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ABIME DE LA CHAWRESSE (TILFF) 

Réseau Bibber & Blubber and the Jonction de la Bétonnière


A successful experiment (emptying a sump), way back in 1992, evolved into the project of two die-hards of SC Avalon: Paul and Rudi. They explored, over the years, a new important part of the cave: the Réseau Bibber & Blubber.

This exploration was a bit particular and didn’t attract a lot of other club members.  The exploration area was situated in the most remote parts of the Chawresse and several hours of difficult progression were necessary to get there;  another problem was the fact that a 25 m long temporary sump sealed off the entrance to it most of the year.  Add a couple of extreme squeezes and some other difficulties, and finally a 250 m long crawl in very sticky mud…. and you’ll understand why this project stayed more or less Paul’s and Rudi’s private playground.  It is well known that these two like to “push their limits”…

1992: emptying the Siphon Suspendu

This sump was located in the Réso B (explored by SCUCL in 1986). We dragged a 30 m long flexible PVC tube (1 inch in diameter) through most of the cave (a very amusing task) and started emptying the sump. By gravity the water flowed to a lower gallery.  After 7 hours, the water level had dropped and Koen went through the sump, which had become a 25 m long pool of liquid mud, with a very low ceiling, making a nearly total submersion necessary.   Koen stopped before a very, very narrow hole.

The next day, Rudi, Paul and Annette also passed the sump. Rudi managed to squeeze through the hole and explored 30 m of bigger gallery, ending in a (workable) boulder choke.  He had a lot of problems to get back to us, the squeeze was extremely narrow.  

It was a small but quite interesting discovery, because the new gallery was in fact the (possible) prolongation of the "Galerie des Gours" in Grotte Veronika. But at least 175m still separated us from this cave.

September 1996: First digging works

We noticed that, after several months of very dry weather, the water level in the sump dropped enough to make it passable.  This inspired Rudi and Paul to go through it again and make the extreme squeeze near the end of the sump a bit wider.  The conditions were however terribly muddy and wet, and working with hammer drills whilst laying in 60 cm deep liquid mud, proved to be very difficult.  We even had to dress in “pontonnières”, to try to remain more or less dry.  We didn’t succeed in making the squeeze wide enough, and made the sacred promise “to never, ever go back there again!”


The Chawresse in pontonnière! 

November 2002:  a big breakthrough

After 6 years, the misery had been digested, and so Rudi and Paul were motivated again to dive into the liquid cream of the dreaded sump, again with a Hilti hammer drill and other stuff. Two + 10 hour trips were necessary to blast out that damned squeeze, but once we were through, we could easily force the boulder choke that had stopped Rudi in 1992. We explored 130 m of new gallery and were stopped by a new sump. We called the new gallery “Bibber & Blubber" (which is Flemish and means something like “Shake and bagger”.  Because you are shaking from cold all of the time, since you are wet to the bone, and the liquid mud looks a lot like bagger).

Anyway, our discovery made the Système Chawresse-Veronika the third biggest cave in Belgium, with a length of at least 4853 m.


Rudi in Bibber & Blubber 

November 2003: it goes on

Rudi and Paul discover another 90 m in the Réseau Bibber & Blubber, during a long 11 hour trip. De sump that had stopped us last year, was dry now.  More important: we have nearly reached the Veronika cave, and according to the survey we are only 15 m away from the end of Galerie des Gours there!  We already start dreaming of a new connection between these caves.  

The Chawresse-Veronika passes the magical 5 km  border and now measures 5015 m.  Since many years we are resurveying the entire cave,  a big task that is completed for 85% now. The original length of the cave was only 2700 m,  which clearly shows how incomplete the old survey was.  

August 2004: too wet

Our annual happening has to be cancelled: the Siphon Suspendu is totally flooded. The problem is that you only know this, when you have crawled for hours through the Chawresse!  The only good period seemed to be the end of the Autumn.

The "partners in crime", Rudi and Paul, after a day in Bibber & Blubber

November 2004: First digging from the Veronika-side

We go digging near the end of Réseau des Gours in Veronika. Under normal conditions this is also a sump, but after  a long period of dry weather, it turns into a terrible mudhole, very comparable with the inside of a concrete mixer.  We drag hundreds of kilos of a mixture of liquid mud and gravel out of the hole.  But there is no clear way on, the hole is filled up with mud to the roof.  

