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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

THE HERAULT CAVE DIVING EXPEDITION

The Herault
Google Map showing the department Herault,
just north of the mediterranean coast.
The Herault is a region of France, just north of Montpellier and forms part of the Languedoc-Rousillon department.
It is surrounded by the departments of Aude, Tarn, Aveyron and Gard.
The region is primarily limestone, offering scenic river gorges, natural cirques and beautiful caves.
The Herault also produces excellent, fruity wine and is the home of Vin de Pays de L'Herault, which produces mostly red wine and rosé from the region.


The Viz valley, Herault

The region has several major river valleys, two of the most significant are the Vis and the Herault. These river valleys host several cave systems and the Vis in particlular is headed by the Source de la Vis (or Foux de la Vis), a stunning resurgence and old mill at the head of the valley, 1KM walk from the nearest road.
The river Herault is 92 miles (148KM) long and the source is on the slopes of Mont Aigoual, part of the Massif Central in the Cévennes.

Along the rivers are some picturesque towns, such as Saint-Guilhem le Désert and Saint Maurice de Navacelles, which hosts the jaw-dropping Cirque de Navacelles. There are also some superb show caves to visit, which offer quality excursions and excellent commentary of cave formation in the area. Grotte des Demoiselles offers cathedral-like fossil formations and dripstone organ pipes, amongst some chambers of large dimensions - the 'Cathedral' is 52 metres high.
La Grotte de Clamouse is one of the best decorated caves in France. Showing off plentiful aragonite, pristine stalactites and columns and straws and helictites, the show cave do an amazing job of commentary and education with the slide show at the start of the tour. The light show near th eend of the tour may not be to everyones taste, but they put a lot of effort into everything they do and do the cave justice. Clamouse light show.

Grotte de Dargilan is a beautiful showcave set in the breath taking scenery of nearby Lozére.

 Herault 2007
The team gather at the bottom of the pitch
in the Seoubio
Herault 2007 by Christine Grosart

The Herault is a stunning region of river valleys in the Languedoc department (34) of France. It is situated a couple of hours north of Montpellier. A British team from the Cave Diving Group had been exploring this cave with the assistance of the local cavers, who were keen to find a 'back door' to the cave by digging down from the surface.
The British team made many trips and mapped out several Kilometres of muddy cave, involving 8 sumps, the first of which is a pebble squeeze which needs to be dug open in order to pass it.
I first visited this cave in 2002 and assisted on subsequent trips before my cave diving training. One of the original team invited us to have a look at the current end of the cave system one Easter, as the rest of the group had stated that they were not going to go back and we were welcome to take a look.

The cave ended in dry passage and the previous team were stopped by a mud climb which required a rope to negotiate. These are my logs of our trip to the cave over the four days we spent at the Hortus Plateau.


Divers set off into Sump 1
05/04/07
 

Calaven de La Seoubio, Commune de Claret, Herault, X=721,52    Y=171,80   Z=300m
Divers – Jon Beal (JB), Clive Westlake (CDW), Charlie Reid-Henry (CRH), Christine Grosart (CSG)
Surface support – CPLA
Four divers went down to the Herault to both have a look at and extend the terminal point of the cave and to radio-locate a possible surface dig site.
JB rigged the entrance pitch and we set about lowering equipment for the exploratory trip and JB dug out the boulder choke in Sump 1, which is blocked by cobbles. Once a reasonable size and passable, CRH and CSG dived back and forth passing kit through the choke, with JB and CDW taking gear forwards to Sump 2, ready for the exploratory trip.

Chris sets off through sump 1
06/04/07    Divers JB, CDW, CRH, CSG.The divers dropped the pitch and got changed with the French Papparazzi circulating and taking pictures!
Entering the water would have been easy – exiting would have been very difficult without a ladder or similar. On the return, everyone noted the radio-location site and CSG and CRH had separate, near drowning moments for different reasons in the lakes on the way home. A very relieved and happy team surfaced to a very relieved and happy team of French papparazzi (CLPA) some 11 hours (roughly) later.
Quote of the trip: CSG at the bottom of the 30m entrance pitch - “I suppose I'd better get onto this rope – then I can have a sit down!”  (Clive rolls around laughing).

