Friday 28th Jun
The ‘holiday’ couldn’t have come fast enough. Distraught over exam failings, I was ready to pack up and go. I packed all the stuff I had in the world into the SUSS hut and was ready to leave. I use the word ready very, very loosely. I was to travel down with Dr Neil, in his brand new car that I was insured on (oh boy…). I got to Bradders to find an already full car, with only the good doctor’s stuff in and crammed my meagre caving possessions in. Good to go.
The drive down was uneventful, we stopped off in Rheims at a wonderfully seedy F1 hotel. We got hungry in the UK and against our better judgement had a Mc Donalds. This was unfortunately repeated for tea and we hung our heads in shame. We set off again the following day having a ‘continental’ breakfast – continental in this case meaning unsubstantial but that’s what you expect for 3 Euros. I faffed around with the music choices as Neil did all the driving.
Saturday 29th of June
In Sasenage we stopped at Carrefore, a rather expensive continental Tesco and got some supplies for the next few days. Then the ascent into the hills began. Winding and weaving up some of the most glorious countryside to behold we got to the campsite (after a minor detour to scout out Neil’s next holiday) and I realised that I’d bought my tent. That may not sound like bad news but this was the same tent I got for Morocco – see last year’s trip report… We pitched up and relaxed in the sun and laid plans. I say plans, more… guidelines.
Sunday 30th of June
The following day was bags to the entrance as our permit didn’t start for another day. We drove, in convoy to La Molliere. The road was windy, had unfathomably steep drops and was crossed by skiing runs. The final climb saw the trees thin out, blue sky appear and the promise of a view. We weren’t let down; the alps floated on a cloud bed as if they were not part of this earth. We marvelled for a moment, took stock of the terrain and headed on.
People didn’t know where they were going but Mike did. He decided to withhold this information until they worked it out. Helpful as always. A group raced off leaving the stragglers to be eaten by Bears. We looked for the infamous big Cairn (I’m not going to lie, the directions were not the most useful…) and eventually found the Berger with the aid of GPSs. With almost all the rope moved (save 3 bags) and the optional extras like our (Mine and Neil’s) caving kit now at the entrance we headed back taking stock of a terrible sign.
The sign read something to the tune of ‘Here is a memorial to (I cannot remember the names). We can take comfort that they died pursuing their passion, doing what they loved’. This was made all the more galling when we realised that they were both 17. There was a further memorial to another boy close by. We knew what the reputation of the cave was, you only need to say Nicola Radio to remember why it is feared. This brought it home to me all the more, the hours of description by Dr Neil on the drive down of the cave’s flooding patterns had instilled fear but to see memorials at a cave entrance is sobering.
Further plans were laid. The terrible trio in the Micra had arrived and were raring to go. Games of cards were played, much was nattered about and we went to bed, ready to sort that cave out. Dave, Ben and Neil went first, The second team Sam, Chris and (Pointy & Rosa) went 3 hours later. Me, Mike, Mandy and Jack, were to have a lazy start, getting underground a leisurely 5 hours after the first group. We could have been more leisurely.
Monday 1st of July
The first team had been de-rigging then rigging as a couple of crafty French men had left their ropes in. Nonetheless it took them 3 hours longer than expected. We knew something was up when we passed them. We were about to get quite cold. I don’t often get cold underground but in the Berger it was about to become a theme. The second team was rigging to Aldo’s and beyond! We waited, played Buzzcocks Intros and waited some more.
Eventually they finished and we zipped off to camp 1 (I may have fallen in to lake Cadoc, didn’t help with the cold thing). We may also have had an upstream detour, we definitely did not get lost. I do have to say coming out of the entrance series it really does feel like you’ve stepped outside (until the scurion brigade show up that is).
Jack went back with them having carried a bag to camp 1. Not bad for an ill prepared fresher! Fu, Soulby & Namaghi inc. carried on, with the mad scientist rigging and the lackeys carrying bags. We reached the Elephants penis, which was interesting. I’d recommend googling it but you may want to use a different term. It looks like a stall that has been chopped in half and has a stream running down the middle.
