Whitson in the Jura - 22nd-3Oth May 1992

THE TEAM:        Charlie & Jo Spurr, Lee from the Gas Board, Margaret Beresford, Pete Hall, Andy Hall, Carl Atkinson & Sue, Chris Kinghorn, Liz Daniels, Mick and Barry from the YSS, Bob Johnson & Ros (YSS) Pete & Olwyn Birch/Seed.

I was a late entry into the Jura ‘92 Expedition having only decided to go the Monday prior to leaving, after alot of gripless indecision. After walking to the motorway I arrived by thumb power at the motorway services by 4pm, where the Atkinsonmobile (or Atmobile) found me dozing on my rucsac a little later. Atman and his able assistant ‘Omble proceeded to throw all their gear out into the car park and then in and o* of the car while the passers-by and I looked on in amazement This was when I found out why there was such a restriction on my personal gear. Not, as I had suspected, due to the mountains of tackle required for those deep French potholes, but for Carl and Sue’s very fine and extensive array of camping equipment and furniture, including a weeks supply of food. My small rucsac looked rather spartan by comparison and was squeezed into a corner of the cavernous boot, whilst I was squeezed into a small corner of the cavernous back seat (also mostly hi of gear). The Journey was really rather tedious, only being interrupted by:

1) Occasional snaking and swaying of the car whilst passing some lorries. We promptly checked the tyres after about 250 miles to find that they had about 5 psi in them.

2) A severe traffic jam in Kent which almost caused Carl to blow a fuse and resulted in half a mile of reversing along the motorway, getting lost, etc.

We arrived in Dover with ten minutes to spare and cruised onto the ferry with no problems at all. Queues at the bar were by-passed by a trip to the duty-free shop where some one litre mini-kegs were found and consumed. Whilst the Spurr team bombed off through France, Germany, etc overnight the more leisurely Atmobile stopped for a doss at Calais with Atman and ‘Orrible sleeping on someone’s front lawn. Although it was a balmy night and most of us couldn’t get into our pits for sweating, Carl in his Buffalo bag had to get into the car ‘cos he was cold!” In the morning the owners of the aforementioned lawn came out and instead of kicking us out as they might do in Britain, they invited us in for breakfast.
A Morris Minor infested drive got us to Ormans by 5pm. This small town, 20 miles south-east of Besancon on the road to Lausanne, is on the banks of the river Loue in the eastemmost part of France. It isn’t in fact in the Jura region but in the neighbouring region of Franche Comte which was one of the ancient principalities of that area. The countryside is not generally spectacular being a limestone plateau about 1500 feet above sea level cut up around the edges by deep gorges with some monster resurgences, many of which have been penetrated by cavers but many of which haven’t. This makes It a popular destination for cavers and divers alike from all over Europe.

After getting some jock at the supermarche, we retired to the campsite to find the Spurr team sleeping it off after a heavy day in the pub. The Kinghorn team, a day ahead of the rest of us, presently came back from the Reseau de Bief Bousset at Deservilliers. They got down quite a way but were hafted by a 20 foot pitch which they didn’t have a rope for. Had they been able to continue they could have completed a traverse to the lower entrance of the 30 km Reseau de Vemeau system at the village down the hill. However this is a major epic, and was rather beyond the scope of our dossers holiday. After a brief excursion to the Bar des Pecheurs, we went to bed.

In the morning we bumped into a large crowd of people we knew including many from the TSG, CDG, Chelsea CC, etc. It really was a home from home and was very useful as they knew the area and were able to advise us and give us information and surveys they had gathered to supplement the meager guide books. A particular character on the campsite was RB. Smith from the TSG who was duly awarded The Miserable Bastard award. Rarely have I seen anyone enjoy being miserable as much as that man!

