Gouffre Raymonde – The Big Pitch
Sunday, 28 August 2005

Caroline Fretwell, Footleg, Martin Jahnke, Olly Betts, Paul Dold

Returning to the Gouffre Raymonde for a second day, we quickly reached the top of the fourth pitch, which we still had to rig. This pitch has a superb take-off, using a bolt traverse across the overhanging underside of a huge boulder spanning the stream canyon and a Y-hang to drop the rope clean down the middle of the canyon 30m to the floor. Quite an exposed position, which I wanted to photograph. Olly wasnt hanging about though, and had made it half way down to the bottom before I could take a shot of him on the rope! Paul and Olly headed off down stream in the beautiful Rivière Raymonde to rig the last pitch before the 133m shaft, while Martin, Caroline and I followed behind.

The river passage is similar to the Trou Mile except on a larger scale. The floor features a coating of cream coloured calcite as if a river of custard has set solid down the passage, and the stream flows over it. A series of dry oxbows bypass some deeper pools and a 12m cascade. We stopped at one particularly pretty section to take some photographs of the streamway with the calcite floor in a chamber. Further down stream are a couple of wide deep pools which are rigged with high level traverses to avoid the water. Alternatively you can use the end of the ropes hanging down from the traverses to cross the pools Tarzan style. Excellent fun! We all met at the final cascade which Olly was rigging. I took some more photographs here, before throwing down the tackle sack containing the 150m of 13mm bluewater SRT rope. Martin had carried this bag all the way to this point and it was only now I discovered just how heavy it was. I was the largest fullest tackle sack I have ever tried to lift! I aimed it for a pool of water at the base of the 12m cascade so that its fall was broken by the water. Unfortunately as it landed it projected a huge spout of water across the chamber which hit Caroline directly in the face! Martin nearly fell over laughing while Caroline was slightly more indignant!

We chucked the spare end of the rope from the cascade down the last short climb to the head of the 133m Puits Delteil and gathered to peer into the black abyss from the mecano like dexion platform which had been built there years ago. Caroline and Olly were getting cold, and decided not to hang around while we attempted to photograph the shaft. I rigged the main hang, and started to descend to check out the photographic options. About 20m down, the main part of the shaft opens out to the left (as seen from the top looking down) and I climbed along the wall the reach a prominent flake of rock where I could rig a rebelay using a sling which Paul dropped down the rope to me. This enabled the rope to hang down the main shaft into the blackness. I fed half the rope down, keeping the other end secured at the top of the shaft in case it got snagged on something. My light could not make out anything but blackness below apart from the spray from the waterfall. Quite a scary spot, and I decided to return to the top to plan some photos.

Back at the top it was apparent that Paul was getting very cold, and it was also getting late. Even if only Martin and I were to descend to the bottom of the shaft then Paul would be hypothermic waiting at the top for us, and it would be 3 AM or later before we got back to the campsite. On the other hand Martin had singled handedly carried the worlds heaviest rope bag down here to descend this impressive pitch, and I did not want to tell him we aught to turn back. So we sent Martin over the edge armed with a large flashgun, and photographed him on the first 20m of the pitch. I was not happy sending him on into the unknown as I had just left the rope hanging down into wet darkness. So we called Martin back to the top to enable me to go down first in case further rigging was required. I was happy with the photos we got from the top, and realised we would not have time now to take any further down on this trip.

When Martin reached the top again, he said he was not sure he wanted to go down either. He had seen a lot of water spray down the shaft by the light of the flashgun, and we were all getting chilled. So we decided it was best to call it a day and head out. Once we had the large rope back in the massive tackle sack, Paul set off with Martin while I derigged the cascade pitch. Paul could not carry to the rope bag because he was suffering from back trouble, so once again Martin took up the bag. I was quite glad of this because I realised I could not have got out of the cave with it myself! I didnt catch up with them again until the bottom of the 30m pitch at the end of all the streamway. I could not believe how fast they had gone weighted down with the bag.

By the time we reached the entrance shaft we were all pretty tired. I got there after derigging the remaining pitches just in time to sort out the bags for hauling out. They had attached too much weight in one go and could not lift it from the top, so I unclipped a couple of bags and we got them up in three loads. Martin accidentally dropped the pulley down the entrance pitch, but managed not only to warn me in time for me to get out of the way at the bottom, but also was able to tell me it was a pulley flying down to meet me! I watched it bounce off the slope at the bottom of the pitch and off into the darkness. I found it half way down the slope into the next chamber. By the time I reached the surface Caroline had returned from the carpark to look for us, and helped haul up the big rope bag. She offered to help carry it to the car, but Martin was by this stage determined to finish the trip with it, having heroically carried it all the way throughout the trip himself.
(Interestingly, on the ferry home after the holiday, I came across a photograph of the bottom of the shaft taken on the original descent in the 1950s via a winch and steel cable. The cavers appeared to be floating in an inflatable boat on a large pool! We will have to make a return to this place to see what is down there, as the survey indicates a rock floor.)

Images

A pretty section in the Gouffre Raymonde streamway

Posted by: Dr Footleg

Size: 99kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 504 pixels
Posted: 09 November 2005
Martin descending the final wet cascade before the big pitch
Posted by: Dr Footleg
Size: 99kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 800 pixels
Posted: 09 November 2005
Martin descends into the unknown! A view from the top of the 133m Puits Delteil
Posted by: Dr Footleg
Size: 45kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 510 pixels
Posted: 09 November 2005