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Posts Tagged ‘karst in Canada’

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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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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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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Cave shaft – Canada, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

In the same area where we discovered the Tooth Tube, a cave that we have been clearing of a glacial plug of clay, we have also found numerous deep shafts, aligned along joints they tend to be deep and narrow with fluted sides and moss around their upper lips. To a caver, a cave shaft is generally indicative of something that might be occuring lower down. Often, but not always, the shaft represents the dominant passage of water as it drops beneath the surface, and as Marcus Buck had pointed out in the excavation of the ‘Birth Canal’ at Olmstead in the Eramosa Karst, “Usually if you follow where the water goes, it takes you on to tunnels”.

This particular field of shafts and pits is in an area that is not too far north of Toronto, Ontario , Canada. For a Torontonian I believe it is one of the coolest things to do near Toronto.

The shafts that we found occur in a plateau that sits well above a large body of water and though the local water table is sometimes known to be perched, it would appear that by looking down into some of these holes, it must still be way below the surface. Many of the more slender shafts appear to be relatively debris-free. Wider shafts tend to be clogged with soil and leaves and logs. They can approach a diameter of about 10 feet in width and we speculate that like in the St. Edmunds System, water may have entered the underground at a time when the area was beneath a kilometer thick sheet of ice. As the pressure head built up, the water beneath the glacier was forced down tiny crevices, down to the bedding plane, and then out at the base of the plateau. Most of these shafts are at the bottom of a conical depression of between 10 and 25 feet in depth. In an old manuscript Martin Davis mentions a stream that he had dye traced that seems to take most of the surface water from this area and drains it out at a single point in the cliffs around the edges of the plateau.

Strings of shafts line up along the general orientation of local joints and we intend to plumb the depths of one such shaft this weekend. Our best case scenario is to find an open cave tunnel that requires minimal digging to clear it. I dropped a bolder down one deep shaft where I could not see the bottom and after an impressive pause I heard the muted ‘thunk’ of tin that had been pounded by my falling missile.

In one relatively shallow shaft we have found a crevice that seems to drop down into a water worn passage beneath, that will be our first priority. It was hard to get a good look at the passage as the crevice above still requires some cleaning, but I had the distinct impression it was human sized and floored with cobbles like we found in the Wasteland Waterway – still to be pushed to its endpoint.

For a final look at where we got with our excavation on the Tooth Tube – Click for cave video of the Tooth Tube here.

Check out the shaft at C-H sink, it is also in an area where sinks dimple local fields. Check out a short video of the C – H sink here

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FOTEK Dinner and Dance, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Tucked away in the back of Michaelangelo’s plush event room is the dinner table of several Ontario cavers. The event was FOTEK’s annual dinner and dance fundraiser 2012. There were at least 400 people present. After dinner conversation was punctuated by various speechs from politicians and the raffling of a print of Josh Tiessen’s, ‘Guardian of the Karst’ painting. Josh is a member of FOTEK – Friends of the Eramosa Karst’. Our table won 5 of the 20 door prizes. It felt like the odds were in our favor, so it was especially hard to accept our loss of that wonderful painting to a non-caving guest.

Dinner was either beef or chicken, roasted potatoes pasta to start and steamed vegetables – money well spent for both the cause and the company. Moving around the table left to right, myself, Jeff Collens (my regular caving partner), Steve Worthington and Marcus Buck (co-authors of the report – Earth Sciences Inventory and evaluation of the Eramosa Karst Area of Natural Scientific Interest), Marcus’s wife Norma, two ladies who I had not met, and Nina. People who were present but not in the picture were Greg Warchol – schmoozing with some local dignitaries and my wife Maggie who took the picture.

It was Greg Warchol who had first investigated the Eramosa karst area and exposed the significance and possible loss of valuable Niagara escarpment features to the caving community – in particular Marcus Buck, and it was Marcus (who had been the key-note speaker at last year’s event) in co-operation with Steve Worthington who had undertaken all the scientific study to legitimize the Eramosa Karst’s value as an area of natural scientific interest – thus preserved from the impending developments. Derek Ford, a world renown cave scientist from McMaster University had supported the project in saying that the Eramosa Karst was one of the gems of the Niagara Escarpment.

Of greatest interest to cavers are the features of Nexus and Potruff Cave. Unbeknown to everyone in the the room (with the exception of our table) is the incredible occurrence of another similar caving feature within about a 15 minute drive of the Michaelangelo’s Conference room. Jeff and I had discovered the cave last spring and since then we have made several forays into the tunnels. we call the feature Wasteland Waterway and in response to our request to Marcus to accompany us in the near future on a mapping expedition Norma said, “he’ll have to bring his walker.” (there’s a story to be told on that). Anyway, the point is, there’s a lot more in Ontario than people might imagine – especially around the Hamilton area, my book Caving in Ontario; Exploring Buried Karst speaks of the province’s undiscovered and yet exciting caving potential.

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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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