Tues 14th Aug 2012:
Adam Milward and Robert Bialek (Dalek)
What began as a suggestion at camp, turned into harsh reality when I’d returned my bike back to the shop the previous day. Since no one was left to take this on, Steve deemed that we should do it on our last day together. This was just as well since I was knackered afterwards due to several factors.
So while Adam & Hugh (The Climber) were out at Lans en Vercors I did a little local shopping in preparation for Tuesday’s planned trip. Adam had suggested extra Baguettes & plenty of water to take; if only for the long forest walk and search for the Pot entrance. So, 3 Baguettes & 6 x 1.5 litres of water were bought. The plan was for Steve to take us to the forest tonight, because he needed his beauty sleep; and that we walk up some distance, pitch his Banshee tent and hide it in the morning. This was all good and well on paper but required a will and determination to succeed as The Rucky’s turned out to be quite heavy with our own kit, 340m of rope and metal hardware, (30 bolts and Maillons) food and water. I needed assistance to lift mine! So when Steve dropped us off at Herbouilly at 8pm, it was now up to us to find our way and do this.
Half an hours walk up to a bouldery track to the “Senna Col” was where we pitched the tent, right on the track. Next, we took the Rucky’s with the rope and kit for a further half hour into the forest to hide in a copse of trees. The walk back was in fast fading light but the sky was clear enough to see the track. Now since it was dark at 9.30 it was just as well that we retired to sleep for an early start, but for one thing! I was farting all night, due to the big pasta meal I’d made for us and now, poor Adam must’ve noticed in our cramped tent but never once, said anything!
So, up at 6.45 for tea and noodles for breaky, the only convenient thing to have. Depart at 7.45 and found our Rucky’s . Two things to note here. Since we were carrying so much, I had tried to save on weight and cut back by wearing my willies, fleecy jacket and shorts to go down in later. This was to have painful repercussions later on. Also, as my bag was so full I carried the bread in a Netto carrier-bag and 10 Choco-Pans in another one. Then I saw this tent on the rolling meadow and decided to have some fun. So picture this (Adam’s photo) at 8.30. I, talking in my
best Franco-English to a couple I heard rustling inside:
“M’sieur, we have taken great steps to come to your door to deliver this fresh bread to you! It is still warm, direct from our ovens from Netto. Oh, I’m glad you do understand my English.”
“We are not interested; do go away you irritating English-man!”
With that I bade farewell & saw that Adam was having a giggle.
On a well used track we diverged to narrow paths, often covered over or ran over bare limestone outcrops. Blue markers were seen and we thought we had it good until we reached open “Karst Fields”, now red marked. Here, Adam deduced, was the boundary between this forestry land and the next one, as it was seen to be going up to the summit at over 1800m altitude. We were supposed to be at 1740m and westwards according to his mobile phone GPS. Once we had got to within 300m of “the hole” then we dropped our bags to see if we could make faster progress in finding it.
It took 3.25 hrs to reach here (by 11a.m) and another 2.5 hrs for Adam to find it. Located in a copse of trees, no different to the “million” others in this area, said the guide-book notes. So with some cheese, bread and water down us we got down the hole before 1pm.
Belayed from a tree to drops of 12m & 4m to get underground in an alcove, just large enough for 2 to stand in. This used up our first 20m of rope.
I then rigged the next 200m of 10mm (new club) rope to 2 short rebelays and then 150m in a much wider shaft and a clearly, massive drop, and the 14 LED Petzl light just does not do justice to see it. Two more rebelays to a tiny ledge, enough to take the rope weight off, momentarily then the rope ran out just less than 10m or so from a rebelay. On the way up I called to Adam and had to pass him, disconsolately, on the rope, below the rebelay-ledge.
Now, Adam was supposed to rig to the bottom, BUT DIDN'T! He'd gotten down OK but did not say WHY he'd left me 3 rope joining knots to pass!? So, after struggling to pass the 1st & 2nd one and coming to a 3rd I got fed-up and shouted down to him, “Why have you done this?”, since he'd only THE ONE rope (of 120m) remaining and no more to join to reach the floor at -319m. He didn't seem to understand my question, and so, disgruntledly I reluctantly climbed back up for 2 reasons:
1) I'd got sick of passing knots (that seemed unnecessary) and it took me ages and a lot of energy.
2) The time was 4.50 (we had entered at 1.50) and so I'd save time for the return trip.
It took me an hour (just) to get up with my slow and inefficient frog rig. Adam, tho, had just the job for huge drops like this one. A very slick rope walking rig that he seemed to 'glide' up on. He'd tied the lower, 120m rope bag to the 200m rope after removing the re-belays. This turned out to weigh a 'ton'. So Adam devised his pulleys to make lighter work to get the gear up to the alcove/ledge.
It was now nearly 7pm and I was getting worried about the journey back. You see, the walk over had given my left foot a lot of swelling and my right knee some pain. The caving trip gave a rest to these affected parts but now I'd severe chaffing in the groin area due to the harness rubbing through my thin shorts. Now, on further walking, my right foot ankle bone was subject to heavy blistering through my thin ankle socks and was rubbing from the rubber of my wellies! The left foot too; but not as much. So only with this to contend with & some uncertain route finding, we progressed up n' down over mossy covered slabs and rucky clutching fir trees, down a different way to which we had come. I was skeptical to finding the way back and in time to reach Steve before the appointed call out time of 10pm. The mobile phone signal was low and despite receiving Steve's voice mail, Adam was unable to send word to him.
Now, once we reached the wide and undulating track we made for far more
rapid progress (despite my own pains). Passing the point where the tent had
been and our Rucky hiding place it seemed almost over. At the col we quickly
got the tent and sleeping bags etc. and trundled down hill in quick style. It
was almost 10pm and, yep, Steve was still there. He'd called a rescue organiser
To sum up: A 15 hour day.
1 hr: Breakfast and pack tent up + hide it.
3.25hrs: Walk to (near the) hole.
3 hrs: Find and get down hole.
5.25 hrs: Do trip.
2.25 hrs: Back to col/tent.
0.25 hrs Get back to Steve
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