Warsaw Caves, Ontario
By Mady MacDonald
With Caving Locations Across Canada
 
     
 
Heaving myself out of the dark crag, I crawl onto a large, flat rock and lay back into the hot summer's day. Two minutes ago I was whizzing down glacial ice on my butt. I am wet, wet to the skin. Precipitation has seeped through my two layers of gloves, long johns, headscarf, jeans, t-shirt, sweater and hiking boots. I sigh and begin to peel off clothes under the 80-degree sun. My partner peers out of the hole and crawls up beside me. "Pretty neat, eh?" "Yeah." Nap time.  
Caving is a fascinating and challenging activity for all ages.
 
     
  By now you must be wondering where I am spending such an illustrious day. And how I got so wet. And why I have so many layers of clothes on if it's 80-degrees. Well, to answer your queries, I'm caving - underground.

If you are interested in caving but have never tried it, the Warsaw Caves are an excellent place to start. There is a series of seven caves, one of which has a year-round glacier in its depths.

 
     
 
You have to expect some tight squeezes when you're wandering through the cave systems at Warsaw.
  The underground caves are actually old river systems from the days of behemoth glaciers and melt-water. The Peterborough area is full of glacial topography; you may notice the drumlins (wedge-shaped hills) and the moraine deposits as you drive through the landscape. Another effect from the glacier age that you may notice at Warsaw is the "kettles" in the rock. These vertical, cylinder-shaped holes in the rock are usually a meter and a half in diameter.
 
     
  The kettles are caused by hard granite rocks being caught in eddies and whirlpools during the glacial run-off period; these rocks scour out kettles in the soft limestone base.  
     
 
There is an easy hiking trail in the park called Kettle/Lookout (4 km) that allows an excellent view of these formations as well as the nearby Indian River Valley. One of the most convenient aspects of the Warsaw Caves is its proximity to Toronto. Located just outside of Peterborough, you can easily make a day or overnight trip. There is a camp ground in the park but note that it is technically not open until the July 1st weekend (the rest of the park opens in May). Another thing you might want to remember if you do camp there is to hang your food. Mistakenly, I figured the area was too populated do more than to tightly cover and tie down my food. Around 3:00 am we were woken up by the snarling, sucking sounds of something(s) having a late night snack. If I may quote the oh, so very brave male who accompanied me, "Do you think it's ferocious?" We let the animal finish its feast (I mean, really, if it likes tofu dogs…).  
Here is an example of a stalactite found in some of the caves in south America
 
     
 
Good lighting helps the phosphorescent moss, glow.
  These caves are quite wonderful and at a novice level while remaining physically challenging. Despite the fact that they are relatively good to start on, you should go prepared. In the deepest of the caves (the best part) the temperature never goes above zero degrees; the other caves hover around 15 degrees. The best way to deal with the warmth outside and the cold inside is to wear layers. It is also wet inside, so waterproof outer layers are recommended. You can get by with a flashlight, but I would strongly recommend a headlamp. Cheap headlamps are available at Canadian Tire for around $10 Canadian and good-quality headlamps can be bought at most outfitters (don't forget extra batteries and some sort of backup lamp). The precipitation in the caves constantly drips, so if you don't have something on your head - like a headscarf - it'll give you the willies right through to your toes.
 
     
  A headscarf also keeps the bats from getting caught in your hair (they don't want to be there any more than you want them there). Also, make sure you have reasonably good shoes/boots. You are climbing up and down and side-to-side in a way that is not dissimilar to rock climbing. Slipping is a bad thing since there is often a good drop under you. While we're taking a moment to note safety precautions, don't go caving alone. It's just stupid, no matter how novice the caves are.  
     
 
Now that I have the technicalities out of the way, let me give you a few details on what you will see. Bats. Yes, there are bats down there. They are cute and fuzzy and brown. They do not have big teeth nor do they shape-shift into wolves or prey one people in the depths of the evening. They are just bats. They eat mosquitoes and that is enough for me to consider them good. You won't even notice them unless you look closely at the ceiling. Mind you, if you don't look closely at the ceiling you won't see the fossils of shellfish, plants, snails and even a giant dragonfly in the limestone. There's also a beautiful phosphorescent moss on the moist ceiling. The best site, however, is the glacier. It has the most spectacular luminescent effect when you shine your headlight into the chamber. Because of the ice, the light from your lamp and the fog from your breath suspends light everywhere. Then you sit on your butt and whiz down the slope (watch the big rock in the middle!).  
Another interesting example of a stalactite formation found in caves.
 
     
  To arrive at Warsaw, take out a map and look approximately 25 km north-east of Peterborough. The little green park symbol (check your legend) will indicate the park section. There is also a town called Warsaw a few kilometres from the caves. For more information, contact the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority, 380 Armour Road, Suite 200, Time Square, Peterborough, ON K9H 7L7.  
     
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