Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Le Caving

Kathryn and I spent the first week of August in the Ecrins in the French Alps (via ferrata-ing and attempting some big mountains) before joining the Red Rose trip to the Vercors for some caving and canyoning.

Naturally I was hoping to post lost of photos of the amazing Vercors caves that we visited. Unfortunately on our second via ferrata my camera detached itself from my harness and went bouncing off into oblivion, never to be seen again. We returned the following day with a proper rope, intending to abseil off and hopefully find it clinging to an unlikely ledge. But one look at where it had fallen convinced us to give it up as a lost cause. RIP Canon Ixus 80IS, we had some good times together.

Here are some dodgy photos of some alpine scenery taken from my phone instead:

The Col du Sélé

The Glacier de la Girose
On to some caves now.

Grotte de Bournillon
5th August. 3 hrs T/U with Dalek, Tony, Djuke, Adam and Stuart.
Dominated by its somewhat ridiculous 100m tall entrance, the Grotte de Bournillon basically consists of a huge passage storming off into the hillside, which soon reduces to a mere ten or so metres high and wide. Mark took some nice photos of it a couple of years back. I couldn't take any photos of it myself...I no longer have a camera... It was very dry in the cave today, so Stuart, Adam and I refreshed ourselves with a swim in a pool in the entrance. We discovered that the small branch floating on the surface was actually a dead squirrel.

Trou Qui Souffle
7th August. 4 hrs T/U with Kathryn.
Kathryn was keen to get back underground after a couple of days being unwell, so with others doing a via ferrata, the two of us settled on a trip to the Saints de Glace entrance to the Trou Qui Souffle system. The Trou Qui Souffle entrance itself is a hole next to the road (literally - you could rig off you car) which pumps out cold air on a hot summer's day. Our similarly breezy entrance was a few hundred metres away from this one and, after a couple of pitches, the trip was dominated by a tall rift in very light coloured limestone, interspersed with small chambers and more pitches. The rift gained depth very quickly. Eventually we reached the Toboggan - a 100m greasy slide down which eventually reaches another pitch. This dropped us right into the huge Salle Hydrokarst, now with a much darker kind of limestone (something to do with geology apparently...). At the bottom of the chamber a large passage (with 2m wide scallops in the roof suggesting a sobering amount of water once flowed this way) headed off, eventually reaching a sump at -267m, our limit for the day. We'd rigged all the pitches, but in fact I think the in situ ropes, which we had assumed must belong to another party in the cave, are probably there all the time.

Résau Christian Gathier
8th August. 6.5 hrs T/U with Kathryn, Mark, Tony and Djuke.
A fine and varied cave, starting with a couple of fairly awkward tight pitches which were far easier to get down than they were to get back up! Again, everything except for the entrance pitch turned out to be rigged. Below the entrance pitches the passage contains insane amounts of fairly muddy calcite, some of it very pretty, some of it, frankly, just in the way! A couple of larger passages (the Métros) lead to more calcite passage and then a pitch down into a lovely streamway, the Rivière de Bournette; all blue water, white limestone and stalagmites. After a climb upwards through boulders, out of the streamway, we then reached the Salle des Ténèbres which made yesterday's Salle Hydrokarst look like a small attic room. More clambering over boulders led to the Salle de la Cascade where the Montué stream passage appears with a possible throughtrip for another year. We turned around here, with a brief stop for Mark to take some photos of the Rivière de Bournette. I would have taken some photos myself but I couldn't as I don't have a camera...

Grotte de Gournier
9th August. 6.5 hrs T/U with Kathryn, Dalek, Stuart and Djuke and Steve and Adam near the entrance.
The Grotte de Gournier is brilliant. Everybody should go here. Even if you're not a caver. It's really very fun. See Marks photos from a couple of years ago for a taster. Did I mention that I dropped my camera off a cliff?

The cave starts with a 40m long entrance lake; deep and blue. Tourists look on as you dinghy (or swim if you have a wetsuit) across to the climb and traverse at the far end. This leads to a couple of kilometres of huge fossil passage, adorned with mammoth stalagmites, gour pools and more. We were now looking for the climbs down into the famous Gournier river. There was a certain amount of confusion/lack of communication in finding the right hole, which resulted in Stuart vanishing for half an hour, but eventually the five of us were gathered in the stream. We now worked our way upstream, traversing vivid blue deep pools and climbing cascades with fixed metal staples or traverse lines in place. I was the only one in a proper wetsuit, and had great fun splashing into all of the pools, not caring how wet I got, as the others attempted teetering traverses round the sides to avoid getting cold and wet! After several hundred metres, we reached the 12m cascade and belayed each other up the side of it, using the fixed metal staples that have been put there. An airy traverse and more stomping upstream brought us to the Salle Chevalier and our turn-around point for the day.

We headed back downstream, jumping into pools or traversing round them according to the amount of neoprene we were wearing. After stomping through the stunning dry fossil passages, we met Steve and Adam who were messing around with the dinghy at the entrance lake. A brilliant trip - I intend to go back and make it further upstream one day!

Our final day in the Vercors was spent doing two canyons: the Furon and the lower part of the Ecouges. It's basically like wet caving without a roof on.

No comments:

Post a Comment