Adventure Journal

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Decew Falls Tunnel Exploration 200809-30

Decew Falls Tunnel Exploration
August 30, 2009

This weekend, I was supposed to be hiking the Bruce Trail in Collingwood, Ontario but the weather report stated lots of rain so I decided to call it off.

I searched the internet for any details of this area which has fascinated me for many years but I dared not enter because I wasn't cave certified previously. The best information I could find about the Decew Falls mine was that it was an old mine from the 1800's and ran about 1,200 metres long and came to an abrupt end. Speaking with my step father-in-law he stated that the tunnel was used by the Decew Power company to discharge water from the turbines back in the 1800's and may lead into the current sewage treatment plant nearby. Either way it sounded like a great adventure!

A Weekend Warrior friend of mine arrived around noon and we headed out to Decew Falls, in the Southern End of St. Catharines. We parked in the parking lot and I packed away my helmet and Petzl torch and we made the journey to a section of the park which has some ropes attached to it for easy access to the gorge floor where a small stream runs alongside a hiking path to the base of the falls.

Taking my Siberian Husky Luka to the bottom of the gorge was easier than expected. We made our way down to the hiking trail which had quite a few people on it as it was a nice weekend, although a good chance of rain.

We arrived at the entrance to the tunnel to find an unexpected visitor was sunning himself on the rocks near the falls – a good sized Eastern Fox Snake. My friend kept Luka away from the snake and I grabbed a few photos.

Approaching the entrance to the old tunnel we were enveloped in the mist of the waterfall which gave an exotic feel to this location. I put on my helmet and Petzl LED torch, my friend decided to forgo any head protection.

The water was surprisingly warm and very clear as I walked barefoot through the entrance to the old shaft which was closed off by a steel door which had long been forced open. There was a set of cart tracks which seemed to run the length of the tunnel. I was a little concerned about broken glass laying in the silt of the tunnel, and kept to walking on the steel cart tracks and moved along slowly.

Being enveloped by darkness, sounds of the Decew Falls quickly faded away leaving us to hear only our footsteps through the water and Luka running around in the tunnel.

The tunnel walls felt cool to the touch and slimy, and we could smell a musty mildew-like smell which is common in areas like this.

Heading deeper into the old tunnel we could see something reflecting in our torches up ahead. The tunnel got wider at one point, then narrowed again. The walls in some areas were covered in rust coloured slime with water slowly dripping off them to form stalactites on the ceiling. I turned to my friend and said “Lick it... LICK IT! You know you want to!” to which we both laughed.

The water and railroad tracks came to an end, buried under some hard mud and we made our way past some old scrap metal left in the tunnel to the end of the tunnel.

The end of the tunnel was blocked by a large black powder-coated pipe which protruded into the tunnel surrounded by large wooden timbers on all sides. Blocking our path was a convex steel plate, keeping whatever was behind it secured. The bottom of the steel pipe had an old valve, long rotted out and rusted from disuse. The tunnel was at most 500 metres long, nowhere near the 1,200 metres I had read about on the internet.

Luka enjoyed her huskysploration of the tunnel, and my friend and I took some photos and then slowly made our way through the slimy water, and musty smelling air back to daylight at the end of the tunnel.

There was a bit of rubbish in the tunnel from aluminium pop cans, and plastic water bottles but thankfully all the glass we saw was intact and posed no danger to Luka and my bare feet.

Arriving back at the entrance to the cave, we were met by a young gentleman and several children who were quite fascinated by the cave, but had no torches or equipment to explore it as we had.

Making the trip back up the gorge walls to the paths above, we stopped in at the Decew Falls museum and spoke with the volunteers there. They had little knowledge or information about the tunnel we just explored. They did, however comment on how well behaved Luka was and said they loved her blue eyes.

Full photos of the adventure can be found here

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Nexus Cave Adventure 200908-23

Nexus Cave Adventure
August 22nd and 23rd, 2009

Caves have always held a certain mystique for me. The dark, foreboding, hidden underworld of unseen depths and danger have always called out to me.

Living in Southern Ontario Canada, there isn't much opportunity for caving in our area except for some small, short “belly crawl” caves and the odd old mine.

