samedi 31 janvier 2015

Ou est le Karst? De Jill Orr

La Spéléologie en Europe. C'est quelque chose à la quelle j'ai pensé presque aussitôt quand je suis devenu Spéléologue. Mais ce n'était pas une étape facile à franchir...
Not closing up my condo and storing everything I own. Not leaving my friends behind temporarily. Not even telling people what I was intending to do – though if I didn’t do it once I began talking about it, I would look foolish.
The hardest part was turning in notice to my landlord. Once I did that, not only would I be committed, I’d be technically homeless. I was less nervous dropping 400 feet in TAG. Getting here. It started with an unexpected
experience in Florida while waiting with my sister for the ship. In our hotel, we started noticing more and more women and men walking around in the kinkiest, risqué outfits and make-up. You might expect this in a Motel 6 in Las Vegas, but not a Marriott.
I finally had to ask the concierge what was going on and learned there was a porno convention being held at the convention center across the street. Hah! That totally changed my outlook on it. It now became an amusement, and I stayed up late to watch the people parading around the lobby and bar.My sister, being ‘born again’, didn’t see the humor in it and went up to the room. I stayed up till two. Some caver’s may appreciate that the TCR costume parade could give them a run for their money – half dressed with bits hanging out! I thought two weeks at sea would be a bore after that, but we had a little excitement from the hard-up dude at the hot tub who hit on us for a threesome. Good lord! He knew we were sisters, and my sister was a holy roller! I blame it on the darkness and his desperation. Then I had to listen to my sister lecture him on his evil ways and the risks he was taking. This time I went to bed early. To help pass the time, we made a game of spying on him after that, watching his attempts at further conquests.
Jump ahead to here I am. I arrived in France in May after crossing the Atlantic with the intention of studying the language and getting acclimated before contacting the caving community. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem finding a club, there are over 400 caving clubs in France! But would they let me participate with the language barrier? Living in Europe. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’m in the small town of Maubourguet, in the Haute Pyrenees, population 6000 and about 30 miles from the mountains. My home is in a 200 year old town house, but the oldest part of the house was built in the 15th century.The present day complex was once a farm house, city municipal office, and hardware store. On the third floor, evidence survives that show servants once lived there in the most appalling conditions.
There are more than 50 rooms and areas in the three story house, of which I have five, with a private entrance and access to the large garden, with all of its fruits and flowers when they were in season. My rooms are French shabby chic with the accent on French shabby. But it feels like a mini-chateau. Inviting, cozy, and homey. I have dinner every night with my
landlords, a very sweet English couple who have been here for over eight years. We loosely take turns and host each other. They are delightful, considerate and entertaining. David has given me a car to use while I’m here. It’s a 1984 Renault 4 with the manual gear shift mounted in the dash, and a manual choke that needs manipulation in cold weather untill the engine warms up. It is like the comic relief for Bourne Identity Paris car-chase scene. It’s fun to drive and I pay for the gas.
David and Helen have been married 32 years and are still very much in love. Amazing. They have a rescue dog fittingly named Scruff who hangs out in my house when they are napping or out. David is 71, and having had owned a hotel in England for 20 years, has a rapierquick British wit and stories that can compete with the best caver stories. Helen is in a rapidly advancing middle stage of Alzheimer’s. Witnessing the decline of a brilliant mind and vivacious personality has been one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever witnessed, one can’t be unaffected by it. In the short time I’ve known her, Helen is not the person I met in May. She’s only 67.
Mais que dire du karst?
