Prologue: The last write up of this blog was in 2014, recounting my accident in the Aven de Hures in the Massif Central, France, and its initial aftermath. The recovery has been a long process, and indeed at the time of writing it is still ongoing, but thanks to the support of so many it has been a positive process and I'm at the point where I have been returning to significant caving again. I'm aiming to write a separate article on the recovery itself, but this one is a deeper, more personal one that directly complements 'The Fall' since this is the return to the Aven de Hures...
The plan had always been to return to the cave, the question was would I be able to? Would the body fix enough and would the mind be up to it? This was also not a journey to do 'alone'. Whilst I may have been the one who twatted themselves in the accident, the effects go deeper and affect not only you but also those you are with at the time of the accident. Ali, Rhys and Pete – the team on the fateful trip - are friends I have known for many years and shared many adventures with. The horror felt when they realized it wasn't a dropped tackle bag but me that was descending that 40m pitch would have been deep and have effects of its own.
Recovery from the accident has not been an easy process, and has needed additional repair work along the way, but after a journey of over three years I once again find myself clad in caving kit and standing at the entrance to the Aven de Hures cave. The experience brings many strange feelings to the fore. Some of it excitement at the journey ahead but alot of it nerves, an edginess, thinking 'what the f**k am I doing here again'... Ali is with me – we said we'd be back to do this cave together – and we're joined by a good friend and neighbour Malcolm. A good team for this return trip.
That 'Oh Shit - what am I doing' feeling...
Ali kindly offers to rig, and sets off, himself feeling the edginess and nerves of the occasion. The caving doesn't feel natural and we move with more caution and care than we would normally. The first pitch is descended and the pair of us stand looking at the line of bolts leading to the point of my disaster. On the floor in front of us a huge toad sits oblivious to it all! A big hug, and Ali pushes on with the rigging...
Crossing that pitch head traverse again proves a challenge to the mind – it is fairly straightforward caving but it presents a huge barrier to me. I quietly push on and reach the resin anchor where it all went wrong. The thoughts come back – I was rushing, and my mental health state was in a bad place due to work place stress – I shouldn't have been rigging. Maybe I shouldn't have been caving. In hindsight I should have just chilled for a few days, drank some beers and talked some rubbish but adventure time is precious, the urge to grab it maybe too great.
|Ali rigging across the head of the second pitch - the move beyond this point is where it all went wrong for me!|
I take time at the pitch head observing the drop down the shaft. In my mind the walls of the pitch are completely vertical, but in reality the first 20ish meters are slightly off vertical on this side of the shaft, but only slightly! However enough to absorb a little fall energy maybe?
|Looking up the upper half of the P40 pitch I fell down. Photo Ali Garman|
I slowly descend absorbing the cave around me, past a rebelay, and then to a deviation rigged off the opposite wall. Here the pitch bells out for a free hang of around 15m, dropping onto a large calcite boss with a couple of big gour pools in it.
|The potential landing spot... Photo: Ali Garman|
|Ali rigging the beautiful 3rd pitch where we started to relax and enjoy the caving.|
|Back to rigging - on the start of the main hang on the Puits de l'Echo. Photo: Ali Garman|
|The superb Puits de l'Echo|
|Malcolm rigging the last pitch on our journey into the Aven de Hures. Photo: Ali Garman|
We emerged into the fading light of a beautiful September day, and embraced after what had been an emotional but very excellent caving trip. Priority was now to find food and beer to celebrate – a definite challenge in this neck of the woods on a Sunday night out of tourist season. Despite a couple of holdups with sheep flocks on the road off the Tarn plateau we made it back to Florac to find a lone pizza takeaway place still open, complete with a fridge of cold beer, enabling us to celebrate the 'return' in an appropriate style!
|Enjoying a fine walk in the Gorge du Tarn|
|A much better way to end this journey to the Aven de Hures, and far better than hospital food!|