The traverse got rigged and I spotted the monster’s mouth which I pointed out to many people and talked about a few times. No-one else seemed to recognise it (or care). Nonetheless, having accomplished a bit (leaving the next few rigging bags at the traverse) we headed out. 14 hours, surface to surface, not too shabby for a first trip.
Tuesday 2nd of July
I was mildly broken by this first trip. There are reasons for this; 1) I got quite cold, 2) I had done very little caving for 4 months and 3) I’m just not that fit. I took the next day off and recovered in sun, the following morning I felt horrendous and had another day off! Shame. Well I was going to have to pay for that…
Not being speedy enough I was discouraged from going on the fast trip that was going to do a lot of rigging. I wasn’t best amused by this. I wanted a trip and as Pointy and Rosa wanted one went with them. I wasn’t entirely happy about the strength and depth of the team and also a little terrified of the Canals and Cascades so I convinced Glen to come along. What had he let himself in for?
Thursday 4th of July
We had a lax morning. And I mean lax. We had a good Glen Faff. We left at about 1? Underground by 2:30? We made good time to Camp 1, got a good weather report and had a good meal. We ventured on, saw lots of pretties etc and got to the shit scary sign (not the one that says ‘The real cave starts here’) that said, and I translate, the canals are a toll road, you pay by getting dunked in water. Nice to know that the macabre sense of humour extends to France.
We met the super quick team (Jethro, Tom, Neil, Mandy) who had informed us that they had done no rigging, thought it was shit scary and wad turned around. Well if that wasn’t going to make us turn around, what would?
The canals were quite full. You were waist deep a lot of the time and one section looked particularly unpleasant (the bit you can climb over). Rosa did not like the water and made some noises akin to that of someone having a colonoscopy using the ELT (Extremely Large Telescope). This was not good and questions were raised about continuing but we did nonetheless. I was getting quite cold by this point and the following bit of cave did nothing to alleviate the deprivation of heat. I must report that I urinated in my own furry twice during this bit of the trip. There was no way I was wasting that warmth!
We passed the bags hanging on the rope, took a few to rig further. We continued on and passed some impressive rigging, with only one moment of oh-shit-ness when Rosa didn’t have the reach to get off the Tirolean. That is one of those moments when having Glen on a trip is very reassuring. Aside from this I have to say I quite enjoyed the cascades, they were really quite sporting and made Diccan look as limp as viagra-less 103 year old man.
We got to the end of the cascades and I was really cold and thoroughly miserable as some of the ropework had been slow solid work and with 4 people it meant a lot of standing round in thigh deep water – energy sapping stuff. We got the bothy out and made plans. Pointy and Glen went on to rig the Grand Canyon, I stayed with Rosa in the Bothy for fear I would get worse if I stood around for ages, and she needed all the strength she could muster to get out.
I didn’t get to see the Grand Canyon and this was the furthest I was to get sadly. Still, we were buoyant in the knowledge this would give Sam, Chris and Dave a sporting chance. I raced ahead to stop the shaking, and then raced back after waiting at the end for ages for fear something had gone wrong. I had by this point warmed up and was in good spirits after I saw their lights and all was well. I quickly did the canals which were a lot emptier than they had been, barely getting wet.
I missed the traversey bit up and explored a scrot hole with loads of pretties, turning back after curiosity gave way to ‘I wonder where the others are?’. I saw 2 lights in the passage and realised I’d missed the pitch. I caught up and was the last to ascend. It was along the traverse that I got into a bit of trouble. Having clipped in my short cowstail to the next rope, my foot loop snagged on small calcite stub. This caused me to imbalance off the edge and clatter into a wall. I was somehow weighting both my snagged foot loop and short cowstail. After much thrashing and no assistance despite calls – they were out of earshot, I decided I did not like being on my own down the Berger. I managed to unsnag my foot loop (didn’t have to use my knife!) by lifting myself with one arm, something I wasn’t aware I could do not exhausted.
