GROTTE DE GOURNIER
9th August 2012. Stuart Bennett, Djuke Velduis, Edvin Deadman, Katherine ???, & me Your ever-livin’ cave-dwellin (Hoping to) Dalek.
This was to be our last day together, so everyone looked forward in high anticipation for an exciting trip. They would not be disappointed. The day dawned hazy and cold at 7.30 but warmed up as The Sun came out & vaporised The Mist. It was Tony Brook that would take me in Stuart’s car, as he didn’t want to do this. Stuart got busy checking his ‘Light Block’ on his helmet for loose connections & soldering them on the spot, in the car park. As we all got changed in the lower car park, the tourists gawped at us. This was more so when we encountered a large group crossing a bridge, further up. It took us just 10 minutes to walk to the imposing entrance.
While Stuart & Katherine blew-up the dinghy, Adam & Djuke were taking photos. As I was the only one in full furry gear I got nervous when being pulled across ‘The Lake’, colliding with three dinghies that were moored together and the craft had to be turned about for me to step out. The 6m climb-up, now had a fixed via ferrata rung which was non-existent the last time that I was here with RRCPC in 1994 (Berger) and the rope was already in place for the traverse and bad step to gain the large and voluminous Fossil Gallery.
Now, Steve Gray & Adam Milward would stay here for the greater part of their caving trip trying to take excellent photos ( I look forward to seeing them ). We pressed on. Djuke and I would take pictures of the scenery with either one of us in it. I had to refrain when my camera optics got misted over and gave a cloudy perspective to my shots. Still, Djuke’s were OK for the moment. Stuart had gone on ahead and down the first obvious access point and we weren’t to see him for some time now as we had found what was the easier second access point further on, on the right. Near here, I hid my camera in The Fossil Passage wall as it was now pointless to take any more photos.
Then a climb down calcited boulders to either a passage, or a further climb down to gain The Streamway. I was worried that Stuart was either stuck in the boulders, or was maybe somewhere in front of us. After some dithering at stream level I heard him coming through. It was now, about 1pm and 2 hours had passed since our entry. At first I was nonchalant about the deep pools immersions but as I grew colder I feared for the return journey. Many fixed rungs in the walls were just at the right point to get across; yet many places still had no aids at all. It was better than the many threads of rope ‘Tat’ that were evident 18 years ago.
After passing ‘Grand Chaos’ and a 12m cascade using Via Ferratas on a left-hand wall we finally got where I’d got to on all my previous forays. Here, at Salle Chevalier, after 15m of climbing up a steep slope, a Via Ferrata led on up the wall, with a slight overhang at one point. Since Stuart & I had brought our SRT kits we prussiked up a rope left there. Stuart then lifelined Djuke and Katherine up and Edvin used his cowstails. So now at the top, (eat your heart out Mike Cooper, ex 23 years ago, for not coming again!) we traversed on a fixed rope over a very wide and exposed drop.
Well it was worth it since more cascades were gained and ‘The Affluent des Parisiens’ was reached. Here, only Stuart and I free climbed up to a narrow twisty passage that beckoned one on, until one could go on no further at a ‘window’ overlooking a large drop and gallery. Somewhere, up here was supposed to be a passage leading to “Jeremy Siphon” (sump) at + 267m (come on Beardy, we need you HERE!).
Reluctantly I turned, having now to go back through the chilly pools. The time was almost 3pm. Avoiding total immersion as much as possible, we arrived at Fossil Gallery. Now Stuart was taking photos of the massive gour pools and I was struggling to keep ahead with them with an ever fainter growing light.
Slipping & sliding it became difficult NOT to hurt myself (knee) on the muddy slopes. The exit was made after 6.5 hours caving. An EXCELLENT and justifyingly worthwhile last day trip with all cavers concerned.
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