PSM Expedition Diary - EDF to Tunnel de Vent Trip
Saturday 05 Aug 2017
At 0500 four of the team meet up in Grantham and begin the epic journey to the South of France. We travel from Grantham picking up another five team members in Folkestone before catching the Euro tunnel and heading south towards the Pyrenees via Le Mans, Poiters, Bordeaux, and Pau. As we skirted Pau and started the final leg of our journey to Saint Engrace we were subjected to heavy rain and an impressive thunder storm which was to pretty much set the scene in terms of weather, for the next week.
We finally reached Saint Engrace at 0330 hrs on Sun 06 Aug (22.5 hr journey), and rather than wake everyone up in the camp site we decide to get a few hours’ sleep in the vans a couple of hundred meters up the road.
Sunday 06 Aug 2017
At about 0700 we wake up and get booked into the Iberra camp site. Several other caving groups were already settled in, including cavers from the Avalon (Belgium Caving Club), the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club and the South Wales Caving Club. The remainder of the day is spent setting up camp and sorting out equipment for the caving to come. Later that morning Si, Connor and Cameron head into Arrete (30 mins North) and do a small food shop to see us through a couple of days. In the afternoon whilst Connor sorted out the boats and ERV kit that would be left at the tunnel de Vent the following day, Si and John took a drive up to Saint Engrace village to recce the Verna show cave visitors centre to confirm their bus timings (they have priority on the route up to the cave and cavers must follow their bus up and down the route when they are conducting tours); café Auberge (opposite the church in Saint Engrace) where the cavers key for the EDF tunnel can be collected, before doing a short recce up towards the cavers car park where we would park our vehicles and walk up to the entry point. That evening, administration and initial recce complete we had a BBQ for evening meal and discussed the plan for the next few days.
Monday 07 Aug 2017
EDF to Tunnel de Vent Trip - Bruce Duncan, Si Lowis, John Row, Neil Burnside, Mark McAuley, Connor Roe, Cameron Booker, Liam Booth, Andy Evans, Chris Burns.
The plan of the day was to enter the system through EDF tunnel, through Salle de la Verna, El Metro to Tunnel De Vent to lay boats and provisions to cross the water, to assist in the through trip from SC3 to Salle de La Verna. Everybody carried either food and water, or the boats and provisions to leave at the planned ERV point which was to be sited west of the Tunnel de Vent.
We started with a hearty breakfast of cereal, coffee, and a sausage sandwich. Leaving at 0900, the day started badly with one unfortunate member being bitten on the male appendage by a red ant. Having collected the key to the EDF tunnel we drove up to caver’s car park 2, prior to the Verna tours starting. We parked up at around 0945, 15 minutes’ walk from EDF tunnel entrance. The EDF Tunnel was created after the cave was discovered as a means of the energy company creating a hydroelectricity station to tap into the river that runs through the PSM system. Upon arrival, we were all very surprised by the strength of the drought blowing out of the tunnel leading to Salle de La Verna.
After approximately another 15 minutes walking through the EDF tunnel, the group arrived in Salle de La Verna. Following the description and splitting into two groups, with Si and Bruce going in one direction, and everybody else going in a different, correct direction, leading across a metal gangway and further into the system.
We carried on through to just past Sala Chevalier. The description at this point described heading right at the river through a small tighter passage. Unfortunately, the group peeled off to the right too early, which lead to a two and half hour excursion in the wrong direction. However, it did lead to some fantastic formations and tunnels, and was a great experience to see.Upon realising the mistake, we headed back to the river, keeping high right at river level to keep out of the water, and pressed right which led us through Salle Adelle and eventually led us to the Metro. Once in the Metro we travelled along the right hand wall, always heading uphill and following the well-marked route, making very few navigational mistakes pushing through.
The group continued to climb towards the East, and after about 6 hrs caving we passed the memorial of Marcel Loubens, who died on the 24/08/1952, after his winching system failed and he fell around 10m, and rolled downhill a further 30m. He remained alive for two days while rescuers attempted to get him out, but unfortunately he died still underground in the system. Having reached the highest point of the massive boulder pile above Loubens memorial we changed direction and started heading South down the other side of the boulder pile into Salle Nevarra. After a last short climb on the other side of Salle Nevarra we dropped down a final boulder pile and finally arriving at the Tunnel du Vent. The group unpacked the ERV gear and the boats were inflated.
John made a trip across the lake in the Tunnel de Vent to place a second boat and buoyancy aids and also a line so that the boats could be pulled back and forth for the through trip. There were already a couple of tractor inner tubes in place (SWCC) and so one of these was also laced on each bank of the lake as a reserve. Rope, emergency rations, a group shelter and first aid were also left as an emergency cache. After a quick stop for a brew and some food, the group made the return trip, replacing an in-situ rope along the route. Unsurprisingly, it had very little navigational errors.
Finally, after 11 hours underground, the group exited through EDF Tunnel into a truly magnificent thunderstorm. We enjoyed a spectacular pasta bake and some wine before heading to bed for the night.
Si Lowis editors note: This account is an extract from a larger expedition diary.