Beer Can Damage the Brain
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In Praise of Fat Men
Dramatis Personae: Julian, Jont, Rod & Carole, Dave, Nick, Mike, Andy.
The following article gives a roughly chronological account of our work in the Pyrenees this year. Our attention was focussed on two main regions - the 'plateau' by the ski station at the Arette Pierre St. Martin, and the area around Betzulako Harpia on the French/Spanish border a few miles further to the west.
Since both of these areas have been described in some detail in previous journals (1,2), no more than a few words of introduction will be said about them here.
An advance party consisting of Julian and Mike descended on the Pyrenees at the end of July, having stopped off on the way down only to whet their speleological appetites in the curious galleries of the Rouen Chalk Mines and in the huge passages of the show caves of the Dordogne. Our first base camp (consisting of one tent) was set up at the Camp Belges overlooking the Ste. Engrace Valley, and within sight of a large well equipped group of Spanish cavers who were working in the Lonné-Peyret. After a short sight-seeing tour of the area, prospecting commenced in the Bourruges Area, where CUCC 3 (3) and the as then unpushed Jacques' Dig (4) are located.
Our object in searching this area was to locate a long sought after entrance to the conjectured Arrigoyena System which is believed to drain this region of limestone and which, when found, will form the fourth of those major hydrological systems of the PSM area - the others being the aforementioned Lonné-Peyret, the Riviere St. Georges, and the PSM itself.
In the first three days of intensive prospecting, many shafts of various degrees of magnificence were investigated and their depths plumbed - either by simply hurling boulders down them, or in more promising cases, by hurling Julian down. Our largest find, CUCC 8, was no more than a couple of hundred yards from CUCC 3 - it was a spectacular rift down which boulders fell freely for three or four seconds. Rapid mental calculations suggested that our 15 metres of prospecting rope was probably not sufficient to reach the bottom of such a chasm, but Julian remained unconvinced until a short abseil brought him to a small sloping ledge, at which point the rift belled out.
After the long walk back to retrieve the necessary tackle, we took time off to celebrate our find over a bottle of wine and a paté sandwich ... what a pity we hadn't brought the club dinghy out with us. Four hours later 65m of ladder and subsequently Julian were lowered into the hole. Disappointingly the main rift choked at 45m, but an eyehole 2m above the floor gave access to a further parallel rift which descended about 6m to a final boulder choked floor.
All the pots found in this area choke in this way almost without exception. Much of the surrounding karst is almost devoid of vegetation, and thermoclastic scree has built up to large depths in those pots with large, vertical entrances. Disillusioned with prospecting the next day was spent removing the winter covering of trees, polythene bags and sundry caving gear from the entrance to Jacques' Dig. Although attempts were made to push Julian into the revealed orifice, these were unsuccessful, and the rest of the day was spent sunbathing on the plateau. So while waiting for the rest of the Cambridge team and the French group who (rumour had it) were going to ladder the dig for us, we removed ourselves to Licq (the nearest sensible village to Betzula) and set up a second camp there.
For the next couple of days the resurgence below Betzula which had been observed the previous year was investigated and a survey made of the system. A small stream issues from the base of a cliff about 100m below the entrance to Betzula and the streamway itself is an impressive straight gallery 8m wide by 5m high, and rising at an angle of about 8 degrees to the horizontal for over two hundred metres. The stream emerges from an unstable choke, but a dry series continues off to the left - this breaks up into a series of small passages which all end in chokes, although the stream can be heard at the end of some of them..... All the chokes appear to lie on roughly the same line of weakness, and there seems to be little hope of regaining the streamway without extensive landscaping operations - in fact the whole of the dry system is horribly loose.
Unfortunately the survey doesn't suggest any direct connections with Betzula itself which is thought to be a source of at least some of the water since it is the only known active system of any importance in the immediate area. However, small though the resurgence system is, it is unlikely that the known streams in Betzula control all of the local run off, for several smaller trickles emerge from the impenetrable bedding planes on the hillside between the two systems.
