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  • Christine Grosart

The Bloody French Cave

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

The CLPA had been keen for the last few years for us to go and visit the Event de Cambon.

Frank Vasseur had dived the short, shallow sump about 20 years ago and to their knowledge, nobody had ever been back.

Now, even in his 20s Frank was no slouch. In fact, he was probably considerably fitter and harder than he is now.

I did make a feeble protest that I couldn’t see what we would achieve that Frank could not, but it was information that the cavers wanted rather than caverns measureless. They were intent on digging down from the top of the gorge and this cave was important to them to know if it connected or not.

We said we would take a look.

According to the description, Frank had surfaced and immediately encountered several climbs which got higher and higher. As he was alone, he made a retreat.

Nobody knows what happened after that and Frank could not remember much about the cave at all.

The CLPA wanted us to survey the sump, the dry passage beyond and get a compass direction.

How hard could it be?

So, we met up in St Maurice de Navacelles to have coffee with our sherpas – or ‘slaves’ as Jean prefers to call them and picked up a Disto-X for surveying beyond the sump.

In convoy, we set off down the twisty hairpin bends of the Cirque de Navacelles and parked up at river level by the Vis. The walk to the cave entrance was relatively flat but about 800m.

Some enthusiastic deforestation then ensued as the French began clearing the snaggy branches and cleared away a grubby little cave entrance. It had filled with stones from the winter rains but by the time Rich and I had rigged our cylinders, the entrance was dug out again.

I went for a quick look inside.

Hmm. This was going to be a fun kitting up spot. Nowhere to stand up, nowhere really to sit. It was what we were used to in the UK but it was a long way to go to dive something like this in France. Oh well.

We passed the gear in to the cave and Rich went ahead and kitted up first. I remained just upslope of him, regularly kicking stones down at him while he thrashed about trying to get his fins on.

Frank’s old line was there but we needed to lay our own knotted line for surveying. The sump pool had gone to zero so surveying was looking less and less likely.

Once ready and crammed into the tiny muddy pool, we set off downslope through a squeeze with a rubble floor and sloping roof.

The sump was about 40m long as described and 7m deep. The water cleared after the squeeze and had better dimensions.

CLPA dig out the entrance to the Cambon

On surfacing, there was a near vertical rift – made of mud – and a ladder hanging down from above which was just out of reach and no means of getting to it. It looked as if Frank had dived the sump when water levels were somewhat higher.

Noses turned up, we returned to the start of the sump pool to report our findings. The viz had gone to zero and not good enough for a proper survey.

Then, as if our failure was not enough, then began the thunder. Torrential rain and thunder and lightening crashed all around us and the Cirque de Navacelles while we tried to pack our gear up.

Chris kits up

Rich and I elected to walk back in our wetsuits as our clothes were sodden.

We got back to the van and took it in turns to get into the back and change. It was miserable and getting colder.

Jean invited everyone back to his house for a welcome cup of tea and to dry out a little. We made it up to ourselves by watching the video we shot of the new passage in the Perdreau.

Jean was in danger of having a power cut, so we headed back to our campsite to inspect the damage.

Water had infiltrated the front porch of the tent, which was not entirely unexpected and Rich had already moved electrical items to higher ground that morning.

Water had also infiltrated Rich’s Rude Nora caving torch battery which was now no longer working. Meh.

We decided to drown our sorrows in a local pizzeria – but each and every single restaurant in the region were closed. So, back to the campsite for a tin of sausage and beans and leffe beer. We’ve had better days, but that’s the nature of cave diving. It ain’t sun and stalictites all the time.

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