09/04/07  Divers JB, CDW, CRH, CSG

 


Gear recovery trip: It was made somewhat easier thanks to CDW and CRH bringing the gear from Sump 2 back to the upstream side of Sump 1. CRH and CSG ferried gear through the squeeze and the gear hauling finished up a successful trip and we said goodbye to the Seoubio for 2007.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In addition to the exploratory trips to the Seoubio, we enjoyed some dry caving and cave diving in some of the other nearby sites.Here are some log book entries from the trip.

03/04/2007 Source du Durzon, Commune de Nant, Aveyron (Access currently denied as of 2012)
Divers: Clive westlake, Christine Grosart
Pleasant dive down to 29m, about 300m in. I dived backmounted which was interesting in the entrance choke; would have preferred to be sidemount.


Grotte de Vitalis
Photo by Clive Westlake
04/04/2007 Cave de Vitalis  Grotte Vitalis
Clive Westlake, Christine Grosart
This cave was dubbed the 'Cheese Cave', not surprisingly as it was once used to store cheese! A very warm cave and we managed to navigate it quite well, given Clive couldn't remember any of it and I had never been there before. A couple of interesting rope climbs and nice formations, but many have been ruined due to the careless passage of cavers.



Event de Rognes
by Clive Westlake
10/04/2007 Event de Rognes (Rubbish Dump Cave)
Clive Westlake, Jon Beal, Charlie Reid-Henry, Christine Grosart
Cracking little trip, with loads of gour pools, climbs, swims and decorations. All arrived att he chamber where the passages split three ways and get grisly beyond. Definitely a wetsuit trip!

11/04/2007
Foux de Lauret
Jon Beal, Clive Westlake, Christine Grosart
The CLPA kindly arranged to open the cave for us and we found the entrance after some debate - to crawl for about half an hour in dug-out sand crawls. These opened out into pleasant, meandering passages with turquoise blue pools which were gin clear.

Elaine Hill in the Foux de Lauret (2012)
by Christine Grosart
Navigated our way through pools which made pleasant swimming in wetsuits and down to the lower gallery, which was a large railway tunnel of a passage, with helictites and large gour pools with turquoise water sparkling in our lights.
After finding a bypass to the sump, a narrow rift up on the left out of the water by a large boulder, we stumbled across a beautiful chamber with gour lakes, rippled sandy floor and sparkling crystal gour cascades.

12/04/2007 Source du Sorgues (Cornus, Aveyron)
Clive Westlake, Christine Grosart
Superb resurgence-flop in a very inviting blue pool with beautiful cave passage beyond. Dived the length of the large passage to the start of the narrow, upwards rift which is the terminus of the cave. It got a bit committing in a twinset and I retreated, whilst Clive was busying himself writing on his slate: 'Abime de Mas Raynal 2KM that way!'
Dived home in comfort and escaped decompression, to surface in a miserable downpour.

Chris setting off into the Sorgues, 2007

 

Friday, September 9, 2011


Esperelle

Before I go into details of our dive here, I should stress that this cave is NOT for public access and is indeed the water source for the town of Millau. Permission is required to dive here and we obtained this through a friend and a French cave diver before visiting the cave. Illegal dives here are quite likely to spoil ongoing attempts to reach an agreeable solution about diving the source, hence I have withheld its whereabouts.

The plan was to video the cave and as a result, will offer any footage we have to the local speleo activists to use in their quest to demonstrate how important divers are in the protection of caves and scientific hydrological research. At the end of the day, we are the only ones who can actually see what goes on under the water, under the rock, in the dark.
We drove almost 2 hours on nothing but winding roads and stunning gorges until we reached the village and after a little inventive French speaking and some friendly locals, located the source. We parked up but our French guide, Mehdi, was not there. Worried, I made a few calls back home to some friends who knew him but there were no such worries, as he showed up minutes later, having been diving in the Font d’Estremar all day!

We began carrying kit to the cave and we spoke to Mehdi in our best going out French and he spoke to us in pretty good English. He was to dive with us and both Rich and Joe had video cameras.

Due to gas logistics (there are no filling stations down here, so all trimix was pre-filled, as were deco gases – the rest is to be topped off by the compressor, courtesy of the Derbyshire Section CDG) Rich and I dived sidemounted as these were the only ‘backgas’ cylinders we had left which could be used, the rest still full of 15/55 for next week.

