1962 Expedition to the Gouffre Berger
Very little is known about the Pegasus Clubs involvement in the 1962 Expedition to The Gouffre Berger other than four of The Clubs members took part. They were Peter Watkinson, Bob Dakin, Jack Dempster and Dave Brindley.
One of the objectives of the 1962 expedition apart from getting to the bottom was to try and gain access to what is now called Pegasus Bridge, but this was not achieved. I am sure, that it was this failed attempt to gain access to the high level passage that prompted Peter Watkinson to take a team of experienced caver/climbers to complete the difficult climb in 1964 successfully.
Pegasus Club Contingent - Gouffre Berger 1962 - Sornin Plateau
Bob Dakin, Peter Watkinson, Jack Dempster & Dave Brindley
The Willys Jeep in the above photograph was owned by Tony Briggs and at the conclusion of the expedition was driven over the edge of the logging road to the Sornin Plateau embedding the drivers door into a tree. Bob Dakin.
James Lovelock at left (Author of "Life & Death Underground" ) and Dave Brindley (Pegasus Club Nottingham) at Grenoble station the day after the party at the Geophysical Centre. We had been put up for the night at the Alpine Club Francais office. Bob Dakin. Photo: Bob Dakin.
The book "Life & Death Underground" written by James Lovelock published in 1963 by G. Bell & Sons Ltd does have a chapter on the 1962 expedition, but being written by a journalist it may not be entirely accurate.
From left to right, Eymas, Joe Berger, ?, Dave Allsop & Mick Mullen studying the French survey on the Sornin Plateau. Photo: Bob Dakin.
The following is a list of thirty eight people known to have taken part in the 1962 Expedition; it may not be complete as a figure of forty people has been suggested in the past. The photo below shows only thirty five! If you can update the list or put names to the faces in the photo please let me know.
1962 Expedition Members List
Antony Huntington – Eldon Pothole Club.
Bob Dakin - Pegasus Club Nottingham.
Dave Allsop – Eldon Pothole Club.
Dave Brindley - Pegasus Club Nottingham..
Dave Judson - Craven Pothole Club.
Dave Shotton - Birmingham Cave & Crag.
Dennis Worth - Hyperion Club, Stockport..
Clive Hockenhull – Eldon Pothole Club
Frank Brown - Derbyshire Caving Club..
Frank Salt - Birmingham Cave & Crag - Expedition Leader.
Ian Smith – Eldon Pothole Club.
Jack Dempster - Pegasus Club Nottingham.
James lovelock .
Jed Scott – Eccles Caving Club.
Jeff Dobson – Eldon Pothole Club.
John Needham – Eldon Pothole Club.
Ken Pearce - Buxton Speleological Group.
Mick Coupland – Eldon Pothole Club.
Mick Mullan – Eldon Pothole Club.
Mike Poulton – Eldon Pothole Club.
Noel Booth – Eldon Pothole Club.
Peter Bleakly - Expeditions treasurer – Eldon Pothole Club.
Peter Watkinson - Pegasus Club Nottingham.
Robin Williams - Doctor from Cardiff.
Tim Cameron - Birmingham Cave & Crag.
Tony Briggs - Jeep owner – Eldon Pothole Club.
Many Thanks to Ian (Miffie) Smith & Anthony (Wingnut) Huntingdon with their help in compiling the above list.
Cheg Chester 2020.
1962 British Expedition to the Gouffre Berger.
By Antony Huntington
The Gouffre Berger near Grenoble in France it the deepest known cave In the world - 3800 feet.
After a year's preparation and planning the Main Party assembled in Victoria Station, London, on Friday, August 17th. There were twenty five of us, chiefly from Midland and Northern Caving Clubs. We were glad to be off in spite of the great heaps of equipment we had to carry with us.
Most of the gear had gone ahead two weeks earlier with the six men of the Advance Party travelling in a Land Rover and a Jeep. We reached Grenoble on Saturday night to be met by the Land Rover - the Jeep was still somewhere in France. In Grenoble it was hot and we were still wearing summer clothes, but as the Land Rover ferried us up to our camp on the Sornin Plateau - 5,000 feet above sea-level - the cold struck us and in fact there was considerable snow about the cave entrance. Our surface camp was three miles short of the cave since this was the nearest source of good water.
Once in the camp, warming ourselves by a huge log fire, we learnt that a party was already 1,500 feet underground establishing Camp 2 and fixing telephone communications. Tired after the journey we soon crept into our sleeping bags.
