After a short reconnoitring trip back in October, I decided that a return trip to the above area to cave 'properly' was in order. Accompanied by speleo sidekick John McGowan, I revisited the region at Easter.
Most of the caves are located to the south of the city of Besancon in the department of the abs and the Jura (each French region is subdivided into departements).Our base was to be the town of Ornans where I had rented a small apartment for the bank weekend.
John and myself an early ferry on Good Friday morning and proceeded down the autoroute out of Calais, stopping for 2 hours at the first peage. After restarting we left the autoroute network at Chaumont and proceeded to Besancon using the 'A' roads. Travel time was 7 hours and 1 tank of diesel. After lunch and refuelling at the hypermarket it was off to do a quick caving trip.
The Gouffre de Legarde was selected from the guide book (Speleologie en Comte) produced by members of 2 clubs; the unfortunately titled SHAG, and the SCJ (Speleo Club-de Jura). The instructions to find the entrance were a little confusing, but a pleasant young farmer's boy-showed us the way with his motorcycle, and we were able to park almost next to the entrance beside a German car.
Gouffre de Legarde is predominantly vertical. The entrance is located on the doline relatively-high up. The Germans had used the most obvious bolts on the entrance pitch, but there were others and the crafty use of a deviation gave us an almost freehanging drop of 28m. A short slope led to another pitch of 70rn, but the top sections are split by ledges. There were only bolts at the pitch head and the Germans had used them both, but I was able to use a rather dodgy looking natural belay for a drop of about 10m before another ledge was reached. Traversing out past the Germans gear to a Y hang using poor looking spits and deviating at about -8m gave a drop of about 30m Further progress was not possible due to the fact that the Germans were exiting and there was a general shortage of belay points!
The Germans were a party of 3 from Karlsruhe University and very pleasant and articulate they were too. We all exited together, prussiking in formation and swapping stories, and then out into brilliant hot sunshine. Returning to Ornans I collected the keys to the apartment from the Office de Tourisme and located the flat where we met our hosts Gomes family who lived upstairs.
The following day-we had decided to meet the Germans at the Gouffre du Folaven. However, we were a little late in departing and the instructions were confusing again). Eventually we found-the entrance in a doline, but it had collapsed in a serious way which was a shame as the hole has a 90m pitch. There was no sign of the Germans.
Gloomily we decided to drive halfway across the region to find the Gouffre de Pavidis. Despite the hot weather, there was quite a bit of snow about (it was 200m higher in this area), and after following some-more ambiguous directions, we gave up. Either we were in the wrong place, or the hole was plugged by snow. Perhaps a bigger scale map would have helped?
The less said about Sunday, the better! Both of us were hung over so we decided to go to the Baume de la Faviere, but ended up following the directions to the hole we visited on Friday. A farmer directed us to a hole full of Belgians instead. They said they loved caving in Yorkshire "for the water". After swapping stories for an hour or so, we left to find and hopefully descend the Gouffre d'Ouzene.
Again the guidebook had us thrashing about in a wood on the wrong side of a road looking for the entrance until noticed a convenient path. 5 minute walk from the car and there was the hole. Enough rope to descend the entrance and second pitches was packed. Rigging was not easy as the shaft was narrow not exactly vertical, so there was a series of deviations and rebelays and not enough rope! 55m of rope was required rather than 35m suggested by the book, so 1 knot later we gained the bottom of the shaft and exited.
Monday was time to clean up and pack for home Swift goodbyes were said to our hosts, and a descent was made of the 48m entrance pitch of the Gouffre de Ia Belle Louise; a fine shaft, but not the place to be when it rains as all the fields to the north drain into it. Backing up the rope to tree, a Y hang is arranged over the narrowest part of the shaft, so an unpleasant squeeze is required. A deviation at -12m and rebelays at about -30m and -40m lead to the bottom. 2 shorter 'mini' pitches follow, and then a solid floor strewn with boulders. The way on looks like the connection with the first pitch and "the Traverse in the Gods" in Nick Pot - a grovel in washed out bedding plane.
Then it was time to exit and depart for Calais.
The Franche Comte is a very interesting area and is probably the closest French caving region to the UK. Most of the sites visited are quite accessible, which means that it is popular with French and other European cavers. Early starts are .good idea. As with most French vertical systems, the placement of 8mm spits is not good - usually you will find that the rock will not have been 'prepped' and the head of the anchor may not be flush with the surface of the rock.
Access is generally not a problem,. Though permission is required to. descend some of the flood prone systems around Desevilliers (you get it from the Town Hall). Obviously there is no access to the Gouffre du Folaven until somebody digs out and shores up the entrance (now there's an interesting digging project).
Gouffre de Ia Legarde
1 x 45m Mammut Rope 10.5mm
1 x 110m Edelrid Superstatic Rope 10mm
2 x Slings
2 x Deviation Cords
3 x Lizard Bollard Hangers
5 x Petzl Plate Hangars c/w MRs
3 x Karabiners
1 x 40m Edelrid 'Soft' Rope 10mm
1 x 30m TSA (Cousin) Rope 10.5mm
6 x Petzl Plate Hangers c/w MRs
2 x Slings
Gouffre de Ia Belle Louise
1 x 110m Edelrid Superstatic Rope 10mm
9 x Petzl Plate Hangers c/w MRs
1 x Lizard Bollard Hanger
1 x Deviation Cord
1 x Sling
2 x Karabiners