On Visiting New Caves
CU 1972 Contents Page Next:
Half a Century on

Cambridge Underground 1972 pp 20-29


by those concerned, to wit: Pete, Nick, Jont, Evan, Martin,
Nigel, Andy, Rod (Perm any three...)

5th July: The advance-party gathered in exotic Northampton and wended its gentle way to Dover the following day, by way of Liverpool (Martin had forgotten the Green Card for his Austin Gypsy!), boarding the ferry six minutes before it was due to set sail. Monday evening was spent seeing the sights of the sin-city of Europe, Gay Paree, and on Tuesday morning a bit of tackle-shopping was done.

The drive down to our base in the Jura, the town of Ornans, was uneventful, except when the Gypsy lost its silencer. At first sight the Jura did not look at all promising; there ws plenty of limestone all right, but no grit capping with the result that big surface streams and sinks were rare. However, there were some huge resurgences to be seen, although subsequent investigation showed them to be for the most part sumped a short way in.

8th July: We set out early for the Grotte Cul de Vaux near Vuillafans. Enquiries in the village led to some very vague instructions about following hairpin bends to the cave-mouth. Several hours later, three hot, frustrated cavers returned to the village to try again. We were lent a small boy, who was put in the back of the Gypsy, and with his help we soon found the entrance, a small resurgence with a gale blowing through it.

By this time it was too late to go caving, so we had a very welcome beer and investigated some resurgences near Mouthier Haute Pierre. Not a thing was found in any of these, despite some inspired pushing by Pete, so to round off the day we went for a swim. Roared down to the riverbank, tore off our clothes, leapt into the river, swam across, shouted obscenities, swam back, changed and roared off again, leaving a dozen appalled Froggies muttering "Sacre Bleu!" and waving their arms.

9th July: An early start saw us in Cul de Vaux. Except for a short, dry passage near the entrance, the route followed the stream, with about 100m of swimming in a kilometre. A muddy climb up a cascade led to a further 800m of streamway, which became more and more unpleasant. Strange lumps of gunge were to be senn floating gently downwards, and the atmosphere became even riper. Pete was the first to reach revulsion level and call a halt. A hasty debate decided that a cesspit above was not working properly and we beat a hasty retreat, abseiling down the cascade. Enquiries showed that the whole cave was in fact quite clean until ten years ago. To restore our shattered nerves we invested in a bottle of disinfectant and several of ale.

10th July: In the morning we visited the Source du Lison, a huge and very impressive resurgence and the Grotte Sarrazine situated in a cliff 160m high. Inside were a pool and a stal cascade which was our limit without lights.

The entrance to Les Cavottes was found without much trouble, in a clump of trees in the middle of a field. While climbing down to the entrance, Andy had a slight argument with a broken bottle, and gashed his ankle badly. A rush to Besançon hospital, 15 stitches and a few beers later we returned to Ornans. Here we met some local cavers, and at 10pm Pete and Martin departed with them towards the Grotte de Chauveroche. After an incredible amount of twitting around and looking for toothbrushes (without which, the French explained, it would have been absolutely lethal to go underground) we reached the entrance, going down just as the sun rose.

We could easily have run along the first kilometre of dry passage if one of the French girls hadn't insisted on giving us a guided tour. The rest of the cave, as far as we went, consisted of a succession of 2m wide gour pools. After some distance we reached the first cascade, a 6m climb were everybody stopped. Here the French ran round in ever decreasing circles, brushed their teeth, ate bananas and indulged in other such typically Gallic ideosyncracies, and finally announced that we were going back. The return journey was uneventful but slow, Martin playing St. Christopher to one of the French girls who became unaccountably excited whenever she saw water. We surfaced at 10am, and returned to account our adventures to our cripple. The 11th was spent recovering in style.

12th July: Spent two hours digging in a cave just above the campsite, before retiring to the Café du Pecheur.

13th July: Pete and Martin returned to the Grotte Sarrazine which was rumoured to have 4km of easy and beautiful caving. The huge entrance closes down rapidly and then opens into a chamber with a tricky climb in it. A short rift chamber follows, leading to a bedding plane, and another bedding plane, and another... After about a kilometre of small chambers with no sign of anything easy or beautiful, we got fed up and turned back, having got nowhere near an active streamway.

