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Posts Tagged ‘caves in Canada’

IMGP3419, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

It has been my unfortunate experience to visit many shelter caves near Toronto and for the paucity of decoration and the generally shattered and graffiti-scarred innards, had come to regard them as a waste of time – no beauty there, only a miserable reminder of what a wild cave ought not to be.
Today JC and I followed up a canyon which in my own thoughts had probably been traversed by many people. Not having the energy to make a long trip and storing up all our caving ambition for the coming trip to Marmora (which I am leading for the TCG), we just settled for a none to ambitious scouting over what we’d thought must be territory that should have been well traveled before.
The going was difficult, but the scenery was spectacular and we soon found ourselves in a gorge with an increasingly thickening bedding plane. The riverine growth was somewhat reminiscent of the edges of the Maitland and that karst terrain of a ‘River Ledge Limestone Pavement’ – but not entirely as there was also thick growth up the sides of rubble mounds in places – pink flowers that looked like giant snap dragons nodded in the humid air as we pushed our way between them. Simple shelter caves began to exhibit features of greater complexity – many having stone tongues hanging out of their mouths – of tuffa, or in some cases more finely deposited flow stone. To me that suggested water flowing from within, it gave us hope of onward leading tunnels.
Against all odds we came across not one but several shelter caves that were somewhat beautifully hung with spelothems. The most impressive decorations were a stacking of rimstone dams that led inward to deeper passages. Sadly they seemed too tight for explorers, and thankfully nobody had tried to push it. I was astounded by the complexity of the deposition and looking over the wriggly walls it reminded me of waves of molten wax. And not far above I could hear the sound of passing traffic. It was an amazing little hidden oasis.
The point is that just by pushing on a little further beyond where it is easy walking, hack through the stinging nettles and mud and cobbles and there is still a lot to see in Ontario. And thanks to whoever preceded us, for having the forethought to restrict themselves from standing on the speleothems.

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Descending a pit is a somewhat awe inspiring experience, especially if that pit has never been descended before. This particular area of Ontario is absolutely pocked with holes and solution shafts through the rock and this past weekend we found another cluster somewhere near the cave that we call the Death Bell.

See video on the descent of the pit – here

When I got to the bottom of the pit I discovered that I was standing on a boulder choke and beneath that choke you could see a shaft that dropped down at least another 30 or 40 feet. Any dig of the boulder choke would have to be done very carefully as there is the hazard of engulfment where the floor could collapse away and you would find yourself tumbling down amongst hundreds of tons of rock. Bottom line – diggers would have to be roped off.

The size of this shaft is out of all proportion to the water that presently drains into it so I would imagine that it is a relic from the glacial past – in fact the clusters of shafts in the area are generally aligned along some prominent joint and there is little that would explain why they had formed there. Without surface wear marks that would suggest a river that had drained into the shaft the only other thought that I am having is that the shafts formed beneath a glacier with an enormous pressure head that injected water deep along the bedding planes – kind of similar to the formative process of Museum or Leopard Frog Cave.

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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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The Marmora area in the winter (a few hours north east of Toronto) certainly gives the impression of pristine Canadian wilderness, it feels wild and remote and it certainly is most beautiful. JC and I made the 3.5 hour drive from Guelph / Hamilton this past weekend with the intention of busting open some cave passage in the vicinity. There is this escarpment that is buried under forest and beneath which we know cave passages must exist. It is not a question of there being caves, it is only a question of how to reach them.

Along our route we passed over the Crowe River and beneath the water you can see the local geology, a karst landscape of weathered limestone, joints and fissures and eroded bedding planes down which the water flows.

As for breaking into the tunnels that we had hoped to reach we were sadly unsuccessful. Everything was frozen together, the slabs of rock were way bigger than I’d remembered and crowbar, shovel and human effort were grossly ineffective. On the bright side we have scouted what appears to be a simpler underground route, a tunnel that is partially clogged by boulders, but which could be clearable with about a day of effort. I believe we could wiggle along a bedding plane and soon reach the spot that up until this weekend seemed only accessible beneath about 100 tons of rubble.

