The Arrigoyena System
|CU 1974 Contents Page||Next:|
This is an account of a dig in a small shakehole, or "doline", near Arrete Pierre St. Martin. It all (?) happened towards the end of the expedition, when spelaeology was beginning to lose its initial attraction, and the thoughts of the assembled company were turn,d increasingly toward English beer, and fish and chips. The dig is situated a few yards off the track running up to CUCC 3 and first came to our notice during the first few days of the exploration of that infamous hole.
Andy and Guy were on their way up to CUCC 3, to act in the role of vital surface transport, when they were summoned by a call from behind a clump of bushes. Fighting their way through the undergrowth, they were met by Jacques Sauterau (a local caver), his very attractive girl friend and the barman of the local café. Before them was a hole, 10' across by up to 7' deep. All around were heaps of earth and stones, the results of a Summer spent digging, while in the hole a large boulder, about the size of the front end of a Mini, appeared to be prevented from blocking the main dig, only by a piece of ordinary 10 cwt belay wire. Jacques assured all present that the hole was "tres, tres' dangereux", and nobody doubted this. From the bottom, between the boulders, "un vrai vent froid" was blowing icily. It looked promising, but CUCC 3 was going, so the English took the French to see this, their latest discovery.
When CUCC 3 had been bottomed, thoughts turned to digging. Jacques suggested that perhaps CUCC might like to find the way into the Harrigoyena, and promised to get hold of a "mechanique". Opinions varied as to whether this was a mere shear-legs, or whether he had managed to persuade one of the excavator operators from the building site to put in some overtime. Closer examination of the hole had revealed that stones dropped through the boulders fell for a while, then seemed to bounce down a boulder slope. The depth was variously estimated from 50m to 200m, but everyone was convinced that with a draught like that it must go.
On the appointed day, it was arranged to meet Jacques at 9 o'clock, so the keen men rushed off at the crack of dawn. Andy and Guy preferred to take more time over their breakfast, and turned up some time later. Arrivng on site, they found what looked like a scene from the building of the pyramids, but on a smaller scale. A team of sweating bodies was hauling on a rope, and inching a large boulder out of the depths. In fact, a stout log had been placed across the top of the shakehole, and to this a pulley was attached. A rope ran through the pulley, one end tied to the boulder and the other to the haulers. Jacques, dressed in overalls made of space-blanket material, gum boots and a helmet, stood in the hole, guiding the rock upwards and making encouraging noises, while his girl friend Helene stood at the edge, watching and cooing. With the arrival of two extra heavies, the boulder was soon hauled up to the pulley and made fast. The problem now arose of moving the boulder horizontally six feet to the safety of solid ground. It was solved by lifting one end of the log, and carrying it round until the rock could be lowered onto terra firma.
After everyone had congratulated each other on a very fine job, Jacques jumped into the hole and began to poke about. Soon another boulder was designated for hauling, and it too was removed. More poking and a third one was earmarked and lifted. By now a fairly sizeable hole was opened up and Jacques, on a lifeline, started to try to prod rocks down this hole. At this, and other times, Andy was heard to mutter things about bang and how much better organised they were on Mendip! It actually looked as if Jacques were not trying to open up the hole at all, but to block it. Suddenly everyone's thoughts were confirmed, as with a mighty crash, and loud cry of "Merde!", the floor of the shakehole became continuous again. However, after much poking about, a new hole was opened, but it still was not big enough even for Rob to get through. At this stage people looked at their watches, and saw that it was long overdue for rather more than a little something. Everyone trooped up to the café and Jacques very generously bought lunch/tea/supper. A meal which might have been merely the hors d'ouvres to Gargantua, was to nine hungry cavers a feast.
Bloated, thoughts turned again to digging. Jacques decided to call it a day, but Rob, ever anxious to push back the frontiers of spelaeology, volunteered to continue prodding. Eventually a man-sized hole was left. However, on one side, the wall consisted of loose stones set in earth, while opposite, a large rock with no visible means of support hung like the Sword of Damocles, threatening to block the hole off. After a brief discussion, it was decided that this was a good time to call the whole thing off, so there could be something to look forward to next year.
To stop people falling in, and to trap any passing mammoths, the entire shakehole was covered with branches. William showed best scouting aptitude, and kept disappearing, only to return triumphantly dragging trees behind him. Eventually it reached the stage where people were laying branches over solid ground, to make it more solid! And as the sun set in a dull overcast sky, the intrepid excavators plodded their weary way back to their tents for their final night at Pierre St Martin.
END OF EXPEDITION REPORT
The Arrigoyena System
|CU 1974 Contents Page||Next:|