I didn't actually get down any of these!

Lack of tackle, time, caving companions and uncertainty about what I'd be getting into on a solo trip put paid to any opportunity to see what it's like underground.

I hung around the Fontaine de l'Ours on several days hoping to blag a trip on someone's ropes, but no one showed.

Eventually I ran into the French cavers who I guessed were camping at the Fontaine - but as luck would have it they were just packing up to leave! They gave me a beer and showed me a massive book on the system (the size of a healthy encyclopaedia volume!), but they didn't have a survey. There were lots of 'tres joli' s thrown into the Franglais, but the state of their oversuits wasn't at all tres joli . Jean Marc had an obsession with the system, his wife told me with a resigned smile; it seemed every holiday she'd had for the last twenty years was to this damp, dark spot in the forest! They were from Marseille so it says something about the system if he thumbs his nose at all the pickings closer to home..


The Setting

The Terrain

The Caves

above: in the Grotte de Bourousse (photo © Stephan Boyer)

below: 30m pitch in the Gouffre Pyrrenois (photo © Stephan Boyer)

Impressions from this meeting, and from reading Stepane Boyer's guide to some of the caves (eventually tracked down in a souvenir shop in St.Girons) is of something quite similar to Ease Gill/Pippikin/Lost John's but with rather more pitches - some of them upto 140m.

The system has some 37 interconnected entrances spread between the Gouffre de la Coquille at 1447m and the Gouiel dy Her, the rising, at 486m. So almost a 1000m deep and well over 90 kilometres long.

There appear to be any number of exchange trips possible, from easy to desperate, the hardest part possibly being to find the entrances!

'Etroitures' crop up quite frequently in the guidebook - squeezes! So misery merchants should feel well at home.

The nature of the terrain also suggests that anyone wanting to do some jungle bashing may be rewarded with a new find, as there are probably countless unfound holes. I came across a recently opened hole with signs of fresh digging and a rope tied to a tree disappearing into it. This was only 20m from the main path! The gale coming out of this would blow your hat off.

above: pleasantries in Pene Blanque (photo © Stephan Boyer)

left: unpleasantries in the Gerbaut River (part of the big through trip) (photo © Stephan Boyer)

Overview | The Setting | The Terrain | The Caves