Lot Cave Diving Trip November 2019

Midi-Pyrénées region of Southern France

Pegasus Caving Club et Al

The Lot is a department in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. Known world-wide for its cave’s and cave diving. Home to the monster Ressel and a myriad of other caves, the area attracts divers from throughout the world. 

This trip was slightly out of season from a diving perspective, after significant rainfall a lot of the larger systems were unenterable, however this allowed access to some of the lesser visited sites. The trip was primarily a reccy for our next expo planned for March 2020. 

After a week of pretty much constantly watching the weather. It’s been very wet in France. We finally depart, Journey down couldn’t have gone better. With a couple of hours to go the rain starts with a vengeance and doesn’t make the last 100mile any easier but we eventually arrive at the digs after a 15hr drive.
The Team

Simon Halliday, Dave McDonough, Kevin Gannon, Simon Perkins, Craig Holdstock & Pete Mulholland
Day one:     Fontain Del Truffe and Combe Negre

As per SH up before the rest so I use the time to empty the van and put my kit together. Kev’s mate, Pete Mulholland is meeting us at Fontain Del Truffe, which we find without incident. The final km or so is interesting with a drive through someone’s house.  Yes, that’s right. Parking is at the site.

 

Pete arrives a few min’s after us. Conditions are pretty much perfect. The normally static resurgence is flowing, so the expected zero vis entry isn’t happening. I’m first ready so diving with the Chest Mounted Re-Breather I’m first in. There’s a restriction almost immediately but with a brief struggle I’m through and into a beautiful sculpted passage. Sump 1 is 160m but in todays high water condition the expected climb is a swim, so noting the hand line I easily pass into Sump 2, a further 180m leads to the base of a rift, which is usually an awkward climb, often the turn point, but today I surface at the top of the climb and after removing fins negotiate the short section of dry passage the start of Sump 3.  The line is broken and washed back not far into this sump, I manage to untangle and re belay but I’m about 500mm short, a careful look at this clean washed passage and I decide to carry on without a proper repair, deeming this OK in this situation. No-one else is in front of me and I doubt any of the rest of the team will come this far. This 85m sump ends at longer dry section so seems an obvious turn point. Returning to Sump 2 I meet CH as he reaches surface. A truly spectacular dive back through this playground, this really is underwater caving with an assortment of different obstacles to negotiate, really good fun. I meet SP in Sump 1 and surface after a total dive of 1:15hr.

The above photo is taken underwater

KG, DM and PM all already out and the remaining divers soon join us. Sorting the gear PM then takes us for a look at Combe Negre. This is under the motorway bridge, the river has a significant flow, much too strong to swim against but PM has come prepared and belays a long rope to a convenient tree. SH enters on OC 7’s and floating down stream pays the rope out. Unfortunately, a touch short but I’m able to swim to shore with an effort and DM can follow down the rope. We tie on a reel and after a few mins searching I find the dive line. 

Another cracking little playground. Small but lovely passage clean washed passage with quite a few fish. I swim about halfway through Sump 1 and surface in an air bell, we’ve agreed about a 40min dive, I’ve set off with DM and wait a few mins, but he’s obviously turned so I decide I may as well return. Seeing both CH and SP on my return I surface after a dive of 35mins,

Now realising how useful that line is. Would have been extremely diff to get out without it. So, pulling myself along about 100m to exit.

Great first day’s diving, return to the Gite to sort gear for the morning.


Day two:     Trou Madame

Bit of a longer drive this morning. Following SP we drive for around 1:20 to this site. Quite unusual a great almost Tolkieness setting, the moss is dripping from the trees creating a surreal elven forest. 

 

An interesting carry, you follow the stream for a short distance before a traverse around a corner.

 

A short climb and a decent bring you to the impressive cave entrance. Looking down on D McDonough.

Today diving with the Lungfish re-breather with a pair of 7’s and I’ve taken a small scooter. Means a few trips back and forth but on PM’s recommendation I deem it worth the effort.


The cave in not huge by French standards but a very pleasant passage, needing to be aware of the roof because I’m using a back mount. I’m struggling a little with the loop, initially deciding to put up with it but after a few mins change my mind and return to surface to sort it out. KG is in the pool, and it’s the job of a few moments to reset the straps. Setting of back into the cave I soon catch DM and CH and pass them. Just easy passage the line is incredibly well laid and tagged every 50m. Not the best vis but plenty good enough to scooter. I carry on through the meandering passage until at 700m you arrive at a large pot. I stop for a few moments to consider the passage before dropping down and continuing at a slightly deeper level. The diving is slightly easier because of the increased depth. The next significant feature being at almost 1000m when the cave gets a little scruffy, having to think a little to get through with the scooter. I’m approaching the hour and with no real idea of how long the sump continues I pick a number of 1200m for a turn point. 