At the end of July I wrote to two local grottos. I used Google to translate my letter to French, and told them I could not converse in French but I was studying. I also included a complimentary issue of the Texas Caver. Three weeks and no reply. Was it because I’m American? Couldn’t speak enough French to safely cave? I didn’t want to be pushy but a second letter went out to both groups asking if the language barrier is a problem, and that I am passionate about caving. Finally a reply! I was invited to go canyoneering and was offered a
Neoprene suit for a weekend in the Pyrenees. However, it was for the upcoming weekend and I wasn’t prepared for my first trip to be so hard core, so regrettably I felt it was best to turn down. Then a second reply! I was invited to meet with this group at a national sport fete. This is an annual convention that takes place at parks all over the country the first weekend of September. Dozens of organized sporting organizations setup booths and trial areas to recruit new members by letting them try out the sport
on site. Everything from kayaking to karate to caving. But I had to wait four more weeks. I went and finally met the French cavers for the first time. The caving group had set up a belly crawl of simulated cave passage made from a black plastic and wood frame about 15 meters long, and had lights for the kids to use. I introduced myself and after a little conversation, (with some help of a friend who is fluent in French) I was invited to go on an open cave day for new cavers, but it was a month away. Arrgh! Really? Another month of waiting?! I continued working during the week, hiking around the town and on the local GR trail, visiting new English friends, and studying French in class and with a tutor. I spent a week house sitting for another English couple who run a B&B in town. The house is very grand and has quite a colorful history. Catherine, the owner, told me that there had been a suspected murder (ruled suicide) in the house sometime after the war. When she tried to learn more details, she was ‘gently warned’ to stop asking questions. The house is late 18th century and the grounds started out as a stable for Napoleonic soldiers. During WWII Nazi’s took over the house as a local headquarters, and the SS were bivouacked in the cellar. Today it is overrun by 2 cats, 5 kittens, 3 dogs, 1 rabbit, 9 chickens and a cockerel. On Sundays we have a routine of visiting all the local vide greniers (flea markets). All over France, every Sunday the vides take place, usually in the city market square. Everything is for sale: live chickens and geese (they will even ring its neck for you), fresh eggs, second hand kitchen utensils, furniture, linens and clothes. Bargains like a copper fry pan for €1, €4 for a quilted Rip Curl coat, €5 for a canvas duffel bag for cave gear and €1 for china with prerequisite chips. Old world and new collide. Next to the willow tree brooms they have been making for hundreds of years, a solar charged battery is displayed. The French embrace technology and France is rapidly changing. The supermarkets and ultra-modern, high-tech McDonalds are destroying the culture. This is not the France of 20 years ago. Except for in the large cities, supermarkets have caused almost all of the individual shops to close. There are still three boulangerie and one charcuterie in town. 90% of the old shops are either empty or converted into homes. I drive past McDonalds on Sunday nights. The parking lot is full and the drive-thru has a line of cars. I’ve been inside. We stopped for a coffee on the way back from Toulouse once, but I refuse to eat there. Orders and payment are made at an electronic kiosk with picture menus, and picked up at the counter.
Aside from that, things move at a slower pace here. The old ladies gather on benches outside their homes to gossip on warm evenings. Walking down the street I am greeted and reply in kind, ”bonjour madame, monsieur.” Every Sunday morning, there is a line in the boulangerie because it closes at noon and the French still require their daily fresh bread. France is a secular country, but everything is closed on Sunday – and Monday in the smaller towns and villages. Sunday is for family. Two rivers meet in the town of Maubourguet.
Streets and rivers are lined with plane trees that must have been saplings during the revolution. Plane trees have unbelievable character. Canals crisscross through the town, weaving alongside and under houses. This is Gascony. Corn is the main crop of the region, followed by Fois Gras and sunflowers. There are stunning views, fresh air coming down from the mountains, arrow straight Roman roads, the scent of bread baking in the morning, extremely drinkable wine at insanely low prices, and of course cheese. France is still a country rich in the things that matter.
