Vercors 2008 - my tales


Active member
Inspired by Cap n' Chris's write up, here's mine (split into two parts because it's apparently too long otherwise). By the way, there's a medal for anyone who makes it to the end! ...

Vercors 2008 - Part I

After the pre-requisite long drive through the night, we all arrived somewhat the worse for wear sometime on Saturday afternoon ? all, that is, except Andy?s party who took the more gentle option of an overnight stop near Reims.

What we all wanted on arrival was a cup of tea or coffee, but unfortunately this necessitated a trip to the supermarket first. We were soon dispatched and, together with a very excited Jennie who couldn?t believe that we could possibly be buying so much, succeeded in filling to large trolleys. Jennie was yet more astounded when we kept assuring her that everything would be gone in two days and another shop would almost certainly be needed.

Coffee, showers and an armchair later and we were able to think about the next day. As always something very gentle is the order of the day as a combination of tiredness, completely disorganised kit and one immense faff means that we take literally all day to do a two-hour trip. Predictably the sleep-deprived discussions didn?t come to much and they quickly degenerated into some of the party debating the whys and wherefores of Health & Safety while the more sensible ones sheltered in their beds with heads buried under pillows.

Sunday, 17th August - Scialet Joufflus

The next morning, after the arguing ones had kissed and made up, and the rest of us had nursed our headaches, we set off for the Scialet Joufflus and the Scialet de la F?e Anglaise, both fulfilling all the requirements admirably ? short, easy, next to the car and not far from the g?te. Uncharacteristically for us, we went straight to the entrances, nobody had forgotten any gear and everyone seemed enthusiastic! Unfortunately the plan of two parties rigging the caves and then swapping afterwards soon disappeared, as some French cavers had beaten us to the F?e Anglaise, so we all got cosy in the Joufflus instead.

I rigged down, making lots of positive noises about how attractive the pitches were as I went. Jennie, on her third SRT trip, was ably looked after by the rest of the party and, it being our first day, we turned around as soon as it looked as if we might have to actually touch rock! The highlight here was definitely Sam?s new light (henceforth to be known as ?The Sun?) illuminating every inch of a genuinely very attractive 25m pitch. Jennie did an excellent job prusiking out and we emerged to a sunny, but fairly cool Vercors afternoon a couple of hours after going in. Excuses soon flowed for not bothering with the F?e Anglaise and we were soon back at the g?te. A very pleasant first day.

Party: Fiona, Robin and Damian Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford, Jennie Lawrence
Time: 2hrs

Monday, 18th August ? Grotte Inf?rieure de Bury

9 years ago I went to this cave and cave away overwhelmed by its brilliance and a bit frustrated that we hadn?t made it to the bottom. Ever since then I?ve thought about the Bury and longed to return and now was my big chance. Extremely uncharacteristically Skeggy had done a brilliant job of packing all the ropes the night before and an enthusiastic team set off for the carpark. A bit of a search around for the entrance (in future, walk to the Source of the Bury then walk uphill for about 150 yards) and we were son sitting down underground cooling off and escaping flies.

Everything that I had remembered was still there ? a superb stream with a beautiful white floor that dropped downwards with a few short pitches and lots of short climbs. Wonderful (and similar for me, but better, than the Trou Mille in the Henne Morte system) For added entertainment, and to make sure there?s a bit of effort involved, there?s also a crawl with a pool of cold water in the middle that leads to a tight (30cm) pitch. After that is a wet section requiring some interesting traversing to avoid a soaking and then comes the best section of streamway yet ? loads of little climbs, really nice stal and a few entertaining climbs up and over blockages for added value.

We?d been going for a couple of hours when, at around -175m, I came to the 18m Puits de l?Escarpolette. After using the 3 obvious (and good) spits I then tried every height possible to find something else to rig off ? and failed. It was obvious to me where the spits needed to go as there was a vast quantity of carbide soot about 5m further out over the pitch and a good 4 metres above my existing spits. I don?t like rising traverses at the best of times but this one, with almost no protection even when I got there, was way beyond anything I was willing to do. A glance at the guidebook rigging info suggested that there was meant to be a fixed handline here and this made me feel a little less inadequate, as I?m not a fan of failing to rig pitches. I had a look at going straight down off the spits I had, botching something with a few naturals on the way, but there was nothing that I was willing to do. We, therefore, turned around very reluctantly only half-way down a fabulous cave. Very frustrating but a superb trip nonetheless.