14th July: Evan arrived in the morning, instantly recognising the tent by the debris outside and the low moaning noise inside which indicated that Pete had had a heavy night. An expedition to the Pecheur was instantly launched but Pete and Andy confined themselves to large cups of black coffee. The rest of the day was spent swimming: in the evening there were fireworks and festivities, but most of the bars were shut.

15th July: An early start was made... at the Pecheur, where Pete, Andy and Evan contrived to spend 40 francs on booze before lunchtime. John Palmer, who had arrived the previous day, departed in the direction of the Julian Alps, returned to the campsite, and left again (several times).

The afternoon was spent swimming, and after a hard session at the Pecheur, we set off again for a serious assault on Chauveroche, getting underground just after 10pm.

We ran through the initial dry section of this splendid cave until we reached the streamway. Most of the swimming comes in the first 20 or so lakes, followed by a short section in waist deep water. The lakes above the first cascade are generally shallower, and the passage becomes gradually smaller. The character suddenly changes to a vicious section of cross-rifted streamway which, although quite fun at first, soon becomes tiring. After a boulder ruckle, a stretch of unremarkable but relieving phreatic passage leads to the upstream sump, 6.224km from the entrance.

After a short nosh-gonk we started back, having an uneventful trip apart from some lighting trouble and considerable boredom in the lakes. Time: 6 hours for 12½km! Not surprisingly, the 16th was spent recuperating.

17th July: Set off to find Pourpevelle and the Grotte de Bournois. After a considerable amount of dithering in a farmyard, where Martin was forced to shake hands with the entire family, both dogs and most of the chickens, we were redirected to Pourpevelle, which was swarming with blue-claggied cavers. Having located a plausible entrance (it was, in fact, the wrong one) we returned to the Pecheur. Found ourselves at Cleron sometime after midnight, where Pete went for a swim and everyone else wandered around and sang very strange songs.

18th July: Evan and Martin went to inspect the nearby Grotte de Baume Mont. This little cave, a twenty minute trip, must have once deserved its reputation for prettiness, but it has now been considerably vandalised.

19th July: Found Pourpevelle still swarming with French cavers, but somehow managed to get down the entrance pitch (12m) and the 45m pitch without too much friction. The way down leads through boulders to a system of phreatic passages from where a 50m hands and knees crawl leads to some well-decorated little lake chambers. Here we were held up by a party of French cavers towing an inflatable barge. At the end of the chambers a 10m pitch leads to some very muddy passages ending in a large pile of bat guano. The exit was uneventful apart from a alight hold-up on the big pitch when Evan had to be lifelined up in three pieces. On the next day, just for a change, we drank.

21st July: After a morning in the Pecheur, we decided it was time for a hard trip. The Grotte d'Osselle advertisement claimed 'no fatigue, flat everywhere' which sounded like our style. After a few drinks to get our strength up we trolled in and pushed it in heroic style as far as the last floodlamp. In fact it was an extremely fine 4 frs worth, superbly lit, very little Araldite and a kilometre long. The whole trip took an hour and included a fixed concrete pitch of 2m, so we were understandably shattered when we came out. Had a few drinks, went swimming and ended up (somehow) at the Pecheur.

22nd July: Pete left, and the dig was dug. Had a few drinks and suddenly it was the 24th and Nigel had arrived. Started another dig, rumoured to be part of a 10km tunnel leading to the local castle, canoed and dug a bit more.

27th July: The entrance to our cave of the day, Plaisir Fontaine, is large and deep and set in a pleasant valley. We had been told that the cave was dry, so it was something of a surprise to find 50m of streamway leading to a sump. The correct entrance was soon found, but since Evan was by this time in a considerable state of undress, we decided to turn back. A pity, because a full scale trip here could prove very interesting. No caving was done on the 28th or 29th when the other half of the expedition arrived.

30th July: Today we intended to visit the Gouffre de Granges-Mathieu, rumoured to be the most beautiful cave in the Jura. Unfortunately, we thought at the time it was a grotte, so we rolled up at the impressive 25m entrance pitch without a single ladder. While pondering this problem we went swimming and at 3pm decided to do the nearby Grotte de Faux Monnayeurs, situated below the huge cliffs of Mouthier Haute Pierre. A walking-size entrance led to a kilometre of tedious passage; its only relieving feature was an icy-cold duck halfway along. Exited and had a look at the very impressive Source du Pontet, a huge arch with a diminutive stream flowing out of a gravel choke.