A further complicating factor is the local variations in bedding which are evident especially in the cuttings in the roadside on the way up to the Spanish border. The area is still tectonically active and the abovementioned line could well be a fairly large scale fault. No definite condlusions about the hydrology of the area were made.... this will evidently need substantial dye tests to be conducted.
Arriving back at Licq after a night at the fête at Larau, our immediate thoughts were that a circus had arrived in the village - closer inspection revealed that the enormous white marquee in the centre of the field was, in fact, Dave's mountain tent.... more of the Cambridge team had at last arrived. Nick, Mike, and Julian subsequently returned to the plateau to find that the Spéléo Club de Deux-Sevres had arrived and were preparing to descend Jacques' dig, now known by the somewhat characterless title of B102/2 (where on earth is B102/1?). The descent of this pot, culminating in Julian's Big Push, is described in the following article by Nick:
In its review of the last Cambridge Underground - which review I quote only because I don't suppose that anyone has read the journal itself - Descent made mention of CUCC's 1973 search for 'the still elusive PSM-paralleling system which, if the gods are anything like just should surely be found by Cambridge in 1975'. That does at least give us another year of grace - the fact is that the gods were against us in 1974.
Fuller details of the surface topography of the PSM/Arrigoyena area are to be found in the speculative report which accompanies this article; the system itself may be summarised as an underground river running parallel to the world's deepest cave, the Gouffre de la Pierre St. Martin, and with a depth potential of at least 1,200m. CUCC started hunting for the Arrigoyena some four years ago, but only recently have other clubs started to prospect on the barren karst of the Bourrugues which forms the main catchment area for the system. It was suggested in an article in 1972 that when discovered the Arrigoyena system was 'likely to be very constricted' and in another, earlier article that 'this could be the hardest cave of the lot.' Our discoveries in 1974 tend to confirm this theory.
After last year's descent of the enormous CUCC3, a vast pot at the very head of the postulated hydrological system, which unfortunately terminated at a depth of 220m, a start was made on excavating a draughting shakehole about a kilometre away. Now digging is hardly a traditional activity for Pyrenean cavers, but these unconventional Yorkshire tactics soon proved their worth and a small hole blasting forth great gusts of cool air was the outcome. At this point the expedition members ran out of time and plonk-funds, so the hole was abandoned for later. Early in 1974 I received an excited letter from Jaques Sautereau of the Spéléo-Club de Rouen; the entrance to the pot now known as B102/2, had been made safe and shored by a French club, and a series of dangerously loose pitches had been descended to a depth of 120m. The pot ended in a squeeze 'qu'il faut dynamiter.'
We returned to the pot in a fleet of Minis and a state of considerable apprehension. For all we knew the pot had already gone, the Rivèere Arrigoyena had been discovered and there was no glory left to plunder. Even if the situation was static, we had no bang and no bang-man, so we were prepared for the worst as we drove up from Arette to the plateau. We had arranged to work with the Spéléo-Club des Deux-Sèvres, who had been responsible for shoring up the entrance, and our first impression of them was mixed to say the least. They had pitched a huge camp near the ski-station, and divided it neatly into tent-sized plots with storm drains. The barrack-like precision of their twenty tents, their bugle-call reveillés at obscene hours of the morning and their general efficiency seemed incomprehensible to the average British trog. Their personal habits were repellent - they washed every morning. There were no puke-stains on the grass, no empty bottles up-ended on the tent-poles... They even had an HQ tent in which a couple of hard looking speleos were to be observed extrapolating survey data on electronic calculators. 'Mon Dieu!' we thought, 'the spirit of Norb lives on.' But as we soon found out, they were perfectly normal, foul-mouthed piss-artists like cavers the world over - a fine bunch.
