Grotte Cirque

Last week we explored a cave in the Minervois (about 1hr 20min from us, north of Carcassonne).

It is a good cave for beginners as there are no ropes needed. However, the initial drop into the first gallery is a long series of descents down very tight holes that for some can be claustrophobic.

enjoy the video

Back Breaker Cave

gouffre des corbeaux
This is got to be the hardest cave I have tried out. Its not the wriggling in the ground nor the scrambling over slippery rocks. Its a cave of potholes (chimneys they are called here in France) that takes you down, then up, then down, then up.

The cave is called Gouffre des Corbeaux. It is south of Belesta going up into the Plateau de Sault. The landscape around the cave is stunning. Fir forests, the branches heavy with snow. We had to tramp for half an hour through the snow to reach the Gouffre – an enormous hole, a wide open mouth that swallows the unsuspecting. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of bones scattered around its gullet.
bones in the gouffre
The initial drop into the Gouffre is about 35 meters. Then another 11 meters into the first salle. A few more short drops takes one into the main room from where there is a 12 meter pitch ascending. That is as far as we got. Finding our way round that short area (and back out again) took nine hours. We reached 130 meters below ground.
John climbs up
From the top of the 12 meter pitch there is a further series of descents totaling 85 meters to end at the shore of a subterranean lake. That would be 165 meters down.

We emerged exhausted, and in the dark of the night – mentally preparing ourselves for the final climb of 35 meters out of the hole. I had a scary moment when my kroll popped open, but luckily there was a safety line. It was a comfort to reach the rim of the gouffre and see the glow of the moonlight on the snow.

I would love to see that lake. But my arms still remind me of how tough that climb was.
Nico prepares for a climb
gouffre John Nico
John Gouffre Corbeaux

Bugarach Caves

This Monday I went with a friend, Nico, to explore the caves of Bugarach. We chose the one entrance that we both knew about. A cave high up where the tree line meets the rocky face of the mountain.

The access is via a dry river bed that starts beside the road right alongside one of the public paths that is the start of the southern ascent of the mountain. Following the dry river bed one eventually comes to a steep gorge. To climb higher there are two galvanised ladders bolted into the rock face. Once above the ladders the pathway continues up – apparently right to the peak. But for us, the cave is only a dozen meters further.

As one drops into the hole there is a ladder that takes you down inside. The small mouth is filled with organic debris. Crouching low, on our knees, we continue along a short passage, gaining height, until we reach a gallery that is high enough to stand. Most of the galleries are going to be below head height so this is a luxury. Our first climb is a long rope up a small round bore hole with two stages. There were many more climbs after that, all quickly following each other. Some technically a challenge for me.

It felt like we were close to the peak, perhaps only a few meters below! Having climbed up and up, the gallery finally begins to descend. At that height the cave was very interesting. It was as if the mountain had split in two. We traversed a rift in the rock, whose jagged opening rose high above our heads and below disappeared into the darkness. To fall would be death. But one could climb down a little way with care. The rift opened up many more passages below, a labyrinth of tunnels that we did not dare to explore.
Bugarach cave fall
Doubling back we took another route which became so low we had to negotiate it on our bellys. The floor was sand and inside was a series of extraordinary natural formations. The cave continued much further but we were beaten back by the claustrophobia of such a tiny space.

The gallery of sand

The gallery of sand

The caves higher up had the best stalagmites and stalactites. Some sections were like a forest of dripping rocks. There were stalagmites turned red and others turned black. We also saw a bug that had fossilized, stalagmites growing out of its back.

There were bats throughout the cave. In a deep Sleep. Unperturbed by our presence.

A beautiful cave that we hardly brushed the surface of. There is so much more to see!