A trip to the Grands Caucces Region of France in June/July 1994 with Martin Upfold and Vicky Stratton.
The Grands Caucces is a series of high moors perched above the Tarn/Vante/Doubie river gorges 100km north of Montpellier in southern France. This trip was our summer holiday as well as a caving expedition so our programme was rather varied. Our journey started with a Dover/Calais channel crossing, followed by a leisurely drive to our first nights stop at a wonderful hotel in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, nowhere near our final destination, but that was the nature of the journey. The hotel was perched on the top of a piste overlooking a picturesque valley. The Vosges is located at the top of the Jura/Franche Comte caving region.
Next day it was a long drive to the Grand Caucces via the volcanic area of Auverne and the limestone mountains of the Ardeche. Our journey was stiffelingly hot but eventually we arrived in the village of Megeueris and pitched the tent. Quel surprise; it started to rain with thunder and lighting in spectacular fashion, so without further adoo we sprinted into town for supper.
Show caving next day on the once a year free trip into the Grotte de Dargillan, first explored by Martel. The whole thing lasted 3 hours and was really quite beautiful.
Monday 27th June and its time to go caving properly, so gear was packed in blazing sunshine and a descent made of the Aven a Baunne Rousse. The walk in lasted 20 minutes and the entrance was easily located next to a path. The first pitch was in reality a long damp sometimes muddy calcite slope leading to a moderately sized chamber. The way on was through a slot in the floor to a 33 metre pitch broken by some rebelays, deviations, etc. The pitch bellowed out into another largish chamber with a boulder choked floor. Two smaller pitches in the boulder choke led to a small chamber with a window to the way on.
Now the guide book said that the chamber beyond "had some decorations" in it. Understatement of the century. It was brilliant! Massive calcite columns, brilliant white curtains, helictites... It was totally gobsmacking. Anyway this was enough for us for one day so we left the cave without going all the way. Time in 4 hours.
Tuesday 28th June - a lazy day swimming and sunbathing. In the evening we visited Florac, an old town in the next valley.
Wednesday 29th June - went walking in stifling heat along the GR66.
Thursday 30th June - hotter still. Tried to find a pot called Aven de Trouchilos (125 metre vertical pot) - no success. Visited some interesting rock formations at Montpellier de Vieux, a little like high rocks only bigger. On the way back we located the entrance to the Aven de Petat and went show caving at the Abime de Bramibian, Martel's first major discovery - the birthplace of caving if you like.
Friday 1st July - driven out of the tent at 8.30am by incredibly stiffeling heat. Went caving at the Avent de Valat. Solo trip for me as Vicky was ill. Parked next to the entrance! Quite a historic site used in an experiment for the human body clock. Basically they built a room in the cave and left a girl in there for a month without natural light or a clock and monitored her routine. The cave wasn't bad - a 55 metre entrance pitch into a big chamber with well decorated passage beyond. On exiting the cave, we encountered an army of French school kids on a geology field trip whose bus had broken down. We "rescued" one of the teachers and helped them to refill the radiator. In return we were presented with some cave surveys.
Saturday 2nd July - absurdly hot. Dossed all day in swimming pools and bars.
Sunday 3rd July - went caving at Aven des Offarcus. Had to add a new bolt to the entrance (saw the most amazing green and turquoise lizard). The second pitch was a rigging nightmare with either no bolts or crap bolts - basically a big loose slope using most of the110m rope into a small chamber where we turned back. We also managed to park next to the entrance of this cave too.
Monday 4th July - drove to the Cerennes mountains for a ride on a steam train. Very hot and dirty.
Tuesday 5th July - Doline spotting day. Found the entrances to Aven de Dedin and Hures, but failed to find Offarous. Ate at the village at the Hotel de Paris. Fab, and only £35 for both of us with wine.
Wednesday 6th July - left for the Vercors (Vicky has never been). Camped overnight at Villiard de Lans. Showed Vicky the Grands Goulets, Bourne Gorge, and the entrances to Malatierre and Pot du Lap. Dined out at the excellent "La Taverne". Phoned Hugh Penney but only got his answerphone.
Thursday 7th July - Homeward leg. Drove to Le Havre for a ferry to Portsmouth.
Saturday 8th July - drove to Mendip to attend Rescon. I wish I had stayed in France!