From August 1-6, 2011, climbers and alpinists from Team Petzl were introduced to caving in the Gouffre Berger cave, which descends to -1100m. Team Petzl member and organizer of the expedition, François Lombard, tells the story.
Caving has a long history for Petzl. In the 1950s, Fernand Petzl played a very important role in opening numerous caves in the Vercors region of France, designing and producing equipment that enabled him to make these incredible discoveries. In 1955, he was a part of the legendary team that first reached a record breaking -1000 meters at Gouffre Berger.
To retrace his steps, Phil Bence, an active caver and member of Team Petzl, along with Florence Guillot and Guillaume Capgras and in collaboration with their club from France's Ariège region, SSAPO Ariège, asked us to organize a "Team Petzl meeting at the Gouffre Berger.
The goal was to follow the footsteps of Fernand 50 years later. So we formed a "dream team" that included Tony Lamiche, Charlotte Durif, Marion Poitevin, Jérome Meyer, Mélissa Le Nevé, Mickaël Fuselier, Nina Caprez and Daniel Dulac. Guillaume Broust, Bruno Fromento and Serge Caillault were also recruited to shoot photos and video. The trip would be a learning experience for some and a chance for others to take the next step.
Base camp was established from August 1 – 6 at Lans in Vercors. After a long day of technical calibration, a first descent to -500 meters was made with two objectives: to make sure everyone was comfortable underground and to take some amazing photos. With success of this first step, the team's attention would now be focused on the full exploration down to -1122m.
On Thursday, August 4 at 1:00 p.m., we head underground and quickly descend the part that our team had already covered. At -600 meters we meet Cédric Lachat and his friend Vincent Franzi who had come long to explore new galleries and to give us a hand. At 9:00 p.m. we reached the siphon at -1122 meters and a bottle of Mouton-Cadet 2008 is opened to celebrate the event (thanks to Daniel Dulac)! From there we began the long trip back up, recovering our gear along the way. We reached the surface about 20 hours later.
What we got from this amazing adventure, along with the scenery and the incredible experience, is the feeling of walking in the footsteps of the first explorers. But above all was the sharing of ethics and motivations between different disciplines.
Photos of the expedition
"The underground world is a strange and bizarre place and at the same time very beautiful. I learned caving two years ago and it was really cool for me to join all my friends from Petzl in one of the most beautiful holes in Vercors. We shared an extraordinary adventure… We laughed and we suffered together, but mostly we shared and that's what counts in life."
"This was a true caving experience: the insane beauty of the underground world, battling the haulbags as we jumared back up, security issues at - 1000 and the intoxication of leaving the cave at 7:00 in the morning after an 18-hour adventure. This was an especially successful challenge that has left me with strong memories for the future. A group of friends and a good atmosphere … we had everything!!"
"We really reached our limits in caving. Thanks to everyone this adventure in the dark was really fun. Thanks especially to the passionate experts (Flo, Phil, Guillaume, Serge, Bruno....) who had the patience to accompany beginners like us. It was a great chance to meet new people and discover a new sport."
"I loved this underground adventure. The experience was incredible and this meeting was a real event. I hope that our group will meet again for more projects that are as crazy as this."
"My little body will remember this adventure for a long time! And my little heart as well… Thanks again for a great reason to get together. This was a positive initiative that sparks new ideas for future meetings."
Melissa Le Nevé
"The Gouffre Berger was an incredible discovery for me. I had already made one trip underground but not nearly this deep! For me, the gouffre represented:
- a great team, always ready with a smile even in the most difficult moments.
- amazing sights, stunning atmosphere, incredible beauty,
- a fight against fatigue,
- the brie, chocolate and wine we had for lunch!
17 hours, -1123m, actually the time passes really quickly underground! It took a full day to recover but my head is filled with great memories. I am super happy to have the chance to discover a new activity and a new place and I am ready to use this experience for new adventures!"
The film will be shown at the Rencontres du cinéma de montagne de Grenoble on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at the Summum. After that it will be available exclusively on the Petzl website. This film provides an opportunity to follow the parallels between the history of the company and the exploration of the magnificent scenery of the underground world.