Écrire sur le karst déjà
Yes this is supposed to be about caving. Finally the first day of caving arrived. This was an introduction day for new cavers. The meeting town was Saint Pé de Bigorre, only about 30 miles away but an hour drive through country villages in the foot hills of the Pyrenees. I have a
GPS so it was easy to get there. With the sunrise to the east and the mountains in front, it is a spectacular drive. The club I joined is the Aquaterrestres Lavedan. Here it is required to have caving insurance and a certificate. Other than that, its just like
us. We meet at a convenient location at 9 AM, consolidate equipment and cars, and caravan and hike to the cave. When I arrived there were about 20 cavers present. The location was a football stade where the group has a large storage unit for club-owned caving gear.
The location also has a two-room dormitory with bathrooms and a fully outfitted kitchen rentable for overnight events. I was introduced to Sandrine and Jean-Claude.
Sandrine speaks fairly good English and Jean-Claude is the senior caver and president, but speaks no English. A few of the guys wanted to see my vertical gear. They laughed and made fun of my racks, pretending to tumble backwards, (but Laurent requested to try them some time), and were very interested in my
Sten and rope walker. The French vertical system is as light weight as possible. Only one handled ascender, cows tails (called longes) are used to double clip in for rebelays and traverses, foot loops are made from rope. The seat harness doesn’t have rope clips and there is no loop on the back. The chest harness is put on like a jacket. I like that. Jean-Claude eyed my bungie harness with skepticism but allowed it, however, he lent me a Petzl Stop descender. In all the trips I’ve been on so far, no one wants to let me use my rack.
La première expérience de spéléologie en France
The walk from the parked cars up the mountain was eerily similar to TAG. Dazzling views, thick forest, carpeted with leaves, and steep, ancient trails. We stopped to look in at a small vertical entrance to a cave on the way up called Bon 109. Sandrine told me we would do that next trip. Continuing up another 15 minutes we arrived at Grotte Bouhadere. I was given a quick lesson on the descender, and how to tie it off. The descender, which is a double bobbin, is lighter and easier to use than a rack and, I think safer. As I waited my turn to descend, I took some photos. Jean-Claude oversaw the descent of each person and if a new caver was a little slow on going over the edge, he gave them a push.
There are too many words for how it felt when it was my turn finally, and I didn’t need a push. The entrance was tight and the drop was about 15 meters. The way the descender is loaded and my weight had me bouncing down the rope. I had to feed it at first, but half way down it was finally smooth. They don’t announce when on rope, but they do shout “Libre” when off. We began making our way through the passage. There was very little decoration, only in the large rooms and mostly near the ceilings. The lead group saw one bat (chauvesouris), but it was gone by the time I got there.
Most of the passages were very tall, narrow canyons, with only a couple of crawls. We made several more short drops of 3-4 meters, and several traverses which required clipping on to rope, and several breakdown climbs. The French are much safer than we are about traverses. They leave bolts with rope permanently set up along the hairy canyon walls. Like in the US, most new cavers are one-time cavers. Caroline, who has been caving for three years, brought her husband on this trip. He was clearly having trouble with the small spaces and became vocal and grumpy about it. He took an easy exit out and I haven’t seen him since! After exiting the first cave we went back down the mountain and to the cars. I had just taken off my coveralls and changed boots when I was invited to go into another cave with a different group. Of course Yes! So higher back up the mountain to the second cave. The forest alone at this height was worth the climb. Moss quilted every rock and tree 2 meters up as far as the eye