I hadn’t realised how strong the current was and I fly back down stream, stopping briefly at 950m to watch the line vibrate in the flow, I consider returning but I’ve only the one scooter and had said previously I’d turn at an hour. A quick return seeing SP at 450m then DM at the surface.

By the time I’ve got out the Poles are there in numbers and not doing their race any favours, parking appallingly and generally being quite ignorant. We sort the kit before packing and going for a look at tomorrows dive site.

Day 3:     Source de Landenouse.

 

What a site, the above photo taken last night which shows it off. This morning a bit overcast and drizzly but won’t affect the dive. In this classic site I’ve elected to dive my duel RB setup with a single scooter. Not 100% sure on the dive plan today and I’m conscious that the end of the week is approaching so want to use this as a warmup for the Ressel (IF it stops raining).

After reading the survey and having a chat with PM I’m reasonably sure of what to expect. 

It takes a while to kit up, but the galvanised stairway certainly makes life easier, without too many false starts I’m all ready and floating about in the pool pre breathing both Rebreather’s. Somewhat distracted I float a little close to the out flow and am reminded that people have died here so move away to finish the pre-dive checks. I’m using a heating system with an integrated Goodman light which is usually really handy but in this setup with the battery mounted on the right it hinders me reaching the suit inflate so I clip off and use only my helmet mounted lights.  Visibility is a little milky but in this large clean washed passage the scooter makes light work of the prevailing current. The sand and gravel floored tunnel meanders northward slowly descending to around 20m at 270m. A large number of silt screws have been used to secure the line and following is very simple. At 300m the passage meets the corkscrew, a shaft approx. 2m in diameter which lifts the diver to -9m.

 

Staging a deco bailout at this point, TBH mainly me being a little windy after all I’ve a second RB on. The tunnel then continues its decent until I reach the end of the line at Hasenmayer’s terminus. Survey say -88m but I’m only at -78m , but the plethora of signed tags and a cool sign with Hasenmayer name and his knife leave me in no doubt as to where I am. Regardless this is the turn point there is no further line although the passage looks to continue relatively simply it time to turn for home. Rick Stanton has continued the exploration from this point to 1430m and -120m.

Turning for home is a straightforward fly back. I run into SP at the 700m mark, we briefly exchange an OK and I continue my exit. SP is on fin power.

My first stop is at -21m but only 1min and then I’m at the stage. By the time I’ve picked up and clipped on SP has caught me up. I’ve burnt off enough deco to get over the rise but don’t want to linger at a slightly shallower depth than I really should. Quickly over the top and back down the corkscrew I continue toward the exit. I see KG at around 100m and again exchange an OK. 

As I reach the daylight zone I start my deco proper, glad of the heating I stop first at 9m then 6 and finally 3m, for a total deco of nearly 50min.

Surface after a total dive of 2:28min.

Finish the day with a visit to Source du Marchepied and then to Gramat for an O2 fill.


Day 4:     Source du Marchepied
 

 

What a beautiful site. First investigated by the Brits in the early 2000’s. Entry was finally gained in 2003 following a determined dig. In 2012 the local government acquired ownership of the site and have stabilised and built the entrance shown above.  What a fantastic job, how our own authorities could learn from these guys.

Sump 1 is an outstanding dive, max depth of 16m. The initial entrance is somewhat restricted. Absolutely no chance of getting in here with back mounted kit. I’ve elected to dive twin 7’s with an Al 80 to get me a way into Sump 1. Also, with a small scooter it’s something of a struggle to gain the main passage. But well worth the effort. Excellent visibility allows me to fly through this truly stunning sump with only the odd bump along the way. The first significant air bell is encountered at 440m. Here I leave my stage. The expected bad air is present but breathable and I swap to the 7’s and continue to the end of Sump 1 at 500m. Here a brief de kit is required, a short section of walking passage soon ends at Sump 2.

Only a short 28m sump followed by a longish 80m canal which allows me to carry on using the scooter but breathing from atmosphere. Into Sump 3 and the depth begins to increase slightly. No distance markers on the line so it’s a bit of a guess but a gravel restriction stops progress after maybe 150/200m and 35m depth. Clipping the scooter to the line, I enter the restriction, the line has pulled into a very tight corner but I’m able to reposition and with a little digging in easy sand/gravel pass to large open passage. Almost on my turn pressure I decide this is a sensible place to call the dive and with the current behind me pick up the scooter and fly back down the sump.

