Volume 42 Number 2 Article 8
21 August 2005
Samuel and Julian Carradice, Andy Whitney and Paul Mackrill
It is nine years since my last visit to the Vercors, so this year we planned to return for two weeks, together with Andy. After two days of travelling, an immediate invitation to dinner with Paul and Gill Mackrill, (our friends for many years), was very welcome, but Paul's news that it was expected to rain for the next few days was not!
The following day was indeed rather miserable, but the rain never exceeded drizzle so, by lunch time, we decided to go caving anyway. We chose to revisit my first ever Vercors cave, Gour Fumant, a rather Yorkshire-like SRT trip on the edge of the Herbouilly prairie, depth 163m, length 2.2km, altitude 1300m. It was first explored in 1936 by Chevalier et al.
The cave has two entrances, both fossil, the Gour Fumant and the Faux (False) Gour, the latter being the more usual route. Paul had never done the first, (having been advised that it had little to commend it), so we agreed to try this alternative, which has an extra two short pitches.
We packed ropes and hangers based on Des Marshall's "Vercors Caves", the only widely available guide in English. It should be noted that this book was translated from a French version and is not always trustworthy - there are known errors in the translation, and examples of errors in the original that have been reproduced.
Despite the drizzle and the poor visibility we were all in good spirit when we reached the rather uninspiring entrance pitch, only a few minutes walk from the car. Although possibly climbable, the rock was slippery and a 10m rope was used to descend into a chamber of respectable proportions. A second pitch requiring another 10m rope follows at the bottom of the chamber. A short passage then leads to three successive pitches of 9m, 6m and 11m, where things started to go wrong. Although we had the recommended ropes, the second did not reach the rebelay for the third section, and the third was short by several metres. This resulted in some embarrassment as we had proudly told Paul that we had come equipped with no less than 530m of rope, and photocopies of the rigging guide which we had left in the car! Fortunately, some extremely imaginative use of bag hauling cords saved the day. If we'd had boot laces, we would have used those as well.
These pitches reach the "Big Gallery", where the normal route joins. Faux Gour has two fine pitches of 17m and 9m, but Fumant is equally impressive and spacious, and there seems to be little justification for it's apparent neglect.
From here there is a further choice of two routes; one has a constricted pitch of 11m while the second has pitches of 15m and 9m down a wide rift. Again, having used the former on my previous visit, we had opted and packed for the latter on this occasion.
Further rope length problems were resolved by using a 30m to pass both the 9m and the next pitch in one hang, without finding the intermediate traverse described in the guidebook. Curiously, this left us with an 18m rope unused! I suppose it's possible I managed to pack them in the wrong order, but that's a mystery that shall remain unresolved.
Julian descending main pitch
The final pitch, said to be 9m but probably nearer 12, descends into a wide bedding at -110m which quickly emerges in a high vadose trench. A stream is reached which continues in typical fashion with plunge pools and climbs over fallen blocks. Eventually the water disappears under a stal dam and, although it can be followed a considerable distance in dry weather, this is the extent of most visits, including ours.
A short distance back from the dam, an awkward and difficult-to-locate cork-screw climb enters a large bedding with superbly decorated fossil chambers called the Dragon Chinois. I had missed this on my first visit and was determined not to do so again. It was well worth the effort and the ensuing photography session was inevitable.
Paul in Dragon Chinois
Paul in Dragon Chinois
Julian in Dragon Chinois
The exit from the cave was considerably faster than our descent and uneventful until the final pitch into daylight. Andy was climbing the rope while Paul calmly free-climbed the pitch to one side. Andy commented that the rope above appeared to be trapped in something, and Paul's alarmed shout of "Don't move!!" was enough to convince Andy of imminent doom! Thankfully, the rope had simply slipped under a rotting tree stump and there was no great danger.
Although Gour Fumant is not that dissimilar from many Dales potholes, and certainly does not possess the grand proportions of the more famous caves in the region, it was a fine and very enjoyable trip of almost five hours.
(Photos by AW and SC)