could see. Rich, green and lush, it was like an enchanted forest in every direction with a cool damp breeze caressing bare skin. My English speaking partner for this cave was Isabel, who told me it was only a small cave, so I decided to leave my pack behind. If I wanted it I would just run back out and get it. Every time I have ever done that I have been sorry, and this time was no different. My camera was in my pack, and the cave was not small - at least by Texas standards. I expected something with a couple of large rooms, but no, this was about 11/2 hours each way to a large room with a beautiful formation from ceiling to floor. There was a French version of daddy long legs, but they welcome; if they couldn’t speak English, people smiled. I practiced as much French as I could. It hurts my ears to hear my accent, but I’ve been assured they don’t mind. We compared names of equipment in French and English. They were surprised we call ourselves ‘cavers’ instead of the English ‘pot-holers’, and were interested in Texas caves.
La journée de formation technique
My next speleo experiences were two technical training days. Unlike in the US, the training days here are training DAYS. All day. I was asked to bring ‘the end of a sausage’ for barbecue, and a salad. I brought a tomato caprice salad, some cheese, and stopped at a boulangerie for a fresh baguette (still warm!). We met at a bottom of a cliff outside of the
village of Pouez at 9:30. This mini park is reserved for wall climbing practice. There were several people with two children who were also learning vertical technique. Up a trail is the practice cliff. We concentrated only on descending and crossing traverses on the cliff side from only four meters up taking turns over and over again. When we broke for lunch I laughed out loud when I saw the bottle of wine on the picnic table! We had a pot luck lunch with gorgeous weather and magnificent views.
I thought we were done after lunch. The wine (one small glass), heat, and food made me a bit lethargic, but back we went to practice! All I wanted was a nap at that point, but I did the right thing, show them that Americans can take their wine and rock climb too. We practiced for three more hours before calling it a day. The second rope practice a few weeks later was almost cancelled. It should have been because of the cold and rain. Only Sandrine, Caroline and myself showed up, and three 13-year old boys who had been on the last trip and sorely tried Jean-Claude’s patience were brought by one of their mothers. While waiting their turn on rope, they sat in the car! I don’t think they would have gotten away with that in Texas. Except for the wind, the conditions were relatively close to French cave conditions and we put in a full day.
Une fois, deux fois, trois fois la spéléologie The groups have excursions twice a month. The next trip was back to Saint Pe di Bigorre, and up the mountain again to another cave. This was to Bon 109 and was another new caver introduction day. Jean-Claude and Sandrine were there again, and I was warmly greeted by the group. Bon 109 is about 50 meter deep, but the drops are separate and roughly 10-15 meters each. The second drop required two deviations to keep the rope from rubbing the cave ledge. They call deviations a Frac (short for fractionation), but with the southern French accent, it sounded like something that can’t be repeated in print.
There was a lot of bottle necking in this cave due to the newness of most of the cavers on this trip. Jean-Claude controlled the descent and ascents and stayed at the ledge incase instruction was needed. As in the other two caves, there was very little decoration here. At the bottom of the third drop there was a large candle stick column on the wall about 15 feet above our heads. A tempting traverse continued on, but because of the time it had taken to get there, we turned around almost immediately. In this cave, I took my time with photos and got some critters, including a frog, huge black slug, spider, centipede, copper beetle and an unusual a white slug. There are no snakes in French caves. Back at the cars we picnicked and talked and finally said à bientôt. I must have proven myself worthy. I’ve been invited to a dig, explore, and survey in Titouanouk cave. This one is with the big boys – and blasting French style! As of publication time, there have been several more fantastic excursions, in truly amazing caves. À suivre.

