This entrance was originally explored by the
Spéléologique de Clerval - Baume les Dames under the
name VSS2 in 1988 and 1989, reaching -285m at what is now called
Titfield Thunderbolt. They abandoned exploration
as it was apparent that it was going to connect into 161, though in fact,
that connection at depth wasn't made until 1995 and entailed the discovery
of a large amount of very impressive passage !
France was originally the name of a single chamber, but through common usage is now the term for this entire area which is an almost independent deep series below the 161c (French) entrance. Connections to the rest of the cave at depth are still being explored, a considerable distance from the main passage complex. A large chamber, Algeria, at a depth of 250m gives access to extensive horizontal development, Flat France, from which routes lead eventually to the Scarface (161d) entrance and to a pitch expected to drop back into Knossos.
The upper, predominantly vertical, part of France described here can be
approached through the 161c entrance or via the
Rabbit Warren from below the 161a entrance.
Flat France can be reached by descending through France, the route taken by
the original explorers, but is more conveniently gained, and now more
extensively explored, through the Scarface
Francophobia / France
The 161c entrance angles in to a rift. A low bedding ahead leads to 161b. On the right are a couple of holes. The second of these is rigged down about 15m in a complex rift 2-3m wide to a steeply descending 12m traverse. From the end of this the pitch, Francophobia, drops in a spacious rift. At the second rebelay about 30m down it is possible to swing off 2m to the right to Robinson Crusoe.
The continuing pitch drops another 10m into the chamber originally named France, containing a 5m cubed block The Dice. There are two passages out of this Dice Chamber back to French Connection II.
Below The Dice is a 25m pitch, Roll of the
Dice, down to a shelf. A 3m climb down through rocks to a sloping boulder
floor is possible. There is a way off about 3m up the right hand wall behind
a boulder [C1991-161-05 C]. At the foot
of the slope a rift goes off to the left. The is reached by climbing down
under a wedged boulder. Another 20m pitch, Deja
Vu, into a hading rift, was the 1991 limit of exploration.
Toothless and Frogs' Legs
Toothless (named because the initial bolt took three spits to
drill) is a 30m pitch at the junction of two crossing rifts. Starting from a
thread, sections are 3, 3, 4.5 and 23m. A 3m drop leads to a narrow slot
(Frogs' Legs I, 14m). From here on, the rigging was aided by
previously placed bolts, presumably the French, last encountered on the Dice.
They must have reached this point by a parallel route. Frogs' Legs II
is 12m, down ledges, reaching the impressive final 41m pitch, Frogs' Legs
III. This has a rebelay halfway down which is astonishingly airy, in the
roof of the huge Algeria chamber.
This is a 15m wide, 60m long L-shaped chamber, which
appears to have been formed by collapse at the junction of two huge parallel
shafts. Algeria in fact appears to simply be a truly enormous suspended
floor. Frogs' Legs III lands about halfway along. A variety of routes leads
off, of which only the deep route through Orient
Express and the way to Flat France via
Sultans of Swing are dealt with here.
Sultans of Swing
At the east corner (bottom right of the 'L') of Algeria, a route [C1992-161-05] under or over (it is rigged over) the edge of massive breakdown looks out onto a big pitch, Sultans Of Swing. The continuing pitch eventually sumps, but the eponymous 'Swing' reaches the ramifications of Flat France.
A ledge, written up as 15m down the pitch, but apparently 6.5m down from the survey data, is the way into 'horizontal France'. This part of the pitch can be bypassed by taking a slot next to the wall about 6m downhill below the foot of Frogs' Legs III. Bearing left down here brings you out at a slightly precarious traverse at the foot of Sultans of Swing (handline recommended).
Traversing this muddy ledge leads around the continuing pitch to a wide
passage, the start of Flat France, leading
into the most extensive horizontal development found by CUCC in Austria.
Beneath and to the left of a large semi-detached boulder at the NNE end of
Algeria a traverse line leads to the top of Orient Express. A 52 metre
freehanging pitch lands near the west-hand wall of the large chamber below.
The floor, consisting mainly of loose boulders, trends downwards from north
to south. At the northern end, up the slope, an adjoining shaft with water
flowing down it can be heard. A climb of about 10m would be required to get
into this shaft, Skeleton in the
Cupboard. Opposite the point where the rope lands a low crawl leads
off, soon becoming too tight. At the southern end of the chamber, an
impassable rift leads off, beyond which can be heard the sound of water. A 5
metre drop leads to a narrow rift with a shaft beyond, which is again too
tight. This also leads to a crawl, which rapidly becomes too tight. The main
way on is at the eastern side of the chamber
This is a short (6 metre) pitch landing in a small chamber on a sloping
boulder floor, and was the 1992 limit of exploration. There is a small
waterway behind a dividing wall on the SW side of the chamber, soon becoming
choked. At the NE end of the chamber a short climb leads to a rift that is
again too tight. There is a large shaft beyond this, and water may be heard -
this is also Skeleton in the Cupboard, and is the point where Infinite Improbabilty Drive drops in. The way
on is below the entrance to this rift.
Attempted Penetration & beyond
The route carries on through a tight, wet hole in
the floor, Attempted Penetration, at the NW end of the chamber. This
soon widens out and lands in the same chamber as the water heard through the
rift in Titfield Thunderbolt. It would be possible to rig down the shaft, but
to avoid the water a very loose boulder slope, Disintegration, leads
to the top of a short pitch named Fat Knot
Fruity (after the huge figure 8 on a bight in 11mm rope used around a
natural thread). Here the route joins the water, although it runs in a
separate streamway, divided by a perforated wall until the bottom of the next
pitch, Natural Deception. This follows from the
bottom of the previous pitch via a short traverse, and lands on a small
Waterfalls Walk to the End
The route continues down over the boulders to a classic Yorkshire style streamway. This leads to the head of the next pitch, Black Bullshit, via a traverse, with a poor hang using a long deviation to avoid the water. Going south from the bottom of the chamber a high passageway leads quickly to a short section of tight streamway and a small sump at -378m. At the west end of the chamber there is a small subsidiary dry chamber.