Gouffre des Hrtiques rigging lesson
Monday, 22 August 2005

Hrtiques team: Caroline Fretwell, Footleg, Gary Cullen

Trou du Vent team: Martin Jahnke, Olly Betts, Paul Dold
This trip was planned with an ambitious combination of goals. Rig the Gouffre des Hrtiques entrance in preparation for trips later in the holiday, teach Caroline how to rig, rig the Trou du Vent in preparation for photographing the big chamber with caver descending though the roof on the final pitch, and the photography itself. The first entrance was quickly located and the Trou du Vent team dispatched underground to find their way with the survey and description.

The rest of us located the entrance to des Hrtiques without trouble, and began teaching Caroline how to rig. This went very smoothly, the cave lending itself well to rigging lessons as the rigger can be instructed at all the pitch heads and rebelay points using convenient ledges provided. The combination of rigging lesson and route finding down the many apparent options for pitches meant that it took about 4 hours to reach the final pitch. Caroline did a superb job of rigging all the way down. The rope length quoted for the final pitch was very tight however, and we had to ascend and shorten the traverse, and leave out a desirable but not strictly necessary rebelay towards the bottom. By this point we had decided to postpone the photography session for another day, and Gary decided to head out while Caroline and I continued down to the big chamber to guide the other team back out as they had not been down either cave before.

We reached the point in the main chamber when the Trou du Vent enters through the roof at around 7pm and were surprised to find no sign of the other team. The various scenarios that might have befallen them were considered. Were they still rigging? No, they would be able to hear us. We shouted, but could not hear any reply. They had got lost? No, there is only one junction on the survey, and they had a route description too. They had dropped a rope bag down a pitch, and so could not proceed? Possible. Someone had injured themselves and they had to abandon the trip? Also possible. We waited for 30 minutes, exploring the big chamber and planning the photography session for another day. Then decided that all our likely scenarios would mean they would be back on the surface already, so we headed out.

An hour later we were back on the surface. Gary had gone to check if the others had come back out of Trou du Vent, but had got lost in the woods. Caroline heard him blowing his emergency whistle, and guided him back to the track. Gary had not gone far enough into the Trou du Vent entrance to see if the first pitch was still rigged, so we still knew nothing. So I went to check the cave while Caroline and Gary went down to the cars to see if they were there. We had surface radios to communicate. I went to the top of the first pitch and could hear them. They were coming up, so I went out to radio Caroline and Gary to let them know we were on our way. Back in the cave I shouted down the pitch and found they needed some help. So I went down the pitch, and down the second pitch. Still no sign of them. Sound travels very well in this cave, and they were still part way down the third pitch. I wanted the cave rigged so Martin was told to abandon the rope bags at the rebelay he was derigging, and come on up.

It turned out that a number of factors had caused them problems. The cave description was next to useless, saying basically that you go down some pitches and arrive in the chamber. The one junction in the cave was obscure, being a tight rift heading off a larger passage, and the wrong route having an identical pitch length just past the junction to the pitch expected on the correct route. The final pitch rope was 150m of 11mm bluewater SRT rope. Possibly the heaviest tackle bag in the world! They had taken this to the bottom of a blind set of tight rifts after missing the crucial junction, and brought it all the way up again, and been out to the entrance and back to swap the rope on the first pitch as they thought they needed to descend an extra pitch not on the survey.
We planned to return the following day to complete the planned trip!

(See next rant)

Images
Paul D. and Caroline in the TDV Entrance Doline
Posted by: Dr Footleg
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Posted: 16 September 2005
Our base camp facilities were pretty luxurious this year
Posted by: Dr Footleg
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Posted: 16 September 2005
The large amount of electronic kit we took with us, for photography and lighting
Posted by: Dr Footleg
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Posted: 16 September 2005