Vercors, August 2008: Cap n Chris n Menacer's tale

cap n chris

Well-known member
Menacer and Dr. W were ahead of me having travelled out on the Friday; no change there, then, with me playing "catch up"! I had some work to finish up before I could unleash myself on an unsuspecting part of Europe where I had been reliably informed caves were to be found.

Boarding sleazyJet was a bit of a palaver as they took exception to my SRT kit within hand luggage, claiming that it was clearly going to be used to restrain the cabin crew and pilots and allowing it within easy reach of someone like myself was a death warrant for all on board. So, re-checking-in was required and the whole sleazyJet chav queue had to be re-experienced. Not being obese obviously singles one out as a dangerous weirdo in this day and age.

The remarkably short flight to Geneva was only memorable for the alarmingly wobbly touch down and the discovery that an airport had been built straddling a border between two nations, thus requiring a passport to check through customs merely to walk between toilets and a shop. Arrival coincided neatly with Menacer forgetting something.

Within a couple of hours I had been remembered and the drive down towards Grenoble was very picturesque - marvellous scenery and impressive, gosh - yes, very impressive - mountainous landscape. Just like not England; in fact, it was just like this part of France. Oh, yes.

Supplies were sought and bought in Grenoble before the winding road past Sassenage in our sporty hire car took us towards Wessex Base Camp at Autrans; a little piece of England, neatly laid out with territorial placards and a serried row of impressive tents. Ours was in the corner; after tumbling into this new life and having some nosh and a wash, the evening port of call beckoned in the form of the Speleocamp HQ at Lans-en-Vercors, some 10km away at the end of a rollercoaster route. We took thick coats as assurances of freezing conditions during dark were delivered in hushed tones.

Thus it was that I soon found myself in a monstrous tent, for which binoculars were necessary to survey the entire scene, sat alongside the good, the gooderer and the beautiful comprising a Eurovision Throng contest sporting an array of kempt and unkemptness; - assuming the unkemptness spoke English often worked although, truth be told, English is now the first language in most nations especially when accompanied with wild and rapid gesticulating and mild shouting; After watching some caving films and a couple of bijou sippettes of Vin I was hastily dragged away as an embarrassment to humanity.

Caving Day One:

Up with the lark to a mist-laden landscape which instantly became nuclear and crystal-clear within seconds of the sun lapping over the distant mountainous scarp, immediately rendering tent-dwelling among the most unpleasant and desperate of pastimes. Finding the canvas sauna insufferable prompted finger-removing and sock-hoiking and a registration visit at the Cavers Going Underground HQ, again at Lans-en-Vercors - then a wilderness experience on the road to Herbouilly to locate, with the aid of GPS, a car park in maquis-land where giant wood ants gnaw your ankle flesh and strip entire forests in milliseconds just like that bit in the most recent Indiana Jones quadrilogy.

Thus began a near-fruitless search for our premier cave of Gour Fumand. Machetes would have helped.

We got there in the end. (Only we didn?t; but we didn?t know that at the time - we had actually found a different cave entrance known as Faux Gour).

The cold breeze emanating from the cave tempted us out of the searing morning oppression and the sweat soon evaporated from the exertions of donning t?SRT kit. A slippery but simple climb and handlined hole led immediately to a roped traverse over a deep pit and a pitch head which we kinda-assumed was P12 followed by P16 but, in retrospect, was P17 and P9.

From here on we were pretty much lost for the most of the rest of the trip, finding that we had clearly packed the wrong survey or that the surveyors were numpties, illiterate, ?havin? a laff? or someothersuch reason why our otherwise normally excellent caving route-finding prowess was presently lying in a feeble tatter with little hope for survival. Clearly the survey was in need of fleshing out with useful details. Any details would have done, really. On this we were both agreed.

Undaunted by this, we ignored the survey and continued by utilising the cavers? braille technique of following the smooth bits, interspersed with blatent clues in the form of rigged pitches. And there were many. Far more than the survey had. Hah! We were doing great.

A variety of pitches, meandering scalloped stream way, gours (big and little), cascades, flowstone, flat-roofed chambers, big chambers, small chambers, more pitches, climbs, stoops and traversing soon led us to a small chamber where two kit bags appeared to have been abandoned. We could smell carbide so someone had been this way recently. No sign of them, though. Hey ho! - still with SRT kit on we decided to follow a narrow rift which had some attractive formations and which soon opened out into meandering stream way but with a feature of some dauntiness. Deep water. Erm?. Thrutch/climb up into a higher area and we saw some amazing tat which was pretending to be a traverse line but this obviously wasn?t part of the SpeleoFestival rigging as it wasn?t clean and recent. Erm? are we off route? - no way of telling `cos the survey is for the wrong cave (this had become our fervent belief by this stage); looking at the time we reckoned we had done quite enough and re-glancing at the black deep water below us and the widening and committing manoeuvres required to continue meant that discretion and valour had a fleeting tryst before discretion beat the crap out of the latter.