And so to the Pecheur, where the atmosphere grew quite alcoholic. At about 1 am, a mixed group of cavers and local tipplers left en masse, heading for the other end of town. In our dazed state some of us thought we were going to someone's house for coffee until we noticed that we were being frog marched along by a couple of hefty gendarmes. In the cop-shop it soon transpired that a group of about 20 of us had been arrested for singing dirty songs and disturbing the good citizens of Ornans. In the middle of the subsequent interrogation Nick got bored and wandered out. Unfortunately he took the wrong turn in the corridor, and when he opened a door at the end of it he was surprised to find himself in a small room with bars on the windows and a man hiccuping gently on the bed. Nick eventually managed to persuade him that he was not a policeman and the two of them blundered out into the street behind a policeman's back. Eventually the rest of CUCC staggered out, having been ordered to leave town the next day, an order which, naturally, we forgot.

31st July: Martin, Nigel and Nick, obviously still suffering from the episode at the Pecheur, decided to go and do the Gouffre de la Belle Louise. The others jeered at the idea of anyone climbing a 65m pitch, and went back to sleep. When we eventually found the pot, a large and slightly sinister-looking sink (quite a rarity in those parts), only Nick and Martin went beyond the daylight zone at the bottom of the pitch, since Nigel had no gear. This 65m entrance shaft is quite fine, but a bit jagged for abseiling. A short, pebbly grovel led to the top of a 20m pitch, where we wasted a lot of time looking for a good belay point. The pitch was a superb one in pure white rock, and was folowed immediately by a 10m pitch with an awkward takeoff. A pleasant rift led to a huge fossil master-cave, the smallest dimensions of which were 20m x 20m. Downstream was a choke, where the water obviously backs up fantastically in flood, as shown by the debris halfway up the 20m pitch. Upstream was a series of large, muddy passages with little prospect of extension. Exited uneventfully.

Meanwhile, Rod, Carole, Andy and Jont had got up and were at grips with the Grotte de Bournois, which was clearly at one time a spectacularly beautiful cave, filled from roof to floor with great hunks of stal. These are all now very muddy, but remain impressive. Upstream we halted at a 10m overhanging climb which must have been the way on but which did not appeal. Downstream the passage continued for a few hundred metres of climbing up and over massive collapses before ending in a huge stal barrier with several sordid grovels leading off. On the way back to the campsite the rear offside spring snapped about 10km from civilisation. Jont leaped out of the car, hailed a passing nun and before you could say 'Ave Maria' he was back at camp. The car was abandoned for the night and Martin drove off to fetch the intrepid explorers. To ease our troubled minds we went to the Pecheur.

1st August: While most people went swimming, Martin and Nick spent a hot and sweaty afternoon prospecting, with only two finds; one of them a superb dig - which later transpired to be only 5m below the plateau. The other was a slight depression in the active streambed of a farm, which, we were solemnly assured, was in fact very deep. 'Bottomless?' we suggested. 'But of course!' came the reply, as if our informer was shocked at our ignorance. So we faithfully promised him that we would be back the next day with diving gear, a kilometre of ladder and Norbert Casteret in person. Spent the evening at a local fête.

2nd August: The day dawned to yet another glorious afternoon, and we arose to empty the confetti out of our crutches (yes, it had been that sort of fête!) Then off to the Belle Louise where a bolt was put in at the top of the 20. Andy had taken one look at the entrance pitch and suddenly remembered that he had forgotten his boots. So, while Rod, Jont and Nigel did the Belle Louise, Andy, Nick and Martin went over to do Les Cavottes, an uninspiring hole full of big, gungy passages, enlivened only by a mind-blowing traverse. The Belle Louise trip went fine, except that Rod's stinkie ran out at the bottom of the big pitch. 'No water!' he shouted up. 'Natural resources!' we screamed back. 'Have you ever tried hitting a carbide lamp in the dark?' came the reply. 'Anyway, I did that ten minutes ago!'

