Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Ardeche Caving Part1 - Grotte de St Marcel

On a recent caving club family trip (affectionately called an un-expedition) to the Ardeche region of the Massif Central in France I managed to get in a number of decent caving trips. One cave we visited a number of times was the Grotte de St Marcel. Part of this cave is a show cave, and a number of our group did visit the showcave which they rated as worthwhile especially the light and sound display on the famous gours pools. However we also had access to the wild cave. This extensive system is close to 50km of surveyed passage within which it is possible to do some very extensive trips, including a classic through trip from the Aven Despeysse and out through the Ardeche Gorge entrance.

The first trip into the cave was a familiarisation trip for potentially doing the through trip. Part of the cave is very convoluted and route finding is potentially quite a problem. We were kindly given a set of keys by the local cavers for the duration of our stay and so set out to find the natural entrance. A sweaty stomp down the rough track down to the 'Les Grottes' campsite takes you past this entrance. Out through the gate grill comes a very welcome and cooling draft - caving here is very hot and sweaty!
The natural entrance.

A locked in Dobson!

Little clothing is needed. I caved in a layer of running tights and top with a light oversuit on top. Once through the gate you are greeted by a huge phreatic tunnel disappearing into the hill. We follow this to a 9m fixed ladder up and the passage continues very large, but sadly disfigured by copious amounts of carbide graffiti. Soon we arrive at the show cave part in a large decorated chamber called the Cathedral. The way on is through another gate at the base of a big flow and boulder pile above which the paying public have a view down onto the chamber.
Entrance phreas

The gate takes you into the Reseau Corbis part of the system which connects with the Aven through trip. We follow a series of smaller but well decorated passages before the cave opens out again. Here we follow a red arrow but this actually takes us into the Reseau Trois but we are treated to some very fine formations.
Fine formations

Back on the main route we quickly learn the route out is now very well marked with small reflective white arrows on a green back-ground. We follow a fine series of passages before the cave degenerates into a series of more awkward and stoopy passages. Myself and Iain follow this route for a short while before returning.

A few days later a whole mass of us return to cave - some 20 adults and children - to explore the fine galleries that go off the far side of the show cave. When entering the show cave you need to be discrete and quite, but its also really important to wash your footwear. This we did on the way in, but we came out in smaller groups and some of us missed the boot wash on the way out and almost caused a serious diplomatic incident for the local cavers. Hopefully all patched up now and a very genuine sorry from us!

In the Reseau Un beyond the showcave
The trip into these galleries though was excellent - stomping through massive well decorated chambers - and was enjoyed by all.

Towards the end of the two weeks we managed to fit in the through trip. One of the club stalwarts, Brian Clipstone, had got the Aven entrance rigged so it seemed rude not to use the ropes. Thus a group of five of us sorted the car shuttle and set off down the Aven. Around 4.5 hours later we emerged out of the cave after over 4km of caving. A fine trip that crossed some excellent and well decorated cave. It was then back to the Aven entrance to regain the other car and derig the cave. The Aven is rigged for a pull through, and as the rest of the cave is pre rigged with the usual tat and well marked then I'd happily recommend pulling thro' rather than rig the cave. It is worth taking the survey and description as well!

Base of the Aven pitches

Into the main cave after Salle Blanche

Traverse on the through trip

9m ladder in the entrance series

No comments:

Post a Comment