Shortly after we began heading back and taking photos here and there, we bumped into a group of four French speleos, sporting an array of natty gear, and one with a moustache of hilarious proportion; our broken conversation elicited confirmation that there was a chamber we hadn?t found yet, Chinese Dragon, and it was pretty and worth a detour.

The detours began in earnest until we bumped into our returning group of four who had been to look at the deep water where we had turned around, as that signifies the end of the trip unless you are equipped with little inflatable dinghies (we had got that bit right, then. Cool!). We had no shame at not having found the amazing wondrous delights of the Chinese Dragon pagoda palace of crystal dreams and the gentlemen, yet again, attempted to explain there was a simple climb up on the left just along the passageway ?La??.

So, attaining the place known as ?La? we furtled and fossicked and furtled some more before counting our failed detours with some pride. By accident I found the way on, up an awkward but short climb on the left just down the passageway ?La?.

The unamazing formations resulted in a handful of one word comments and a single desultory photograph to prove we had been here. We woz expecting more than this. NevermindEh!

Then began our back-tracking through the cave which was all straightforward except that where we had descended pitches with other tantalising ropes hanging down from alternative high chambers, we elected to take these secondary roped routes just to see where they led; no sooner had we ascended the first pitch than we began bumping into more cavers descending so a degree of queuing and sharing was required but all accompanied by some jolly politeness. Some Italians, then some Germans, then some English, after three pitches we retraced our route to the first main pitch we had descended much earlier and thus ended our trip into Faux Gour/Gour Fumant. A fine cave but a somewhat slightly less than fine survey.

Rushing to avoid the ants, we hurtled through the forest back to the car and then got out the sat nav to help find the next cave - Scialet du Pot du Loup: from the topo it was clear that Rhino Rift had gone on holiday to France simultaneously with us.

Finding the entrance was pretty straightforward but we soon realised that we were at the smaller of two entrances but thought that we could come out of the second one thus making another little through trip. Heyho. Up a simple step and along a tunnel to a daylight shaft (the rope entrance) and then ascend a short pitch leading to the main split 49m pitch, 37m then 12m deviating down an exceptionally slippery clay/mud slope. The pitch head was awkward with a free hanging rebelay some few metres from the start but otherwise an impressive free hang in a huge shaft with walls of flowstone dropping away into the abyss. For this trip I had decided to forget my gloves thus giving my hands a nice sheen from the abseiling. I had also left my head-warming scarf behind as I wished to get chilly and shiver in this cold cave, on purpose.

Once down we set about the next simple 10m pitch whereupon two Italians were at the pitch head coming up the final 12m pitch, the man advising a terrified woman on how to get off another awkward pitch head via an aid traverse. She seemed very slow; alarm bells rang that we were descending while they were ascending and judging by the evidence, a mini-epic lay ahead for her on the big pitch they were approaching?.

Nothing we could do, really, so we continued our descent of the final pretty pitch and a splish around in the lake at the bottom of the cave, enjoying the echoes but not the cold!

Up the first pitch and some good moves quickly achieved negotiating the traverse line and Menacer unsurprisingly followed ably; then the 10m pitch whereupon our wait began as the crying/whimpering woman had barely begun her ascent of the 49m pitch, scrabbling and squirming ineffectively as she attempted to prusik up the clay slope; the cold was noticeable and so we huddled together for a while.

Surprisingly it only took a further quarter of an hour for the bleating to end and for the word ?Libre? to be heard echoing down the shaft from above. Brill! Our turn. Uneventfully, and soon very warm, we arrived at the surface, with a few photos taken for the album en route.

Thus ended today?s caving and my introduction to the Vercors underground. The evening comprised some nattering and wine again at Lans-en-Vercors, but not necessarily in that order.

Caving Day Two:

Today?s mission was to locate and descend Scialets Neufs; the hard bit was finding it - about an hour of driving along vertiginous mountain roads and then through pretty valleys and villages to a layby indicated as correct by GPS. Then Menacer located a path which looked likely and we bashed our way overland and through maquis and forest to a rather obvious looking hole after about half an hour. It was rigged, therefore we had arrived. A blow-by-blow description wouldn?t read well for this trip so I?ll just include the highlights - nice entrance shaft (first abseil of 16 in all) leads to another whereupon ice formations abound!

