Ten years in the dark

Chapter 13 of 13

A light at the end of the tunnel

Helictites in Dogleg Complex, Dollimore Series, Ogof Draenen. Flash by Tarquin and Ian Wilton-Jones, camera by Ian Wilton-Jones, setup by both.

In the three hundred or so caving trips I have been on, there are very few that I did not enjoy. The only ones I remember that I did not were where I did not appreciate the big drops I was hanging over and one where I just felt depressed and wanted to leave. But with all of these, I never leave the cave thinking 'I never want to go caving again' instead I feel proud of myself. It was a challenge to get over what I was scared of and I met that challenge. It was unpleasant, but I did it. It was hard, but so am I!

This year, I will be challenging myself. I have got myself a place on a trip to the Gouffre Berger in the French Vercors. The trip is done over ten days, slowly rigging and derigging the many pitches that lead down through some huge passageways to a depth of over one kilometre. This was the first cave ever to be explored to a depth below the entrance greater than one kilometre and held the world record for the deepest cave in the world for several years. Currently, the record is held by Voronja (Krubera) Cave in Gorgia, Asia, at a depth of 1710 metres, although this seems certain to change, probably even before this book goes to print.

I have several reasons for wanting to visit the Berger. The only foreign caving I have done is in Ireland, and that is not exactly foreign. I love big passages and the Grande Eboulis is over one hundred metres high and wide, far larger than anything in Britain. The deepest cave I have ever been in is Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, the deepest in Britain, but that is only about 300 metres deep, and even then, you can go in at the top or bottom, so it never really feels that deep. I need a challenge and descending the many pitches to such a great depth sounds like a challenge to me. I don't particularly like crawling and the Berger hardly requires any. I don't like enormous pitches and that is where some of the challenge comes in. The pitches in the Berger are up to 45 metres deep. Not the biggest in the world, but big enough to scare me.

The Berger is a classic, and it is serious. The problem for me now is to learn how to prusik over 700 metres in one day. Some people may even be prusiking 6000 metres in ten days. Yes, this one is definitely going to hurt, but I already know that it will be worth it. With caving, it always is.

About the book

Main text written between 21/2/2002 and 1/3/2002 by Mark "Tarquin" Wilton-Jones. Published online on 9/7/2002. Published in paper form by Tony Oldham 3/2003. © 2002 Mark "Tarquin" Wilton-Jones.

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