"...if asked which system they would most like to visit, the majority of
cavers would probably choose... the Gouffre Berger..
This journey down the Berger is still a challenge.. it
is hard work and effort well spent, for the fabulous series of massive
galleries, roaring streamways and decorated chambers provide a unique
experience. The Berger is a classic."
[Tony Waltham in CAVES giving some background to why we ended up on this venture.]
"In a rash move more than a year ago, and egged on by Jack, I booked
[Mike in 1989 getting the ball rolling in the first newsletter]
"10/8 09.30 Vic & Jack enter"
"16/8 23.50 Julian, Mark, Martin, Chas, Andy & Dave exit"
[...and the end of the expedition, from the entrance log book, 1991.]
Actually, on the subject of newsletters, we must have one of the highest newsletter:caver ratios of any expedition - 2:3 (no that doesn't mean we had 2 newsletters, etc. For the record, we had 10 newsletters and 15 cavers.)
Another interesting point: of the 18 people in Mike's first circulation list, 9 actually bottomed the Berger nearly 2 years later.
And while we're on interesting points: all the paragraphs so far have started with the letter A.
So what happened on the Sornin Plateau?
(Since I haven't got the logbook with me as I write this, and since the ExCS Express will soon be having a "Berger Bore" column as a regular feature... I will omit those nuggets of personal experience which liven up so many of our articles, and stick to the factual (but no less interesting and enriching, I'm sure you'll agree) facts.)
Vic, Muff, Catherine & Jack arrived a couple of days early to "negotiate" with the YSS over the payment to cover the telephone laid down to Camp 1, a boat to cross a lake which never appeared, stoves, and enough carbide to light up the Salle Verna (only that's in the PSM). £150. Hmm.
So on Saturday 10th Vic and Jack rigged down to the top of Aldo's pitch (about 200m down) while everyone else (almost) arrived. Pitches rigged: 8m 27m 5m 5m 8m 25m 38m 30m 10m 10m 5m.
Sunday was busy: Iain, Jill, Nicky, and Phil went down to set up Camp 1 (-500m), rigging Aldo's and Little General on the way, followed by Nick, Chas, Andrew, and Kath carrying tackle. Pitches rigged: 42m, 10m, plus 2 handlines. Team hero then entered...
Julian, and 3 non-ExCS people (which probably explains why they were so fit), went in carrying some tackle. They picked up all the remaining tackle at Camp 1, rigged to the BOTTOM, and returned to Camp 1. Pitches rigged: 30m, 5m, 17m, 5m, 20m, 10m, 10m, 27m, 4m, 10m, 15m, 10m, 44m, plus about 100m of handlines!
And just to put the cave into perspective, Julian and Dave exited, rather than sleep at the camp. Mind you, they came out "slowly" (Julian's words over the phone), taking 2½ hrs, as opposed to the 5 or 6 hours taken by the rest of us.
2 days gone, the cave rigged and a quarter of the expedition to the bottom. On the subject of the non-ExCS members viz. Kath Davis, Dave Hetherington, Mark Robson, and Martin Holroyd:
Okay, they didn't understand the ExCS ethics of "fair shares for all". On several occasions they were to be seen carrying substantially MORE than their fair share of tackle. But we are Gentlemen, (and I include Vic, Nicky and Jill), so we made no comment. But they did know of the Berger self-combustion rite, as practised by Iain and Nick in the Pre-Expedition Phase. And so it was with a feeling of comradeship, that we heard over the underground phone that Mark and Martin, camping after their bottoming trip, had Set Fire To The Tent While Sleeping Inside. Yes, they had then woken up, removed themselves from the burning tent and extinguished the flames, but it was a Gesture of Brotherhood, and we say "Welcome Friend" to all of them.
The plan now was for the 2 parties to go down to the bottom on successive days, camping overnight on the way out, then for the final party to start the de-rigging. The weather was being increasingly kind to us (after initial rain while Julian et al were down); the "outrages" mentioned in the forecasts from Grenoble weren't materialising.
Iain, Jill, Nicky and Phil were the first party, entering at 9.30 on Tuesday morning. They all bottomed it and returned to the camp to sleep.
While they were waking up on Wednesday morning 500m below ground, Nick, Andrew, Andy and Chas were setting off down. The first party then emerged at about 5pm.
By 2am Thursday, the second party was ringing a rather sleepy nightwatchperson (we had to keep someone at the entrance personing the phones all the time people were underground) to tell the world that they were back at Camp 1, also 100% to the bottom.
At a more sensible hour on Thursday, the final wave, Jack, Vic and Kath, went in, meeting the other group just about to leave Camp 1. Martin caught up the bottoming party at the Cascades and accompanied them to the top of Hurricane. The final cavers bottomed the hole and set off out with Martin, and then Dave (who had entered that afternoon) de-rigging. By 11.30 everyone, and all the tackle from the bottom, were back at Camp 1. Dave and Martin carried on out, leaving Jack, Vic & Kath to sleep.
Friday saw everyone underground, either completing their trip, or de-rigging and tackle-hauling. By 11.50pm the cave was de-rigged. The expedition had taken one week from start to finish; all 15 members had bottomed the hole.
Cavers: Vic Brown, Chas Butcher, Iain Crossley, Nicky Davies, Kath Davis, Andy Dolby, Jill Gates, Julian Griffiths, Dave Hetherington, Martin Holroyd, Andrew Nichols, Mark Robson, Nick Thorne, Phil Townsend, Jack Upsall.
Surface support: Geraldine Selby, Muff & Catherine Upsall.