I felt pretty battered and so made steady progress back to camp 1, passing Rosa and Pointy. I realised Glen had run on ahead to check on me and so I ran after him. I got there a couple of minutes after him and stopped the oh-god feeling that he was experiencing. We rustled up some grub, got changed and tried to sleep. Glen and I didn’t manage anything you could call sleep for 2 hours and wanted to get out sharpish. Pointy and Rosa wanted to stay to sleep for a bit longer so we informed surface of our intentions and that we were splitting into 2 pairs to come out.
At some point Friday 5th of July
The journey out took a long time owing to exhaustion. Lake Cadoc was pretty empty (it having been full when we got to it many hours previously). We took one wrong turn but corrected ourselves and made slow and steady progress out. We arrived on the surface to find a chirpy Alisa who fed and watered us. We kicked back in the sun for a bit and waited for Pointy and Rosa as we found out that no other teams were going out. Somehow it had felt like we had been underground for only a couple of hours, body clock wise, but I suppose that’s what 26 hour trips do to you.
We got back to camp to find people relieved to see us and wondering if we had bottomed it. We informed them of how far we had got and went to bed after some beer.
Saturday 6th of July
The following day I went with Ben etal. to the lower Furon (Destroy All Humans! Not many people will get that reference…) and wrote a song. It goes a little like this;
Do you hear the cavers sing,
singing along like drunken men.
It is the music of a people of the subterranean.
When they go into dark,
They face nature’s might.
Armed with a fearless heart and luminous light.
Oh we went on our exped to the feared Berger cave,
How we toiled with our tackle,
To our bags we were enslaved,
We were told of the cold but were ever so bold,
and were brave
Oh we went through the canals,
which were ever so nippy.
Some of us got so cold that in our furries we did pee.
But I must report that one was caught short,
*Christopher Playfoot. If he wants to mount a defence then write a trip report…
I must mention the meal I had during my rest day. It was fantastic. This region of france is like heaven. The cheese was phenomenal, the Tartiflette was truly Bleutiflette. The Vercors can do potato and cheese. Not so much Creme Brulet but I was more than willing to forgive them that! And the local Beer, normally I despise said beverage. The taste I find unpleasant generally and quite difficult to drink. This stuff was tasty. I had to leave the restaurant early as my eyes swelled up. Bastards.
Sunday 7th of July
Rest day over I wanted to help with the derig despite feeling broken. We had no idea if Pedos in Speedos (Sam, Chris and Dave) had managed to bottom it or not. We were expecting to derig from Claudines. The we I refer to was Creg, Tom, Jethro and I. Creg is a fantastic caver especially considering he is a refresher we got in February! (I must point you towards his fantastic trip report of his first SRT trip where he ended up seconding and helping a fresher off a pitch head).
We were amazed to run into them just after camp 1. They had got to -950? and de-rigged everything until the elephant’s penis thing. Absolutely stellar. I de-rigged a bit and all the bags were moved to camp one. Then all the bags (fourteen of them) were moved from camp 1 to the bottom of Aldo’s. I broke and didn’t get all that far with 4 tackle sacks, I took 2 all the way and proceeded to move the bags through the awkward bit to the bottom of the pitch. Jethro and Creg returned with my (and Cregs dropped bags) and then helped me forming the human conveyor belt and in no time we got to the base of the pitch.
Tom did a lot of prussiking and eventually all the bags got to the top of Aldo’s. I de-rigged while I was up there. We headed out after that for a much deserved rest. Creg and I were a little slower and paced ourselves. It all went swimmingly until we got near the top and we heard an almighty noise. I recognised it from my time in ‘Nam (see my morocco adventure series). Thunder. With nature’s deafening roar browning our pants we hurried up the pitches to find it proverbially excrementing it down.
Paul Mackrill and Tony ran into view (this is not surprising under any circumstance – just like saying Peachey’s name and him suddenly appearing). They announced they were going down for a quick poke around when it had just started raining and there was a thunderstorm and he (Paul) had work the next day. We see where Brendan gets it from. Mental.
The others ran off into the darkness leaving Creg to guide me out of the forest to meet Mike and Scott, who were stargazing. The weather became alright and in the car we all suddenly started talking engineeringy stuff. Surprise, surprise.
All in all, we didn’t get to the bottom but had a good time – just means we’re going to have to go again…
PS Ta to Kev for the title!