In addition to the escarpment connection tunnel, JC and I also pushed a previously known connection that we had called Argument Hole and discovered that it continued on – possibly into the upper tunnels of the Marmora Maze Caves. We had been avoiding the traditional entrance that Josh and I had uncovered some years ago as it looks unstable and a visit is hardly worth being buried alive.

Learn more about the Marmora Maze Caves and their discovery in my book ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’ here.

So for a winter exploration near Toronto, I’d say we had a pretty successful day, but now a day later I feel absolutely shattered and I believe JC can hardly feel to much better – he’d wrenched his shoulder when the ice gave way along the escarpment edge and he fell into a crevice. I’ve felt like I’ve had lead weights attached to my limbs all day and no matter how high I crank the heat up, I still feel like I’m sitting in a snow drift, and the toes, they haven’t recovered from the hours long submersion in the ice melt that had trickled into my boots while I was crawling down iced-in cave passage – see a picture of some tunnel in the area – here and here.

Check out this video that I’d taken – showing something of the Marmora area, and also this video that shows one of the places where water sinks underground beneath a shattered karst landscape – Ontario karst landscape here.

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Skull Cave, Finding caves in Ontario

This past Sunday JC and I took a little trip out into the insipid February sunshine. It was just warm enough to feel a taste of spring, you could smell the decaying leaves and the fungus in the soil. As usual we were following up on cave leads and in crawling inwards through a crumbling passage, Jeff discovered a small solution tunnel.

There is something to be said for discovering caves where others have already been and discounted what was there because it seemed improbable and others have been there before. There were several places where we had suspected there might be tunnels, but it seemed that they all required tight and muddy squeezes. And having to ride in Jeff’s pristine 4X4 we were both reluctant to get too dirty.  Opting for the sunny side of a low escarpment, I waited outside a crevice while Jeff crawled in to check it out. I was entertained by the antics of a vast colony of tiny black-headed birds in a tangle of vines along the cliff face. Suddenly they all went dead silent and a fellow hiker peered over to inquire whether I was following a path. Soon Jeff returned with a discovery. Admittedly the passage started like any other crevice cave, but in turning around a bend it suddenly adopted the classic shape of a solution passage in a joint. See Jeff’s pictures.

For the worn rock slabs up top, the sinkholes and the springs that are flowing out along the sides of the plateau we are optimistic of better passages lower down.

This coming weekend we expect to be busting into some virgin passage at Wasteland Waterway with Wolfmaan. It is another of our recent discoveries – this cave being large and challenging and at this time with an end that still eludes us. No doubt Wolfmaan will take some high quality video.

After discovering caves the next logical step is exploring caves and that is exactly what we intend to do. There is a spot in Wasteland Waterway beyond which we haven’t ventured. Our intent will be to squeeze beneath a rock that Jeff had named the ‘aerofoil’ and from there a short squeeze through the ‘porthole’. It will take us into nowhere land. From what I could tell the tunnel widens out beyond the porthole. At Wasteland Waterway we are already into a significant passage that is dropping down deep and stretching high in places. For more on the discovery of Wasteland Waterway check out my book on caves, ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring buried Karst’.

For more on Skull Cave check out Jeff’s map and pictures here.

To hear more of our exploration this coming weekend visit again.

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Success in the Filth Pit, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Digging for caves mid-winter through a matt of frozen leaves. Need I mention how cold it is. My hands are frozen numb. In walking back through the fields to our car my muddy clothing was frozen into a shell of ice.

I suppose success is relative to your frame of reference. To me, success is finding human sized cave tunnel irrespective of the conditions or work required to get there. The dig at Shelburne took place over several years and despite the massive effort and quantity of bones that met the sunlight like crumbling logs, going cave tunnel – though just beneath the water was never entered. Here JC and I dug on only 2 consecutive weekends and beneath us there is a crevice in the rock that when enlargened opens into a crawl tunnel that possibly connects to another nearby system.

