EXPEDITION TO THE CENTRAL PYRENEES 1965 continued
First we climbed Gasco, which took about an hour, half rock climbing and half snow climbing. The view at the top was tremendous the sharp and snowy peaks of the French Pyrenees forming a backcloth to the green Gavarnie valley 5000 feet below. We then ridge-walked across to Tora, and then glissaded back to our bivouac in about twenty minutes. We packed our equipment and walked back to our base camp, where we ate for several hours, as we had been short of food in the bivouac!
The next day we climbed Mount Perdido, the highest mountain in the district, and the one which overlooked our camp. The weather was perfect, as it had been all the time, and the view again was marvellous. On the way down we went onto the Marbore where we heard there were some large shafts. Near the top we found some numbered shafts, which the Spanish had been working on. However, lower down we found some large shafts which seemed untouched. A stone thrown down took four seconds to reach a ledge and another two seconds to reach the bottom - an estimated depth of four hundred feet. We were very excited and decided to bivouac near the shafts as soon as possible. However, it was then Wednesday and three members of the expedition had to be back at work by the following Monday.
On Thursday morning we investigated a pothole found near to our camp by one of our members who had been ill on Wednesday, and who had come across a large shaft with a stream coming in at the bottom. We laddered the first shaft which was thirty feet deep, and then a ten foot climb led into a stream passage. Another thirty foot pitch soon followed, very wet, followed by a short passage to a sump. This was dived to a small bell-chamber, but another sump followed. It was, however, quite an interesting find.
On Thursday afternoon we walked down into the valley, and drove to Broto. Here we had a slap-up meal in a restaurant, which we all enjoyed immensely. It was a big change from our usual diet of Instant Mashed Potato, Corned Beef, and Vitamin pills!
Friday was spent driving our three friends, who were going home, to a railway station at Tarbes, in France, and on Saturday we had a day of rest, sunbathing and swimming all day. We walked back onto the plateau again on Sunday afternoon. It began to get cloudy on the way up, and started to rain quite heavily.
We had taken all the tents, except one, down into the valley with us, to save weight when we were all going down for the last time. Also we didn't think we would need them when we were bivouacking on the Marbore, and there were plenty of small caves on the plateau in which we could sleep. We picked a cave to sleep in and put our equipment in. However a very heavy thunderstorm then started and we found water soaked into our cave from all directions! We hurriedly looked for another, and found one with a reasonably dry, though uncomfortable floor for sleeping on. The thunderstorm continued all night with almost continuous sheet lightning. We got fairly damp in our cave, but not too bad to sleep. Next day (Monday) the weather was still bad with heavy rain and thunder every hour or so. Two of our members went on to the Marbore to see what conditions were like up there, while others went on to next higher plateaux to investigate several small shafts, found when walking across to the ice caves. About ten shafts were descended two to a depth of seventy feet or so but no significant passages was found, the lads who had ascended the Marbore said conditions were very bad up there, and there was no hope of sleeping there until the weather improved.
Next day was still unsettled, so we went to look for a shaft that was found on Monday which led into a large stream passage. This passage was eight hundred feet long ending in a sump, which was dived for about fifteen feet but no airspace was found. This cave was then surveyed and photographed. In the evening the weather cleared up end several of us went for a walk onto the lower levels of the Marbore. Here we found the camp of an expedition from the Spanish Institute of Hydrology who were doing a hydrological survey of the area.
They had a lot of caving ladders etc. and earlier had offered to lend us some if we needed more than our own five hundred feet of ladder to descend the shafts on the Marbore. They showed us the work they had done in the area - descending, numbering, surveying all the shafts in their area and dye-testing all water found. They said they were going to do a mile long cave on the Marbore the next day, with a two hundred foot ladder pitch and asked us if we would like to go. We were very pleased at the idea of doing a long cave, even a well known one, so we said we would like to go. It was arranged that we would meet at their camp at 6.30a.m. next morning.
We rose at 4.30a.m. while it was still dark. However it was 6.00a.m. before we were ready to start due to the large breakfast we needed to last all day and the low pressure at which the stoves work at high altitude. As the Spaniards camp was a good hours walk away we decided to go straight up the Marbore and into the area of the cave and wait for them there. We arrived near to the cave about 8.00a.m. and sat down to wait. It had been a beautiful morning but now it began to cloud over. There was still no sign of them at 10.30a.m. so we decided that we must have missed them as we did not know the exact position of the cave entrance.
It was getting quite cold then and we agreed to go higher up the Marbore to the shafts we had found, find a bivouac, and leave the equipment to be brought up, hoping to come again the following day with the rest of the gear. We did this and on the way down at 2.5O.p.m. we met the Spaniards. Two of their party had been ill in the morning, and it was 9.3O.a.m. before they set off - just like British cavers! They could not find the cave they wanted to descend, and they had already been down two shafts which were not it. We helped them to de-ladder one and then carried on down the mountain, as it looked like rain and was cold, and we had left our equipment higher up. We heard later that they did eventually find it. We did a bit of climbing on the small rocks near our cave at night. Next morning the cloud was low again - there had been a heavy thunderstorm during the night. The Spaniards had said the storms would probably last another three or four days.
We had a discussion and decided to go down off the mountain and do some known caves in France near Lourdes. It was agreed that three members would go up to the Marbore and bring the equipment down from there, and the other four would carry down all the equipment from our camp. We gave the food we had left to border guards and the warden at the refuge. Those going up the Marbore set off and the others packed 350 pounds of equipment onto four pack frames and burnt all they couldn't carry - including one and a half gallons of paraffin and ten pounds of carbide. The track was again staggered along by four Englishmen with huge packs. Later to be followed by three tired Englishmen with huge packs.
The river in the valley, which we had to cross was in flood, and it was quite difficult to cross with packs. We picked the widest part but it was still over knee deep with a very strong current. Luckily no-one fell. We met at the rock shelter, where we slept on the way up, at about 9.30.p.m., the four coming direct from the camp having been down to the van with the packs and back again.
The next day (Friday) we drove to Pau, where we located some local cavers who told us where to go to find a good cave. On Saturday night, in heavy rain we descended the cave, spending about seven hours exploring and photographing, coming out at about 2.00.a.m.
On Sunday we drove to La Rochelle, where we swam and sunbathed for two days. We crossed the Channel on Wednesday night, and after spending most of Thursday in a garage getting the van repaired, we drove to Bury. On Friday we went to Ingleton, and finished the expedition in good style with a difficult but homely Yorkshire pothole.