there? I believe caving can become an addiction, and having caved for 26 years now I am hooked just like a junkie. And oddly I’ve become a connisour of rare and unusual sights – a flowstone dam, cave pearls, speleothems and speleogens, crawling in tunnels that are washed by frigid streams, deep tannin stained pools in marble, dolostone, calcite and limestone – privy to a sleeping porcupine’s bedside, wondering if a bear lies just beyond. Where does the waterfall come from? What wondrous crystal is that? some would pay a fortune at a mineral show, I prefer the mineral exactly where it sits – a concept of eco-mineral exploration which is something quite closely allied to ethical cave exploration.

See my latest cave trip here to the incredible beauty of Marvin’s Cave and its mysterious tunnels through marble beneath a forest escarpment.

I’d have a problem topping this discovery – Mountain River Cave here.

For more on caving see my book, ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring buried Karst’ – there is a link on the right side of the blog that will take you to Lulu where the book can be purchased.

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Milo Cave, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

JC and I recently visited this fascinating cave that formed as a result of calcite being dissolved from a fissure. There were little in the way of crystals – nothing like the Aladin’s paradise that is Julia Cave, but still it had a beauty of its own.

See video on Milo Cave here.

The most intriguing part of Milo Cave is the bedding plane crawl that leads from its lower resurgence. The crawl is water washed gravel and you are drawn inwards by a cold breeze that blows from somewhere in the blackness. The roof soon came down so low that crawling for me became very uncomfortable and I resolved to return with a shovel as the only thing that was stopping me was this gravel bar and beyond that a large sprouting of ghostly white fungus.

As I backed outwards, steering as far as possible from some truly horrifying monster sized Ontario cave spiders, I chanced to see a pale, translucent shelled crayfish skittering off for cover. Troglobyte adaptation (spelling?) does not happen within a few generations and to my memory there is little in the literature of Ontario cave and karst studies that mentions albino creatures (Ongley talks of one case near in Stone House Cave).

The breeze and the presence of albino creatures is indicative of deeper tunnels further in. Looking on the surface I see that the direction of the tunnel is intercepted by one possible sink point, but more hopefully it might be leading on beneath a massive hill of solid granite – that being the case, clearing a crawl-way through the gravel would open some really interesting exploration. I wonder if there is a sink point somewhere in the forest beyond the granite hill.

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IMGP3595, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

JC and I recently visited a cave in solid marble (The Natural Marble Bridge). Our intention had been to follow up river a short distance to see if there were other caves in the area. You might know the old adage – were there is some caves, there are more. Sadly there were no more that we found, but JC found a hole in another nearby valley that was blowing cold air and about 100 meters away, a hole (on the opposite side of the marble bridge) where it looks like the stream that presently runs through the cave must have sunk at one time. A cave dig might be in order when we run out of other going options.

The Natural Marble bridge has an entrance at one side of an elevated ridge of marble, and a downstream exit on the other side of the ridge. The entry way looks quite ominous and the roar of water is impressive – well out of proportion to the quantity that sinks.

Your passage through the cave is quite magical – traversing through bands of marble of various earthy colors, a granite contact being some short distance into the rock (facing downstream to your right).

See video of the natural Marble Bridge here.

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