A quick look in Des Marshall?s book afterwards showed that his rigging suggestion involved going straight down off the 3 spits I had found and ignoring all the rub and water in the process ? not my idea of fun!! Much go back with either a bolting kit or an indestructible rope and a hood!

Party: Damian & Fiona Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford, Andy Clark
Time: 6hrs (incl. 1 hr of faffing at the pitch!)

Wednesday, 20th August ? Scialet de la F?e Anglaise

With reasons not to do pretty much every cave in my list, we finally settled on the Scialet de la F?e Anglais with Scialet Joufflus as rigging practice for Skeggy, also giving Andy a chance to visit this gem. This would then give Jennie some more SRT practice and the rest of us a gentle, lazy day!

I rigged down and we had an uneventful, but pleasant trip to the bottom, where we took it in turns to hang on the rope and look at the deep and clear lake before turning around. Once again, ?The Sun? proved amazing here, easily piercing at least 15m down into the lake.

Jennie successfully negotiated her way past numerous rebelays and 3 20m pitches. She?s on her way to being really good at SRT!

Party A: Damian & Robin Weare, Sam Clifford, Jennie Lawrence
Party B: Fiona Weare, Mike Skegg, Andy Clark
Time: about 2 hrs

Thursday, 21st August ? Le Tapinoir

The guide book described everything in this entrance as ?magnifique?, so I was very interested in going. I remembered that on a previous visit I hadn?t been very impressed and we?d had a long walk involving lots of blundering around looking for the entrance. However, I also thought that that had been to the alternative Glaci?re entrance and remembered that the other party on that occasion walked straight to the cave.

We?d popped over on a quick recee the previous evening to check that we could find the entrance and, more importantly, that there was still enough ice left in the entrance for us to reach the spits to rig. We found the entrance no problem and ascertained that, although there was almost no ice, Sam was tall enough to reach a set of spits and we could probably then botch a deviation that would get us down the entrance pitch safely.

As a result of this recee, we went straight to the cave and the walk is actually quite a gentle one and signposted! Unfortunately, while carrying Fiona?s rucksack down the large entrance doline, I slipped on a rocj and bashed my thumb. The ice in the entrance soon managed to reduce the swelling, though, and I was soon able to wield a spanner and load my descender. A hihgly botched deviation on the entrance pitch got us, via a squeeze, to the head of the P59. After initially going the wrong way and then re-rigging the ?correct? way, we touched down in a large chamber that reminder me of the Marble Steps Main Chamber. This led almost immediately to a knee-knocking P41 ? a perfect free-hang that got bigger and bigger the further you went down ? superb and probably the most impressive dry pitch I have every descended.

A pleasant, but slightly thrutchy meander then led to another nice P28. As it had a bit of water going down it, it was almost like a Dales? pitch. A bit of passage, a climb up and a wriggle back down led to some dodgy spits (the first of the week!) and an improvised rebelay saw us at the bottom. Nothing for it but to turn around a head out, noticing as we went the obvious pair of good spits 1m from my botched rebelay!! A depth record for Sam at something over 200m.

Party: Fiona & Damian Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford
Time: 4hrs

Friday, 22nd August ? Grotte du Berger & Sciallet Michellier

Now we?ve all heard of the Berger, but the Grotte du Berger is somewhat smaller than its namesake. Intended for Susanne, who was a novice visiting from Germany, in the event only Skeggy, Sam, Fiona and I made it along the scree track to the entrance, Robin, Jennie and Susanne seeing sense and turning back at various points on the way.

I always find it interesting to go into caves without having seen a survey and this proved no exception. A series of about 10 chambers along one huge rift, split by either boulder piles or short wriggles, led via a short, descending slope to a tiny streamway. This in turn dropped down a decidedly not-free-climbable 4m climb. Fortunately this continued over the top in a fossil passage which we explored in all directions before each closed down. A pleasant and quick trip that was made all the better by having no idea of what to expect. A look at the survey later showed that we explored well beyond the ends of the survey in the book.

I?d like to say that the day?s highlight was the caving, but on this occasion it definitely wasn?t. It seems that having turned back early, Robin, Jennie and Susanne had decided to go for a walk. Unfortunately, though, Jennie?s clothes were in my car so she decided to ?borrow? Skeggy?s. This left us rolling around laughing when, having taken off his furry and stood in a large and open carpark in his pants, Skeggy realised he had nothing to put on. Once we?d had our amusement, and realising quite how ugly Skeggy in his pants can be, Fiona donated him some of her clothes and we were on our way again, this time to the Scialet Michellier.

