Dent de Crolles Easter Tour
Alva Gosson, Jim Evans, Iain McKenna (The Bachelors)
Mark Evans, Jackie Wiersma, Kathryn Atherton, Paul Wilcox, (The Couples)
Emmanualle, Jocaster, Kylie, Natasha, Flossy ….. etc (the Tackle bags)
A pilgrimage to the roots of Caving and of ICCC.
Begluckt Darf Nun Dich (Pigrims Chorus)
While the Christian world was remembering its spiritual origins this Easter the Caving Club took a pilgrimage to its own birth place, the Dent de Crolles in Chartreuse. It was the inspiration for Petzl and Chevalier's development of modern vertical caving back in the late 1930s and our clubs first foreign venture in 1962; our last visit was in 1990. This year we repeated its two most classic trips the Trou de Glaz to Grotte d'Annette Bouchecourt, and Trou de Glaz to Grotte de Guire Mort traverses.
Composed of labarynthine passages at three levels the cave looks daunting on the survey and has a reputation for ensnaring the unwary, fitting my memories from 1990. Our first concern though was securing a knowledge of the exits positioned high on the faces of the dentine monolith. The late melting of snow this year meant that the road from St Hugues to the Col de Coq, at the foot of the mountain, was impassable and from here the walk to the Trou de Glaz involved traversing several hundred meters of steep snow - less than ideal for the average caver kitted in a toboggan. Contrary to advice from the local tourist centre we pursued our goal. In addition to caving during the week Katheryn and Iain spent two days climbing, and most of the rest of the time was spent in the kitchen of our homely gite in the service of our stomachs.
By Easter Monday we were ready to rig the Trou de Glaz to the insignificant junction joining Guire Mort to Annette. Iain, Jim and I, the bachelors, using crampons and ice axes hiked to the entrance around the em-pass to the col de Coq. Entering the large slot over an obscuring bank of snow, the cave's naming became evident. An ice flow built from a small central waterfall sheeted the floor and from the walls and roof hung a series of huge glistening icicle groups. At the limits of daylight a translucent parade of ice stalagmites stood in rank and file across the grand East passage their heads bowing into the cave (indicating an inflow of air in winter which reverses in summer), the ices last stand against that hidden realm which knows no winter. Beyond this we passed East, rigging the three pitches and traversing onto the Annette level stopping after three hours at the Puits Fernand (named by Fernand Petzl). Mark, Jackie, Paul, and Katheryn, the couples, reccied the crawling Guire Mort entrance to the first pitch, Pierre (named by Pierre Chevalier).
After driving the kit around on Tuesday via Grenoble and reccying the Annette exit came the main assult on Wednesday. Taking no chances this year we equipped ourselves with compasses and photocopies of the survey. Mark, Paul, Katheryn, the couples minus Jackie put off by Tuesdays trip, undertook the traverse to Annette. The bachelors took Guire Mort. In 1990 the former took 10 hours the latter some 12 hours. Both trips were washed aground in unsettling periods of disorientation.
Annette starts off large and high for half its length before dropping into large passages progressively more broken up by bolder-chokes. Things to avoid when travelling in this direction are firstly a hidden traverse, the lower level leading to a sump and a pile of minotaur bones recorded in the original exploration. The second an odd looped figure eight passage which drops you back before you went wrong, and where the eventual way on is back down under a higher crawl. These problems are not present in reverse (the bachelors and Jackie derigging on Friday) but the Diaclase Annette, a vertical crack running perpendicular to the passage, is easy to overshoot.
The Guire Mort passed with even less hitch. On the pitch after the starting 45m drop we decided that rumours that the cave was rigged were true and we invited Emmanuelle and Jocasta on a through trip. Meanders gave way to the phreatic Galleries des Champignons with bulbous calcite formations on the floor which took us round to the north and toward our destination. In three hours we arrived at the Cascade Rocheuse the half way stage and it dawned on us that this was not the trip it had been in 1990. The curving rope of the Puits Bananes led off to the Galleries des Tritons with its floor channel and then the Galleries sans Nom. The way on then takes a surprise turn into an immediately less grand side passage, before continuing to where we were lost in 1990. A small floor collapse has opened up this way, but never-the-less with good map, compass, route markings (red and white stripped tape here, red paint spots in Annette) and experience, route finding in general had been easy. The following crawl led us to a traverse around the impressive Puits Isabelle and then rapidly to the Puits Pierre and the final crawl. We were through in just 6 hours.
Walking down the cavernous passage to the Guire Mort resurgence and wading through its waters, our carbides running out of rock on which to glow, we were met by a clear early evening sky holding high above the mountain treeline a comet; the astrological symbol of change reminding us that the club has grown and moved on, and the Dent de Crolles, while remembered as it was in our Petzl equipment, is now different from how it had been for the less experienced club in 1990, to the newly founded club in 1962 and to the caving world in 1940. The Dent de Crolles, a striking parallel in every respect to Migovec, now a monument to its spirit reborn and living once again in Slovenia.