Volume 38 Number 4 Article 4
The day started well! A 9am wake up call, a lie in compared to most mornings on boot camp, which pleased Mr Swire. This was then followed by Muesli and yoghurt, which predictably did not please Mr Swire as it was clearly too healthy and contained no dead animal.
The main reason for driving to the Vercors from Haute Savoie was a trip to Expé, to acquire a Dent de Crolles survey & book. George Marbac, the owner of Expé, was in fine form No, the Dent de Crolles book and survey you need to complete the trip are out of print! We are now despondent, as no survey equalled no trip. To quote the French The Dent de Crolles is a plan of spaghetti. Marbac did a Mr Ben, disappearing into the back - to return with, wait for it, a dusty copy of said book and survey. We thought this French humour to be less than funny!
Mission accomplished, it was now time for ice cream; the day just kept getting better and better.
During my last trip to the Vercors, six years before, the highlight of the holiday had been a canyoning trip down the upper Ecouges Gorge, which culminates, after many wet pitches, in a 70m pitch overlooking the valley. We decided that this would be an excellent way to while away the afternoon, as long as it did not rain.
The ice cream somehow soothed Carmels debilitating toothache, but not enough to go canyoning! Helens ice cream appeared to cause an upset tummy; she was displaying a degree of concern and even used a crouching toilet. Mr Swire and I knew that fast flowing water is not Helens favourite. So being genuinely nice people, dispelled Helens worries with reassuring comments: you dont get wet till near the end; we think the rope is long enough, if not then you can abseil off the end of the rope into a big pool; There is a flag the water board display if they are going to release the dam.
A quick change saw the fearless three walking to the entry point. Helen had not seen the elusive water board flag and was now concerned that the water board would release the dam whilst we were down the canyon! Meanwhile Mr Swire chuckled to himself as I slid down the first small waterfall into the chest deep pool below. Suddenly it became all to clear to Helen, that not for the first time, we had taken advantage of her innocent nature and we heard the now familiar quote of the holiday Im not stupid! I explained that it would be good wet caving practice for the B15-B1 next year. She appeared unconvinced by my argument.
After a pleasant walk in the stream we reached the first pitch, but where were the quality bolts and chains I remembered so clearly? Only the studs remained with no bolts! Down the pitch on some old tat, to find that the next pitch was the same. We were now concerned as this was our last chance to get out of the gorge - do we take a chance that the bolts are present lower down? Mr Swire struck gold on the next pitch with some lovely new resin bolts and a chunky chain. Our worries eased but we were now never the less committed and so downward we went with only one thought in our minds, Lets hope the rope is long enough!!!
Mr Swire then rigged the next drop and looked a little apprehensive. I explained that from memory, this was where it got a little more exciting (i.e. wet). Helen was not happy; she was experiencing a low ebb, especially when she saw Mr Swire swimming across a pool with a large waterfall on his head. Helens turn soon came, down she abseiled and fearlessly stopped six inches above the water, meekly asking Mr Swire Is it deep?. Mr Swire was now accustomed to Blyth code and realised that this translates to Help, Help in a Penelope Pit Stop voice. He soon waded across the deep pool sweeping her away in his strong muscular arms to safety.
Mr Swires dander was now up, with the next pitch having a bolt traverse to avoid the worst of the excitement. Even so, his glasses were now carefully sidelined to his oversuit pocket. Helen and I came to the conclusion it must be serious. However, now Helen appeared to be revelling in this and was almost enjoying herself. Once everyone was down, we pulled the rope through on the thirty-metre pitch. It smoothly descended like a slippery snake (no knots in this time Mr Swire) and we all breathed more easily, as this was the only rope long enough for the last pitch. We watched helplessly to our dismay, as the end of the rope was swept away with the water and tangled around a boulder. We were now well and truly in the poo.
Mr Swire tried jiggling it from above, while I tried from below. Underneath the boulder, a sorry tale became all to clear. There were five other cut ropes, all tangled around a tree that was jammed against a boulder. We were clearly not the first, but unlike our predecessors were unable to cut our rope. Mr Swire changed to his superhero persona Umbrella Man, meanwhile I change to my own Bog brush Man. Picture Mr Swire standing with the full force of the waterfall on his back, nearly buckling from the pressure, with me lying below him in the airspace he created, trying to find exactly what was causing the tangle. The tree appeared to be the problem but lifting it proved to be impossible as it was too heavy and we had a slight breathing problem - time to retreat to airspace. Lungs replenished, we were once more in the maelstrom. Again, I went underneath, pushing the tree up and it moved. Were we finally getting somewhere? However, time to retreat, as we needed to breathe. After a bit more frantic jiggling the tree was swept away and our rope was free. Hurrah!!
Several pitches later the excitement was really flowing when Mr Swire had a brief flounder in a fast flowing pool, almost having a sneaky preview of the next pitch. Helen's turn came and again she stopped six inches above the water to ask, Is it deep?. Cue stage left, Mr Swire to the rescue. It could almost have been Baywatch; a young beauty rescued by bronzed Adonis wearing skimpy trunks.
After a couple more of these twenty to thirty metre pitches and a few short ones thrown in for good measure, we finally got some warm sun on our bones, which stopped my teeth rattling. Another big pitch and deep pool combination predictably saw Mr Hasselhoff Swire spring into action. Then three short pitches and we were on the large ledge overlooking the last pitch. Carmel was visible far below, primed with a camera. Mr Swire was soon ready to go, with no knot in the end in readiness to abseil off the rope into the waiting pool. Helens face was a picture of terror. She was soon relieved to see the rope reaching all the way to the bottom. We were all soon down and before long we were back at the car swigging beer.
What a fantastic day!