After much bumbling about tackle was thrown into cars and we set off to another entrance of the Reseau de Vemeau system: the Gouffre de Baume de Cretes. From here the lower part of the system can only be reached by a long dive to emerge at the foot of the Gouffre de Bief Bousset but it gives access to the middle part of the Collecteur (main drain) with 2 km of excellent streamway, sumped at both ends.
It
was a cast of thousands but the various teams arrived at different times making for a fairly smooth trip. There was also a French team and a Belgian team who were already down making for rather a lot of knitting on the 40 metre entrance pitch. A large descending chamber with huge stals led down to a candle-lit chamber with some climbs and afive metre pitch. After some dallying, a twelve metre pitch led into an inlet which we followed throL4l climbs, crawls, pools, traverses and a boulder choke until we met the others and the Belgians at the final 15 metre pitch into the main drain. The rigging team had forgotten to bring a rope for this but had used the Belgians’ rope, so we set off down the French rope intending to see the streamway. We looked at the muddy downstream section first and were just about to set off upstream (the best bit) when the Frogs arrived and we had to go back. To add to our embarrassment at using their rope, Andy promptly got strung up at the top and had to be assisted by them, while I cringed and made excuses in my best French at the bottom. The French lads had been digging an upstream sump by-pass which, if successful will create a great exchange trip and open another few kilometres of streamway.

After various epics on the way out during which Andy gained some grip at the expense of Cart, we emerged to a beautiful sunny evening and after dining on the leftovers of the Spurr team who always cooked far too much, we spent another night at the pub, this time with the Belgian team.

On Monday, fired by a breakfast of Cassoulet de Port again, which is a Farm-style breakfast in a tin with hot dogs, beans and bacon, we set off for the Grotte de Malatiere, which is about an hour’s drive away to the north-east. At the bottom of the twenty-foot entrance pitch were two ways on. The Galerie Nord was a short stomp reminiscent of Gnome Passage in OFD II to a passable calcite choke and another which wasn’t The other way, the Galerie Sud was another short stomp to a steep calcite slope which we attempted unsuccessfully to climb. However an alternative led off through some crawls and after a few red herrings we emerged at the Galehe du Metro, so called for its resemblance, in size at least, to the Paris underground railway system. Whilst the others stomped the remaining kilometre to the end, Liz, Kinghom and I explored the Reseau Actif or streamway. This is one of the muddiest experiences I’ve had slithering up and down mud slopes and wading through waist-deep quicksand. Liz got out of it by deliberately throwing the stopper of her carbide lamp into a pool of water and insisting on finding it. We emerged like chocolate snowmen and the rest were deterred. After a quick run down to the end of the Galerie du Metro we set off out along an easier-looking short cut on the way out but it turned out to be two passages overlapping on the survey.
After an exciting drive
back in the Kinghonmobile we had a few bevvies at the campsite. Most of us drank the 25 d bottles but Foghorn was on the one-litre bottles - and he drank just as many!

The next day we chose the Gouffre de Paradis (Paradise Pot). After a struggle getting enough tackle together we arrived at the entrance. The survey looked inviting with numerous short pitches and climbs followed by two fifty-metre pitches. Then Carl found a description in English in the Chelsea journal containing the words ‘tight’, ‘awkward’, ‘rift”, etc. That was when the mutiny started. The first to go was Margaret at the first pitch:

‘I’m going out, my lamp’s broken’

‘What’s up with it?’ we shouted up.

‘Oh! the flame’s a bit small’

‘Well gerrit down ‘ere an’ we’ll fettle it for you.’

‘Oh no it’s alright thanks!’, she muttered making a fast exit

Barry got stuck at the first narrow bit, closely followed by Jo at the next narrow bit. Andy was put off by the next pitch and then there were three: Charlie, Lee and I and we didn’t have enough tackle to get to the bottom. However we carried on along a smooth tight rift, rather like squeezing through double glazing until Charlie, who was behind me muttered: ‘Oh no! his boots have gone horizontal again.’ The mutiny was complete and we sweated our way back to the entrance. A bit of a disappointment.