Their news was no news - the pot had not gone and was unlikely to. Still, if we wanted a trip down..? We prospected in Spain for the rest of the day, then camped a short distance from the SCDS village, somewhat conscious of the contrast between their life of regimented luxury and our own squalid two-tent bivvy. We cremated a few potatoes in a blazing fire, drank a bottle of wine, pissed in the flames before they melted our tents, and went to bed.
The days that followed settled into a pleasant routine. Every morning the three of us who had opted for the high life of the plateau, Julian Griffiths, Mike Perryman and I were blasted from our pits by a raucous reveille from the French garrison. After a quick porridge-butty or three we generally worked in B102/2, but what little time we spent elsewhere was occupied with prospecting, descending CUCC 3, wild strawberry-hunting and retaining the local tug-of-war championship for the second year running at a village fête (we could hardly lose, once we had surreptitiously clipped our prusikers onto the rope.)
On the first day we were escorted down the pot by a solitary Frenchman, Jean-Louis. At this stage we were probably looked on by the SCDS as something of a hindrance; once we tourists were out of the way, I felt, they could continue the serious work. Jean-Louis was the perfect guide, though, and a never-ending source of useless but fascinating information about arse-wiping. The entrance to B 102/2 looked as promising as ever and was fairly well shored, though still a bit loose. We changed into our wetsuits (Jean-Louis refused to believe that we couldn't afford boilersuits.) and vanished down a short ladder into the first vertical squeeze. Immediately after an awkward corkscrew the cave enlarged into a 28m pitch, well rigged from a solidly-placed bolt. A tricky taverse was necessary at this point to clip onto the abseil line, made even more tricky by the probability that one's light had been extinguished by the gale which blew from the entrance. Two more little pitches led to a short scree-slope and a fine 15m pot. From here a short climb, rigged for convenience with a 3m ladder, led to a good 10m pitch. Still nothing difficult. There followed a 6m pitch, then another of 16m with a take-off rather like that to the second pitch in High Hull Pot. A blank wall confronted us, but a short climb upwards over a very sharp flake led to the next pitch of 12m which dropped us into a shallow puddle.
Here Jean-Louis unclipped his sit-sling, and we followed suit when informed that we were virtually at the bottom of the pot. Slithering down a steeply descending rift for about 15m, we soon reached the final squeeze, which looked promising and draughted well. Ten minutes' hammer work enabled the three of us to get through, and after a few more minutes, Jean-Louis could get through as well. Chimneying down a fine rift and under a towering aven (which we later climbed to a height of 50m) we were soon stopped by a second squeeze. This one was rather more obstinate, but within two hours we had hammered through to a third, awkward looking fissure. Still there was a tantalising draught, so we exited in search of bang.
Jean-Louis had been unable to pass the second squeeze, so the banging was left to Jean-Michel, the SCDS hard-man, who looked like an emaciated and well-starved Brook. Twice the bang failed to go off, but Jean-Michel succeeded on the third attempt. While the fumes cleared we joined the SCDS in a magnificent piss-up of the sort which only the French can manage. Good food, wine, bonfires, wine, guitars, wine. By popular demand CUCC's answer to the Dagenham Girl Pipers was prompted into a glorious, three-part close-harmony rendition of a well-known song; strange to relate, it was well received. So if you ever come across a Frenchman singing 'On Ilkla Moor bah t'at' and wondering what it means, you'll know why. It was on this same evening that Mike, observing a well-stacked bird from the SCDS massaging an injurée spéléo, developed a sudden tactical limp and opted out of further caving activity.
Julian and I returned to the pot the following day to review the situation; our growing familiarity of the system enabled us to reach the first squeeze from the surface in a comfortable eleven minutes. From there to the third sqeeze was no distance, but unfortunately the successful bang had not been too successful, producing only a tiny dimple in the wall and a few stray fumes. Still, we hammered at the now friable rock, and within a couple of hours had passed the squeeze, which was by far the tightest yet.
