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VERCORS CAVING - An Overview:The Vercors became popular with UK cavers following the outrageous British expeditions to the Berger in the early '60's led by Ken Pierce. The more discerning cavers realised that there was a truly beautiful and secret corner of France, beyond the Sornin Plateaux. Word has spread slowly ever since.
The Gouffre Berger:
Generally, caving in the Vercors is (due to the geology) split into regions. In the north east (from the Moucherolle up to the Sornin Plateaux) the caves are very deep and demanding. They are also extremely weather dependent, and due to extremes of weather (it can be too hot to approach them in summer, and too risky to descend them in unsettled weather) are generally descended by local cavers in the depths of winter, when the ski infrastructure is used to aid access. In the north west (Autrans and Meaudre areas) there are many fine systems (Meaudre is the new "hot spot" for new caves, with a significant discovery being made just about every year). None, though, could be described as "holiday caving". (Holiday caving: caves that can be completed in a day without adopting multi day "siege" tactics or requiring long approach walks).
In the south, the Herbouilly Plateaux contains many caves of varying depth and difficulty and is the subject of a guide book of it's own (now sadly out of print). The area bordering the Vernaison river valley contains many caves of varying difficulty, including the impressive Luire system just south of St. Agnan, which resurges at the Bournillion (the largest cave entrance in Europe). Generally, the caves of the southern Vercors are more suitable to holiday caving.
Published Information on Vercors Caving:
Given the number of caves in this region (probably between 3,000 to 4,000 of various descriptions and development) it is frustrating to find so little published information on them. Long out of print are:
Grottes et Scialets du Vercors: "the Bible" published in 1978 and 1979 in two parts these listed the complete inventory of Vercors caves when they were printed. The books are now extremely rare, although photocopies of them appear from time to time. The inventory is maintained by the annual "Scialet" (for Isere, now up to issue 30) and "LSD" (Les Speleos Dromois, currently at issue 13).
Also out of print are:
Connaissance et Decouverte du Vercors Souterrain (Herbouilly area) (1978)
Paysages du Vercors Souterraine (1981)
Moucherolle Souterraine (1988)
The only guidebooks currently available (2002) are the very accurate Speleo dans le Vercors tomes 1 & 2 (Edisud) available in the book shop in La Chapelle or Expe (the main caving shop located just outside Pont en Royans) and occasionally, Inglesport. Caves of the Vercors by Des Marshall contains useful information on access, but as essentially a transcription of an earlier French guide book, which was acknowledged to have many inaccuracies, it should not be considered definitive in its descriptions.
Premiers pas Sous Terre (Didier Richard) which lists caves suitable for novices and children and is readily available in most book shops in the Vercors.
Expe stocks some back issues of both Scialet and LSD (LSD no. 11 is worth getting as it contains a superb report on the audacious reconnaissance in 1996 and 1997 of the entire east Vercors ridge, from the Deux Soers to the Grand Veymont. Using helicopters and telescopes to support cavers abseiling down the cliff faces, every cavity was checked. Several new caves were discovered including Grotte Ciel et Terre and Grotte de lEte Indien. Access to these caves is not for the feint hearted!)
Some suggestions for a first time visit would be:
The main caving shop in the Vercors is Expe, just outside Pont-en-Royan (good bars). Follow the Grand Goulets road to St. Eulalie and turn right. Follow the road into Pont and turn left immediately after the "hanging houses". Follow the road all the way out of Pont to a fork and bear left (D531). Expe is on the right at a small trading estate after a couple of miles.
Warning: All active caves in the Vercors are weather dependent and water levels within the caves react very quickly to rain. The catchment area for these caves is MASSIVE, so please be aware of local weather forecasting (the local Tourist Information office provides accurate weather forecasts - if you can read French!) Always remember that you are in a foreign country. The language is different, and the Speleo Secours (French cave rescue) is not around the corner at Clapham.