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11/4/01 – 21/4/01 – EASTER TRIP TO FRANCE

Present: Al, Jenny, Natalie, Martin, Anthony, Julia, Andy (DUSA and ex-DUSA)
Mark, Steve, Tony, Olly, Letty, Matt, Crispin (CUCC)

11/4/01 – Driving to France

Present: Al, Jenny, Natalie, Martin

We woke up at 3am in Corby (my parents house) and Al’s car drove us very quickly to Dover, so fast in fact that we got an earlier Hoverspeed crossing. I learnt very quickly how to drive a diesel and a car that isn’t about to fall apart. The Seacat crossing was a bit horrible.

We got to Calais at about 9am and drove South (well Al did, we sat in the car) for a long time. We passed the time by playing exciting games like ‘I spy… rain, mist, road, car…’ we realised we were very tired but had very good imaginations… Eventually we left the autobahn and headed west to the Ardèche, we got there fine, except for the last down hill with many hair pin bends, where the brakes failed a bit, but it was all okay in the end, and we got to the campsite and slept a lot.


11-14/4/01 – Julia’s trip to France

11th April  
11:45am Peizheng College to Chini Pedicab
12:10pm Chini to Guangzhou Bus
1:30pm Guangzhou to Shenzhen Posh bus with free water and film
4:00pm China Hong Kong border
5:30pm Wu to Tsuen Wan MTR (underground)
12th April  
4:30am Tsuen Wan to HK International Airport Bus
8:10am HK to Singapore 747 Singapore Airlines
12:35pm Singapore to London Heathrow Singapore Airlines 747
UK time  
8pm Heathrow to New Crossgate Sainsburys Anthony’s Fiat Uno
11:30pm New Crossgate to Walton on Thames National Breakdown truck
13th April 
10:30am Walton on Thames to Dover Posh hire car
2:45pm Dover to Calais Sea France ferry
5:15pm Calais to the Ardèche Posh hire car
14th April 
3:30am Arrive in the Ardèche



12/4/01 – Grotte du Soldat

Present: Mark, Steve, Olly, Letty, Tony, Al, Jenny, Martin, Natalie

After a suitable nice lengthy sleep we drove a bit more, and got to a nice place on a hill by a river. We rushed about for a bit, eventually finding the entrance, and went in, with Sungems (TM) and all, although some people opted for full caving suits, presumably those who have been subjected to Mark S.’s camera sessions. Crawled in past a few puddles of wine and a couple of stals, eventually reaching a big chamber, with narrow crawl and passage leading off, both reaching an area of incredible prettiness, with amazing collonade-esque formations.  people with cameras took photos, those who didn’t, didnt. Those of us who ran out of film did then didn’t. A second, French club kindly joined us and rigged a traverse along into another large chamber topped with an aven which appeared to be blocked at the top with a very large lump of rock which might have fallen off the top, higher up, but now blocks the aven.  Some grotty low passages also went out, but choked up with mud quickly.  We then went back out, got caught up in the photo group, and Jenny was brave and heroic in holding a slave unit, then we went out into nice hot dry sunny France.  Hurrah for places that aren’t Yorkshire and are disease free.


One of the many photos taken

12/4/01 – Cave hunting!

Present: Olly, Mark, Jenny, Al, Natalie

Went looking for a cave near the GR4 adjacent to the Ardèche gorge.  The grid reference, map, GPS and description were all wrong, so after a few hours we gave up and went home.


13/4/01 – Aven des Neuf Gorges

Present: Natalie, Jenny, Letty, Al, Martin, Tony, Olly, Mark, Steve
Slackers: Anthony, Julia, Andy (who had arrived in the middle of the night before in a rather nicer car than expected)

We drove off road for a couple of miles, got lost, got found, looked for the cave, got lost, thrashed through the forest, got lost, thrashed some more, looked for the cave, found ourselves again, looked down a different path, thrashed, got lost, got found, thrashed about, gave up.  Found the right cave down a new path after about 4 hours and gave up and went home.


To be able to find the cave again, there was a map drawn up.

14/4/01 – Aven des Neuf Gorges (II)

Present: (rigging): Olly (very creatively rigging), Mark, Tony, Letty, Natalie.
               (derigging): Jenny, Steve, Martin, Al.