The early bath led to a bit of a piss-up at the campsite, although we were very restrained about annoying other campers even with our illustrious chairman present.
The next day, Wednesday, dawned
bright after the thunder of the previous couple of days Most people were unenthusiastic about caving after the previous days misery and a walk up onto the plateau from the campsite was planned as well as some climbing on local crags. However the masochistic amongst us, namely Liz and myself, decided to attempt the local Grotte de Chauveroche. After borrowing wetsuits that we could barely squeeze into we set off for the entrance, ably guided by Charlie and Lee, who had jogged round there one morning before breakfast!!??!

In the entrance chamber, a Valley Entrance type duck with a gale blowing out of it led to 1.3 km of staggering about on slippery and/or deep mud. Another lower duck in liquid mud and a boulder choke led to the start of the streamway in the Galene des Gours. We grabbed some inner tubes and plunged into three kilometres of deep wading interspersed with climbs over gour dams and occasional swims. 204 gour pools the guide book informed us (or was it 402?) so we were very glad of the inner tubes. At the confluence we chose the longer left-hand branch which led through a smaller section with stooping and deep potholes in the floor. We were well over 4 km in when we emerged into more walking streamway with occasional boulder falls and Liz was complaining that she wanted to turn round, but I forced her on. We eventually arrived at the sump of Lac Rond (Round Lake) after 4 hours and 6.3 km. The return journey was tiring and Liz was cold but we emerged at 10 pm just as Charlie and Lee, like two St. Bemards dogs came looking for us with bottles of beer, most of which they had drunk on the way up. The trip proved to be the highlight of my week.

The deterrent effect of the Grotte de Paradis had been under-estimated and most people still weren’t ready for caving, so they went for a walk over the high Jura mountains in Switzerland with fine views of the Alps but heavy thunderstorms. Chris and I set off to Soye again to tackle the highly-recommended Gouffre de Pourpevelle. A German encampment was at the entrance and a sunbathing whale informed us that ten people were already down t’ole. So we staggered down the first two pitches (10m and 60m) avoiding the knitting and navigated using a survey which wasn’t the least bit waterproofed by a tobacco packet along the Reseau Sud until we came face to face with the Bosche, six of them swimming up and down a deep canal. They informed us that they were going back due to lack of bottle so, getting a little chilly in our furry suits we steamed through the gour pods which got progressively closer to the roof until the last two were low ducks emerging at the top of a free climbable 15 foot pitch.

At the bottom alternate walking and crawling and wading with lots of gours led us into a complex area where we got totally lost before realising that we were trying to follow a short cut on the survey which was two overlapping passages! More fast progress and we met a French team who gave us directions through the complex connection to the Pourpelui II series. After getting lost again we staggered out into the long-awaited big stuff first exploring the very beautiful Avenue Sud then going north through an impressive gour-floored phreatic tube to the Baniere Blanche (White Barrier). We left the Galene Boueux (Muddy Passage) because the French team had said it was a load of crap.

We romped out in a fraction of the time it took to get in because we wanted to get warm before the canal. We overtook the French team who were having trouble with a knackered novice and enjoyed some more well-earned beer back at the ranch.
On our last day of caving an early start was essential so as not to miss the meal in a restaurant in Ornans in the evening. Needless to say we didn’t get one and by mid-afternoon just about managed to stagger over to the Gouffre de Ia Baume a 100m deep shaft dropping into a big chamber with a beautiful lake and a waterfall at the bottom. We were very fortunate to find a team of Belgians down there who were making a video film and had some very powerful lights to see the chamber
Most of us
had had plenty to drink before arriving at the riverside restaurant, and a reasonable, it somewhat expensive meal rounded off the week in a fine fashion. On Saturday morning we set off on the long journey home which was boring, apart from the tyre blow-out on the motorway and a brief excursion into central London for no apparent reason.

I would thoroughly recommend a trip to this, one of Europe’s finest caving regions, as there is plenty to do for people of all standards, it is not too far away and the beer is very good.

Pete Hall.

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