Sunday dawned clear and we were able to enjoy a magnificent view across the hills to the Alps and Mt. Blanc. We spent this day preparing our equipment to go underground. The first eight of the Main Party took ladders into the cave on Monday to prepare the route from Camp 1 to Camp II, and I followed on Tuesday in the second team of eight with sacks of equipment to establish Camp II at a depth of 2,600 feet.
The first part of the cave is almost dry and involves descending many shafts. Cable ladders and ropes had been fixed on these by the Advance Party but we speeded our descent by abseiling. Among the shafts encountered were the Entrance - 50 feet, Ruiz - 90 feet, and the Cairn Hall Shafts, 85 feet and 25 feet. This brought us to the Cairn Hall where the temperature was only two degrees above freezing. From the Cairn Hall a narrow 'Meander’ leads to Garby's Shaft - 110 feet deep, followed by a winding passage, two small shafts and then Aldo’s Shaft, 130 feet deep.
After descending Aldo’s we passed through a small nook to reach a magnificent passage at least 150 feet high by 50 feet wide. Still loaded with sacks of equipment we followed a small stream for what seemed an age, our lights being lost in the vastness of the great cavern, but eventually we reached Camp I - three tents, eight sleeping bags and a pile of food.
We ate and slept at Camp I before resuming our journey and now we were wearing our heavy waterproof clothing. Shortly afterwards, at a point where the stalagmites were 40 feet high, we met the laddering party coming out. Now we were in an entirely different section of the cave. The stream was much larger and it thundered down pitches making the air damp. At times it flowed along deep cold canals along which we had to wade or float still carrying our loads.
Before reaching Camp II site the cave opens into enormous chambers, peaceful and quiet. A traverse a hundred feet up the wall of Grand Canyon brought us to the point where we were to establish Camp II at the foot of a boulder slope. We cleared the ground, put up the tents, had a meal and set off on the return to Camp I. Now we traveled light and soon reached Claudien's Cascade. Here two of our party had remained behind to help us in our ascent by hauling on the life-line.
At Camp I we had eight hours sleep, dressed in our non-waterproof clothes again and with only our personal kit-bags set off for the surface. I think we were all thinking of the ladders yet to be climbed. On all the large pitches (shafts) a rope and pulley block had been fixed to help as with our ascent, and all our bags had to be hauled up separately. At Cairn Hall we met the first Assault Party coming in. Their job was to fix ladders where needed from Camp II to the bottom if possible. By this time we were weary and glad of their help up the Cairn Shafts.
It was night when we reached the surface after being 56 hours underground. By working backwards we decided it must be Thursday.
On Friday I visited the show cave where the Gouffre Berger stream surfaces. At a meeting that night I was chosen to be one of the Second Assault Party, due to go underground the next day. Shortly afterwards we were delighted to learn over the telephone that two members of the First Assault Party had reached the bottom. This was only the second time this had been achieved; the first being in 1956 by an International Expedition.
On Saturday at 14:00 hours David Allsop of Buxton lead our Second Assault Party into the cave. This time we reached Camp I in three hours. As we changed into waterproofs we were joined by the First Assault Party coming out - very weary but happy. What tales they had to tell! Owing to the loss of a bag of important equipment in the torrent they had only had time to get two of their team to the bottom.
We made good time to Camp II and still feeling fresh felt like pushing on to the bottom, but with all the pitches to de-rig from the bottom to Camp II we decided to rest - our sleep broken by dreams of ladders, ropes and above all WATER. A telephone call to the surface told us when it was morning and after breakfast we set off again with a bag of equipment to replace the one lost by the First Party.
Now the cave really seemed to be trying to stop us. There was deep water, long wet pitches and thundering noise, but we had all set our hearts on getting to the bottom. A more cheerful and determined team you could not find anywhere. Down we went, ever deeper, down the Great Cascade and the Little Monkey, where the extra tackle was put in place. Then the Hurricane Shaft - 160 feet, beside a waterfall of the same height. The noise was tremendous and neither our shouts nor whistles could be heard over the roar of the water.
Further down all was quiet again and we thought we had beaten the cave only to find another obstacle. This time the roof came down almost to the surface of a stretch of deep water. Those who could, swam; the others floated holding a rubber dinghy. On and on in the water we went until suddenly we were there - eight of us at the final Syphon where the roof disappeared steeply below the water. A Yorkshire lad In a 'wet-diving' suit went down about eight feet with a rope tied to his feet so that we could pull him back, but he could get no further.