The rift enlarged after a 10m climb, then contracted again: a crawl under boulders led to a definite choke. But by slithering down a slot in the floor and knocking away a couple of big flakes, Julian and I were able to descend a narrow vertical tube to a tiny boulder-chamber. Yet another squeeze led on, but a lack of carbide forced retreat before we could fully clear it. The SCDS weren't too pleased when they heard that the pot was still going, since tightness is hardly a normal characteristic of French caves. Even the pot previously reputed to be the tightest big system in the Pyrenees, the Puits d'Anglas, is far less awkward than B102/2.
Next day Julian and I descended with Jean-Michel, there being no other volunteers; the bit was between our teeth now, and we were starting to savour the cave's stubbornness. The fourth squeeze was exceptionally awkward, even more so than the previous one, and we were not surprised to find that after a short drop into a little chamber the passage narrowed again. This fifth squeeze, although not the tightest, was certainly the most difficult. If I had not managed to clear the far side of rubble, to enable me to turn round, it is questionable whether a retreat would have been possible. As it was the loose boulders disappeared down a hole in the floor with a gratifying rumble. After another short drop, we found ourselves - wonder of wonders - on the brink of a fine and spacious pitch. Our last few odds and sods of tackle were pressed into service, and Jean-Michel and I descended the jet-black pitch with great excitement. A considerable trickle of water fell down one of the walls, and thin shale-beds protruding into the pitch with ever-greater frequency testified to the fact that we were nearing the master band of shale which controls horizontal cave development in the area, carrying the rivers of the Pierre St. Martin and the Gouffre Lonné-Peyret. After 20m we ran out of rope, but an impressive gully, split into short climbs, led us steeply downwards to a horizontal rift, floored with smooth shingle and pebbles. A powerful draught blew from the continuation and all the signs were good. Surely the Arrigoyena was ours???
But, as I have said, the gods were against us. The rift degenerated into a series of narrowing tubes, each carrying a proportion of the draught. It was virtually impossible to establish which of the tubes were inlets and which were downstream passages, but by common consent it was agreed that the bottom of B102/2 was a muddy little depression in the floor with no possible way on. Julian and Jean-Michel returned later and found another 10m of passage; several days afterwards, the lower half of the survey was completed by Julian and Steve Dickenson of the Eldon P.C.
The entrance to B102/2 is situated beside a track, about 100m from a large grassy clearing below the Relais at Arette la Pierre St. Martin. The clearing is not, properly speaking, a doline or an uvala. Nevertheless, it does contain one of the few sizeable areas of vegetation and stream-sinks in a vast plateau of lapiaz, and is probably of tectonic origin. As was mentioned in last year's Cambridge Underground, it seems to be situated at a strategic point above the presumed junction of at least two underground streams. Surface topography and speleogenesis are not as closely linked in alpine-type karst as they are in, say, Craven, but it is tempting to see the depression as a pivotal catchment area in the orientation of the Rivière Arrigoyena, if only because it is difficult to imagine what other route the cave could follow. If, as supposed, the depression provides some sort of integrated flow dow to the level of the shales, it is reasonable to hope that:
1) Any pots would be of passable dimensions.
2) The river itself would be large enough at the point of access to allow easy downstream progress.
These assumptions,coupled with a phenomenal draught, encouraged our interest in B 102/2 at the expense of the high Bourrugues area around CUCC 3.
Apart from its excavated entrance, the pot resembles the large majority on the plateau, having virtually no horizontal passage until it nears the master-band. The rock itself is massively bedded and black, more inclined to smooth protrusions than sharp flakes, except in the faulted region, where unstable breccia is evident. The pitches, by and large, are short and easy, split by numerous ledges which have accumulated sizeable deposits of predominantly glacial scree, a comparative rarity in an area where shillow and thermoclastic scree are the norm. To a depth of 120m the pot is joint-dominated, but most of the remaining depth is gained in a gently-hading fault. As previously mentioned, the way on from the foot of the 12m pitch lies through a window half-way up the opposite wall; the window, which forms the beginning of the fault passage, is characteristic of cave development in the PSM plateau. Whether or not such features are always to be explained in terms of fault/joint intersection, they are certainly found in the entrances to the two major river-caves of the area. The top entrance to the PSM itself, the Gouffre de la Tête Sauvage, is distinguished by just such a 'puits en baionette' (bayonet pitch) a short way down, and a similar pitch is found about half-way down the entrance series of the Gouffre Lonné-Peyret.
