The wondrous scenery of the Black Mountains near the medieval citadel of Carcassonne hides a magnificent underground treasure. For over thousands of years, water has carved out the ‘Gouffre Géant de Cabresprine’. This is an enormous spacious cavern that Notre Dame in Paris would easily fit into. Although just visiting the cave is rather spectacular on its own, I decided to join a guided visit of the underground river. Including a canoeing trip.
The closer the date of my visit came, the more nervous I became. I mean, it isn’t every day that I go down into a cave to canoe on an underground river! Chéri decided not to join me this time, as he isn’t too fond of heights or depths. So after taking the kids to school, I drove off to Cabrespine by myself. Once there, Stéphane the guide from the outdoor activity company Eaurizon awaited my fellow cavers and me. He welcomed us with a short explanation of our three-hour visit. And after putting on our helmets, overalls, neoprene socks and waterproof shoes, we were good to go.
As soon as we passed through the first opening, the Gouffre Géant de Cabrespine revealed itself in all its splendour. We didn’t have much time for an explanation of the site though, as we were on a mission. To my surprise, Stéphane opened a small hatch right in front of the Gouffre Géant. It meant that we could start to descend into the darkness, using ladders protected by a cage-like construction. In total, we had to descent about 200 meters to reach the underground river. The adventure had begun!
After the ladders, we entered the depths of the cave by following a path with ropes to which we secured ourselves with our belay devices. As the light from the Gouffre Géant de Cabrespine didn’t reach this far, we had to turn on our helmet lights. By this time, I was so busy with where to put my feet, that I didn’t have time to think about the fact that I was a couple of hundred meters underground. After a little break to drink the water that Stéphane brought in his magic bag, we bridged the last part before arriving at the river. We entered a rather small opening between rocks, descended some more steep ladders and found ourselves in the pitch dark heart of the cave.
Once we had reached the river, we had to wade through the cold water to reach our inflatable canoes. Now I understood the neoprene socks and waterproof shoes. Although, in some parts the water reached well over our knees. So I ended up with a wet pair of trousers anyway… Tip: wear comfortable clothes like leggings, tracksuit bottoms or something hard-wearing. Also, it is wise to bring an extra pair of dry clothes to change into after your exploration. Two by two we hopped into the canoes and paddled onto the ‘Secret River’ which has a total length of 20 kilometres.
It was an amazing experience to navigate through the caves with their galleries of extraordinary limestone formations. Especially since our group of 10 people were the only ones there to witness all this natural beauty. Soon enough, we landed the canoes on the river bank to continue exploring a bit further on foot. We had to walk through the water some more, climb rocks and duck under low overhanging rocks before heading back to our canoes. By that time, we had been inside the caves for well over two hours. So, we had to start heading back up the same path we had come in from.
Climbing back up went quite smoothly, just by walking a slow but steady pace while ascending and climbing all those ladders again. It was past 18h00 when we crawled through the same hatch from the beginning of the tour, four hours after our meeting time. Standing on the impressive large, glass walkway, I gazed into the incredible depths of the Gouffre Géant de Cabrespine where we just had walked. Meanwhile, I gave myself a little pat on the back because I had accomplished the descent to the bottom of it. Initially, I thought the idea of going underground for an exploration tour would be quite thrilling. Even though I don’t have claustrophobia or vertigo. It was quite an adventure, however, in the end, I absolutely loved it and almost felt like a true speleologist.