Chris in the entrance series of the Esperelle
So we dived on 60m gas to reach pretty much the terminus of this cave, which ends in a jumbled, jagged breakdown choke at -65m.
The journey there however, was spectacular. Clive Westlake, my ex-CDG mentor was the last person to dive here 4 years ago and prior to that, the last diver had been in the cave no less than 8 years ago. And it showed.
Mehdi in the Esperelle

Our exhalation bubbles sent bits of conglomerate and chert raining down on us and wafting past the video cameras. Anything you touched simply broke off in your hand so we dived it with kid gloves. The entrance is a narrow rift and we dropped off our deco bottles as we followed the winding, ‘diaclase’ (maze) to the head of a shaft.

I’ve seen some impressive underwater shafts, some pretty famous, but this was one of the more pretty and intricate ones. Mehdi dived a Megdalon ‘recycleur’ and stealthily crept along behind us, grinning in awe at the view he was presented with, descending above Rich with his double 18W filming lights, above me with my HID… he said it was pretty amazing! The visibility was infinite and sparkling blue.


Mehdi diving the Esperelle
I saw the line snaking off towards the breakdown terminus and thumbed the dive at 59.9m. We had a nice ascent and Mehdi began chatting to me through his RB and I felt obliged to waffle some crap in French back!!
We picked up our deco gases and Rich filmed Mehdi down some side passage while I wrestled with getting an ali stage clipped off to sidemount 12s, all the while feeling a bit underweighted; I soon realised that this was due to a sticking wing inflator valve which was filling my ‘Scoff-Bag’ at a rate of knots. Giggling at my stupidity for not noticing it sooner, I told Mehdi I was fine and that I would deal with the simultaneously freeflowing regulator later……
Such annoyances don’t spoil a great dive like this though and we surfaced at dusk, waffling in barely coherent Franglais at how good it was and how worth the drive etc etc.
I asked Mehdi if he would please join us for dinner, or a beer at least. One step ahead, he produced a bottle of delicately balanced local white wine which had been cooling in the resurgence all the while!!
Oz and Joe are elated with their dive
We waited for the others to surface and giggled uncontrollably as they had stuck true to form, getting totally lost and taking the wrong line and ending up in some shit-hole about 0.5m high and full of mud, unable to turn around etc. They did make it to the deep in the end but they won’t live it down as it’s not the first time either! - LOL.

The stars started to come up over the gorge and the white limestone cliffs were lit by the moon and we tore down the gorge after Mehdi who showed us to a very welcome pizza restaurant and made sure we were looked after.
An absolutely awesome dive, great company and a superb evening. Days don’t get much better than this. Thank you Guy.

Event de Rodel

Oz kitting up at dive base
Rich still wasn’t feeling up to a ‘big’ trimix dive, but was feeling a little better so we opted for an easy tourist dive which I had yet to visit.
The cave is close to the road (100m) and involved another 100m dry caving. We set off in the afternoon so it was a pretty hot carry to get our kit and all Joe’s filming gear into the cave. We had also opted for drysuits which was a good thing underwater, but involved a bit more carrying too. Kneepads are a must over drysuits in this cave.

A couple of hours of carrying, setting up, filming and getting ready to dive and Joe and Oz set off with the camera and Rich and I began kitting up to dive on their return.

As they returned, the amazing, azure blue sparkling water flashed in their lights and I knew this was going to be good…..but nowhere near as good as it turned out to be.

Oz and Joe spat their regs out and announced it was ‘stunning’ so without further a do, Rich and I set off under the rock and were greeted with perfect white walls, cobbled floor and sparkling blue water with infinite visibility.


Screen grab from Joe's film footage of the sump
I dived in front and we weaved our way along the bedding planes, taking our time and gawping at this beautiful underwater scenery.
We soon met a cobble slope which was snug and required some digging. Oz and Joe and already dug a bit to get through so very little work was required on our part and we popped through easily and continued to virtually the end of the line. Rich followed me through and we ended up in a convoluted boulder choke which was getting smaller and nastier and was clearly a section of breakdown and the line was in bad order so I thumbed the dive as we were close to thirds anyway and had a leisurely swim home.
The carry out took half the time of the carry in and Oz and Joe had neatly tidied everything into 4 manageable tackle bags. We were out just as dusk turned to nightfall and we headed back to camp for dinner and some wine. A good day out!
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