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Gouffre Berger

Listed under Caves & Caving in Grenoble, France.

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This was the first natural cave to be “pushed” in 1956 to a vertical depth of just over a kilometre, it has to be on the list of every aspirant speleologist! Once rigged, a trip to the final sump (where the lower passages are submerged) and back out again takes around 30 hours but most cavers spend at least one night underground to enjoy the splendours of camping in “The Hall of Thirteen”, named after the original explorers. This really is a magnificent cavern where one is dwarfed by the huge stalagmites that decorate this enormous void.

The cave lies to the west of Grenoble on the Sornin plateau which was used as a hide out for the French Resistance during the Second World War. Most groups spend at least a week exploring the system and it is common for one team to rig and one to derig the system giving groups more time to explore other caves in the area my favourite being the “Gournier” which is found near Pont en Royans adjacent to the “Coranche” which has to be one of the most magnificent show caves on the planet!

The entrance to the system is a rather insignificant hole at the bottom of a depression in the limestone. The whole area is densely forested with pine trees and finding it can be problematical particularly at the start of the season (early July) when the path is not obvious. It is necessary to book about 12 months in advance via the mayor’s office in Engins. I was fortunate on my two expeditions to “The Berger” in being able to camp on the plateau- this s no longer permitted which can do nothing for the environment as it involves regular journeys by car up and down the steep road with its numerous hairpin bends leading to and from the village of Autrans where there is camping.

A series of vertical drops (pitches) lead to The Grand Gallery which is followed to The Hall of Thirteen. The only real obstacle en route is a flooded section, Lac Cadoux, which can be bone dry but more often than not is passed by boat or by a rather cold swim! Most groups leave dry clothes in The Hall of Thirteen and eat a decent meal before setting off for the bottom. Another flooded section of “canals” soon follows but after this the pitches come thick and fast before an acrobatic drop called “Little Monkey” is followed by the 50 metre “Hurricane Pitch” which needless to say is wet, cold and windy. The worst of the water can be avoided by an aerial traverse along the left hand wall along a series of ropes of doubtful vintage! The sump can be found a few dozen metres downstream. The camp in The Hall of Thirteen with its warm (well damp!) sleeping bags and cooking facilities seems miles away.

The system is prone to flooding which is why permission is only granted during the summer months, even then there is no guarantee the system will be free from flooding and a wise group will pay particular attention to weather forecasts.

As I’ve already stated no self respecting speleologist can miss this one!

Written by  Ralph Johnson.

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