After lots of faff at the campsite in the morning, 7 of us set off up the hill to La Grotte du Gournier. After some more faff at the carpark and during the walk to the cave, we reached the epic entrance at around midday. This consisted of a big chamber with a roof that looks like its dripping with old stalactites, and a crystal clear lake.
Since a tour group was already there and busy transporting people across the lake in boats, it gave us time to consider the logistics of crossing the lake ourselves. We had brought Ben Snowball’s inflatable bag/sofa thingy (much to the amusement of the French tour guide), however after realising it would be broken, and not wanting to pay for a replacement, we opted to not use it. Instead Brendan was sent swimming across the lake with a rope to rig a handline. Whilst we all began to pull ourselves across (feeling very grateful for my 5mm wetsuit), Brendan splashed happily around, and Mike explored further along the lake, lamenting that he didn’t have his diving gear.
Having forgotten a tackle bag, Nathan rigged a traverse line across the top of the chamber using the lake rope and some very minimal metalwork scrounged from people’s harnesses.
At the top of the traverse, we entered the fossil gallery, a 30 m wide, 15 m high passage full of spectacular calcite formations. We walked (and boulder hopped) past gour pools, stalagmites, columns and stalactites. Passing 2 tour groups (one of which was led by a man with a carbide lamp, the other group seemed to have stopped for a cigarette break, French cave conservation at its best), we reached the 2nd entrance to the Gournier river after around half an hour in the passage.
Climbing down through boulders, we stopped for a sandwich break, then headed upstream. The Gournier river is probably the best underground river I’ve been to. The water is crystal clear, and there’s lots of very pretty pools and waterfalls. Parts of the upstream trip are aided by via ferrata type metal staples. Following a particularly exciting climb up some slippery staples whilst overhanging above a waterfall, the group (minus Nathan and Mike) decided to turn back rather than face the next climb which was apparently awkward and wet. The way back was equally fun, as we jumped down as many small waterfalls as possible.
Nathan and Mike caught up with us part way back through the fossil gallery, and whilst Brendan derigged the traverse line, the rest of us jumped from the ledge halfway along, around 6 m (?) into the lake. A walk down to the car in the sunshine saw us returning to the campsite to drink beer and chill out, a pleasant end to a very pleasant trip.
Summary: excellent cave (lots of variation, pretties and literally no misery), excellent people, 10/10.