It was almost like being on Mendip ? a lidded entrance smack bang in the middle of a field only a 1 minute walk from the road. Fortunately, unlike on Mendip, the weather was lovely. My thumb was still hurting from my antics in the Tapinoir doline the previous day, so Skeggy rigged the entrance series. None of the pitches were very exciting but they served a purpose and quickly got us into large and, unusually for France, taped passage. A few yards along and a prusik up the fortunately well-fixed rope led to the Salle Sophie with some pretty good formations and, perhaps the best part, an immense false floor at the top of the pitch up. A swift exit, a pleasant change and a short walk took us home.

Party: Damian Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford
Time: 1hr (Berger), 2hrs (Michellier)

... continued below ...


Active member
Vercors 2008 - Part II

Sunday, 24th August ? Scialet Vincens

I think it?s fair to say that the main reason for us all going out to the Vercors to the conference was the offer of pre-rigged caves. This was to be out first one and we didn?t really know what to expect. Would the rigging be dodgy? Would there be hoards of slow cavers turning a quick trip into a nightmare?

We arrived at the entrance about 2mins after our allotted descent time and, after I?d got worryingly excited by a knot I?d never seen before, we set off. All was going swimmingly with good, solid rigging and nice, airy hangs and it was looking like we?d get down the 300 or so metres to the bottom in under an hour. Then I smelled carbide in a short meander and, just around the corner, came across a group of French moving fairly slowly. Suddenly everything slowed down and we all bunched up. It became quite sociable as we had plenty of time to chat at the top and bottom of each pitch.

At the end of the big, open section the French group stopped for a huge looking French meal and we went past to the end of the pre-rigged section. I had a look in the apparently ?grotty crawl? beyond and it wasn?t actually too bad, but the rigging stopped so I turned around and came back up telling the others to turn around when I met them. As luck would have it, the French group had just finished their meal and were slowly prusiking up infront of us .. so a slow exit it was to be!

We emerged a little too late for the walk I had hoped to go on and ended up doing a little circuit to the top of the Moulin Maquis canyon on the way home instead.

Party: Damian, Fiona and Robin Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford
Time: 4 hrs

Monday 25th August, Scialet du Tonnerre

This was our second attempt to make user of the pre-rigged caves. The Tonnerre was high on our list because it would be a genuinely long trip to rig and derig ourselves in the future. We also reckoned that most people would probably be building up to the deeper caves as the week progressed and getting one in early would make it less busy.

In the event we followed the almost traditional pastime when French caving and blundered about on the side of a mountain in the full sun for about 2 hours before finally coming across the entrance. By this point we were all fairly well beasted and very happy to sit down for a few minutes. Unfortunately, though, we still had a 500m deep cave to do! The 2 Spanish who had arrived a few minutes before us set off and we followed on 10 or so minutes later, trying hard to keep a big enough gap to avoid kicking anything loose down onto them.

The entrance series was reasonably technical with jagged rock and a seemingly infinite collection of possible routes. Thanks to the fixed rigging, though, we did not have to worry about this and we able to fly through with ease. The rigging in the Tonnerre was, by the way, superb and, although there were some less impressively rigged caves as the week went on, this rigging job made me very impressed ? it would have genuinely taken me hours to do anywhere near as good a job!

Some big, airy pitches followed and dropped you quickly from about -150 to -300, where we had a sit down and a regroup. From here two alternatives exist .. a P130 or a much nicer sounding series of shorter pitches which, they?d fortunately decided to rig! Jon and Robin?s lights appeared in the ceiling and, a few minutes later, they too touched down in the Salle ? Manger. Jon was booked in for the Berger the next day, so he and Robin sensibly decided to call it a day here and began the climb to the surface.

The rest of us carried on down, rapidly losing height via a P54, P30, R3, P10, P10, P30 and P15 bringing us quickly to the collecteur at the bottom. All the way we?d managed to keep a sensible gap between us and the Spanish pair infront almost without needing to try. We seemed to be moving at a very similar pace and I could just see their lights disappearing along the master cave as I came down the last pitch. We then met them returning about half-way along the master cave and they had just cleared the first few pitches when we returned to them ? perfect timing.

