D-Day in the Perdreau
Updated: Feb 16
I would be lying if I said I wasn't just a bit nervous or under pressure the night before this dive.
Our last attempt was thwarted by my failed attempt to pass the almost vertical rift in zero vizibility, which we now realised was due to a very loose, sloppy polyprop line. We had made attempts to fix it, but ultimately, it needs to come out and a heavy line put in.
We had a quick breakfast and drove over to the parking spot to meet the French from the CLPA, who were keen as ever to help us.
Beautiful hills are the backdrop to our expedition
After a lot of banter and greetings, Jean, Etienne and three others offering surface support, set off to the cave entrance and shifted the gear through the small boulder choke. this consisted of a pair of 12s, a pair of 15s, two deco bottles of oxygen, and 4 7litre bottles for Jarvist and Tim. plus all sundry bits and bobs you need for diving, like masks, fins and regs etc.
We embarked on a mammoth lowering session which involved pulley cars and 'staged' people but it worked fantastically and all the gear was at the bottom of the pitch in not much more than an hour from leaving the surface.
Rich and I dived to the airbell and Jarvist and Tim did an excellent job of helping us unkit and carefully pulling our big bottles up the slope, to get them ready for re-kitting in sump 2.
I got into the water first and with a little help, managed to kit back up again in the narrow rift and float around a bit, trying to keep warm whilst Rich went through the same process. We were handed our deco bottles and had agreed to get them to the other side of the 'annoying flop'. Sump 2 is a very short dive to another airbell which is passable by belly flopping over a narrow rock bridge which gets in the way. We passed our deco bottles over this and I found a good place at 6m to drop them, quite close to airspace.
We set off with the intention of picking up my line reel from where Oz and Joe had left it last year. The cave appeared to be going deeper, but on recent inspection, it may stay at -30m for a while at least.
We set off along the rift and the viz had cleared from our last dive a little, but it was not perfect despite being given 2 days to settle.
We continued for a while and were both very surprised to meet an upwards line into airspace. Somehow we had overshot the junction which takes us to the 'new' line. Confused, we went back on ourselves and realised that, in our efforts to avoid the appalling floating polyprop line which had taken off into the roof of the rift, we had swum past the clothes pegs and other general tatt. Even more surprising was that the floating line had hidden itself so far up into the roof, it was quite an effort to pull it down and put it back into the downwards rift which was looking empty.
Jean Tarrit - my hero!
We made several attempts to fix it but ultimately, polyprop sucks and it will be coming out next time.
We continued on the correct path, having wasted a few minutes.
Geologists! Apparently it would be good if we were to head south west and not north if at all possible!!
We very soon came across the 'new junction' and set off along Oz and Joe's line. I surveyed the last leg whilst Rich untied the line reel that had sat quiet for a year and once I had underlined the numbers in my wetnotes, Rich turned to me, reel at the ready and smiled an 'Ok?' I nodded and we set off along beautiful rift passage, horizontal and about 30m depth, dipping to 34m temporarily. The rock was sharp, pale, sculptured and pretty. the passage was 10m high and 2m wide at the widest part.
Rich made a lovely, tight line with good tie offs and I bimbled along behind, counting knots, recording the depth and the compass bearing. It was heading north and all I could think of was that poor geologist who was desperate for the cave to go in the opposite direction!
The thing is, it might yet as it has already done one weird corkscrew and we emptied the reel as the rift started to close down - a sign maybe that we should be looking elsewhere now for the continuation.
The Coudouliére is known to connect from dye tracing and that cave corkscrews considerably before settling on a path - and it goes deep. It currently lies at 1650m long and 100m depth.
Chris climbs out of sump 1
We looked at the floor nervously waiting for it to engulf us into the depths - but it never did. It just started to pinch up and Rich was getting itchy feet in large 12 and 15 litre bottles. The reel emptied at just the right time.
We dived back in appalling vizibility which was very patchy and were relieved to get back to our deco bottles at 6m with no deco incurred. We had spent 36 minutes in the sump with an average depth of about 20m.
We returned to expectant sherpas and delivered the empty reel and Rich was pre-occupied with the fact that he found his long lost halcyon knife!! We were helped out of the water and out of our cylinders by Jarv and Tim.
I was absolutely freezing - I had somehow managed to be the first in the sump and the last out - so I got an extra 10 minutes of coldness either end! We climbed out and I was generously given something sugary by the resident diabetic. He'll live! (probably).
We had a shivery dive out. I went ahead and Rich followed, exiting the sump at a rate of knots even I found alarming! Clearly he wanted out! We changed into warm fleecy caving undersuits - the posh element changed into fourth element underclothes!
Chris holds up the empty line reel.
We started packing up and getting gear ready for hauling and we were out of the cave, with our gear back at the car, by 6pm!! Unbelievable! Many thanks to the gang for their help - Elaine, Duncan and Gerick turned up later in the evening to help on the surface as well.
We retired to the campsite to shower and get tarted up for an evening meal in St Jean de Buéges - a timely place - but devoid of champagne :-(