The return journey to Camp II was hard going. The further we climbed the more bags of equipment, wet ropes and ladders there were to hamper progress. At the Camp we slept and fed and eight hours later reluctantly pulling on our damp, cold clothing prepared to depart. While packing we heard voices from above and found it was the de-rigging party coming down to collect the equipment from Camp II to Camp I.
It seemed days later when we reached Camp I where we put on dry clothes, had a drink and set off for the surface. It was not long before we were above ground again having been below for 66 hours.
We rested for a day while the remainder brought out equipment, but on the next day we went down to help in the final stages of the evacuation which was completed at 22:00 hours on the Wednesday. On Thursday we packed and on Friday cheered on its way the Jeep which had belatedly arrived. Its troubles were not over. An hour later the driver staggered into Camp with the news that it had gone over the side where part of the road had collapsed. No-one was hurt, and a tree had prevented it from falling a further 1,000 feet. We got a tractor to haul it back to the road where I, once being a Sheet-Metal worker, was given the Job of straightening it with a 14 lb. sledge hammer. It then carried on to the United Kingdom. The reminder of us, apart from the Land Rover crew, en-trained at Grenoble for England where we arrived on Sunday, September 2nd.
The British Expedition equaled the previous world record for depth, and was able to complete the survey of the lower chambers and passages. We feel sure that with adequate equipment and more time the final syphon can be passed, and one day perhaps we shall return to conquer the unknown stretches which lead from the Gouffre Berger to the Vats of Sassenage.
Antony (Wingnut) Huntington 1962
The above article was written for the Rolls Royce Air Training Corp. and is reproduced here with the authors kind permission.
The British Gouffre Berger Expedition
By A. F. Salt, Expedition Leader
The world’s deepest known pothole, the Gouffre Berger, lies in the French Alps near the town of Grenoble. It was first discovered by a caving group from the French Alpine Club, who spent more than three years in its exploration. In 1956, after three years of hard work, the cave was tackled by an international expedition, led by the French. The expedition, which was backed by the French Army and Air Force involved over 100 people and cost several thousands of pounds. Two large surface and three underground camps were set up. The cave was bottomed finally at -1122 metres (3,650 feet) below the entrance and over four miles from the point at which it started. At this point exploration was halted by a sump, a place where the passage became flooded to the roof. It was thought that this sump was impassable and no attempt was made to dive it.
In September 1960 a reconnaissance party of 15, all from the Birmingham area, visited the Berger with the object of descending to -2,400 feet. The party left England without any prior knowledge of the cave, conditions or tackle required as all attempts to contact the French cavers had failed. A surface camp was set up near the entrance at a height of 7,000 feet on the Sornin Plateau. This was about 28 miles from Grenoble on a mountainside which gave us a magnificent view of the Alps.
Shortly after moving the first load of equipment into the cave the weather broke. Storm after storm hit the camp, smashing tents and damaging kit. One storm lasted for three days without stopping for a second; it rained so hard that water even came through the canvas top of our new Land-Rover, which until then had been the only dry place left in the camp. Under these conditions the cave became one vast drain taking all the water from the Sornin Plateau. Shafts in the cave became vast cascades and caving became impossible.
On one occasion a party got trapped at the bottom of the 115 feet deep Cairn Shaft by falling water which made it impossible to climb the ladder out. After two weeks of this kind of weather we decided to give up the attempt. The greatest depth reached had only been a disappointing -750 feet. The cave and the weather combined had beaten us.
It was in 1961 that the foundation of a National Expedition was undertaken. From the start it became apparent that we had taken on a formidable task. This time our target was the bottom of the cave, and beyond. To do it we gathered together a party of 38 cavers from all over the British Isles. The expedition worked on a shoe-string budget of £1,250. Most members could only get two weeks leave though some of the more fortunate managed to get a month. These lucky ones went out to the Berger at the beginning of August 1962, two weeks before the main party, taking all the equipment with them. Most of this equipment was loaded in a diesel-engined Long Land-Rover and trailer.
The Land-Rover's journey out from England was uneventful as far as Grenoble and then the fun started. Leaving Grenoble we made our way through the old town of Sassenage and travelled up a winding mountain road which climbed several thousand feet in a series of zig-zags and hairpins until it entered a large gorge with sheer limestone walls 400 feet high. Passing through to the head of this gorge we took the turning off to the Plateau. Our new 'road' consisted of a boulder-strewn, deeply-rutted track which wound round the edge of the mountain. Vehicles which were employed on a nearby hydro-electric scheme used this track and their wheels had left hollows deep enough to lie in. In several places the mountain dropped away sheer at the edge of the road for nearly a 1,000 feet making going over the edge a far from pleasant prospect.