3rd August: A trip to Switzerland, mainly to get a new spring for the moribund Leachmobile and also to look for a rumoured 100m pitch near Neuchatel. The lid had been taken off the Gypsy, so to make life more comfortable we stopped in Pontarlier and bought five pairs of welders' goggles. The effect on our image was fantastic: life stopped as we roared past - jaws dropped, babies howled, old men choked on their pastis on the cafè terraces, dazed customs officials gulped and waved us past, and in a cloud of dust and burnt rubber Gogglefreak hit Switzerland. The spring was found easily, but the pot had gone into hiding, so we decided on a quick trip down the Grotte de Motiers, just so we could say we had caved in Switzerland. The entrance was found and we dived in, to the awe of a group of watchers: "But vy are you zose goggles vearing?" "Ah, well, you see madam, that's because of the intense brightness underground". Rather a muddy cave, but it had a fine sump. The trip back was made unpleasant by rain and a disintegrating Gypsy, but Martin cured this with his customary mixture of expertise, Mars Bars and faith. We thawed out in the Pecheur and spent the following day putting the cars back together again. A bit of climbing was indulged in and Martin and Andy were seen off in great style by the barman at the Pecheur, who had come to regard them as regulars - 15 glasses of eau de vie and 15 cokes!

5th August: Having seen Rod and Carole off to Yugoslavia, the hard core grated off to the Gouffre de Poudrey, with the differential making horrible noises. A pleasant cave, but definitely not, as is claimed, the biggest chamber in Europe, a distinction presently held by the Torca de Carlista in Northern Spain. Two days of leisurely driving brought us to the village of Choranche to the SW of Grenoble, past the Berger whose resurging water was ceremonially drunk to inspire us to new depths. The late afternoon was occupied by a visit to the Grotte de Coufin, at the bottom of a 400m high cliff. Those French certainly know what to do with their limestone! Coufin was a truly mind-blowing show-cave, with thousands of superbly delicate straws and beautiful green lake, full of trout. In search of a campsite we hailed a local yokel, who turned out to be mayor of the place, and allowed us to stay on his land by the river; without doubt the most beautiful campsite of our stay.

8th August: The local barman had confided in us over a pastis that some Belgian cavers would be doing the Grotte de Gournier today, so we decided to join them. This cave, which we had heard to be a fine system, is controlled by the Coufin management, but we easily got permission. When we got there, there was no sign that the Belgians were inside, so we changed into our wetsuits and swam across the superb entrance lake, which measured about 50m x 20m. A tricky climb up the stal slope on the other side (with fixed coathangers as aid) led to a short stretch of very deep gour pools and a long section of really monumental pretties. The last part consisted of huge, roller-coaster boulder chambers and the cave ended in this depressing manner after 2km (we now know that there are a further 4km of streamway, very difficult to find). Nick and Jont traversed up into what must rate as the gooiest bit of cave in France - but it didn't go. The exit was uneventful, except that Nigel, who didn't have a wetsuit, was forced to keep bounding on ahead, while the other two sweated along behind. Revenge was sweet, though, when we got back to the lake, (which, incidentally, must be one of the most remarkable cave-exits going) and Nigel's inner-tube deflated around him. However, he was got out and we adjourned for a quick ale and a wetsuit repair session.

9th August: On our way to Choranche we had noticed an enormous cirque in the left-hand wall of the very impressive Gorges de la Bourne, about 400m high and 800m across. The mayor informed us that there was a cave here, the Grotte de Bournillon, and that it was very dangerous: he didn't say why.

An ideal early morning trip, we decided, and trogged up to have a look at it. The entrance porch is the biggest in France, 103m high, and inside it we found some French cavers getting claggied up. Nick knew some of them, and in the ensuing chat they advised us against putting on wetsuits, so we went in dressed as we were, in T-shirts and jeans. An interesting traverse round a deep lake led to a kilometre of large passage, somewhat like Gournier, with a short section of massive stals. We stopped at a lake, and here the French chose to inform us that the cave was the biggest flood-resurgence in France, being fed from up to 30km away! When the water started to rise it could reach the roof in five minutes, despite the fact that the passages averaged 20m x 20m! Needless to say we got out fast - although still slow enough to drown six times over! While the French were changing we had a look at a huge chamber at the top of a nearby scree slope, which measured 200m x 100m x 100m; much more impressive than Poudrey, because of the light which filtered in through the entrance.