An uneventful but very enjoyable exit followed in which I got a bit carried away and decided to prusik quite quickly, getting out from -500 in 2hrs 20mins. A fantastic way to spend my birthday with huge thanks to the J?r?me who I understand rigged the cave.

Party: Damian and Robin Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford, Jon Holden
Time: 5 ? 6 hrs

Tuesday, 26th August ? Trou d?Ira

Another opportunity for Jennie to practise her SRT and a new cave for the rest of us too. A fairly short walk up a horrible ski slope brought us to the obvious and marked entrance. Skeggy dropped down first and called up to Jennie warning her about the exceptionally short rebelay loops. This made Jennie?s life quite tricky as she had to learn to remove braking krabs before reaching rebelays and to dispense with locking off at all .. a bit nasty when you?re still at the stage of doing everything ?by the book? but she coped well. Met several French-speaking Canadians, an American and some of the people we were staying with at the bottom of the entrance pitch and soon got the message that the Tou d?Ira was maybe a bit disappointing!

We went on past some more ?interesting? rigging and a few Mendip-style rifty thrutches and unconventional pitch heads before turning around before Jennie lost all confidence in her ability to do SRT. Sorry Jennie!

All was made up for once more in the evening at the 3D-film session ? if you ever get a chance to see anything by Daniel Chailloux, then jump at it. It was what can only be described as ?stunning?. Somehow, though, Robin managed to fall asleep during it ? a disgrace!

Party: Damian, Fiona and Robin Weare, Mike Skegg, Jennie Lawrence
Time: 3hrs

Wednesday, 27th August ? Pot du Loup

Another day for Jennie to practise SRT and another new cave for the rest of us. While changing another party of French pulled up who had obviously not booked the cave and looked a little embarrassed when asked. We continued changing and walked to the entrance. I believe the entrance pitch is left permanently rigged and is used by the French Caving School and it is easy to see why .. a pitch with an almost inifinite set of rigging options with a large viewing platform on the other side to watch, advise and criticise, it is bound to be popular. If you add to this a non-vertical exit at the bottom and a short walk back to the entrance pitch and you have an almost perfect training venue.

Anyway, we popped down the entrance pitch and up the short rope to the continuation of the pitches. A large pitch liberally coated in slimy moonmilk on the bottom half led to a not particularly helpfully rigged final pitch into a nice chamber. We about turned and prusiked out, Jennie showing how impressive she is becoming by almost flying up the 38m (?) free-hang on the second pitch and ably coping with some less than helpful fixed rigging.

Realising, on exiting, that I hadn?t really enjoyed the trip at all, I knew that I was ?caved out? for the day and wasn?t going to appreciate anything, however good it was and decided against the Gour Fumant we?d booked into for later in the day. Instead I spent the afternoon playing with various SRT scenarios with Jennie in the g?te garden.

Party: Damian, Fiona and Robin Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford, Jennie Lawrence
Time: 2hrs

Thursday, 28th August ? Scialets Neufs

When you pre-book a rigged cave they give you an ?information sheet?. There were some interesting warnings given on the information that accompanied this cave about very technical SRT and extremely cold conditions, so we were eager to see what Scielets Neufs had to offer. Once we?d decided to follow the red and white tape rather than the map we?d been given, a 15-minute stroll took us straight to the entrance, I did a bit of faffing with my light before setting off. In the event there was nothing technical at all with the rigging looking much more ?British? than some of the other rigging we?d seen that week. I very quickly got down to the ?Salle des 40 ans? at -350ish and, after a bit of ferreting around, determined that they hadn?t rigged the alleged muddy bits beyond. We all turned around, having first admired the stall that was on offer in the chamber, and once again enjoyed the airy and pretty series of pitches that followed. Out in no time, giving me enough time to dry my oversuit and furry in the sun before the others emerged 20 minutes or so later.

An excellent end to a very good fortnight. Many, many thanks to the French for some superb organisation.

Party: Damian and Robin Weare, Mike Skegg, Sam Clifford
Time: 3hrs


Good stuff. You've given us some suggsetions for the next Vercors trip!

The English "translations" on the information sheets for booked caves were quite strange in some cases! Probably not as bad as any attempt at translating to French I might attempt though... :)



Active member
paul said:
The English "translations" on the information sheets for booked caves were quite strange in some cases!

They were indeed. Fortunately I speak French so I didn't have to resort to them. The one I did read in English was verging on unintelligible in parts. One tiny blip in an otherwise superbly organised event.