The fault-passage itself is exceedingly tight, but numerous small chambers intersperse the squeezes, providing welcome relief; however the passage is still fairly tiring on the ascent. The first two squeezes have been sufficiently hammered out now to allow most normal-sized people through, but the other three are still very narrow indeed, and can offer good entertainment to anyone bored with Marble Sink, Strans Gill or Quaking. By the time exploration was completed, Julian and I had lacerated our chests fairly comprehensively.
At the end of the fault passage the sudden enlargement of the rift into a spacious pitch may or may not be symptomatic of local pots - more likely it is a localised feature. On the other hand the sudden incidence of thin shale bands and narrow tubes is a standard feature of the area. Again a parallel must be drawn with the Gouffre de la Tête Sauvage and the Gouff're Lonné-Peyret, since they are among the very few pots known to descend to a similar depth relative to the impermeable master-band. The Tête Sauvage ends with a 100m pitch which degenerates into a low wallow, leading in turn to a sordid crumbling little pitch through almost solid shale down to the main PSM streamway. In the Gouffre Lonné-Peyret, a fine series of pitches contracts into a keyhole traverse - which, if I remember right, is rather like a smaller version of Anemolite Crawl in Grange Rigg pot - which leads through an unstable pool-chamber to the main river-passage. In both cases the sequence is similar; narrow, draughting, horizontal tubes, running water and an abundance of shale. Small wonder that we thought we had discovered the Rivière Arrigoyena.
Why hadn't we? There are two possibilities. Either the passage had constricted to the point where an accumulation of mud had blocked it off altogether - improbable, in my opinion, since even the spring runoff could hardly account for the volume of mud at the bottom of the pot - or, more probably, the mud is deposited by backing up of the main Arrigoyena River. The shale master-band cannot be much more than 10m below the lowest point of B102/2 (barring a local anomoly) and 10m fluctuations in water level are perfectly normal, if meltwater floods in the PSM are anything to go by.
Of course such backing-up could be caused by a sump in the main Arrigoyena streamway. A problem arises here in that the survey shows B102/2 to be trending towards a known sump at the bottom of a nearby pot called B3. If the two pots could join upstream of the B3 sump, the mud deposits in B102/2 could be explained by that sump backing up. Nowhere in B3, though, is there a draught comparable to that at the bottom of B102/2, so it is more probable that the two pots meet downstream of the sump to form either the Rivière Arrigoyena or a major inlet of the system. What are the chances then of pushing B102/2 ? Virtually nil. One could dig the choke, I suppose, but for the time being at least, digging has already proved its worth in the pot. Perhaps it is just as well we didn't break into the river - with an exceptionally tight entrance series leading to a major system of great depth and great floodability, Arrigoyena could well have posed a serious threat to our expedition drinking-schedule. It still could do, in 1975.
While Nick, Mike and Julian were working on B102/2, the rest of the expedition were concentrating on the Betzula area, and were rapidly becoming well-known to the customs officials who were cheerily greeted each morning and evening with Dave's fluent call of "On reste en France" as he sailed by.
In Betzula itself the Inlet Series S.W. of French Camp was pushed to a definite conclusion and these passages were surveyed.
Some passages in Baratchegagnako had been left unexplored the previous year, and when Andy Nichols arrived later on in the month with a BEC contingent these were on his list of priorities:
1) A drop behind boulders in the entrance chamber.
2) An inlet entering from the roof of the Yarbles (2nd) Pitch
3) An inclined rift at the end of the series reached by passing over the climb in the shower aven on the normal way down.
These were all investigated by myself with five BEC members and Steve Dickinson of Eldon.
