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Canyonning en Vercours
|Austria expedition archive|
At the end of 1987, Tina and I (Mike) persuaded YUCPC York University Cave & Pothole Club to go to Majorca. We'd been with them to Tenerife and Lanzarote the previous two years, and reckoned that it was long enough since we'd been to Majorca with CUCC that it was time for a return visit. OK, so this wasn't exactly a CUCC/ExCS trip, but there were two ExCS members on it, and CUCC have been several times before, and it became the sort of trip that is remembered.
Upholding the tradition that on the first day one goes and does the Torrente de Pareis, we set of, ignoring the new tunnel near Soller which is not as scenic, but is definitely quicker. We duly left all but one car at the bottom at Sa Calobra and set off down. For those who haven't heard of it, the walk descends the seaward side of the mountain ridge that runs along the northern side of Majorca, and enters the Torrente de Pareis, a gorge whose sides reach some 600m high before coming out at the sea. The walk down the gorge is great fun, lots of scrambling down short climbs and wriggling between boulders, until reaching the final mostly level part, which involves a bit of ankle-deep wading. Well, that at least was how it had been the three times we had done it before.
It wasn't quite as warm this time, but it was still a pretty nice day, and a lot nicer than at home, as we descended the hillside. At the bottom, where the gorge proper starts, we caught up with a group of five Majorcans who were just finishing lunch, although conversation was mostly limited to "Hello" on account of a shortage of common language. They set off, and we sat down to consume our sarnies at leisure. A bit later we set off again, nipped into the bottom end of Sa Fosca to show the Yorkies what they could look forward to later in the week, and then enjoyed the fun and games through and over all the boulders. It was all as we remembered it, and everyone seemed to think that this was a pretty good way to start the holiday.
Things started to change a bit after the last of the climbs down, when we reached a pool which proved to be a bit more than ankle-deep, rather more like chest-deep. We rather assumed that some shingle bank must have been formed to catch the water; removing, according to taste, most or all clothing, we waded through with our bags held out of the water. We saw a couple of the Majorcans, who were using a rope to get a bag across the pool. Various gestures which roughly translated as "this is a bit wet" and "this is a bit cold" were exchanged, and they caried on.
Having dressed on the far side, we had only continued for a few minutes before hitting a second pool. A couple of people managed to avoid it via a rather hairy traverse high up to one side; everyone else swam it. Yours truly, being rather challenged in the swimming arena, managed on a second attempt by virtue of puting two empty drinks containers in Tina's giant bum bag. Perhaps, with hind-sight we ought to have turned back at this point. The problem was we kept thinking we were over the worst of it and the climbs which are easy going down wouldn't be in reverse. Maybe there is also a problem with being in a huge spread-out group as everyone said afterwards they'd had similar thoughts but didn't voice them forcefully enough.
At this stage, we split into two groups. The front group of seven set off quickly with one of the Yorkies who had had food poisoning just before leaving the UK, and who had started throwing up again; the rear group of five included Tina and myself. Our group had the two poor swimmers in it. Unfortunately, things started to go pear-shaped from that point on. It started to get late, it got dark, and it got colder. So did we ...... Pool followed pool, each requiring a further swim, another plunge into and out of cold water, all in light walking clothing -- at best. We had woollies but they weighed us down more. It always seemed that reversing wasn't an option as there'd probably be less swims ahead than were already behind us.
As we were cavers the zooms came out -- it turned out we had 7 between the 12 of us. In our group we had two between five: the two couples having each slipped one in the bag. I (Tina) swapped bags with Jeff, who was in better shape, as I was becoming a little low in the water -- a barely nose out job. I kept thinking about binning some of the gear but somehow never did. In the swims Mandy and I had to swim slowly and keep reassuring the less-able swimmers that we were standing on rocks to entice them along. It was desperate. Unfortunately swapping with Jeff meant that at one point in a longish no-swim section, he had my clothes and I was forced to gorge bash in boots, a fairly thin wet furry jacket with a broken zip, and keks. Everyone being so befuddled, they wouldn't stop -- or let me stop -- to put more clothes on. They kept saying I was hypothermic and I had to keep going. I kept saying "Yes I'm hypothermic, I need to put some more clothes on". I (Tina still) was getting so I couldn't coordinate. In the subseqent climbing sections (we managed to stay a little out the water but it meant climbing), I wouldn't have managed without Rick and Mike similarly coaxing me over.
