"Has anyone seen my Eagle?"
by Richard Walker
The Aven de Rouet looks like a goer on the survey. A straight down shaft to about 70m, and then ongoing horizontal passage. It’s right next to the road as well, so why the hell haven’t I heard of it before? Needs a look, I think to myself.
Christine and I headed over to the site on Monday night to confirm that the cave was where we expected, and to look at how we’d need to get the gear to the water. We’ve learned that nothing is easy here.
Sure enough, 30m from the road, across some flat ground, we find a bloody great hole in the ground. It’s about 10m in diameter, and dropped to depth of about 20m, where the water was.
There was a steel gantry jutting out over the top of it, and this looked a perfect point from which to lower the gear. Two steps away was a steel ladder down to a small gravel platform perfect to stand on while suiting up.
This was looking too good to be true, so how come I’ve never heard of this place before?
Weird. Needs a look.
We got up almost before lunchtime on Tuesday and started blending gas. 15/55 for me, Christine and Andras, and a couple of deco gasses for good measure. Tim and Jarvist were going to have a play with some trimix too on a short dive after ours.
Blending was creative, as ever, in these sorts of places but we all ended up with something useable in the end. We loaded the cars, and sent Tim and Jarvist to set up the pulleys and ropes while we ate lunch. Seemed reasonable to me. All the time I’m thinking “why haven’t I heard of this place before?”.
We arrive at the cave to see Tim stood on the gantry with an elaborate network of slings, carabiners, stops and pulleys dangling over the edge, and Jarvist at the bottom explaining how things will bang into the wall as they descend.
They fiddle around a bit, make some more complications and we have a working 3:1 pulley system, with a releasable deviation, which makes it go round a corner.
It’s so easy, I still wonder why everyone doesn’t dive here, and why I haven’t heard of it.
We lowered the gear down (OK, Tim lowered the gear down) and Jarvist makes a neat pile of it in the pool, and we three head down to the water like professionals.
Andras starts screaming when he sees the toad in the water.
Apparently he doesn’t like them.
Christine wanted to kiss it, but I reminded her that it needed to be a frog for that to work...
We put on our gear and did our checks floating in the water, and remarked that the blue water had gone a bit mucky with our movements. I was sure it would clear out below us though, and said so like someone who knew what he was talking about.
So far so good. I still can’t believe I’ve never heard of this place - it’s such an easy site.
We descend, Christine in front, Andras and then me. Following the line through the surface muck, and sure enough, the water clears and we are treated to pale limestone walls and a vertical passage.
It’s not very big, I think.
No matter, I’m going to drop these decompression cylinders pretty soon and then the clanging will stop. The Oxygen gets dropped in a small (1.5m round passage), and hangs on the line that has a convenient loop in it.
Someone has clearly been here before and understands that you need to drop gear off. The line turns into 9mm climbing rope, and continues to drop vertically through the pretty, white, cave tunnel. Which is still no more than 1.5m across.
We are three divers, stacked vertically.
There is some difference in approach to dropping down. I prefer the head down and swim, while the others seem to prefer some sort of feet down, reverse climbing strategy. The 9mm rope gets replaced by 5mm stainless steel cable. This is an odd choice, I think. I’d hate to have to cut that if I got tangled in it.
Still, visibility is good, and the line well laid. Still don’t understand why more people don’t dive here, even though it’s a bit tight.
More gear gets deposited and we start to descend. 30m, still nice clear water, pretty passageway, small. 40m, same. 50m - the rope ends.
There is some old thin cave line arranged into a not-so-neat birds nest, with ends trailing out of it. Christine decides that this is too deep to be arsing about laying line in a tight passage with potentially much more loose rubbish beyond, and we reverse our direction back towards the surface.
Shame, it’s a nice looking cave and I’d have liked to see more of it.
Can’t understand why I’ve not heard of it before.
Bubbles. Seemingly innocuous things. Children make them with soap and play with them for hours. They are in beer and champagne. They could be considered to be fun things in some quarters. In a cave, they tend to float up along the walls. If those walls are covered in a fine layer of silt, such as you might find in a cave that was not well travelled, then the bubbles dislodge the silt and rapidly reduce the visibility.
If that cave is vertical, then those bubbles do that all the way to the surface, getting bigger all the time. In fact, Jarvist and Tim were watching the pool while we dived and said that it turned into a “muddy silty vortex” within minutes of our departure.
They elected to not dive...
Meanwhile, back in the water, the visibility has dropped to something like tea with a splash of milk. Never mind, it’s a vertical cave, and we have a big 9mm rope to follow. We wriggle and turn our way back up the passage and soon arrive back at the 21m stop. We all managed to switch gas, not that it was really needed given the short dive, and continue out. Lots of gear plus steel wire. Nice. Fortunately only a few minor hang ups, and we’re soon at the oxygen pickup, and ready to head out.
At this point, Christine decided that she didn’t like it any more and managed to reverse the team order...
Exactly how, I do not know, but she and Andras got past me in a 1m wide tunnel.
Andras claims that it had something to do with Chris grabbing his testicles in a modified “touch contact signal” for “move”.
He moved. Like a rat up a drainpipe.
We surfaced exchanged a few “pleasantries” and decided to get out. I’m starting to understand why I haven’t heard of this place.
Then the fun started...
I looked up to see 2 locals stood on the gantry waving. Cave diving is often a spectator sport, in the same way people like to watch car crashes or why Romans went to watch criminals get eaten by lions. Turned out that he was a local caver and had been in there before.
Best to not do it with lots of people, he said.
Visibility gets bad apparently...
Well, they were nice and we chatted for a while. They left and enter local no. 2. His communication was less easy to follow. Basil Fawlty probably taught him how to talk to foreigners. Speak louder and faster when they don’t understand. Get more frustrated. Speak louder and faster.
He wasn’t angry, although he did look like a farmer, and therefore liable to say “quitter ma terre” at any point. Probably loudly.
He mentioned that he had a similar hole on his land. Bottomless, apparently, and if we wanted to go and dive it, we’d be very welcome. “Just like this one?” we asked - “Oui” came the reply. “Merci Messieur, mais nous partons demain”.
He wandered off to shoot something.
More gear came up the magical winch thing.
Then two girls get out of a car and start running over towards us. They are flapping their arms and waving at us.
“avez-vous vu mon aigle”, or “Have you seen my eagle?”
To help with translation, they were flapping their arms and cawing as well.
Seemed obvious to me. I was tempted to say that it had grabbed my pet toad and I was very upset, but my French isn’t good enough. They seemed very upset, and continued driving around, looking for their eagle.
We stopped for Pizza in Laroque on the way home, which is a lovely way to end a days diving, eating nice food watching the river run, and wondering why nobody dives in that cave.