On reaching the plateau we were amazed to find a group of Italians who had arrived just before us. They informed us that they too had come to 'do' the Berger and that there was already a party of Belgians down the cave. After the initial shock we realized that if we were to do anything of value we would greatly have to alter our plans.
Two days after our arrival we moved the first load of equipment into the cave. This was done with the aid of the Belgians who let us use their tackle in the cave. This meant that we were able to save a lot of time that would otherwise have been spent laddering-up shafts. On this first trip we moved nearly six cwt. of equipment to The Boudoir at -310 feet. This involved lowering all the equipment down four shafts whose depths varied between 25 and 95 feet and along a narrow winding cleft. This cleft, which was about three feet wide, got deeper as one progressed along it. Owing to this one had to maintain a horizontal level to keep in the widest part of the cleft and by the time one got to the end of the cleft there was a drop of over 100 feet underneath. Over the next few days we continued moving equipment in to the cave and finally ended up with a dump of over half a ton of food and equipment at the bottom of the 145 feet deep Aldo Shaft.
It was at this time that the Belgians gave up their assault and left the cave. They had descended to -903 metres (-2,950 feet) but had been beaten by lack of time. As they left the cave they removed their ladders and ropes from the shafts and put down the Italians' which had been left at the head of each shaft.
After the Belgians had left we had our first 'go' at the cave. Seven of us entered the cave and rapidly made our way down the eight shafts to the -712 feet mark (the bottom of the Aldo Shaft). From here we were faced with the task of carrying all the equipment to -1,500 feet where we were to set up Camp One. The passage from the foot of the Aldo Shaft consisted of a huge river gallery, in places over 150 feet square. The river had dried up and we walked along the slippery mud floor with steep mud banks on either side until we came to Lake Cadoux. Here we should have had to use our rubber dinghies but much to our surprise the lake had dried up. As we walked across the vast mud basin, where the lake had been, we could look up and see the water mark 15 feet above our heads.
The passage continued, as vast as before ; here and there stalagmites rose up to form a 20 feet high forest by the side of our track. After this we had two small shafts, both of which had water pouring down them. There followed a final struggle down a huge boulder-filled hall (some of the boulders being 60 feet square), to the site of Camp One.
After a sleep and some food we moved the last of the equipment from Aldo to Camp One. After this we decided to press on down the cave as far as possible. Below Camp One the cave became a fairyland. Tall stalagmites rose up into the gloom, great gleaming pillars of pure white ; the floor was covered by hundreds of small deep pools and the ceiling was festooned with long thin stalactites. Beyond this a 60 feet shaft and a steeply sloping passage brought us down to the river passage. After following the water for some way we entered a large chamber. Here we were surprised to meet the Italians who were returning after their assault. They had, it seemed, got down to -1060 metres (-3,500 feet) before being turned back by illness in their party. We helped them carry their equipment back to Camp One and then called it a day ourselves. The following morning we helped the Italians move their own kit back to the surface. We had been underground for three days and had reached a depth of -2,200 feet.
It was at this point that the main party arrived from England. Thus, supported by another 28 cavers and with the cave to ourselves, we were able to press on at great speed. Within two days we had set up Camp Two at a depth of -903 metres (the point at which the Belgians had turned back). It was also at this point that our surface camp on the plateau became cut off. This was due to the track up the mountain being closed for repairs. These consisted of filling the ruts with large boulders and widening the track with explosives. It was impossible to get the Land-Rover down the track.
After the setting up of Camp Two we were ready to send the first bottoming party in. This team consisted of seven cavers, who by this time knew the cave inside out and were in good physical shape. The members of the team, carrying about 60 pounds apiece, made their way through the cave at high speed. Stopping at Camp One just long enough for a quick brew they pushed on to Camp Two. Between Camps One and Two the cave consisted of an active river passage with several shafts in it. These shafts always had deep pools at the bottom and going down the shafts meant climbing under falling water and dropping into a rubber dingy on the pool. After the end of these 'waterways' the cave opened out to a huge size. In this part of the cave, known as the Grand Canyon, we made our way along a ledge half-way up one wall of the chamber for over 300 feet. Looking from this ledge one could see neither roof, floor nor far wall. At the end of this chamber Camp Two was situated.