On June 20, 2008 a new conservation area known as Eramosa Karst was officially opened in Hamilton Ontario, boasting a new series of cave networks. One of which, the Nexus Cave is the 10th largest cave in Ontario! I sent a few e-mails through facebook to see if fellow adventurer Sadie and an urbexer I knew were interested in going to the caves near the end of August and doing some exploration of them.

The weekend started off again with poor weather. As most of the summer of 2009 – rain, rain and more rain. I decided on Saturday to make a quick trip to the Nexus Cave with fellow adventurer and best mate Chuck and see if the caves were flooded. Thankfully, despite the constant storms, the caves had almost no water running through them and the exploration could take place on August 23rd as planned.

A beautiful morning dawned on Sunday, and I awoke excited to take a trek into some new territory. Checking my morning e-mail I learned that one set of urbex adventurers couldn't make it and had to cancel. Sadie said she was thinking of cancelling as well because she had a rough night. A quick phone call with a bit of convincing and Sadie reluctantly agreed to go with us. I packed up all my gear, LED torches, medical pack, coveralls and switched to the yellow lenses in my ESS v12 goggles and we were on our way. Taking the big GMC Suburban, we picked up Chuck and Sadie and headed to Hamilton to the Eramosa Karst conservation area.

Arriving around 11:15hrs we relaxed for a bit, changed into our caving gear and Sadie took some photographs and mended some of her equipment. We waited until 11:30 incase the urbex team decided to join us.

We arrived at the Nexus Window after a short 1km hike, which was a little challenging on our bare feet as the paths were groomed, hard packed stone. The Nexus window was a small crack in the ground at the base of the tree. Peering into the crack, it was about 2m deep full of mosquitoes and had a little bit of water running through it. Hardly the place one would think of as a cave entrance.

We removed our packs and Chuck decided he was going to stay topside for this adventure as our spotter. In the event anything went wrong he was equipped with a whistle, mobile phone and SPOT Satellite messenger unit capable of activating EMS.

Descending into the small crack in the ground, the smooth cool rocks felt strange underfoot. Caving exposes one to a truly different world. The air has a cool, damp feeling to it and smells very earth-like. The cave entrance is small, and looks very foreboding to enter. You have to lay on your belly, as your torch shines into the distance you can see shiny rocks that look like a giant sponge. Smooth, jagged, and full of holes, followed by blackness.

I was the first one to head into the caves wearing my camouflage coveralls, goggles to protect my eyes and a Petzl LED headlamp. I picked some of the glass out of the shallow water, and wriggled my way into the cave system, bidding sunlight goodbye and welcoming the darkness.

The darkness beckons as I slowly crawled through the cave on my stomach, feeling the cold water slowly seep through my coveralls and touch my skin. The path in front of me is illuminated by my primary light source, and the walls glisten gold. Millions of years ago when the water carved the softer stone away from these caves, deposits of minerals like gold and pyrite (fools gold) got left behind making the entire cave light up like road markings in a car's headlight. I looked behind me to see both Sadie and Tori – amased at the sight around them, slowly crawling through.

We stopped in a section of cave where it opened up to about the size of the inside of a small car. We crouched together and looked around in wonderment of this place. The cool water and mud flowed over our bare feet and we could feel the minerals on the rocks with our hands. We took some photos and slowly navigated on, doing our best to avoid the large brown spiders in the area.

The torches we had illuminated our immediate area, and off in the distance total darkness. Strange formations of rock lay out before us which have never seen sunlight in tens of thousands of years – if ever. Like being inside a maze of rock, we contorted ourselves in all different directions to move through this cave system, being careful not to collect any bruises or bang our unprotected heads more than necessary.

Coming around a bend, I could hear water running in the distance, Looking around me I could see roots hanging down from the trees above which have penetrated the cave in search of life-giving water. In some small pockets there were little green shoots trying to grow leaves. More proof that nature never gives up and will try to bring life to the most baron of places.