Very big pitches which we could see daylight down for a long long time led to a chamber with stalagmites and columns as tall as 2 or 3 Jennys.  After admiring the magic sparkling mushroom we went back out slowly while Jenny derigged.


Have a look at 4 of the photos that were taken.

15/4/01 – some caving and a walk in the gorge

Walking: Al and Jenny

Al & Jenny went for a walk in the gorge. Some people went caving and didn’t write the trip up.


16/4/01 – Prospecting

Present: Jenny, Al, Mark

On the hill behind the hut are a number of caves.  We made use of the lesson learned of the Neuf Gorges and the day before and went looking for them before wanting to cave in them.  We took a good while to find them, and found lots more than expected.  We also found the Not-the-Neauveaux de Vallon, which Jenny bravely went into without a light (but we didn’t know it was that cave then).  Sadly, the GPS was set to the wrong grid reference thingy, so there weren’t any references made.  We did, however, manage to draw up a nice map to enable them to be found again.


16/4/01 – Grottes des Chataigners

Present: Advanced rigging: Letty, Tony, Natalie (ie they went in first, the rigging wasn’t necessarily advanced)
             : Following on: Julia (don’t forget me), Jenny, Martin, Teacher, Al.

Yeah, caving. Er. Probably the rigging team should write first but who cares.  Parked and admired a British car that wasn’t ours.  Mendip-style walk in, except that it was up hill.  The first pitch was a slot at the top of a calcite slope (V.slippy) Cave-Yoga was involved to rig your stop and then insert yourself thru the slot.  The good thing about this cave was that it went up and down, pitches started at the bottom as well as the top.  Well, it was good for people who didn’t have to do the free climbing…  The big pitch was dead good.  It was in a rift and you could see peoples lights all along the length of the rift, including people wibbling on climbs a long way down and along the rift.  Later the wibbling reached major proportions when the up climbing became seriously hard.  I arrived to find Tony 10ft up a smooth verticalish flowstone climb trying to figure out where to go.  He got bored and let Al have a go.  I was fairly cold and dozed against Anthony, whilst Letty and Tony wrestled and Tony had his light decorated like a smiley face.  The next time I looked, Al was a lot vertically lighter, oops, wrong word.  I meant higher.  It was apparently very scary and epic and Al was very brave.  Eventually everyone jacked and went home, some in time for beer, some not.


Have a look at two of the photos.

17/4/01 Aven de Marteaux

Present: Al, Teacher, Julia, Jenny (being brave and heroic with teacher)

After searching for it yesterday, a group went to rig it and let others de-rig later in the week.

Rigged using the rock-bridge and a dubious spit, Anthony went first and rigged down the nasty entrance pitch, followed by Julia, Al, then Jenny.  There was a toad at the bottom of the entrance pitch, incidentally, who wasn’t looking like it had come down the pitch as firstly, there wasn’t a rope down it already, and thirdly Specialised Rope Toads haven’t been made by natural selection just yet.  Hung around (ho ho) for a while as Anthony rigged the first big pitch, complete with plenty of deviations and rebelays.  got to the bottom and looked about a bit and took photos of some stuff then looked for the next pitch.  Julia found the way on, (which is with the rope to your right walk ahead, ignoring the gaping entrance to the parallel rift and look for a small grotty hole on the right, leaving the chamber before a relatively easy climb down crosses the chamber.  Carry on along the grotty narrow passage and come to a vertical U bend bit followed by a squeeze.  The pitch is just the other side of the squeeze, which should be entered head first after backing up to a spit just before it), then Anthony got stuck in a U bend bit, above some 50m or so of not a lot, then decided against it and let Jenny have a go.  At about this time Julia and Al decided to get cold and went out.  Jenny and Anthony continued whilst Julia and Al went and played with a little resurgence in the middle of a river, built dams, listened to frogs and were rude to a German passer by, before going back to the hut for tea.


It was pretty and nice and there were V.Big hangy down and sticky  up things. (Al, aged 5 1/4 )

I watched Anthony get stuck and he didn’t look very happy.  I didn’t fancy getting stuck head first down a 55m pitch (apparently there was a ledge past the squeeze but they didn’t say).  The answer to my question “How was the squeeze?” was answered with “Big pitch”.  Julia and Al went out quickly and found a four inch diameter hole in the river bed – a resurgence only big enough for frog (as in the small amphibians) cave divers.


