Source du Castor - 2018
Team: Steffen, Zeljka, Marc, Heinke, Max, Marcel, Tom, Fabi, Dirk
"When was the last time you camped?"
"I don't know - in the Bundeswehr!"
With this dialogue we arrived in the Ardeche after 10 hours of driving, from all corners of Germany, at the camping site. The campsite itself is located directly at the Ardeche - 900 m away from the Source du Castor. The equipment can only be transported to the campsite by cable car. The ten-minute descent is steep and arduous.
Arriving there, a cultural shock was imminent: the tents, beautifully displayed on the Internet, gave the impression as if they had already had their best days behind them in Konrad Adenauer's day. And if you turned around too quickly on the slatted frame, the slats would fly out and you would lie on the floor.
But the tiredness and the fact that there could be another steep ascent made even these tents look like luxury domiciles. And also we were there for diving. So on the first evening we went on foot and by drone to locate the cave entrance and to make first plans for the next day. After a few minutes we discovered the entrance on the other side of the river. Equipped with swimming trunks and mask Max and Fabi swam across the river and took a closer look. The cave itself has two entrances, one under water and one above water. Due to the beginning dawn we let it be good for this day and returned to the base camp. Here the grills were thrown on, dinner was had and plans were made until we all went to bed at times.
The next morning we started full of energy. After a delicious baguette breakfast a part of the team had to climb the mountain to the vehicles again. Because a lot of material had to be driven into the valley. The other team members started to put the plans of the previous evening into action.
Our plan was to spend the whole equipment with canoes to the cave. And true to the motto "Among the blind the one-eyed is the king" a team was put together after a best selection, which had some experience in canoeing. Unfortunately the ambitious project failed already after 5 minutes in the strong current. The canoe capsized together with the 3 crew members. These fight afterwards in the current against the sinking canoe. Unfortunately, they were on the other side of the river, so that the help had to wait for them. After about 15 minutes the damaged canoe and its crew could be rescued from the Ardeche.
After this event it was decided to tow the equipment on foot through dense vegetation, beach and flood areas to the next best gravel bank. From there the cave was about 200m away on the other side of the river.
Our first scouting team, consisting of Max and Fabi, got ready to dive. The plan was to go to the cave entrance together with light luggage on a scooter. We had completely underestimated the power of the Ardeche and the high water level. As soon as the two divers had left the bay in their package, they were driven directly down the river. Also alone it was not possible to get out of this bay into the proximity of the cave. Therefore we decided to start a bay further upstream. Here however a rock ledge had to be climbed over. Thanks to the friendly support of the campsite operators, we were able to put up a ladder here and climb down the 2m high wall. By this move to the new base camp 2 we had saved another 50 m water distance and had no more strong currents. The two scouts could finally drive to the cave with 2 scooters.
The scouting team could hardly believe their eyes: very clear water and great visibility could be found. But also a lot of leaves and wood. The beavers (French Castor) did a great job here. The cave is of an impressive size. It remains big and the very bright rock with fossil inclusions reflects in the light of the lamps.
While barbecuing and drinking beer in the evening the whole team feverishly awaited the next days.
The next morning made the whole team sweat. A lot of material, stages, suits, double equipment, rebreathers had to be transported to base camp 2, a good 900 m away. Here the whole team had to "get to work". The necessary material was quickly on the spot and so the OC team consisting of Marcel and Tom started to explore the front part of the cave and improve the line situation if necessary. This was also urgently necessary. Old lines were hanging in shreds from the ceiling. The main line consisted in sections of up to four segments, some of which were knotted together. And so the team began to remove unnecessary lines. However, they quickly discovered that the main lines were not insulated, but had to be completely replaced. The extent of the cave also became clear during the advance into the cave.
Directly after the OC team the second Rebreather team, consisting of Steffen and Heinke, explored the cave a little deeper. They were also enthusiastic about the size and structure of the cave.
In a joint statement in the evening while barbecuing and drinking beer, everyone gathered their impressions under the project management of Steffen. The chaotic linen situation was one of the topics of discussion.
Together we decided to use the next day to prepare for an EOL dive. The OC team was to clear the entrance of branches and scrub, lay a clean Connect to Mainline and start laying a new main line in the front area.
The CCR teams set up various bottle depots, and the following day they explored the cave with the scooters to the end of the line and beyond.
With burning sun and heat the whole stages and double equipment, scooter and backup scooter were then brought to the dive site and brought into the cave and its position by scooter. The OC team left their equipment completely in the cave after the work was done.
During the night the weather changed. Where before there was sunshine, a lot of heavy rain. Now the last pieces of clothing in the old tents became clammy and damp.
The next day began with a visit of the French government in the form of Anke Lutz and a park ranger. Already in the run-up, during the obtaining of the permit, it was agreed with us which exploration data the authorities need. The project met with great interest.
Unfortunately, Anke also brought us a bad news in the form of a warning. Heavy rainfall on the tributaries to the Ardeche will cause the water level to rise quickly. A further rise of several meters is to be feared because the locks of the reservoirs could be opened. We also got a link where we could watch the water levels of the Ardeche regularly.
With a heavy heart we therefore decided to stop the further exploration of the Castor on this day and to remove the depots from the cave. The risk of a return flow into the cave or the jump of the cave was simply too large. Also the current of the Ardeche became stronger and stronger.
On this day the CCR team consisting of Max and Fabi had to do one last dive in the cave and see if they could reach the EOL. They dived into a huge distribution hall, from which numerous loops and passages branched off and then appeared in a 20m wide lake in an air bell. The team decided not to dive further from here and to start the way back. On this one the two could not be taken and removed some of the double lines in the deep area and cleared up the line situation here clearly.
In the meantime, the other team members were already busy transporting the unneeded material from base camp 2 back to the campsite.
In the evening we decided while barbecuing and drinking beer that the exploration of the Castor as a Cavebase project would be continued in any case.
The next morning and noon we spent transporting the material from the campsite up the mountain to our vehicles. The cable car had to make about 20 trips. One part of the team helped with the loading of the cable car at the campsite, while the other half took the material at the mountain and sorted it for the different vehicles. When all the cars were loaded again, we set off to find a place to stay for the next few days. This search turned out to be extremely complicated and so we needed to find a small hotel until the evening.
While most of the team was busy finding accommodation, our scouts Max and Fabi broke out to search a few little-known caves. The caves we found were good for a fresh beer, but not for diving.
After we had moved into our hotel rooms and were able to freshen up, we looked for a restaurant in Bourg St Andéol...there should not be a barbecue tonight.
The next day we spent at the Goul de Tannerie and the Goul du Pont. Here all team members made some nice dives and were inspired by the length of the tannery and the shaft of the Goul du Pont. Some team members did a double dive directly. First into the tannery and from the spring pot directly over and in the Goul du Pont a second time dive.
For the evening there was a closing dinner in La Garde-Adhemaran. Around 23:30 the OC-Team Tom and Marcel already made their way home. The other team members stayed one more night and the next morning they dived the Source de Marnade before they started their way home.
In this sense,