Moving forward in the cave, I came to a large drop with a little waterfall in the cave. I sat down in the waterfall and made sure that there was a way to climb back out, and slowly inched my way into the area below. My bare feet gripping tight the rock walls better than the rubber of any shoe. Sadie was next in line and made her way down the waterfall with little assistance. As Sadie was seeking footholds, I noticed the waterfall had stopped flowing and I told Sadie jokingly she was “plugging up the hole.” She moved forward and a rush of water which had collected behind her made a puking sound as it rushed past and onto the cave floor below. We all laughed at the sound. Tori came last and had to be carried down because of her short stature.

When we looked around us, we were in a large round room the size of a bedroom in a house. A trickle of a waterfall ran over the one edge and off into the distance. Above us spanned huge pieces of rock worn smooth from a raging river in the caves past. We couldn't reach the top of this area if we jumped up – it was huge. Small “shelves” of smooth rock protruded everywhere and hid articles which had been swept down by the waterfall including antique bottles and modern articles like ziploc bags and articles of clothing.

When I bring new people into caves, I love to show them how dark caves really are. As we were in a very large room in the cave, which had solid footing, I asked both Sadie and Tori to turn off their torches, as I turned off mine. The cave returned to its primal darkness. After a minute or two of letting your eyes attempt to adjust and the colour images on your eyes fade, it becomes apparent how dark caves are.

Looking around, with no source of light there is nothing. It's as close as a sighted person can get to experiencing blindness. Holding your hand in front of your face, and touching your nose, nothing is visible. Under these controlled circumstances it's quite a thrill to experience this. Under uncontrolled circumstances such as torch failure it can mean certain death.

When we turned on our torches again and looked around, the cave continued on in the bottom corner of the room. I got down on my belly and crawled through the cave until it started to get very tight. Rocks protruding out on each side made passing very difficult. Tori – who is extremely small volunteered to go forward to see if the adventure was worth continuing. She slipped over the rocks and off into the darkness to report that ahead of us lay a sump – a section of cave which was mostly filled with water and was still relatively tight. We decided not to go further this trip and Tori slowly backed her way through the darkness back to me and navigated the narrow passageway back to the large room in the cave.

We took some more photos and gripped the cool, wet rocks and made our way back to the upper section of the cave. We slowly worked our way crawling on hands and knees back towards our entrance point. Looking ahead I could see Sadie had managed to get herself a little wedged on one section of the cave and was trying to wriggle herself free. I laughed and commented that if she remained stuck I would start to kick her in the buttocks until she got free.

Crawling through the caves, I saw a little bit of light in the distance, and saw Tori followed by Sadie stand upright and head back to the world of the living above. I crawled further until I saw they were at the Nexus Window and I inched my way into it and sat upright for the first time in quite a while.

Chuck had descended into the Nexus Window to assist us in getting out of the cave safely. As I climbed through the area into the sunlight, the warm, fresh air filled my lungs and sunlight brushed my face with warmth. Although the caves were an amazing place it felt so good to be back on the surface again. It's almost like your body rejoices in the warmth and sunlight and makes you feel as if you haven't felt it in a year.

The ground feels so soft underfoot, and the air so fresh and clean in the forest. Removing our caving gear we were approached by a couple of hikers who did not realise there was a cave system here and were quite impressed with some of the photos. As we were leaving the area it started to first spit rain, then turned into quite a downpour as we made our way over the stone packed trails towards the truck.

Rounding a bend on the trail, the parking lot and then our truck came into view. Off in the distance huge, dark clouds could be seen. Some very dark and so thick they looked like they were touching the ground. We checked the fluids in the truck and headed out to a pub, the Judge and Jester to relax and recount our latest adventure.

The complete photo album of this visit can be found here.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Another visit to 16 mile creek island

A Visit To 16 Mile Island
Sunday, August 16, 2009

Since it's been almost a year since we've weighed anchor and visited the desolate 16 mile island which lay about 1km southeast of Charles Daley Park, my best mate Chuck and I decided to pay the island a visit today in our 5m Coleman Ram-X canoe.

We hitched the truck and trailer together and made for Charles Daley park around 14:00hrs and were greeted by hundreds of people crowding the beaches of Lake Ontario. We found a parking spot and removed the canoe from the trailer and put all our gear in it to carry to the waters edge.