After eight hours sleep and a good meal the party moved on. Beyond Camp Two was a series of deep and difficult shafts, all of which had water cascading down them. Avoiding the water was almost impossible but by carefully hanging and fixing the ladders down the shafts the main force of the water could be avoided. Fixing the ladders took a lot of time and one shaft alone took nearly five hours to ladder-up even though it was only 95 feet deep. It was while lowering some kit down this shaft that a sack containing ladders and other equipment fell and sank in the pool below.
After that came the final shaft, a well-watered 165 footer. From the bottom of this a walk of nearly 1,000 yards through a big gallery and winding waterways lead to the final sump ; the bottom of the cave. Swimming along the sump to the point where the roof plunged into the water one of the members duck-dived and added a few more feet on the known depth of the cave. Underwater the passage continued at a depth of six to eight feet below the surface until after a few feet the roof began to lift. It was at this point that the diver turned back. From what he saw it would seem that a little further on the roof would have risen out of the water enough to produce an air space. If any person ever tackles this sump with diving equipment the Berger could be pushed further.
From the sump the team made its way back to Camp Two. They had been caving non-stop for over 25 hours. After 16 hours sleep and a good meal the team moved back up to the surface. On their way they met the second assault team on the way down. This team also bottomed the cave and explored the sump. On their way out they removed all the equipment from the bottom section.
In the next few days teams worked round the clock moving the equipment from the cave until, with only hours to go before the end of the expedition, the last of the kit was brought out and sorted.
The road by then had been reopened and it was possible for us to take the main party down to Grenoble from where they made their way back home via Paris. After returning to the Plateau we loaded the Land-Rover and started back for England. Pushing across France in a non-stop dash we arrived in England just in time to do something we had been dreaming of for over a month - to go to an English pub and drink English beer.
A. F. Salt, Expedition Leader
The above article appeared in The Land Rover Owners Club Review. If any infringement of copyright exist here please contact the webmaster. (see contacts)
Memory Lane: The 1962 Gouffre Berger Expedition
By Frank Salt
The expedition left in August 1962, with an advance party arriving at the cave two weeks before the main group. In this first two weeks, an almost holiday atmosphere filled the camp and the cave, with spells underground being interspersed with parties, good food and sessions sitting around in the sun. Despite this, the cave was laddered down to -700m, Camp One established at -500m, and nearly a ton of food and equipment stockpiled throughout the cave.
With the arrival of the main party, the cave was quickly laddered to the bottom, with two parties visiting the final sump. For the first time this was examined below water level (with mask and snorkel only), and the basis for future diving expeditions made. To make the most of the cave a time and motion study was made, with parties fitting onto a kind of critical path. This enabled us to make maximum use of the underground facilities at the two camps; as one party climbed out of their sleeping bags, another would climb into them, thus saving on the amount of gear in the cave.
Camp One in fact, was only set up to accommodate eight people, but for a period of five days at the peak of the expedition handled three times that number, with parties seldom meeting each other.
Not all of the groups were dedicated to bottoming the cave, however. A large balcony had previously been noted above Camp One. which it was believed might lead to a dry upper series (this was later called The Pegasus Bridge). The expedition had brought enough steel scaffold bar and clamps to make a 12m maypole in an attempt to gain access to this area. We also had a number of heavy batteries and lamps to provide lighting for a short cine film, while one team of eight was totally dedicated to the photography and remained based at Camp One for five days. All of these activities took place with an almost military precision.
With so much equipment underground, its removal required almost as much effort as the placing. Realising the difficulties of team motivation in the later stages, we developed the "Gourmet Drive". This saw the quality and quantity of food increase the deeper one went into the cave. Thus one could be in the sun on the surface and eat only Complan (an invalid diet food), or go underground to get gear out and eat well. The system worked well, although it did cause some resentment among some of the groups involved.
In all, the expedition was a fantastic success, achieving all of its many aims. For two weeks, the activities of the expedition were covered daily by the press, radio and television services of both France and Britain. With the success of the underground trips, visitor level at the surface camp increased, with the big names of French caving turning up by the hour, waving bottles of wine and celebrating with the English cavers (they even gave me honorary membership of the Speleo Group of the French Alpine Club). British cavers were suddenly the flavour of the year and our inferiority had gone forever.
The above is an extract from an article that appeared in the South Wales Caving Club Newsletter No. 111 1993. If any infringement of copyright exist here please contact the webmaster. (see contacts)