Gouffre Berger 80

The embers of the fire glowed, and as the last dregs of wine were supped we gazed contentedly skywards. A perfect French night, cloudless & still, the skyline broken, by the silhouetted pines. Instantly our wandering thoughts were snapped back to real tine, as two shaded figures crashed through the shrubs towards us. ‘Parle vous Anglais?” one asked in a slurred northern accent. “We’re English,” we replied, recognizing the voice to be Franks. We chatted briefly about the size of the world and how strange it was to see us here, and then strolled over to the now rowdy Bradford Camp to help consume their cheap vino. Talking about the Berger and other smaller caves we soon became engrossed, until it seemed we were the only ones remaining, and so wishing them well we returned to our pits.

In Frank’s true style, I was abruptly woken with, “Hey, Rob, fancy a trip down the Berger?” “Er, Wot?” I replied, my brain cells still numb with shock from the rude awakening. “Er, Yes, Great, Mm,” I said, rolling over to where Gary lay, prodding him deeply in the ribs. In a second he was up, running around collecting his SRT gear together, a bowl of muesli in one hand, a jammer in the other.
From the cocooned inner depths of 3lbs. of down. Roger stirred, and then his imagination fired he too was up, hastily stuffing dried apricots & sardines into a bag of carbide. After breakfast we met Mark - a Bradford member, and the long walk to the entrance began. Through dense forest, down alpine meadows, over loose limestone pavements until at last the entrance was reached.

Several other people were descending and after changing and lighting our glowworm like stinkies, we followed suit. At the bottom of the entrance pitch a delay was encountered with about 6 B.P.C. members returning to the surface, once these lads passed we pressed on down. Pitch after pitch, encountering ice & rough limestone as we followed the route down. Shortly we reached Cairn Hall and the start of the stemple traverse. It was at this point I became detached from the other three, and after 10 minutes of desperate traversing, I realised I was on the wrong level. Glancing down, the stemples were some 30 feet below me. Descending, I quickly moved on to rejoin the others. Another pitch followed, then more traversing & more pitches until the classic Aldo’s Shaft was reached.
Some awkward manoeuvres here, necessitated a great lunge whilst bridging in the rift and a clamber to a ledge and the pitch head. This and the 180 foot abseil made it quite memorable, some perhaps would say horrific. It was great.Two shorter pitches of 30 feet led us .into a roomy chamber, no, this was a rift passage of immense size. Lake Cadoux, now dry was soon reached and then endless clambering over boulders, past forests of short, dumpy stals led us on to the Little Generals Pitch and several traverse lines rigged over cascades. The downward slope stopped and in front of us lay a large black expanse of jumbled boulders rising steeply out of view, - The Great Rubble Heap -. Up & up we climbed past dwarfing blocks and it seemed that infinity had been passed before the top was reached. Gary had warned me that just as you doubt the existence of Camp I, then you are half way there- I quite agreed with him. The progression was easier now as we wandered aimlessly into the depths of this immense cavern, then suddenly as the gradient lessened there it was, the subterranean slum of Camp 1. Jubilant; we rounded the corner into the Hall of the Thirteen.

A most amazing sight confronted us, gigantic stals, gleaming white ochre, set in a sea of deep green gour pools. We felt as if we had intruded into a sacred place of some underground dweller as we tip-toed about, awestruck at this stupendous work of nature.

A brew was put on in Camp 1 and soon steaming mugs of tea were handed around, washing down the luke warm pilchards served on a pair of surgical scissors & the French Mars “Le Mars Bars”. Depositing the food bags we had cherished on the journey in, we turned and started the long slog out. In high spirits, the cascades & boulders soon faded and we rested at the stal forest seen on the trip in.’ Somebody started laughing, and everyone else for some unexplainable reason followed, quite soon we were rolling about clutching our sides with hysterical laughter’. I still haven’t a clue to what the joke Was!! The first proper pitch on our return was Aldo’s and donning my “tried on1y once” Lewis ropewalkers, set off up. It was magic, 180 foot of superb effortless prussiking. Once again the acrobatics (aerobatics?) were encountered though it seemed easier this time.

As we moved on the conversation between us dwindled to Neolithic levels with grunts &.snorts at every pitch and as slowly they were passed and forgotten the passage became hazy, not stopping to. admire it we pushed on. Then as if to relieve the boredom the wire, on one of my ropewalkers disintegrated. Much cursing and work with pliers ensued, but I blame myself really - I pulled it too hard!

The icy draught from the surface could be felt now and the soft aroma of pine lingered im the studded alpine sky - We were out. Not daring to stop moving should the dark shadow of sleep leap upon us as we walked slowly to the campsite, the only sounds being footsteps and ghostly cowbells, carrying gently on the still air. Our thought’s alternating between food and the truly memorable days caving.

Thanks again, Frank

R. Franklin, G. Monaghan, R. Nunn.

 

 

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