Today the water was a different colour than the usual pea soup green. It was tea brown. We inched the canoe into the water and loaded Luka and Morgana in the canoe. Chuck slowly climbed into the canoe and perched himself on the forward seat and prepared for my arrival. I slowly pushed the canoe into deeper water and as I was about to step in – calamity.

The dogs started moving around the canoe as I started to step in, causing it to sway port and starboard with great violence. Both Chuck and the dogs overcompensated for the sway, and coupled with my vein attempts to steady the boat – Chuck was ejected from the canoe, still in his sitting position, oar in hand into the water, landing on his back, legs still retracted. As the murky water poured into the canoe like tea from a kettle, the dogs swam to the safety of shore and abandoned us to our own devices in the waist deep water.

Chuck righted himself and I held fast the canoe,feeling through the large rocks with my bare feet to keep steady as we brought her to the shallows. as we brought her to the shallows. Chuck suggested we bail her out as she'd be too heavy to heave onto land. Chuck produced two bailing buckets. One 500ml waterbottle and a 1L waterbottle which we cut the bottoms off and proceeded to attempt, quite futilely, to bail the 1,000L of water out of the large canoe 1.5L at a time. Eventually we decided to haul her ashore and tip her to empty the water.

Our second attempt was greeted with great success and we all boarded the canoe without incident. Although we gathered quite an amused crowd, we declined assistance amidst the laughter heard from women ashore.

We set sail under the QEW highway and made the short portage into open water where we continued southward into the wind and worked hard to keep her steady as we paddled. We came upon a young couple fishing who said the catch of the day was a hearty helping of catfish.

Arriving at the familiar island in the middle of 16 mile creek located at N 43.1655 by W 90 33.13, I didn't forget the vendetta against this island. A little more than a year ago, I was on the island and broke my left baby toe on an iron post which was sticking up just a few centimetres from the ground. I brought with a hammer to settle the score, and drive the iron stake deep into the heart of the island, never to bother anyone again. I still have difficulty wearing closed shoes because of that broken toe.

Chuck and I relaxed on the island and re-lived past adventures while we had a soup lunch, and the dogs played off-leash as there was little danger here with the iron spike out of our way.

After an hour or two of relaxing under the tall oak trees, we weighed anchor and headed back around the island with the wind at our stern and arrived quickly at the QEW with little effort.

Chuck staying with the boat, I headed back to the park so we did not have to portage the heavy 39kg canoe. Arriving at the truck I was surrounded by young, teenage Latino girls enjoying the bright and sunny day in string bikinis. I took my time to ensure that all the fluids in the truck – oil, radiator, brake, etc. were topped up and checked the trailer connections positive before I left the area to pick up Chuck and the boat.

We hauled the boat out of the water and onto the trailer and headed for home a little wetter than we had planed. However we lived to tell the tale...

Bruce Trail Hike - Nottawasaga Bluffs

Bruce Trail Hike
Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area

Km 16 to 25

The day started early on Saturday, August 15th as we departed Niagara-on-the-lake under clear blue skies. We arrived in the Blue Mountains section of the Bruce Trail where I left off last weekend at km 16 which was a beat-up old logging road called Nottawasaga 12 / 13 Sideroad. The trail headed North for 800m to the Nottawasaga Bluffs conservation area. I noticed on the map that this region had a rare occurrence on the Bruce Trail – it had the ability to be hiked in a loop.

Taking the opportunity to hike with someone else, me mum joined us as we parked at the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation area and set out on the trail.

We went up some small hills to enter a beautiful cedar forest. There were a lot of bugs here, but we pressed on to open fields of baby's breath which were an amasing sight to see. Hectares and hectares of rolling hills covered in white baby's breath flowers as far as the eye could see. As we passed through the tall wildflowers we then entered some pine forests which smelled so beautiful this time of year, not unlike an air freshener for a car.

Passing through the forests we came to some beautiful cliffs or “bluffs” which had great craggy areas which were a pleasure to explore. Giant crevices filled with moss covered rocks were spectacular. The temperature on the bottom of the crags was quite cool bordering on cold. The smooth cold rocks felt nice under my bare feet.

We stopped for lunch at a rare Bruce Trail campsite where there was a young couple preparing to camp for the night and explore the area. They had a very large tent which must have been quite heavy.

