Gouffre Berger 1986
Early in 1986 myself, Dave Epton and Malc Debbage were able to secure a place on the joint Yorkshire Speleological Society / Army Caving Associations trip to the Gouffre Berger taking place at the end of July.
Although we were all proficient at SRT we spent several weekends in the Yorkshire Dales honing our skills and meeting other members of the group.
The three of us travelled in Malc’s car via Sally Lines from Ramsgate on the last Friday of July with the obligatory drink in England before the boat sailed, arriving at the Moliere Plateau mid-afternoon on Saturday. The ACA were already on the plateau with their cooking and sleeping facilities. We declined the use of their accommodation due to it being very dark inside and pitched our own tent. The catering was a bonus, far cheaper than if we had bought food locally and we only had to wash our plates at the end of the meal, excellent. The only downside of the facilities on the plateau was the water supply was some 300 yards away where a small spring fed cattle troughs.
The main party arrived early Saturday evening with all the gear and booze in a rather overloaded coach. Some evenings it was possible for a small fee to retire to the coach and watch videos!
Campsite on the Moliere Plateau
Sunday spent sorting gear and equipment whilst some members had entered the cave and rigged to camp one. Engins entrance had also been rigged as far as the ‘big pitch’ Although Molephones were part of the equipment taken to aid communication it became very difficult to get a true picture of how far the rigging had progressed and when anyone else could enter the cave. Some of the ropes had been used on the wrong pitches adding to the confusion of what gear was available to move forward.
I can’t remember what happened on the Monday but remember going down with Monty’s revenge and visiting the pine forest several times in the night. The army medics provided me with some tablets but restricted my diet to brown tea.
Tuesday 29th and we still didn’t know when we could enter the cave so decided to visit the Grotte du Gournier. Taking a small dinghy across the lake at the entrance you arrive at a climb up to the main cave. There are many spelotherms in the large chamber some are no longer in their vertical stance but have effectively fallen over, leaving them on their side without damage. What the cause of this change is I don’t know. The active stream was followed for a while using the installed wire traverse line eventually arriving at a deep pool fed by a waterfall. Here the pitch wasn’t deemed to be safe to climb due to wire being broken so we made for the entrance and returned to the Moliere Plateau.
Entrance to the Gouffre Berger
Laying out the Molefone antenna
There was relief on arrival back at base because we were informed that we could enter the Gouffre Berger later that evening. Having had a hearty dinner and packed our kit we set off for the entrance with Steve from The Red Rose Pothole Club (RRPC). Having changed we were into the cave by 11.30pm quickly descending the pre rigged pitches of Ruiz and Cairn having done the holiday slides in between. Next came the meanders, a hands and knees crawl with tackle bags, the bottom of the passage gradually receding leaving little to place your knees on. When the traverse had been completed three further pitches following in quick succession brought us to Petzl Gallery.
From now the route was a steady stroll with only Little General pitch to break the rhythm before reaching The Hall of Thirteen and Camp one. Lake Cadoux was non-existent and the Tyrolean an easy traverse. The great rubble heap with boulders the size of houses dropped us into our first bivouac site. After a brew we settled down for a sleep but the cold soon took hold waking in the morning to find Steve had started his return to the surface.
Dave Epton & ? at Camp 1
Dave Gough & Dave Epton at Camp 1
Warmed up a little by a morning brew the three of us set off for camp 2, helping the photographers at the Hall of Thirteen. Passing through Germain comes the Balcony pitch just beyond which the Enormous Cascade generates a noise which intimidates you into feeling you are approaching a large waterfall. Two more halls take you to the canals and although the walls are rigged with hand lines, wear and tear can mean a ducking if they fail.
Leaving the canals behind comes another set of pitches called the Cascades which are rigged in the dry leading into Grand Canyon at the bottom of which is Camp two.
Having got to Camp two I decided that having gone without food whilst Monty was being sorted out that this would be a sensible place to conclude my journey in The Gouffre Berger and made myself comfortable for a snooze whilst Dave and Malc carried on. Dave and Malc got to the head of Gaches pitch and decided not to proceed and returned to Camp Two and joined sleeping beauty.
After a few hours of rest started the return to Camp one arriving safely if somewhat tired. I got a better night’s sleep and after tea and some cold food we left for the surface. Passing through the Tyrolean area we encountered the photographers, and we became part of the photographic archive of the trip. The journey continued without any problems without a lake or any wet pitches to arrive on the surface at about 4.00 pm. I celebrated with a beer which I had left with my surface clothes. We arrived back at camp in time for dinner and a few more beers.
Campfire Evening on the Moliere Plateau
Stopping for a brew on the way home
Friday (August 1st) was spent sorting out gear and relaxing between feeding sessions. Saturday was departure day and we left after breakfast. Malc had a little accident in Grenoble but we arrived safely at Dunkirk at 10.00 pm. Enjoyed a snack and a few beers whilst crossing the channel and called at John Addison’s on the way home where we arrived about 7.30 am. A very wonderful trip and without Monty’s revenge I would probably have made the bottom.
Well it has taken 34 years to expand on Dave Epton’s log of 29th June 1986 (click here) and add a few words that confirms Steans’s report (click here) that we had kept up with the Pegasus tradition of going to The Gouffre Berger.
David Gough Dec 2020