Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Grotte à Chenuz

More holes in the Jura


It's hard work keeping up with Dean Pirri's enthusiasms, and sometimes it's easier just to go along with them, up to a point.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Dr Pirri has been obsessing about the Grottes à Chenuz since we stumbled a few years ago upon this little hand-hewn tunnel in the steep forests on the side of Mont Tendre, and we have finally decided that the only way to get some peace will be to take him back there. So here we are, in early December 2006, getting ready to go check out the action down the hole. So to speak.

The whole mountain is hollow in these parts, known as the Roches Blanches for the white limestone caves and boulders everywhere. We're at about 1440m in the steep forest northeast of the Mont Tendre summit, above the village of Montricher. The tunnel was dug by pickaxe by the Montricher postman Mr Chenuz and his friends in the 1930s to make a 20 or 30m entrance to the caverns.

Eugène Chenuz founded the Speological Club of Montricher in about 1930 and with a few friends explored the whole area above the village -- according to the stories, when they got into this cavern they found four skeletons of bears "en parfait état de conservation" (which, as I understand it, is one of the main qualifications for sainthood). Thus the cave is also known as the Grotte aux Ours, or Cave of Bears.

Dr Pirri, trembling with joyful anticipation, prepares to fulfill his dream of exploring the Grotte à Chenuz.

And speedily sprints out of sight into the interior.

Leaving only exhalations behind.

When we first wandered in here a few years ago, aimlessly, there was a ridiculous old rotten wooden ladder propped up in this place, probably something that Postman Chenuz slapped together in his garage during the Great Depression, but this metallic looking thing is a lot more encouraging.

Ploop! With no ceremonial preliminaries, Dr Pirri dives in.

Down on the cavern floor, Dr Pirri sets off to make an inventory of the surrounding attractions.

So far we've got a few stalactites, and a few stalagmites, and a whole lot of general cave slime.

Some of the party are looking nostalgically back at the ladder, as we begin to poke around in little Nooks and even littler Crannies.

With lots of gorgeous cave slime all about and a constant drip of chilly slime water.

Lots of little exits from our cavern, poking off in all directions.

Dean Pirri peeks inquiringly down one of them, and then . . .

. . . peeks inquiringly up another.

A nice big piece fell off the right wall of this passage but didn't get very far. Not whilst we were there, of course. All of the house-size boulders strewn all about could be fit jigsaw-puzzle-like into exactly similar holes in the roof far above us.

Back down towards the ladder for a look in the other direction.

The nice, comfy metal ladder bolted to the wall. Discarded down to the right is the laughable old wooden one, its predecessor, which a speleological Web site from just a few years ago described as "pas très solide" -- well, duh!

Former President Pirri getting himself organized.

Narrators lined up for the obligatory celebratory photo opportunity.

We find another ladder still, and, predictably, Dr Pirri leaps upon it and almost disappears from view in seconds.

Professor Pirri taking a good look round. More former 1930s' wooden ladders strewn underfoot.

Still looking round, photographed this time with the zoom lens on.

It's time to start thinking about a graceful exit. Which, for some of us, at this very late stage in the life of our knees, is not assured.

Whereas Dr Pirri, from natural agility and long practice, springs upon ladders and descends at a fireman's pace, others in the party took ten minutes just getting turned around and onto it when we first came in. We're hoping that getting out of here will be a little less painful.

An easy crouchy trot to daylight. How Postman Chenuz pickaxed his way accurately to connect to the grotte is quite a puzzle -- in fact, he nearly missed it in the end, popping out on the roof of the cave, as you've seen. Mr Chenuz must really have been a bold postman to be reckoned with, and handy with his tools.

Dr Pirri, a lifelong pedagogue, demands to know what we've learnt from this experience.

The narrator, already very well acquainted with pedagogues' tricks, gives him the "forbearing" look.

The steep forest on the side of Mont Tendre, where enormous trees grow straight out of the cliffs. (And where about every third tree in the neighborhood has recently been whacked down by the busy foresters.) Following our little lookabout in the cave, we continued our upward bushwhacking walk, circled above the Pré Anselme in some very significant winds (no joke in these diseased old forests), and ended a wonderful walk just at nightfall.

On this day, the temperature was 15°C in Geneva (59°F) - as the English radio station WRG-FM pointed out, this day last year it was -10°C (14°F). I wonder how Mr Bush would explain that! A 25°C Global Warming leap in just one year! Shame on the Republicans.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 5 December 2006, revised 26 June 2012.


Holes of the Jura


Very large holes