Gouffre Berger (YSS 06)
Thursday 3rd August - James and George
A long trip worthy of a long report!
Thanks to a massive and well co-ordinated effort by various members of the YSS the cave had been rigged down to the bottom in a couple of days. James and I decided to attempt our bottoming trip as soon as possible in order to take advantage of the good weather and dry conditions, which were sadly not forecast to continue (and so they didn't!).
Having done a tackle ferrying trip down to The Hall of the Thirteen on Monday we reckoned that it would probably take us about 3hrs at most to reach the surface from Camp 1, and that therefore it was probably not worth camping, or taking camping gear underground. We spent Wednesday sat around in the car park at the top of the hill manning the telephone and Ã¢â‚¬Ëœconserving energy' (i.e. lounging around in our sleeping bags, eating and drinking (beer and water!)) The plan was to get up bright and early at 6.00am so that we could be down the hole by 7.00am, and if everything went to plan get out of the cave before 9.00pm. We would then be able to walk back to the car park whilst it was still light and get a lift back down to the campsite.
However, like all the best plans things didn't exactly run smoothly and it started raining shortly before midnight and didn't stop until 9.00am. Colin (Berger guru) turned up and advised us that the forecast was for conditions to improve and that it would probably be fine underground. Finally at 10.30am after a wet and windy walk we finally set off for the bottom.
The entrance series is very easy on the way down, the meanders only really provide any sport when you're knackered after a hard trip. Aldo's is an excellent pitch in a large shaft and we were relieved to find it bone dry. Shortly afterwards the cave changes completely as you enter the impressive Grande Galerie, and the Starless River Passage. Just before Lake Cadoux (dry) I had a bit of a slip and bounced about 8' down some boulders and landed in a heap at the bottom. James looked a bit concerned and found an alternative route down but fortunately I was only mildly shaken and resolved to be a bit more careful in the future.
After 1.5hrs of easy but spectacular progress we reached Camp One and dumped a selection of dry clothes in case of emergency on the way out. We continued on our way armed with a water bottle, 20 cereal bars (a bargain at 5p each from Geant!), a spare battery and some puri-tabs each. We were quite disciplined about food and water and made sure that we drank 0.5l of water and ate a cereal bar per hour. After about the 15th cereal bar they really wanted to make me chunder so I might splash out on some slightly more sophisticated nutrition for the next big trip! The puri-tabs seemed to do the trick and neither of us suffered form the infamous Ã¢â‚¬ËœBerger Stomach'. Boiling the water would therefore appear to be rather unnecessary.
After the magnificent Hall of the Thirteen we progressed into unknown territory, but fortunately the route finding is straight forward and we were soon down at the canals. We both waded/swam/frigged these in order to save a bit of time and energy. The water seemed positively tropical compared to the delights of Snorkel Cave the previous week anyhow. After this the cave changes character completely and you enter a high rift with sporting cascades and deep pools. I thought this was by far the best bit of the cave as it has the feel of a proper Yorkshire Pot'ole about it. After the rather chilly, and distinctly intimidating Claudine's pitch we emerged in the start of the Grand Canyon. I wasn't particularly happy about slithering down the 200m mud bank but we both arrived safely at the bottom to find a survey at Camp 2. Not far to go now I thought!
After a few more pitches we arrived at the Baignoire, which is a low duck. This looked a little damp even for James's tastes and so we scuttled off through the boulders to the right to emerge back in the streamway. At the top of Hurricane Pitch we caught up with Ingrid, Pete and Peter who had camped at Camp 1 that night. We both suddenly felt much jollier once there were other people around. Once past the 1000m inlet (should that be the 1100m inlet?) Peter, James and Myself were all keen to visit the sump so we climbed up to the divers camp and back down into the pseudo-syphon. There was no sign of any boats so we started swimming making ample use of the walls and various bits of tat. After a short duck and a bit of drier passage we finally reached the less than impressive sump pool Ã¢â‚¬â€œ woohoo! (Except that not wanting to tempt fate nobody dared say it.)
The journey out was interrupted by a bit of intense excitement for James on the Grand Cascade pitch when his central MR came undone and one of his legloops fell out whilst 15m off the floor. He looked rather pale once he reached the top but regained his composure remarkably quickly all things considered. Once the recalcitrant MR had been well and truly cranked shut using my stop we continued on our journey out.
We had a half hour stop at Camp 1 on the way back for some delicious (really!) burger and beans and an incomprehensible chat on the Nicola phone (apparently the surface phone had got soaked.) The entrance pitches proved quite tiring on the way out and I was glad of the meanders, which provide a welcome rest from prussiking. Cairn pitch was noticeably damp on the way back up so we weren't surprised when we reached the surface to find that it was raining, windy, misty and dark. The trip had taken 14hrs, which was a bit longer than I was expecting, but we certainly weren't rushing. Unfortunately the worst (by far) was yet to come. We had to trek 3 miles in the dark, uphill, back to the car park. This is a bit of grim blur, but the feeling of getting into a warm dry pit will stay with me for a very long time!
Thanks to everybody who made the trip possible (Colin in particular!)