Packed up, picked up Nigel, and headed south, camping at Orgnac. The Aven d'Orgnac defies description; if there's a more beautiful or more grotesque show cave in the world, CUCC will eat its collective helmet. We considered a secret overnight trip to the further reaches of the cave, reputed to be of unbelievable beauty, but, fortunately perhaps, we heard that it was guarded by burglar alarms, so called it off.

10th August: Another two days, and after a new rear wheel bearing, which immediately proved to be unnecessary, had been fitted, we were chugging up the track to the Pierre, minus Nigel, who had started hitching to Portugal. An hour's trudge through the mist, and 'Ooops!' where was the Tête Sauvage Camp normally run by ARSIP at this time of year? So we kipped in a hut.

12th August: Awoke to a beautiful morning - a vast carpet of snowy cloud spread out thousands of feet below us and a glorious blue sky overhead. We soon realised where the camp was when we saw signs of a marked track to Anialara over the Spanish border, where, we later learnt, the Bordelais were trying to get into the Rivière St. Georges. After a quick trip into the Tête Sauvage, just for the hell of it, we set off down to Arette for groceries, meeting Corentin Queffelec, President of ARSIP, on the way. He told us the bad news about Felix Arcaute, with whom Nick had caved regularly the year before and informed us of the extraordinary results of the Lonné-Peyret survey (see the PSM article in this journal). We decided to set up camp with some cavers from Dreux, who were pushing an interesting and rather wet pothole, BT6, at the time. Later that afternoon we spotted a car with a Leeds registation and made contact with a couple of stranded ULSA cavers, Chas Younge and Dave Hedley. A trip down the Gouffre d'Arphidia was arranged for the next day.

Friday 13th: But we went caving anyway. The long sweat up the ravine from Ste. Engrace to the EDF tunnel meant that the howling gale blowing out of the tunnel was more than welcome. First we ran along to the Salle de la Verna, which was as impressive as ever, in that you can't see any of it. Back along the tunnel to Arphidia, where the narrow and sharp stream passage leads to a 20m pitch which we rigged wet, although the French had rigged it dry. The next bit of passage is rather like the Old East Passage of GG - big, dead stals, and to continue the analogy, the 40m pitch into the Salle Accoce is somewhat like the Mud Hall pitch. Our object was to try to find a connection with the Salle Styx in the Gouffre Lonné-Peyret. After half an hour of boulder-heaving in a promising spot we decided that the task was obviously beyond our limited equipment, time, manpower and inclination. Nick and Chas bombed down the Chaos du Baron for a quick look at the 55m Puits Prebende, before everyone returned to have a poke around in the upstream part of the cave. We were thwarted here by a sod wet 20m cascade which did not look an attractive climb with stinkies, so we trolled back and out. Jont and Nick had intended to kip in the EDF cabin overnight, but ULSA's offer of a bottle of plonk down in the valley was too attractive to be turned down so we stumbled back down the ravine with them in the dark. Pierrett's café was shut, so we slept in the barn.

The following day Chas and Dave left and we returned to the mountains for some prospecting in the area of the Soum de Soudet in search of the deep Arrigoyena system. Several digs were noted for the following day and we ended up, as usual, with a session at the Relais de la PSM.

15th August: In the morning we wandered over the border to buy some contraband wine and anisette at a shepherd's 'cayolar' and to have a look at the Puits Lepineux, where Jont managed to lob on the climb down into the doline (so that he could say he had fallen while free-climbing a 300m pitch?) Then returned to our digs of the previous day. Although many of them sounded a good 20m deep, only one of them, CUCC I, went, after a fashion; a 5m free climb led to a small chamber with a rift continuation beyond and what sounded like a 20m pitch. A few minutes work with a peg hammer produced a Leach-sized orifice and Jont was accordingly fed through. As was expected, a passable pitch was found, but we had to retire for lack of tackle.

The following day was spent at the ARSIP AGM in the company of such worthies as Ruben Gomez, Dominique Prebende, Max Cosyns and the President of the Spéléo-Club de Paris. The day ended with a piss-up back at the camp attended by the two Bordelais with whom Nick had done a PSM through-trip the year before. Many songs were sung, but no-one was arrested!