See the video here – video to the Filth Pit

Important note: (Jan 21st) – Expect just a brief delay in the availability of my newly published book, “Caving in Ontario”, I am making some brief adjustments to the global distribution rights. This being said, I need to re-check the finished manuscript and then it will go back into general access and you will again be able to purchase from Lulu. or if you are a bookstore or library or person who would prefer not to use Lulu, then you can buy from Amazon at wholesale price etc. For the private individual your best deal will be from Lulu as I have marked it for a 15% discount. ‘Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst’ should be accessible on-line again by mid next week (25th of Jan 2012)

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This picture of me  (Michael Gordon) was taken the first time we (JC and I) went deep into Wasteland Waterway. The cave is initially a watercrawl along elliptical; pheratic tubes that wriggle around on a relatively level plain, but after our escape hole (Blue Barrel sink), and the huge spiders there, the passage quickly drops down deeper and becomes narrower and more jagged.

Some time this winter we will push beyond where we have explored thus far, into passage that remains unseen by any other human,  and hopefully find the chasm that we believe exists somewhere up ahead.

Read more on the exploration of Wasteland Waterway in my new book on caves in Ontario and see the momentous occasion of the arrival of my first copy from the printers today – new book on caves in Ontario here.

If you are interested in purchasing “Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst” click here. It looks like you can save 25% on any purchase from Lulu today if you enter the code onemorething at checkout – but deals like that change from day to day so just check the screen for codewords any day you order.

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This is an extract from my book (a screen shot of part of a page), that is finished as of now – with about a half hour before the new year. It should be available for purchase from Lulu or the Edgehill Press site within about 2 or 3 days (depending upon the size of their backlog). You would not believe the complications at the final stage of preparation. I have spent my every spare minute since the last post uploading, downloading, readjusting, making PDFs, more uploading, using photoshop, learning how to do things I never wanted to do; any way it’s done and the book looks amazing.

This section of page from my new book, “Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst”, speaks a little about how cavers see spelunkers. To be called a spelunker by a caver is a derogatory remark.

So the point is, and I need to make it quick, as there is no more than about a half hour before midnight(new Years Eve) and I have a big glass of scotch and my hot tub waiting – if you are a caver, or underground explorer of any type, somewhere near Ontario, this book is a must have (excuse the massive sentence). Caving in Ontario tells you about the caves, how to find the caves, the geography of Ontario, the geology of Ontario and the culture of the sport of caving (in Ontario). Caving in Ontario is in full color, and it contains information and pictures of places that have never been publicly seen or written of before.

You think you know Ontario?  I bet most have not seen it from this angle – a caver’s angle (looking from below).

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A cave in marble – Ontario, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Subject to my failure a few years ago to find a particular marble cave I have always felt this sadness whenever anyone mentions Ontario Marble caves. Well this coming Tuesday I am again going to attempt to locate the “P-Lake Cave” and photograph the beautiful stream that runs within. This picture was taken of me in another Ontario marble cave.

It’s rather a grim and rainy day outside and I’ve spent most of it here in front of my computer – working on my soon to be released book “Caving in Ontario; An exploration of Karst”. The name may have changed a little since I last mentioned it, but I think this title better captures the true content of the material.  Here is part of the foreword and if you are waiting (and I know some are) you will not be disappointed. I am taking longer than expected because the work needs to be perfection.

Foreword to “Caving in Ontario”

“Caving in Ontario” has been written as my second book on Ontario caves – the first being “Rockwatching” which was published by Boston Mills in 2005.

I am still left with the feeling that I want to be more specific about what it means to be a caver in Ontario. And so in writing this book I am writing for a specific reader; those who want to understand caves and the subculture of the caver in a part of the country where many believe that caves do not exist.”

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IMGP1675, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Might this be the hole down which the white rabbit disappeared?

JC and I found this in a valley. Two deep gullies lead up to this spot and there is some obvious overflow where the valley fills up under flood conditions and flows out across the land. The landowner said that he’d heard of this feature, but he’d never really looked.

I believe if I dived down here I might get at least 8 feet before the hole got too narrow and then I’d lie there wedged until my eyeballs popped out or the rabbit set me free. A point on that story (Alice in Wonderland), my mother used to work for the Dean of Christchurch (where Lewis Caroll was a Don) and there was a constant flow of people wanting chestnuts from the Cheshire Cat tree which was right outside her office window – sorry I diverge from caving in Ontario.

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