Monday, 1 September 2014

The Gouffre Berger and Other Summer Adventures

I spent a week on the joint Red Rose and CSCA (army caving club) expedition  back in August. Only being there for the first week of the expedition, I was always unlikely to have a chance of getting to the bottom, although frustratingly as it turned out, a couple of days longer would have been sufficient.

Nonetheless, some fine caving was done. The first trip (12th August, 6 hrs), with Adrian, went as far as the top of Aldo's pitch, helping to ferry the small mountain of rope and camping gear that needed to make its way down the cave. Aldo's Pitch is basically the final (42m) pitch before 'the big stuff' starts at -250m. As far as this, the cave consists of several dry pitch series separated by huge winding rifts a metre of so wide which are negotiated far above the floor with traverse lines in place. Fun and pleasant caving.

The Salle des Treize - the stal at the back are as high as two people.

After a morning of rain the following day had prevented any caving from happening, we were raring to go when it dried up. Stuart and I were joined by two CSCA cavers and formed one of several groups carrying gear from where it had been left near Aldo's Pitch down to Camp 1 at about -500m.

Soon after Aldo's Pitch the cave gets huge - undoubtedly the largest passage I have ever been in. The main stream flows down this passage and we followed it, via a couple of small pitches, for several hundred metres before it disappeared into boulders (it is rejoined lower down). Partway down we crossed Lake Cadoux, either in a dinghy or using a traverse line to the side. Once we had lost the stream we spent a while in the Grand Eboulis, navigating the huge boulder strewn highway down to Camp 1, a small cuboid made out of space blankets.

Whilst camp was being set up , Stuart and I had a look at the Salle des Treize just beyond - a fitting turning around point, with it's deep, blue gour pools and person-sized stalagmites. With three fewer tackle sacks to carry (admittedly one had been full of roll mats), the journey out was quite pleasant. in total, the trip took us 7.5 reasonably leisurely hours. A trip to Camp 1 is an absolutely brilliant day out. But I have unfinished business with this cave!

Both photos are of the Grotte de Gournier entrance lake.

Interspersed with the caving in the Berger, much fun was had doing other activities. I did my first (and last) via corda, which is like a 'bring your own cable' via ferrata. This is as terrifying as it sounds. The Furon and Ecouges canyons were jumped, swum and abseiled down. Finally we had a quick 2.5 hour trip into the Grotte de Gournier, swimming across the entrance lake (we had no boat) and pootling around the dry upper level taking photos.

After my week in the Vercors, I picked up Kathryn from Nice airport and we had a very pleasant couple of weeks in the south of France doing further canyons and via ferratas and making much use of Daniel Start's excellent 'Wild Swimming: France' book.

'The Styx' - part of the Verdon Gorge

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