Jenny poked her head through the squeeze and spotted a substantial ledge about 2m down, which looked a lot more friendly that a 55m void, so she decided to have a go at rigging it and I followed.  I then sat around at the top of the pitch for a while listening to dire muttering about the state of the spits as Jenny searched for some spits that weren’t utterly shagged, with limited success.  Found some pretty stuff about halfway down the pitch and some more moderately pretty and big stuff at the bottom.  Ran around for a bit, then headed out.  Squeeze wasn’t too bad on the return trip once you found the handy foothold to brace against. Pottered out via a bit of re-rigging after I stuffed up a previously ok spit and had to rerig the rebelay higher up.


Have a look at four of the photos taken.

17/4/01 Goule de Foussoubie

Present: Tony, Letty, Natalie.

The wetsuit – attired explorers, Nat, Letty and Tony, set off to rig the cave.  Letty bravely swam forth to rig the swimmey bits, and Tony advised on the rigging, as Nat, with increasing uneasiness, observed the enormous trees glued to the ceilings 10 metres up.

Nat chickened out on the final swim and cascade and swim, so Tony and Letty rigged it quickly and they all ran back out.


18/4/01 Not-the-Neuvelle de Vallon

Present: Mark, Jenny, Al

We went to do the N-D-V and got to the cave Jenny tried a couple of days ago, we got in, then found the cave was about 3ft longer than Jenny had found earlier.  This cave looked like it should be dug out.  We got upset and looked for the real cave.  Mark found it, and we went into it.  Jenny and Mark found the pitch as Al’s light died (as a result of looking in 4 inch resurgences the day before), and was resurrected when the had found a few bolts, so Al went out into the sun to get a tan, being rather vain etc…  Jenny rigged two bolts and went down to the rebelay to find a nasty spit, decided not to rig on it, came back up and let Mark have a go.  Mark did the same and also got a little scared and came back up.  After giving them plenty of time to rig, Al returned to find a vast enthusiasm sink had removed all enthusiasm from the trip and the agreement was to leave.  We then found lots of spits to the rear of the pitch with a right good (TM) pair of spits for a y-hang in the centre.  Didn’t know how to get to it, but it looked grand.  We went home and a rough sketch of the cave was made and a photo of the entrance taken.


19/4/01 Aven de Noel

Present: Rigging: Some
              Coming second: Some others

Down down down big along big along up up up up up up up up.Al

This was a permit cave, the permit was because the cave is so pretty that it needs protecting.  After lots of ranting to decide who should go, we sorted it out.  Everyone went in convoy to the cave to stare down the hole and listen to all the instructions.  There was also a questionnaire all about the marking in the cave.  We discovered no rope for the entrance pitch (fixed ladder but it lead to the top of a 30m pitch) so AlnJenny drove back to the hut to get a rope.  It was an extremely long way down.  A nice friendly narrow 30m pitch was immediately followed by a 90m pitch BIG!  Julia was scared (China makes you gay).  It went down in several rebelays and got bigger and bigger.  The last hang was about 40m it was a long way from walls, floor, roof, everything was too far away.   My stop got hot and I burnt my hand.  The bottom was big and pretty and everything was pretty, even when there was no stals the walls sparkled.  There was tape and half the time you didn’t even want to walk between the tape.  In one place it looked like there were pebbles in the floor.  In fact you were walking over big crystals and the whole floor (passage was about 5m wide) was covered in these crystals.  There was lots of flowstone, naturlich, but lots of the stals were lumpy, or had extra bits growing out of them.  There were lots of rimstone pools.  Some of the gour pools were over 6 ft deep!!!  Never seen any that big before.  Didn’t think anyone had.  There were two short up climbs (we’d left string bits at the bottom of the pitch) the second one was about 10m up flowstone, via three rebelays, hard until Crispin showed me how to do a prussik knot with a sling.  At the top were two ways on, both fantastic, one with bat bones and more CO2 than the rest of the cave.  I was more knackered than I should have been because of the gas (not from my arse, there was a gas warning on the description).  very very pretty well worth protecting, tho’ there was already mud on wall outside the tape, its like Draenen, you have to fall inside the tape – the cave is too gorgeous to wreck, but the wrecking has already started.  On the way down the flowstone climb I classic abseiled (apparently) which meant doing rebelays whilst in motion.  Fun.  Got to the pitch with Tony and Letty, but then Crispin and Olly ran up and away since they were faster than me.  90m….  At the start I was out of breath due to farts, and I did the first bit really slowly but Anthony didn’t shout at me.  After I got used to it it was ok, tho’ my light fell off my helmet as I was passing a rebelay.  Not good. Ok, nothing else happened, I prussiked a lot and then the surface appeared (last bit from Dour, who is tired and wants to go to bed.)

