Thank you for those kind words Mr.B.
We have arrived back safe, sound but extremely knackered. Break out the box of medals and let the story begin.
GOUFFRE de COUEY LODGE
After another mass debate back at the ranch, over another Pendle midnight meal there was wild talk of sacking the G de CL for another day, or two ! Webbo and Weanski finally talked me round by saying that we'd be too knackered to complete the full trip itinerary if we sat on our fat arses - again. ( We have actually been to the Catholic tat-fest that is Lourdes, but as this year we have music and a TV the log book is suffering from neglect. Webbo in particular is fascinated by the moving pictures. Also French TV shows a lot of norks which is more pleasing to the eye than writing our collective memoirs…anyway )
0800hrs - BLOOM'O'Clock
Up and at em boys. Quick scram and kit to car then we're off on the road. After a 20hr faff, Bloom-meister, having scared us shitless about the horror that this cave may be, has decided to take a walk in the woods with Swamps. It proved to be a good move for La Bloom would have had to be burned over fire lighters and carried out in a BDH, or burnt in our generators after we ran out of carbide. It was a hard old cave.
Changing at the limestone pavement around 10.00hrs we tramped up to the entrance. As Stevie stated our decent times were (SW)-10.22hrs, (AP)-10.25hrs and (DK)-10.28hrs respectively. We whizzed down the pitches, the rub point of doom being tamed by a No.2 friend deviation. Sooner than you can say the Thai alphabet backwards we were at our lowest point of descent from the day before. Ahead was a narrow crawl.
Onwards went the brave tigers, Webbo heading in first seemed to be having problems with his Puritan hat. I decided that sans SRT kit was the way ahead, like. The crawl was a right shagging bastard, but we punched through. A rifty bit followed before a pitch rigged by Webbo. Before too long we'd streamed ahead to the Salle de Richard.
Roll over the yellow spots on the survey to see the pictures! No need to click. Top tip - pop-ups must be allowed, and have the survey at the bottom of your screen so it doesn't interfere with the pop-ups.
Having been given blinkers to encourage me to write up the trip……here we go.
Fuck my boots it was a hard day out.
It didn't take long to get to the previous low point but beyond that the horrors began. A La Car Pot style crawl, which was supposed to be 170m long, lasted about an hour, then a little pitch and lots more crawly rift.
There was no walking or easy going save for a few metres here and there but everything else was grovelling, climbing over big brown slippery boulders, traversing over rifts of doom, wobbling through tottering breakdowns, wading in freezing cold water etc etc
Couey Lodge Specialities are as follows:
The hours passed as we plodded down the main streamway. This was gently inclined but interrupted by classic climbs, small pitches, and brown boulders as mentioned above. Big chambers came and went like gloomy ships passing in the night.
After about five hours we came to a section of really dark limestone with white calcite veins. Through this the stream ran, and excellent it was. There were great big deep marmites or pot holes with dodgy traverses on woven French moustache hair. The water was crystal and blue except for the bits full of piss, sweat and carbide. And then suddenly the sump pool, which was beautiful beyond all expectation. 6 hours of hard work for a little French puddle.
It was only then that the hard slog began. Every uphill metre had to be fought for, and the 5 sections of Couey Lodge cave (described above) alternated. Even a monster pig out on ravioli, courtesy of the Thuggo, only slowed the onset of fatigue. Feet didn't quite go where you put them and I felt like I was operating on 75% power all the time. The stream water which had tasted so clear on the way in wasn't quite so refreshing now….strange.
The crawl back to the foot of the pitches was a right bastard and I suffered a 20 minute sense of humour failure fighting with my tackle bag. As it was Andy came to the rescue dispelling my gloom with an excellent demonstration of his grasp of physics……….as follows:
Anyway Andy seemed happy enough and it cheered me to see him suffer. Out of the crawls we merrily ate oranges brought in on the rigging trip. Once prussiking again I felt less tired however….
The surface was very welcome and the star-studded sky, the dry clothes and cool beer just topped it off.
What a place. We wondered slowly back down the road with our heads to the stars. The night air felt very sweet.
I have little to add, except that;
1). How the fuck did I rig the Moonmilk traverse ?!?! It scared me shitless on the way down !
2). The crawl would have been ok without SRT kits and camera gear, both of which I had, and
3). I was very tired on the way out and fell asleep on the pitch head of the P25 after the crawl (I was clipped on!)
The cave passed quickly as we shot down it, the journey was punctuated by the odd feature of interest. There were lovely cascades and a thunderous cavern, the Salle Henri Brosset at -400m, where the main Couey Lodge water joined the tributary we had been descending. Then the horror of the thought of full immersion, but cunning boulder hopping reduced it to a marginal welly filler.
There was a climb over a huge calcite formation, followed immediately on the other side by the aforementioned pool of doom (I stayed dry by using the tiny weenie ledges at the side. Ha !), followed by a decent sized stream-way for a change ! This then shrank into a rift with lots of deep pools to traverse, which eventually led to the Salle de Deux-Sevres, the largest chamber in the cave and deathly silent.
A climb, then some large stream-way, a climb through boulders and another short pitch through a calcite formation and we were on the home straight to the sump ! The final 500m (horizontally) of the cave was undoubtedly the finest section of the cave. Cut into jet-black limestone, with pure white calcite bands running through it, the lapis lazuli water ran deep and fast through ever deepening marmites (potholes), which were crossed on dodgy ropes or conveniently placed ledges. This was the finest, most sporting and impressive section of cave by far, well worth the effort getting there. The 15m diameter sump pool followed and it was spectacular ! A fine end to a very long and excellent cave.
Swamp Thing and I did a most pleasurable walk the day of the Couey Lodge victory. We walked from the very cave mouth, up, up, up onto the Pic d'Whatever, then we set fair a bearing east to pick up the mighty GR10 trade-winds.
Through snow field and karst we pressed on, Swampy now and again pausing to sniff a sweet meadow blossom. Meanwhile, the animals scattered in fear at his passing.
Eventually, after passing through high barren passes, we reached the place called "Lescunts".
"You will never get back alive to Lees-Athas," opined the natives in the Lexcun Hotel. "The path is nothing", they said.
"Everything is something", we said and pressed on.
At the stroke of 10 we arrived back, an 11 1/2 hr marathon of fun. The rest is history.