Journey into Earth’s depths

Stalagmites in the hall of the 13 Gouffre Berger 1962. The tallest is over 30 ft in height. Photo contributed
Stalagmites in the hall of the 13 Gouffre Berger 1962. The tallest is over 30 ft in height. Photo contributed

APPROXIMATELY 50 years ago a group of High Peak cavers played their part in a daring expedition in the French Alps to reach the bottom of what was then the deepest cave in the world.

David Allsop, Tony Briggs, Clive Hockenhull, Peter Blakeley, John Needham and Ken Pearce, all from Buxton and the surrounding area, were members of a national team which in 1962 tackled the Gouffre Berger limestone cave in south-east France.

Now ranked the 28th deepest cave in the world, at the time it held the record for being the deepest at 3,680 feet.

David, 75, from Buxton, who organised the 1962 expedition, explained: “In 1956 the French organised an international expedition and they reached the bottom for the first time.

“Between then and 1962, around 14 different teams tried and failed to replicate their success.

“We organised our expedition in 1962 and when we reached the bottom of Gouffre Berger we were the first national team to do so - and the second team ever. It was such a huge achievement at the time.

“There were 40 people involved in our expedition and only eight of us reached the bottom.”

Achieving this was no mean feat, as it was a challenge fraught with danger. The team had to spend days underground, navigating their way down more than 20 shafts and crossing underground rivers and lakes.

And the team ended up using a phenomenal 2,000 feet of home-made flexible ladder.

But David, a former cave rescue leader and warden of Poole’s Cavern, said reaching the bottom was worthy of the effort.

“It was a stunning sight to behold,” he added. “The cave itself was huge - some of the chambers were unbelievable in size.”

David returned to Gouffre Berger two years after their successful expedition to make a documentary for the BBC, which was later shown in 50 different countries.

Gouffre Berger is named after the man who first discovered it in 1953, Joseph Berger.