17th August: An understandably late start saw us in CUCC I, whose pitch turned out to be a hopelessly blocked but beautifully formed 20m. Having derigged it we traversed over to the other side on chert nodules, to examine an enticing hole on the other side which was draughting nicely, but it was far too tight and it needed to be banged. A shame, since stones thrown through fell for a good 20m and echoed in a promising fashion. At this point Jont's stinkie parted company with his helmet, leaving him stranded in the dark above the pitch. We rerigged, rederigged and exited for a bit more prospecting.

A couple of muddy rifts at the bottom of a nearby Polje were inspected, but Jont had a far more spectacular success; jumping into a grassy doline he fund that one leg had completly disappeared. He grovelled about for a bit hauling boulders out of a tiny hole and wondering out loud whether he dared to go down. Finally he inserted himself into it, making Unhappy Noises, Nick following. This cave was ridiculous, everybody knows that caves are formed in Carboniferous Limestone, but a cave entirely within a coal seam...? After Nick had gone through an awkward squeeze and found a short pitch on the other side we decided to call it a day and left CUCC 2 in the greatest haste consistent with our dignities (understandable, since the cave kept collapsing around us).

18th August: Today was spent in trying to force a way thtough from the surface into the inaccessible parallel oitch of CUCC I. However, it stayed inaccessible.

The pitch in CUCC 2 was found to be only 10m deep and to have nothing at the bottom. Disappointed, we gave up the area as a Bad Thing and decided to try elsewhere the following day.

sketch elevation - 7k png

19th August: "Enough!" we screamed, as we hauled ourselves out of our pits. "Let's find something Big Today!" So we set off from the ski station in a vaguely Mediterranean direction towards the unprospected lapiaz of Les Bourugues. For an hour we tramped over the bracas, Jont having little luck but Nick finding quite a few 10-30m pots blocked by nevés. Eventually we joined forces again and continued fairly half-heartedly through the mist, until, coming over the brow of a hill into a deep dry valley, we saw a long, gruesome-looking rift below us. The rope was fastened to a rather unsatisfactory rotting tree-stump, and Nick slid down 20m amid a shower of stones. There was a large hole at the foot of the entrance gully, so he casually lobbed a boulder into it. To our horror, it could be heard bouncing down the sides of the pitch for 10 seconds, giving it a depth which we conservatively estimated at 80-120m, measured from the top of the gulley. We had ropes with us, but with only two of us prusiking in a pot this size would clearly have been foolhardy, the more so since no-one knew where we were. Accordingly, we left CUCC 3 and carried on prospecting in the area, making several more finds. This area has tremendous potential (see PSM article) and is totally virgin. meandered gently back to the Relais de la Pierre St. Martin, where the landlord insisted on giving us free brandy and beer - mixed !

20th August: Today was cancelled, due to lack of interest. We had intended to return to CUCC 3 with the Dreux cavers, but a pyrenean hill-fog had set in and visibility was down to 5m. Obviously it would have been impossible to find the pot, although several others would doubtless have found us!

21st August: And today the weather was still lousy, so we accepted an offer from the Dreux cavers to help them derig BT6. Climbed into our wetsuits in the dripping mist and walkwd over to the pot, whiling away the time while the French cavers descended by hurling boulders into the 150m shaft of BT5. Eventually we were down their hole, which proved to be remarkably pleasant. A 35m pitch led down to a series of tight rift pitches which descend to -250m - very Yorkshireish, with a fair amount of water going down. The derigging went fine, since the French had already done some of it, but the experience of hauling a 125m rope, a 100m rope and four large kitbags of tackle out of a tight hole is quite original! The Drouais had expected an 8-hour epic, but in fact we were all out inside 3½ hours, impressing them considerably with our "technique anglaise". And so back for a last night orgy with the French: 7 kilos of chips and at least two bottle of anisette were disposed of by five of us, and we considerably increased our repertoire of French caving songs. The French, for their part, were immensely taken by a song which we had heard Fred Davies singing on a Swildons rescue - "Well, you f--- to ze laft, you f--- to ze right, you f--- to ze meedle and you feel all right!" and kept bellowing it into the mist for hours after we had gone to bed.

22nd August: Packed up camp and left, Nick to hitch down to Portugal and Jont to return to England by way of the caves of the Dordogne.

To sum up, the Jura is great for social caving, but... Anyway, back to the Pyrenees in 1972.

On Visiting New Caves
CU 1972 Contents Page Next:
Half a Century on