(1) This dropped into a wide, stooping chamber with a floor of breakdown (probably thermoclastic, given the altitude) which ran off down the bedding at 20 degrees, getting gradually lower until at some 70' it closed completly.
(2) and (3) turned out to be connected. The tube at the top of the inclined rift was followed downstream to a desperate loose climb down of about 20ft., which joins the original way down just beyond the slide over the slab at the foot of the first pitch. The upstream section of this inclined rift straightens to vertical, giving a choice of thrutches at floor level or fifteen feet up. After an estimated 250 feet it ends in a small chamber with an awkward climb of 15-20 feet into one end of a rift chamber (Salle Elizabeth) where the way on is a pitch of 35 feet onto a boulder floor. At the far end, a short wriggle in anothe slanting rift suddenly straightens into a pitch of 50 feet into greasy basin, with a further drop of 35-40 feet below to the floor of the chamber at the Yarbles - this 50ft. pitch is the inlet we had seen the year before.
These connections show that the entire cave is contained in one haded bed of rock, and the direction revealed by Julian's abortive survey will be correct for all the passages.
All the passages (400-500ft.) we entered on this trip were undoubtedly new, as no one could have passed along them, or rigged the 35ft. pitch, without disturbing the vast amounts of rock which we precipitated. There is only one point of possible interest left in the cave - that is the inlet on the far side of our Salle Elizabeth. It is a passage eight feet in diameter, and though it seems to climb quite steeply it is just possible that it may be an old continuation which has merely captured the tiny inlet and in fact continues to drop down beyond the present end. It would be a simple if exposed traverse to get to it. We had no rope at the time and not the faintest interest in getting there.
Mardi Hole, a possible upstream part of Baratchegagnako was opened up by Rod, Jont and Dave who, after some surface prospecting earmarked a suitable boulder for removal. Some fine pulley work was set up, and Dave's Mini was brought across the mountainside to provide the necessary tension in the rope. There were some doubts about its suitability but in fact it turned out to be good enough. Removal of the offending boulder revealed an 8m pitch with a very desperate take off, and the system was explored on this first trip.
After negotiating a tight and wet crawl (in claggies) the way on was eventually barred by a very tight squeeze, and at this point the group retreated to Licq, to wait for Mike (the club thin man) to return from his work in the rifts at the bottom of B102/2. On his arrival the squeeze was rapidly demolished with a few swings of a lump hammer, to reveal a sensible sized passage leading on.
Further similar barriers to progress were dealt with in an identical manner, until a final chamber was reached. This was choked with mud and there is little prospect of extending the section further. On the same trip the system was surveyed by Dave and Jont.
In the surrounding area some further prospecting was carried out but virtually all of the numerous shakeholes looked distinctly unpromising; if the other pots in the area are a good guide, anything found here will undoubtedly be very loose and badly shattered in any case.
Apart from the above original work, some tourist trips were undertaken - one of the most spectacular of these being Betchenka, a G.M.A. situated in pleasant green pastures on hillside above Maule. Despite detailed instructions from Ruben on how to find the pot, we still had considerable difficulty in locating it, and the four of us - Nick, Julian, Dave and Mike - had combed a large area of the hillside before Dave emerged from a thicket shouting that he had found it, and that the entrance was really impressive. Ten minutes later the whole party found the hole for the second time; the 65m entrance pitch is free hanging except for a short section half way down, and so provided a magnificent abseil for those with asbestos gloves. At the bottom is a series of enormous chambers with formations to match, connected by a series of fixed ladders....at the bottom of one of these ladders we arrived at the head of a large rift which we were unequipped to rig, but this lower series was looked at on a later visit by Andy and his two B.E.C. friends, Malcolm and John who returned with stories of even larger chambers beyond!
1 Cambridge Underground '73
2 Cambridge Underground '74
3 IBID, p 24
4 IBID, p 26
Beer Can Damage the Brain
|CU 1975 Contents Page||Next:|
In Praise of Fat Men