At one point we found a bag which we guessed belonged to one of the Majorcans floating in one of the pools, but we were in no fit state to bother with it; we left it at the side.
By the time we got passed the final pool, and caught up with the first group, all of us were in the first stages of hypothermia. They were getting worried about us and had stationed the one with the best light on a rock as a beacon. Fortunately, the first group had managed to borrow some matches from three of the Majorcans, and had got a fire started. The first group were worrying that there was yet more swimming and had had thoughts of bivvying there. What they didn't know was that we were at the end, and all that remained was the final wade across the river and the path through the rock tunnel. Everyone spent about half an hour thawing out. Tina and I thought black thoughts about a previous encounter with Sa Fosca, and then we set off back to the cars.
Back at the cars we met the three Majorcans who'd given us the matches and they managed enough English to ask us if we'd seen their two companions. We hadn't. I think we thought that they must have climbed up the side of the gorge somewhere and were probably huddled under a rock. Since there was nothing we could do -- our wetsuits and caving lights were back at the hotel - we told them where they could contact us the next day, and drove back, leaving the Majorcans calling the Police.
It was about 10:30pm by the time was got back, and several of us staggered off in search of food, eventually spying a Pizza Hut. Well, anything would have done by then. In passing we were accosted by a couple of blokes with bimbos in tow, along the likes of "Oi, you look like the most miserable bunch of f*****s I've seen all f*****g week" and "Oi, I'm f*****g talking to you". They seemed most bemused that the only replies they got were along the lines of "Oh, really?" and "Yes, we heard" in totally exhausted voices. The bimbo's seemed to be heckling too and really proud that their men wanted a fight. A quick straw poll in the Pizza hut revealed a near unanimous resolve to walk back a different route, and generally run away slowly.
By the next day it was in the papers and on the local television. There was a big search under way for the two missing people; a couple of hundred police and searchers, a helicopter, the works. We contacted the authorities, but they obviously had plenty of manpower, so we carried on with the holiday. Though, to be honest, most of us were pretty well f****d (so maybe the blokes were right even if they didn't know it).
Anyhow, two days later we all set off to do Sa Campana, which is a few miles short of Sa Calobra. Mainly as a result of taking the poorer of two sets of directions, we stumbled around the hillside for a couple of hours, then decided to call it a day and to go and have a look at the bottom end of the Torrente de Pareis in daylight.
Arriving once again at Sa Calobra, we were rather supprised to find various police and rescue vehicles present. With a slight sense of foreboding we walked towards the gorge, but met one the the three Majorcans at the mouth of the tunnel that leads to the bottom of the gorge. She told us that they had found the bodies a couple of hours earlier, floating in one of the pools. We mumbled the sort of things that you know you want to say, but aren't quite sure how without sounding trite or sugary, and returned; everybody felt pretty grim.
We presume that they must have drowned in the pool where we found the bag, and that we had swum over them. Had we taken the tunnel at Soller and been earlier, or had they bottled out at the pool so that we could've caught up, or had we eaten lunch quicker ... Or then again, had some of us been even worse swimmers, or had even less flotation ... Or whatever. There but for the grace of God. etc.
I (Tina) still feel a bit bad as team organiser - taking them to a death trap. Some of them have commented that everyone will remember that trip as it was so infamous. I note they went to Tenerife this year and went climbing ...
|CU 1999 Contents Page||Next:|
Canyonning en Vercours
|Austria expedition archive|