France 1991

Carl Gibbs and two other members of Plymouth Polytechnic Caving Club, Tim Frost and Rob White, visited the Vercors for a month from 12 July to 11 August. Brief descriptions of the caves they explored are given below. Full details and surveys are available in the classic book "La Spelaeologie en Vecors".

Grotte de Gourmier

Length: 15 km. Depth: + 680 m.

An impressive cave on all accounts, split into three sections, dry fossil galleries, very large active streamway and at the top of that a 40 m climb leads to a high level series.

Many gour pools and formations in the first part, and the streamway is almost completely rigged with traverse wires hopefully keeping you between 1 - 10 feet above the water.

Done in dry kit, wetsuit would be more fun, got very wet.

Entrance lake is a novelty.

Time: 7 hours to end of stream and out.

Reseau Christian Gathier & Toboggan

Length: 9.5 km. Depth: +/- 309 m.

Cave with two entrances. Went in Toboggan. Tight very awkward 20 m climb down leads to several small pitches and a lot of good walking passage before reaching a sump. A climb up to the right through some boulder chokes leads to the first big chamber (120 x 50 x 40 m), "Salle des Tenebres". An illusive climb down in the floor leads to the second big chamber (320 x 50 x 10 m), "Galerie Geante". Good place for lunch.

Many beautiful formations. Good cave throughout. Two trips down.

Time: 5 hours both.

Scialet de l'Appel & Grotte du Brudour

Length: 6 km. Depth: + 200 m.

Two seperate caves, the first being an SRT trip with three small pitches, some traverses and a series of small stooping/crawling passages at the bottom. The rock is clean and sharp. The lower series is wet, floods easily, has a series of small climbs, and is not too interesting.

The second cave is the resurgence and has a large entrance. A wetsuit is needed. Lots of very pretty moon milk formations from upside down mushrooms to curtains and pillars. A traverse over very deep water is impossible and either a boat or a swim is required.

Time: 3 hours in first (twice), 1 hour in second.

Grotte de Bournillon

Length: 6 km. Depth: - 65 m.

A true 'Sunday' trip. Massive 80 m entrance leads into very large passage that just goes on and on. Active stream soon takes in water and can make entrance impassable. Need to traverse around large pools. Many formations throughout the cave. Ends in large sump.

Time: 2 hours.

Scialet Vincens

Length: 115 m. Depth: - 403 m.

A true exercise in SRT. Ten pitches to - 314 m level where a 80 m crawl leads to four more pitches. Seven people entered expecting a 12 hour trip to - 314 m only. Luckily the British Army had already rigged the cave on brand new rope. Reached - 314 m level in 1.5 hours. Met the Army coming down to finish the job and out in 3 hours.

All the shafts were large with big free hangs. Seventeen pitches were really found as some rebelays were actually on large ledges.

Time: 5.5 hours.

Gour Fumant

Length: 2.2 km. Depth: - 163 m.

Another classic trip that was very popular with the other eleven cavers that arrived (luckily after we had exited). French do not get up early.

Six short pitches lead to a rifty stream passage in several directions. Off one is "Dragon Chamber" which is quite big with many short straws and pillars. Didn't need to rig or derig.

Time: 3 hours.

Scialet de Malaterre

Length: 1600 m. Depth: - 230 m.

A simple cave comprised of a 120 m pitch with two rebelays. Starts off a bridge (many tourists) and the chamber is very large indeed. At - 52 m a series of passages and pitches leads off also to the bottom but I found it too tight in one place (and I'm smallish!).

Takes a long time to prusik 300 ft.

Met Craven Pothole Club and befriended them for the rest of the trip. Twelve members were out there, average age about 40, and all of them pretty fit if not a little mad (and very drunk).

Time: 4 hours.

Trou qui Souffle

Didn't use the proper pitch head but found the new entrance dug out last year. With the CPC looked for the recently discovered 2.5 km through trip. Dropped four pitches already rigged on French rope. All less than 10m with some very steeply bedded, very tight, complex passages inbetween dropping to - 600 ft. Here after encountering yet another unrelated stream a 10 m pitch drops into a 600 m long passage. Terminated the trip here as we had left our SRT sets behind.

Next day we left for UK while CPC probably did the first UK through trip of Trou qui Souffle. An exhausting, sweaty and hard cave to exit, but thouroughly enjoyable.

Time: 7 hours.

Tim Frost on the 4th pitch in Trou qui Souffle

Tim Frost on the 4th pitch in Trou qui Souffle

Carl Gibbs