Have a look at eight of the many photos taken.


20/4/01 Goule de Foussoubie

Present: Olly, Letty, Jenny (caving)
             : Tony, Al (Surface, photography)

After the usual time spent sleeping, eating, faffing, there was talk of rope washing.  This sounded boring so we left to rescue the ropes from the Foussoubie (‘The wet cave’).  We decided to ignore any storm / rain forecasts and hoped for the best weatherwise (though Tony did very heroically not cave and stay near the entrance ready to alert us to rain and Al, equally heroically didn’t cave and went shopping so that if it rained he could dump perfume / washing up liquid in the entrance).

Anyway, we got changed and went caving.  The swimming sections on the descent were not too intimidating as ropes were rigged across them and the water was less cold than in Yorkshire in winter ( I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was warm though…)  The first rope led down the surface pitch, through a pool and down again, more water led to the second pitch (this time a ladder), there were several more pitches all rigged out of the water and mostly out of the spray as well, the only damp pitch had a dry alternative rigged.

After wetness and downness we got to the end of the ropes and se off to explore further.  I now realised the error I had made in caving with Letty and Olly as they both have wetsuits and like water.

After a bit of cave, the water deepened and we swam again a bit, in a furry suit, oversuit and SRT kit this was a bit not nice and I was glad when I thought we would have to turn back when the ceiling lowered to get close to the water.  Sadly Letty swam through as did Olly so I decided to follow….. we swam more and I got more scared (thoughts of flash floods and us drowning or even a bit of rain and the duck sumping!).  I was a wuss and convinced the others there was no point in swimming for ever so we turned back.  The duck was still scary on the way back and whilst I was under water my shoulder dislocated…. very scary and sore… it undislocated on its own and I carried on swimming.  We got back to the bottom of the ropes and started our ascent.

Sadly the bottom tacklsac decided not to follow us out and swam away, so me & Letty had to carry the bottom ropes out with us ’til we got to the second tacklesac.     I was very relieved when 3 hours after entering we reached the surface and escaped alive.

incidentally it was very hot and sunny and the clouds had gone, so maybe we could have gone further… I have to admit I was glad when we didn’t.


20/4/01 Cave exploration

Present:     Natalie, Eric Sanson

Eric found a cave he’d “discovered” about 10 years earlier.  We crawled in, crawled along and squeezed through tatty, spider-filled formations.  Then we went into the basement : go down a hole in the floor and crawl underneath the floor.  A tight squeeze Nat just managed to get through, entering a part of the cave no one had ever seen before.  But now more people will be able to get through, because, Eric found it too tight.  After chipping away for 20 minutes, he decided not to attempt the squeeze (which ended in an even tighter squeeze; so no point).


21/4/01 The way home

Present: Everyone!!

After a rather late night, we arose rather early for a rather scary long drive.  Al drove for 4 hours, then Jenny drove for 4 hours then Al drove a bit then we went shopping and bought wine, spirits, soft drinks, strong cheese and bread and olive and Natalie bought odd pine flavoured sweeties.  Jenny got some shower gel to get clean again with.  Then Al drove to the ferry and we got there early, drove on despite incompetent looking marshalls and saw the bridge swarming with engineers.  At least this seacat was super, and didn’t have an Italian racing driver captain and hence it didn’t have to go to the vets (however, a suspicious bottle of prescription tablets was seen in between the controls of the boat, so perhaps it was the captain who had worms?).  We got back to the UK at the right time.  Jenny drove back to Corby while everyone fell asleep.  Arrived at 1.30am after setting off at 8.30 am. Sleeping arrangements were sorted rather rapidly, needless to say!


put link to photos here