I had been in France for a couple of weeks I was itching to get caving. My contact in the GSSF (local caving club) texted to tell me that there was a trip happening. It was on. The details were sparse; just a time, a location in a small village in the middle of nowhere, and the description small and muddy.
Armed with this information I set off across the uncomfortably hot French countryside. The roads became smaller as I passed fields of comté cows and signs for a dino park (some things are universal apparently). I arrived slightly late to a parking lot outside a church where I was waved down by man who looked like a caver.
I rolled down my window as two men approached and started rapidly firing French at me. This was not according to plan. Up until this point I had thought that my limited vocabulary would get me through. It would not. After about 30 seconds of this treatment one of them realised that I was not following and switched to English. Luckily, like many French people, both men could actually speak quite good English but would not admit it because they lack the confidence (I think they don’t appreciate how few English people speak a second language at all).
My companions for the trip were Nico, Lionel, and Zaric. Zaric is the de facto leader, but speaks little English so we communicated by grunts and shrugs (a fairly normal caving trip). The cave was a tight, muddy, and wet hole that they’d recently dug a second entrance to for exploration of the far end. It was called Crucifix after the large cross and shrine at the other entrance. We were going to look at a lead that they’d recently enlarged following the stream (dye traced to 300 or so metres down the hill).
The cave consisted of a tight entrance, a few wet crawls, and a short waterfall pitch with crumbly walls. It was quite entertaining as I was carrying the bag with the drill in, and so was instructed not to get it wet. Arriving at the lead, Nico in front was passing back shattered rocks to Lionel for me to stack up where I could.
This went on for a while so I investigated the resonance. The place I was sitting was perfect, so I hummed a low note that reverberated though the cave loudly. This for some reason caused the two cavers in front to think that the stream was rising and get agitated. Explaining that I was causing the noise was difficult as it does not require much in the way of facial movement. I was told that it was forbidden, but I think they were impressed because they spent the rest of the trip trying to imitate the sound.
At this point, it is worth reminding you that I am a jammy bastard who always shows up for the glory. Therefore it should be no surprise that we broke through. The connection was quite tight but at least it was dry…. Through it we found 50+ metres of small streamway ending in a sump.
I was the first to reach the sump and didn’t expect it very closely as it seemed like the part I was standing in was usually underwater. Lionel went past me and said that there was airspace and it could be a duck. Despite my doubts due to the echo I went and had a look. It turns out that airspace was about 10cm high and the same wide (at the bottom), tapering to a point. Not fancying a dive into an unknown sump I sacked it off.
The return trip was slightly less pleasant as Zaric (who had been waiting at start of the connection) had decided to move some rocks around and had caused the stream to start flowing towards us. The rest of the way out was uneventful, though I did see a ‘bald mouse’ (bat) in the entrance.
After the trip we ate some bread and cheese and went for a look at the resurgence. The resurgences here were all grilled as they were previously a water supply, but have now been abandoned because the water is bad (something to do with the heavily managed pastures higher in the catchment I think).
After the trip I was invited for a beer at Nico’s house, which was in a truly tiny hamlet in the forest about 5 minutes from phone signal. I was informed that I had the dubious honour of being the first Englishman to visit the village. The children were suitably frightened. I was praised on my speedy handling of the small and grim passages with a bag. They’ve never been through Colostomy…
The cavers here seem nice and are keen to have a new recruit that doesn’t need training or kit. We will return soon to survey the new bit. I am also interested by their other going lead, which sounds a lot more vertical but equally quite death-y…