Karhalzeta Ko Karbia††† (Pyrenees, France)

After a bastard week at work I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to go caving the very next day. With an offer like that I just could not refuse!
I was picked up just after 8 am by Le Coq. Real name: Lauren Le Coq, but is known to everyone as Le Coq. I can not think why but when his name was first mentioned to me all I could do was laugh. Anyway, Lauren (or should I say Le Coq) is a fireman at Laq and after picking me up we went to Jean-Claudes house, another fireman. Next stop was Pays local fire station where we picked up the caving equipment for the day. Down in the Pyrenees, and donít know if its the same in the Alps, the fire brigade have a special Speleo branch so that if there is ever a caving accident that branch do the rescue. Obviously, they are all experienced cavers.

We were finally on our way with a good one and a half hour journey ahead of us into the foothills of the Pyrenees and getting on to somewhere near Pierre St.Martin. The sun was sort of out, the view not so clear and it was quite cold. Earlier I had mentioned that in the Red Rose we never seemed to make it down a pothole before midday. Things donít work like that in France supposedly and they are normally underground by 9 am. or even earlier! We finally arrived at the place. The middle of nowhere (very typical) up a long, narrow, windy road which reminded me of the lane up to Bullpot Farm.

Once changed into our too clean looking caving gear we sat down for a bite to eat with a load of red wine at the same time. The cave entrance was about ten minute walk away and by the time we got underground it was basically midday. True Red Rose style!! I had been tent a carbide lamp and an enormous helmet as the French donít seem to like electric lights. It caused me problems from the start. The entrance is a soily bank which ends with a real low bit that you have to tie fiat out on your back to pass through. I got slightly stuck because of the helmet (honest!) but I soon got through. Jean-Claude went ahead to rig the first pitch of 40m while Le Coq stayed with me to make sure I got everything right. Having done that we rounded the corner, still on the rope and onto the next pitch of 75m. After this we walked/crawled along to the first proper tight squeeze. I thought ďNo problemsĒ as I am quite small but I was wrong. I got my head and both arms through without too much difficulty but then I got stuck due to all the SRT tackle. I felt like a constipated shit that didnít want to come out. In the end Le Coq had to pull me through despite the pain I had in my groin from alt the bits of metal sticking into me. And out I came - Plop! - and disappeared down the U-bend, in fact an extremely muddy bank which I slid down. We went on for a bit longer and through the next tight squeeze which I managed by myself this time and onto the next pitch.
A couple of pitches later we were near the bottom and it was time for a well earned fag and Mars bar break

My energy was starting to go so didnít go down into the streamway. Instead we traversed along for a while using a rope for protection, my problem for being too small! We descended into a chamber where there was a really nice pools and loads of formations but time was getting on and we had to go. It had taken around two hours to get there and there was the knackering journey back. As you may know prussiking is not my forte and it took a lot of energy to get back up those pitches. Also at the top there was the standard situation of getting off the rope safely and as usual I couldnít get my chest jammer off.

There was loads of cursing and swearing coming from me, no surprises. Luckily Jean-Claude went ahead of me and so gave a hand on the odd occasion. Le Coq came behind derigging as he went. Back we went through the squeezes and this time I had to be pulled through both due to an extreme lack of energy on my part. Finally we got up the last pitch and then we were out in the open air but not before practically all of us had got bits of tackle (oo-er?!?) caught on a piece of rock at the low entrance. It was most frustrating, daylight 20 metres away and youíre stuck on some bastard bit of rock.
It was good to be out in the open again but we all came out looking like total monsters! We got back to the car, took a couple of photos and changed before driving back to Pau. I was totally knackered but I knew I had to go out all the same until the small hours of the morning (well 2am.) to avoid accusations of unfinished business.

It had been an excellent days caving, which although frustrating at times was extremely enjoyable!

Natalie Carter

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