Then a descent through a tunnel and a series of short technical descents to a 30m pitch to a small lake over which one straddles to a blasted tunnel and a cascade of pitches down impressive flowstone of 8m, 17m, 12m, 37m and 65m.

The highlight of the trip was most definitely waiting at the bottom of this immense shaft watching Menacer up in the distance descend with one of Biff?s lights attached to her helmet illuminating the glistening walls thus enabling an appreciation of the scale of the place all at once. Fabulous.

Our descent was smooth and efficient and took an hour and twenty minutes; somewhat surprisingly this was the same time our return to the surface required! A brilliant trip. Personally I wouldn?t care to rig this cave though! - but definitely a top tick if there is a similar opportunity in future. Heartily recommended for string-lovers.

The evening show was 3D caving photography, accompanied with ice cream and wine.

Day Three: return to Geneva and fly back pronto to Mendip and our beloved little underworld.


Haha great write-up Chris, I really enjoyed it. Picture of the amazing moustache???

cap n chris

Well-known member
This style, but much more of it, covering his mouth completely!....


T'was COOOL!


Active member
Menacer and Patricks Tales.

We were out a couple of days before Chris.

We'd arrived late Friday afternoon, having successfully rv'd at the airport to pick up the car.
Patrick flying in from Liverpool me from Bristol we landed within 20mins of each other.....

As we entered the Vercors the skies darkened and the rain began, followed by thunder, then lightening then more rain of monsoon ferocity......
not only did we still have to put up the tent, we needed to first locate the tent from Ian, who was bringing it across from matienzo!!!

but first I had to locate Tom and sarah.....they had my caving kit......

Blessed with Good fortune we met Tom and Sarah and then Ian (in a bar, more good fortune) then all headed to register with the conference......easy peasy.....
next to meet; the wessex at the camp site were we lodged the evening in Ian Timneys tent, sampling the finest french red wines until the rain stopped......

Saturday morning early.....Trou Qui Souffle to Saint en Glace was on the menu. by 0815 we were registered to do our trip by 11am we were down the cave.

Patrick in Trou Qui

Me in Trou Qui

A slight deviation we thought we'd check out Puits Cigale......and ignore the bit where it says go left before the pitch......approx 50m later we realised our error and had to prussik all the way back up..........that left hand turn we missed leads to laminoire bassine.....fortunately we are still smiling.....

Laminoir Bassine

Laminoir Bassine

There is a snug fit squeeze in this area, unmentioned in the topo many unwary cavers had to turn around at this point.....I mearly had to remove the camera from the front of my oversuit, the SRT kit stayed on.....

Meander Francois followed, muddy slippy traversing with a smattering of desents that went on and on and on and on.....

Junction between the two caves...

Recommend the crawl to the left (out of picture) not the thrutch up the rope.....

Des Marmites....

My favorite bit, whilst in England I hate marmite, the french ones are fab...

Leaving the salle Hydrokarst

We'd caught upwith a group of 6 singing Frenchies at this point, by default they led the way out through the toboggan route etc were it seems many other uk cavers got a tadski lost.....
Many other groups were descending into the cave by now so no more pics due to the excess steaminess...... :cry:

Fab through trip, and fun company with the group ahead of us.....



Active member
Sunday we planned to do the Anciens to Christian Gattier through trip.......Through trips being the theme of Patricks 2 day whistle stop vercors tour....
The friday Monsoons had delayed the rigging of this through trip until Sunday.
With the riggers booked in at 8am on the sunday morning we opted for a 10 am start which was delayed till midday on the basis that lots of alcohol was probably consumed on the first night of the conference.....not by us of course but by the guys who were due to rig it......

So feeling rather smug that delaying our start time was probably a good thing to do, we set trudging up, a most disagreable, red ski run which was supposed to be the area in which des anciens could be found, armed with map and description, in the midday sun.....

Near the top of said red run we perchanced upon some fellow speleoloigists......ah bonjour.....coment tally all that stuff......

More Franglais ensues, where upon we discover that they too are doing the Anciens to Christian Gattier through trip......only trouble is.......
they are the rigging team.........and they want to know if WE know where the cave is!!!!!!

So we all split up and continue looking for the elusive entrance.......

2hrs later Patrick and I give up, the others have disappeared, so we opt to do the exit trip only Christian Gattier.....but what a beaut it is...








The next day we meet up with the rigging team who did eventually find the entrance . There had been an  error on the map and description, now corrected, so subsequently,  hopefully, no one else had problems finding it.......

They had whistled (as pre arranged before we split up into search teams) but we were too far away to hear........

We will return....... (y)