zaterdag 5 januari 2019

Doorsteek Galerie des Sources - rediscovered

Many, many years ago, when an active little caving group, consisting of Bram, Arun, Ewa, Renaud and myself, found ourselves asking more experienced members for fresh caving ideas at one of Spekul's club evenings, Koen and Kathleen sarcastically suggested the doorsteek of the Galerie des Sources. We understood that the sarcasm implied the trip was either too advanced or too challenging to attempt, so we chose not to take the suggestion seriously. Given the idea came from Koen and Kathleen, the same people who had suggested Trou des Furets (an excellent, but sporty cave) or who like to talk about the doorsteek Wéron-Dellieux, this made us extra wary ;-).

But, somehow, the suggestion remained lodged in my brain somewhere, and so many years later, it seemed like a good time to try to find it. I had talked to Koen and Kathleen about it at Spekul's 50th anniversary and at a Spekul BBQ, but neither of them seemed to remember any real details about how we could find the entrance to the throughway. All they gave me was: when you find the little cave at the bottom of the hill, it is somewhere to the right in a hole in the ceiling. There should be a rope there which you can use to clamber up.

So a few weeks ago, Leonie and I embarked on an epic journey to try to find this infamous doorsteek. In case we would not find it, we had a plan B ready, taking the key and some rope and carabiners with us to do some classic caving. We started by exploring the small cave at the bottom of the steep path that leads to the classic entrance. I knew the entrance to the throughway was there, and I remembered that during earlier visits, people went in to have a look around, but I had never actually gone inside. The small cave is actually not that small, and we did find a hole in the ceiling to the right, but there certainly was no rope to climb up on. Climbing in opposé was not possible either, so, somewhat disillusioned, we decided to abort the attempt.

Time for Plan B. Leonie had not visited Galerie de Sources properly before, so a classic trip was not a bad idea. Besides, there was a pit I had always wanted to explore and with time on our hands and a bag full of gear, this was the perfect opportunity. Breathless from the climb to the entrance, we found our way down the shaft: through the éboulis into the the first room, down into the room decorated with red paint, and further down into the muddy and slippery gallery one level lower; then, coming out, taking a left at the junction, descending through the hole in the floor and taking a left through the meander. At this point you arrive at a slippery and muddy slope to the left that drops into a pit. Alternatively, there is a small climb through a hole to the right, which leads to the broche where the climb starts up to the ledge where the horizontal passage starts towards a siphon. Bram and Heide know this place well :-)

I wanted to explore that pit at the end of the slippery slope to the left. I rigged a rope at the above mentioned broche and created a fraction using the only (shitty) spit I found and lowered myself into the pit, Leonie following close behind. Theoretically, it would be possibly to climb it up and down in oppose, although it would be challenging. At the bottom of this pit, you can explore in two directions. Turning to the right, we were both intrigued by  the end of a black electrical extension cord lying there. Leonie suggested we should collect it (people leaving their rubbish around nowadays), but it also sparked our interest to follow it, hoping it would lead us to little known, gorgeous, well-decorated rooms (!). Of course it did not. It just went on and on until it passed through an extremely narrow horizontal opening where we felt a strong draft of cold air, indicating a nearby exit. At this point we realized that we might have accidentally come across the doorsteek from the inside! What a shame that the horizontal opening was so… narrow. Leonie finally took off her helmet and gear and crawled through, but I did not feel very comfortable about it, so we returned the way we had come. Coming out of the cave, we explored the hillside to see if we could spot the black cable somewhere, but no such luck. We decided to call it a day. Still, the fresh memories of the narrow opening and that significant cold draft kept returning to our minds as we were changing and driving back...we promised each other to give it another try soon.

On the 29th of December, we went for a second try. We brought an extra rope and a few more carabiners just in case we needed them along the unknown way past the narrow opening. Leonie proposed I go first and remove all my gear and push it ahead of me. The étroiture is straight and long, becoming steadily narrower with one critical point, but it is quite passable if you have my build and don't mind not being able to turn your head. Phew. Leonie then pushed the kit bag and her gear ahead of her as far as she could. From the other side of the étroiture I helped pull through the gear and Leonie passed without any issues. Success!! Or so we thought. The passage continued on and on, narrow, narrower, narrowest, the draft disappearing in larger areas and reappearing in the narrow sections. One étroiture followed the next, though not as narrow as the first one, and I spent at least 15 minutes climbing out of a vertical one that lacked both space for your arms and footholds for your feet. Pressing on, just as Leonie was beginning to lose faith in our seemingly endless endeavor, she found herself at the top of the hole we had seen in the ceiling in the small cave at the bottom of the hill!! Now, we just had to use the rope to get down and to pull it through (thank goodness we brought that extra rope and my HMS carabiner). We did a quick refresh on how to descend on double rope and in no time we found ourselves at the bottom, happy to have rediscovered the doorsteek of the Galerie des Sources!!

Lessons learned: the doorsteek should be attempted starting from the classic side. It should be possible to do it with a single 35m rope, pulling it through twice (once at the slippery slope, once directly at the exit). This doorsteek is best attempted by narrow people with open minds and a good dose of experience.

Hans Meyers

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