Joe R, Cave-O-Matic (Mark R), Chris H, Liz H, Tim N, Robbie S, Mark W, Chris B, Mark and Chad of YUCPC
24th-26th July 2011
First of all I must say a big thanks to the members of YUCPC without their tireless efforts in rigging none of this would have been possible. In this trip report I will try to describe my experiences on the main trip of the holiday in which we got to the bottom (well nearly...) of the cave. This was my first expedition to the Gouffre Berger so it is fair to say that I was a little nervous of what lay ahead of me.
The trip started off as planned at 2100hrs Sunday evening. After the hour long walk to the cave entrance the team of 8 cavers slowly started the descent through the entrance series. I was 2nd in to the cave following little Chris. I was much more relaxed on this trip as after the trip a couple of days previously I knew what to expect. I also found it much easier to navigate the entrance series, even with the large Petzl transporter bag as this time I took it much slower and wasn’t so worried about trying to keep up with the cave-o-matic to save getting lost. It wasn’t until the bottom of Cairn pitch that I heard the sounds of Robbie catching me up so decided to wait and let him go through the meanders before me. It was at this point that I noticed that the cave seemed much drier than our trip through 2 days previously, the water that only 2 days ago had followed us through the entrance series seemed to have disappeared. This somewhat helped to alieve my fears and I carried on only to meet a team of YUCPC as they made their trip up Garby. After a short chat with the Andys I carried on to find Chris and Robbie relaxing just into Starless River. We were soon joined by Lizzie and cave-o-matic and headed on to Bourgin Hall so Robbie could start to set up for his photograph. This was my first experience of taking photos in a cave with Robbie and although it took quite a while, the results were astonishing, the picture really captured how impressive the formations were and the way in which he placed flashes and people around the cave to get the best picture was very impressive. After a quite leisurely trip into the cave we arrived at camp at 0200 Monday to find the other half of the team making tea and heating food. With food and tea consumed we decided to get our sleeping bags, roll mats and bivi bags out and settle down for the night. It was at this point that I realised my attempted repairs on my roll mat had not been successful, the mat would now stay up for about 1hr after inflation after which it got very uncomfortable.
Finally at around 9am I gave up on any thoughts of sleep and decided to get up and make some tea and breakfast. Not long after this I saw the lights of Mark and Chad heading down the Great Rubble Heap we had a quick chat about their plans and then they set about making the radio call to the surface. It was at this point that the cave-o-matic asked whether Chris and I were up for helping the York team in their bottoming and de-rigging efforts I hesitantly agreed, trying to put all the reports on flooding to the back of my mind. Cave-o-matic told the York team of our plans and said if they reached hurricane they should leave it rigged for us and we would de-rig it meaning we were definitely heading a long way down. We all rushed around packing some essentials into a dry bag and then into a tackle bag and set off down through the Hall of the Thirteen. It is hard not to just spend time in this chamber staring at all the formations. The large amount of rain had topped all the gour pools up causing beautiful even cascades down the cave towards the impressive stalagmite towers in the middle. Eventually we reached the canals and Mark explained that the water was much higher than in his previous trip to the bottom by about 750mm. After hearing that it was possible to reach the bottom of the cave with dry feet I spent the first 10m wasting energy trying to keep dry. It was then that I saw a tyrolian about 20cm above the water followed by a traverse line that sat just above the water’s surface. Not being an expert in slack lining I decided that it was finally time to get wet. As I wished for my wet suit that sat at the surface camp I made the first plunge into the ice cold water. Although this wasn’t the best caving experience of my life it was far from being the worst. I remember at times looking up in the canals and seeing how far the water had gone in the not so distant past and found this a little unsettling and decided I wouldn’t be totally happy until I was past the canals on my way out. We soon saw the end of the canals and I breathed a sigh of relief having only got wet up to my mid thighs. The Cascades followed and had been rigged to avoid most of the water which did keep us dry but I found myself using much more energy navigating them than I should have, due to poor technique more than anything else. After what seemed like a very short time I stood looking out at the grand canyon. I could see Cave-o-matic in the distance and that he had caught up with the York team. The Berger once again had provided another massive and very impressive chamber. As I headed off into the chamber I realised I really didn’t have a clue which way to go to get to Mark although I could see him I could also see some very large drops that stood between me and him. After a couple of minutes of searching and shouting for Cave-o-matic’s attention he pointed to the right hand wall and I finally made my way down to join the others, quickly followed by Chris. I joined the group just as it was decided that we would head off in front of the York team as Cave-o-matic knew where he was going and we were caving a bit faster than they were. I really enjoyed the following pitches and soon found myself doing the only crawl of the cave I was shocked that there was so little water here compared to the rest of the cave but decided not to complain.
As I reached Little Monkey I could see Cave-o-matic doing what he does best and rigging the way on. We all swiftly followed and soon found ourselves sat at the top of Hurricane. As mark tentatively lowered himself off the edge into what, from my vantage point, could only be described as a very noisy abyss I secretly found myself wishing that he would shout up that it was too wet and that we should head back. This never happened and we soon heard him shout something about knot pass and then rope free. Chris positioned himself at the top and prepared for his journey down just as the York team arrived. I remember one of them asking what it looked like and I think Chris described it best as “someone opening the window of a 5 story tower block at night and then telling you to jump out.” It was soon my turn to head down and I reached the knot 2m above the rebelay. I was at this point feeling quite good about getting to 1000m and being moderately dry. This feeling was soon quashed as I descended from the rebelay and felt the full force of the spray coming off hurricane. Pretty much soaked to the skin we sat in our foil bags with candles next to divers camp. We decided this was more than far enough to go in the cave and I set off on my route out. I either don’t remember or have chosen not to remember most of the trip back up hurricane. We were soon on the other side of the crawl and decided to wait for the York team to take some of the bags of rope. We all once again got back into our foil bags and had some food. After about 20min-half an hour either Mark or Chris asked whether the York team could have passed us on their way out. I don’t think I can explain how much this worried me and I set off to the bottom of the next pitch to ensure the rope was still there. After finding that the pitch was indeed still rigged I returned just in time so see them coming out of the crawl and finishing the packing of the rope. Mark and Chris both took a bag of rope and we headed off saying we would take the bags as far as possible. We soon reached Camp 2 and decided that we would leave the bags here especially with the thought of the large bags of camping equipment and photographic gear waiting for us at camp 1. We soon reached the cascades and once again I managed to waste a huge amount of energy. After a short rest we blasted through the canals which are much easier when you’re not trying to keep dry. We returned to camp 1 and devoured all the food that the team had left behind for us along with copious amounts of tea with a lot of sugar. Feeling very refreshed we made our way back to the entrance series. The water level was now noticeably lower than before.
Mark and Chris were first to head up Aldos which had been double rigged to aide a faster ascent. They were soon up to the top and away, I caught up with Chris at Garbys and we headed through the Meanders together. Finally I made it through and tackled the last few pitches which seemed much longer after a long days caving. When we finally reached the surface we found Lizzie and Andy V waiting as we got changed under a cool, clear French sky it sunk in just how far we had gone and what an impressive cave the Gouffre Berger is. I am definitely glad that we got the opportunity to get to the bottom and would if I got the chance, love to go back especially if there was less water.