 

An interesting minute or two when I get my foot stuck fast moving from 3 to 2 and in the CO2 rich air, I’m breathing quite heavily by the time I free myself. Conscious of the flow I’m wary of dropping any kit at this point. Continuing on the outward journey I meet SP and CH doing a bit of photo faffing near the entrance, reach daylight in about 1:20.
 

 

Sort the kit then we are off to the Ressel to assess conditions for tomorrow. The water looks much the same as the previous day, but I want to be sure so with my remaining gas I elect for a quick dip to have a look at conditions. 

Entering a little downstream you haul against the current up an SRT rope. The entry into the cave proper requires considerable effort and finning against the flow in the cave is hard work. I make forward progress but with little gas can’t go far. The visibility is great, so I get an appreciation of the size of this place. About 5m high and 8m wide this is the Daddy of the LOT caves but I’m afraid conditions aren’t really suitable for a long dive, so I turn and allow the current to spit me back out after only 25mins.

Day 5:     Oeil de la Doue

Last day and with the bigger caves still not in condition and on the advice of PM we opt for this lesser visited site.

Not the easiest of carries but having thought about this previously I have brought a sack truck. PM supplies a couple of barrows and between us we get the kit the 800m or so to the cave. Water levels are high, which means the there is a pool at the normally dry entrance, but in some respects, this makes the dive easier.

Sump 1 is passed easily to a large chamber. SH through first I de kit and take a little video of the subsequent team members arriving.

 

  Watch Video  


We all remove dive equipment and clip onto the insitu ropes.


There now follows about 600m of dry cave. Initially in a very strong current. SH passes this obstacle to some easier deep water.  I elect to return for my dive gear. It’s our last day and I’d regret missing the opportunity to have a look into what it reputed to be a great sump.

I’m only diving a pair of 7’s. So, with assistance the carry is quite easy. We duly arrive at the sump pool and CH decides he too wants to dive so returns for his equipment.

This is a slightly longer, 375m, and deeper, -15m sump. Vis is not great and swimming into the current requires an effort, it’s a very sandy cave so there is a distinct lack of rock to assist against the current. Its finning or go backwards. I pass the sump into a huge chamber with Sump 3 continuing immediately. But on 3rd ‘s I only stick my head in and down the first few meters before turning for home. An uneventful return through to air meeting CH near the start of the sump. 

Electing to carry a full set of gear I inflate my dry suit and float most of the way back. As I get to the stronger water the current takes over a little and I snag a pocket on a projection of rock. A little uncomfortable with my face almost in the water and I’m unable to move against the current. 

The force of the water takes a cylinder over my shoulder which doesn’t help matters but luckily PM is close by, He assists me by holding my head out of the flow and I struggle to free the offending pocket but am still unable to do so.

 

I eventually get a better position and PM moves to my rear so he can help, and we free the leg. A bit of a roller coaster for a few meters before I can get under control. I can then unclip the cylinders and hang on the line to sort myself out.

A little concerned about CH and SP doing something similar, SH and PM return to assist them down this section. Clipping gear to the insitu lines and passing down in an altogether more sensible approach.

I’ve lost a little gas with the regulators free flowing in the strong flow, so I don’t bother with any camera stuff on the way through Sump 1 just trying to move as efficiently as possible. There’s a considerable air space part way through the sump so I use this to conserve a little air.  As I approach daylight, I try to get the camera out to get a little film of the entrance area, but I’ve damaged the pocket, so it proves difficult to remove. 

Exit into sunlight after about 2 ½ hrs underground and return to the vehicles without incident. Stopping at PM’s for a brew on the way back before a brief look at the Fontaine Saint-Georges.

So, this trip comes to an end. Although the weather has been against us somewhat, I feel in some respects that’s added to the week. We have visited some sites which we otherwise wouldn’t. My primary objective had been to reccy the Ressel in preparation for next march and unfortunately that wasn’t to be. However, the long dive in Landernouse was an equivalent in some respects. I managed a brief look into the Ressel sump so that at least gives me a taster. From every perspective the trip has been an unqualified success, I have gained an insight into this fascinating area, whilst only scratching the surface. We managed to enter (and exit) a different site each day and come away with a thirst for more. This region offers a taste for every caver’s palette and I’m sure there will be many more trips in the future.

I feel PM deserves a special mention for his help and guidance throughout the week, Thanks Pete.

A fantastic trip, great caves, great diving, great company. What else can you ask for.

Simon Halliday
 

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