mardi 27 janvier 2015

Les Spélé'Eaux visitent la Buhadère

Aujourd'hui le but est de descendre le P 12 d'entrée pour ensuite se rendre au main courante qui donne accès à la grande diaclase qui mène vers la salle du Bourdon.
Le puits d'entrée est rapidement descendu, Kendji a pris de l'assurance il se montre capable de descendre seul. Les jeunes sont rapidement agité, ils se disputent constamment, leur comportement est instable++. Nous arrivons au main courante que nous passons difficilement la concentration étant plutôt tournée pour chahuter son voisin... Nous prenons pied dans la grande diaclase. Malheureusement je suis obligé de faire demi-tour. Le comportement général est beaucoup trop instable pour un climat serein. Pour la sécurité du groupe je prend donc la décision d'arrêter là cette sortie. En espèrent que cette décision servira pour les prochaines fois...

mardi 20 janvier 2015

Frasque de l'Eau pour le projet Spélé'Eau

Jean-François FABRIOL,
Spéléo au Figeac Spéléo Club, présente des photographies du monde souterrain durant tout le mois de janvier 2015 dans l'espace d'exposition du magasin NUMERIPHOT situé 24 bd Matabiau à Toulouse. Occasion pour nous de nous y rendre, en effet notre rôle au travers du projet Spélé'Eau est de participer à l’ouverture, l’éveil du jeune au monde socioculturel en vue de son identité citoyenne.Faire découvrir Toulouse, capitale de Midi-Pyrénées, prendre son métro, s'y repérer, visiter ses jardins et pour finir observer des créations photographiques à nos jeunes de quartier de zone rurale est importante pour leur éveil et leur ouverture au monde. Donc nous voilà Toulouse! ou plutôt Ramonville et son métro.
De Expo photo spéléo
Malgré les réticences du début les jeunes avaient tout de même les yeux qui pétillent. A l'avant de la rame ils découvrent la ligne B jusqu'à la station "Compas Cafarelli ".
Nous faisons halte au jardin Japonais, pour le Piquenique et pour le spectacle des yeux! Nous cultivons ici le sourire intérieure...Là zénitude.
De Expo photo spéléo
Après le repas place à la digestion et à la détente des adultes...
De Expo photo spéléo
Pour finir la journée, place à l'exposition et aux photos.
De Expo photo spéléo
De Expo photo spéléo
De Expo photo spéléo
Journée intense le retour sera très difficile à gérer pour les adultes, l'énervement des jeunes étaient significatif...
De Expo photo spéléo

dimanche 11 janvier 2015

Visite de la grotte Balagué, un bigoux une grotte école.

Aujourd'hui, c'est une journée spéciale, nous avons une pensée vers les victimes de ces derniers jours. Nous ne manifestons pas mais nous sommes Charlie, nous sommes Chrétiens, Nous sommes Juif, nous sommes Musulman, nous sommes Athée, sutout nous sommes Libre! Certain d'entre nous ont annulée au dernier moment donc de neuf personnes prévu nous sommes cinq Aquaterrestres, Isabelle, Céline, Léna, Robin et Miguel.
De Grotte Balagué
L'entrée est suivie d'un haut méandre étroit sur une vingtaine de mètres. Puis c'est à plat ventre que l'on continue le cheminement. Après quelques étroiture nous débouchons dans une grande galerie que l'on rejoins par une main courante et un petit puits.
De Grotte Balagué
Là c'est haut, large et beau, que du bonheur et avec sourire nous visitons l'amont de la grotte qui remonte jusqu'en haut du plafond. Nous dominons cette galerie de plus de vingt mètres de haut avec vue sur le concrétionnement en plafond.
De Grotte Balagué
Nous prenons le temps d'écouter, d'observer et de photographier...
De Grotte Balagué
Céline qui découvre la spéléo, troisième sortie prend plaisir et s'en met plein les yeux! Elle sera courageuse jusqu'au bout, dans les main courantes finales.
De Grotte Balagué
Nous redescendons, puis ensemble nous prenons un repas et quelques calories au passage.
La galerie continu vers l'aval jusqu'à un nouveau petit puits qui connecte là un véritable canyon fossile encore plus grand. J'installe une corde et un par un nous descendons pour prendre pied sur des blocs cyclopéens. Là il faut chercher le cheminement dans se dédale et se volume surprenant!
De Grotte Balagué
Mon pauvre portable a beaucoup de difficulté pour rendre des photographies de ce que nous voyons. Plusieurs galeries et passages permettent de choisir différents itinéraires et de revenir par le "grand canyon".
De Grotte Balagué
Le retour à la surface ce fera par un autre itinéraire, longue main courante qui se termine par un jolie puits plein gaz.
De Grotte Balagué
De Grotte Balagué
Je termine se compte rendu par le visage de ces petits anges qui rajeunissent notre fédération.