A Tiny Piece of Caving History
Among my small museum collection of natural wonders amassed from an adventurous past, is a much cherished small (1cm) yellow shiny pebble which has been to date in my possession for 49 years.
It hails from the very depth of the Gouffre Berger and was gifted to me by none other than the famous British cave explorer and diver Ken Pearce at the end of the 1967 Pegasus Club and Pearce Expedition’s attempt to break the World depth record.
I was a member of the Pegasus Club surface support team throughout the event, a small group of individuals, cavers, but of different professional skills and backgrounds, who ensured communications to the cave, did surface surveying, day-to-day running of the campsite and maintained the all important flow of supplies when shouted for by the underground teams. We were also there for emergencies.
One aim of the Pearce expedition was to get a diver to and hopefully through the final sump, something that Ken Pearce was personally very keen to achieve, but failed in the final attempt by a non-negotiable passageway.
However, before returning from his dive in the murky waters, he collected a small handful of pebbles from the floor of the sump’s most distant part and placed them in the top pocket of his overall, later to be decanted into a tiny polythene bag for safe journey out of the cave.
At the end of the expedition, when word from the teams below was given to surface team for the mass pull out, I was given the task of life-lining the entrance pitch, a mere 35 feet, but a duty I recall which lasted some 11 hours with a constant steady flow of very weary bedraggled cavers and seemingly endless amounts of equipment.
One of the first expedition members I lined out was Ken Pearce and on reaching the surface, after catching his breath thanked me whole heartedly, gave me a big pat on the back and presented me with a small pebble from the bag out of his top pocket and whilst doing so related the above story of its origin.
He also confessed that his dive had been a total failure, but for that information, I was at the time, sworn to complete secrecy and my only conclusion to that was that this all important disclosure was really only meant for the ears of the paying press who haunted the campsite on an almost daily basis.
Summer 2017 heralds the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Gouffre Berger expeditions and I wonder if anyone else has one of Ken Pearce’s pebbles from that small handful he collected from the very bottom of the cave at a depth over 3,600 feet below the French Dauphine Alps ?