Freesteel Blog » A quick trip to Chartreuse

A quick trip to Chartreuse

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 at 9:33 am Written by:

Tom had unfinished business at Dent de Crolles and took advantage of the four day Jubilee weekend to pad out meagre holiday allowances, as well as some caving victims keen in being guided through this famous cave system by someone who already done the necessary homework. A few years ago his caving buddy had an accident attempting to abseil down the pull-down side of the rope and they were stuck for thirty hours until the rescue call-out arrived.

Thirty hours is about how long it takes us to drive from the northwest of England to Mollard Bellet in the Chartreuse mountains (near Grenoble in the south of France) — each way. Such an undertaking should be made for no less than two weeks quality time out, during which time there should be no rain, and you don’t have a rhinovirus infection. We had only five days, it poured, and I snivelled the whole time. Fortunately the job of completing the famous 600m deep pull-through trip from the P40 entrance at the top to the Grotte de la Guiers Mort resurgence was done on the first day.

It’s not every day that a completely random French dude jumps into your pre-trip group photo

I had the honour of almost repeating Tom’s buddy’s mistake on the entrance pitch as I meticulously threaded my totally worn out Petzl Stop on the rope under the knot, and even clipped into the knot for backup, before realizing my mistake (akin to setting off to drive on the left side of the road in France), rapidly standing up from the ledge in horror, and shredding the backside of my oversuit beyond repair.

Walking up the crumbling mountain to the P40 entrance from Col du Coq

I was generally unimpressed with this cave all through the meanders. They were tight, tortuous, gut squeezing, and I thought: I came all this way out for caving that is no better than what we have in England?

One of the numerous exposed pitch heads on the way down
It could either have been the rhinovirus, which developed into a horrible sore throat that night, the lack of prior knowledge or interest in this particular cave, or the getting freaked out by my pull-through error at the entrance, or my longing to be hang-gliding at this time, which caused me to just want to be out and away from this cave the whole time.

This best bit of the cave. I was glad to get out

I skipped the next day. Can’t remember what I missed. Probably some more caving. Tried to work on TunnelX software but only wrote some useless tutorials.

It had not escaped my notice that this was a prime hang-gliding territory, with even the odd designated landing field at the end of the road:

There are even helpful warnings about the consequences of helicopters:

I like these informational signs. Note the cool French mountain goat with the correct gear to do a Via Ferrata (Oui), vs the hairy English badger in flip-flops and vest (Non!):

I also skipped the Via Ferrata near Crolles near that furnicular train and drove the car around. I recognized the place. Many years ago, in about the summer of 1991, I came through here on a hang-gliding holiday with IH in my Silver Passat — the one I replaced the engine of three times. We’d just flown at Annecy until it was rained off. The tent was soaked. Things were getting squalid in the car. We’d lost the carcass of a cooked chicken somewhere in a backseat footwell. All we had to go on were some glider symbols marked on the road map. Arriving at the furnicular train leading up to them from the valley, the lady in the ticket office explained that hang-gliders rode for free. It turned out that this applied to the pilots as well, which seemed like a good deal at the time, even as we held onto them through the window for fear that they were going to slide out the back of the U-rails bolted to the side of the carriage as it went nearly vertical.

Unexpectedly, there was a whole town at the top of the line, as well as a drivable road up to it — which shows you how well we had consulted the map. The glider launch spot was about a mile away across some steep fields. By the time we had spent an hour lugging our 30kg gliders on our shoulders plus 15kg of harness, the free ride wasn’t looking like such a good deal. Then we were faced with the take-off ramp, which looks like it drops off the platform at about 80 degrees down:

I had seen photos of this one at an intro to hang-gliding slide show where the university club president explained how scary it was and how you had to get it just right so as not to bang the back of the glider on the ground as you basically dropped off this cliff. I remember saying to myself, No way am I ever going to go there. And here we were, not able to go back, forced to deal with this thing.

You know what I’m going to do when I get a glider? I’m only going to go on guided foreign trips where somebody else does the thinking for me. I have more than enough experience to appreciate it.

For my patience, I was rewarded with the offer of a quick evening canyoning trip to Gorges de Chailles before the storms broke. This was attractive because it was written up with praise as the final article in the TSG journal #16 “Canyoning: Caving in the Sun”, which Emma had fetched from her club library because of its write-ups of trips through the Dent de Crolles.

These journal articles are like this blog — a random collection of rambling personal writings in the moment not intended to be read outside of a small circle of club members within a short time frame. It’s nothing more than an extended post-card sent back to your friends from holidays. However, when later the guidebooks fall short, or don’t exist at all, the you wind up relying on such documents for vital clues as to what you should do with your day or how to find your way.

The canyon didn’t quite degenerate into an epic, though the flow of the water was a concern, considering the warnings of siphons and traps. Luckily a piece of mossy tat from dangling at arms reach above allowed us to climb up and round the worst of it near the natural arch.

After escaping up a rope at what appeared to be the end of the canyon and a well-used path, we scrambled higher and higher up the bank, crossing a canal, to reach a road which led down to the small village of Voissant. This was nowhere near where we should have been, and we had no map and no phone, and no way to work out where Tony was waiting for us with the car to pick us up. Various French villagers stood on their doorsteps and stared at these three strange people wandering around their streets in wetsuits completely lost, like it had never happened before. As darkness closed in and lightning flashed in the distance, Becka blagged a lift from a guy who had been dozing in his car in the carpark of the church, and they found Tony about 5kms away in Verchere where we should have come out.

It was raining again the next day. All the others went cave hunting in the rain. Unfortunately they found it, which meant my rain cagoule Becka borrowed got trashed. After coughing and spluttering all morning on my own, I decided to get out and attempt to look for L’Infernet canyon by bike, though I didn’t make it beyond Col de Porte.

Time for the trip meal out. We left it too late to order a fondue, so our second choice could best be described in English as cheese on toast

With everyone else gone on Saturday, Becka had no one else but me to drag up via ferrata de Roche Veyrand where even I would admit they had gone overboard with the iron work.

In return, I got to do the short and sweet Furon Express canyon a couple of times before the interminable drive home.

The canyon got better with practice, as seen in this short video of video clips.

1 Comment

  • 1. Aaron replies at 23rd June 2012, 12:19 am :

    …totally beautiful…

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