Continuing along the Bruce Trail, it's always fascinating to have more feedback than the average hiker. Hiking barefoot, I get to feel the texture of the ground and feel how it changes temperature in the sunny areas as well as the shady areas. Over 600km barefoot on the Bruce Trail without injury! How's that for evidence that going barefoot isn't bad for you. The most amasing part is how the trail changes from kilometre to kilometre. Heading through dense forest gives way to open overgrown fields of tall grasses, then into different types of forests such as thin hardwood, then into pine and cedar. This has always been a great part of hiking the trail.

The CadPat military issue backpack is so much more pleasurable to hike in than my expedition pack. It's light weight and size makes for a quicker pace on the trails. Arriving a very beat-up section of Kings Highway 124 we made the short westbound hike back to the car. It was an enjoyable hike for both me mum and Luka.

En-route home we stopped in a shop and found an old WWI propaganda poster that said "Keep Calm and Carry On" I bought the poster as that's truly how I live my life. I think that will be my new motto.

Wolfmaan hiking the Bruce Trail barefoot at Nottawasaga Bluffs

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Blue Mountains Hike 200908-08

Blue Mountains Hike 200908-08

I made the 3hr drive to the beginning of the Blue Mountains Bruce Trail section which starts in Lavender, Ontario. A small town consisting of a few houses and a church (which has also been converted into a house) It's been almost a month since I left off here on July 15th, 2009. Not much has changed. It's still fairly cold and fairly wet out with a chance of rain.

Starting at the end of an unopened road allowance the trail went through a lot of low-lying swampy areas which felt cold on my bare feet. Morgana, Luka, and I went through quite a bit of tall grassy areas where the grass was almost as tall as I was. There were lots of tall thistles which caught on my clothes as we trekked along in the cool, windy trails of the area.

There were several road sections which were loose gravel. Thankfully after almost 600km of barefoot hiking this summer alone, the loose gravel was no match for my tough leather feet.

We stopped for lunch and could hear thunder rolling towards us in the distance. The air had a beautiful fallen leaf smell coupled with the cool air and made it feel like autumn. I had a bowl of Mr. Noodles. Luka and Morgana shared a bag of beef jerky.

Passing through Noisy River Provincial Park we were pleased to find one of the rare, uncharted sleep huts on the Bruce Trail. Unfortunately these are mostly uncharted and sadly few and far between. The Bruce Trail needs hundreds more of these!!!

We passed through over several sets of wooden stiles and through more open fields with tall grasses and thistles as well as a few forested areas. The Bruce Trail maps of the area stated that our hike was to be 15km long today. The maps lied. By the time we reached the car, we had gone 20km in total and it had started to pour rain on us. The plan was to get 40km in over two days, but with the constant rain we decided to head home.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Gift From a Co-Worker

On Monday, August 3rd, 2009 A co-worker Nikki took the time to create this etching in pen to immortalize Luka and my Bruce Trail expedition in 2009. As I appreciated her thoughtfulness, I thought I'd post it on my blog.

If you look closely you can see the etching of myself (including hat) and of course Luka and our bare footprints as we head uphill along the Bruce Trail.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Barefoot Running

Barefoot Running

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I enjoy any activity that I can do barefoot, and do outdoors.

For many years now I've struggled with running, but always had a horrible time with it - until recently. One of the various usegroups and blogs I follow is from a bloke called Barefoot Ted who introduced me to running barefoot.

There are literally dozens of published papers by leading scientists which show that barefoot running is significantly better for you than running shod. It's better for your knees, better for your joints, better for your back and your entire body.

Although I'd rather run than cycle to keep in shape between expeditions, I've needed to cycle due to bad shin splints when I run. Since watching dozens of barefoot running videos on YouTube and reading about barefoot running - I have decided to try running 2km per day barefoot. I've had great success with it. I learned “mid food landing” rather than the clumsy “heel strike landing” shod people have and so far have not experienced shin splints, sore knees or a sore back. I also find I can run longer and push more going barefoot.

I find barefoot running very stimulating and gives me a sense of freedom that is difficult to explain. It's truly a fantastic and spiritual experience to glide along the asphalt, connected to the earth and enjoying the experience.