 

November 2005:  so near and yet so far

The Autumn was again very dry and so Rudi and Paul go back to the Chawresse.   At the end of Bibber & Blubber, they dig through a low passage and push the gallery still 15 m further until it really becomes impenetrable.  But the survey shows that we are only 2 meters away from Veronika. Even the altitude corresponds.  But is the survey reliable? The end of Bibber & Blubber has been reached after surveying over 300 stations and 700 m in length in the most difficult conditions imaginable.

If ever we would make the connection between the two caves here, then a big roundtrip would be possible, over 1 km in length and extremely difficult.  Anyway, at the side of Chawresse it is really finished, and Paul has sworn that he will never go there (= Réseau B&B) again. 

Below is a screenshot of the survey.  In green, the discoveries made by Avalon in the cave.  Note: this survey does only show what has been resurveyed.  Réseau de l'Angle Droit and the « Grand Puits » in the Réseau du Comblennois are not represented. The length of the cave is now 5349 m.

 

December 2005: Veronika: the “concrete mixer” is flooded

No luck. Rudi and Ulrik went digging in Veronika but the dig was filled with water.  Damned… we’ll have to wait another year!

October 2006: Incredible: the connection!

Sunday evening 15/10/2006, around 17 PM, three Avalon cavers (Rudi Bollaert - Bart Saey - Paul De Bie) have realized the second connection between Chawresse and Veronika. Twenty-two years after the first connection (in 1984, by GRSC) both caves are connected again, but at a totally different place.

So, past Sunday we went digging again near the end of Réseau des Gours (Veronika).  After having dragged out dozens of heavy loads of mud and gravel, we suddenly saw a tiny hole between the surface of the mud and the ceiling. A hardly perceptible breeze of air came out of it. A few hours later, we could see a “black hole”, still 2 meters away, and the air draw had become quite strong.   We decided to go on till the bitter end, no matter how long it would take.  We continued digging until we couldn’t lift our arms anymore, but finally around 17 PM, Rudi forced himself through the hole and we heard him say: “I see footsteps!”.

What a relief! Generally those words are a cold shower for any cave digging team, but not this time!  We arrived in the Réseau B&B, at only 30 cm of our survey station that we had left there.  We decided to call the passage: "Jonction de la Bétonnière", which means “Concrete mixer Connection”.  

This connection gives birth to the biggest underground circuit that can be made in Belgium!  When visited in the shortest possible way,  the roundtrip measures 1154 m, and the adventurer undertaking it, will have to do most parts of nearly all known “Series” in the cave:  Chawresse (Réseau SSD I & II) , Réseau SCS, Réso B,  Réseau Bibber & Blubber,  Réseau du Père Noel, Jonction Hantée, Fil Rouge, Réseau des Comblennois and Réseau Persephone!  A sump will be closed most of the year in the middle of Réseau B&B. The same goes for the Siphon Suspendu in Réso B.  The "Oppo Mortelle" in Réseau B&B is an extremely difficult passage…. if you slide down, you’ll have a BIG problem!   Must it be said, that for this undertaking, you must known the cave system by heart,  and you shouldn’t be a “softie”.  Don’t count on the Cave Rescue: nobody can help you in those narrow and difficult networks. So, you are on your own!

 If you want the trip to be a bit more sporting, you can add the whole roundtrip of Réso B, going via the Cicanes and the Suppositoire.  By doing this, you’ll also avoid the Puits de l’Espoir and you will need no caving gear (ropes, harness) whatsoever. The circuit will be 1229 m long then. The cave purists will most certainly also avoid Passage de Noel (the direct connection, found by Avalon in 2000,  between the Classic part and the Réseau Persephone) and will pass just below the entrance of Chawresse. That means at least 100 meters extra.

Must it be said that Avalon is already waiting for the good weather conditions to do this giant roundtrip for the very first time?

Anyway, the exploration of Réseau Bibber & Blubber B will be remembered as the most extreme one ever undertaken by us in Belgium.  Very far in the cave, difficult, but above all, extremely muddy and sticky.

 Below a screenprint of the survey.  Bibber & Blubber in purple, the big circuit in blue.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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