Belgium - Ropes, Caving, and Brussels

Stephane Fontaine very kindly invited the DCC to a rope event that his caving club run each year in Senzeilles Quarry in Cerfontaine, Belgium. Initially, and for 3 months, I was the only person who took this offer up, until a month before the event Andrew Farrow booked himself a plane ticket too.
Stephane came to collect us from Brussels Charleroi late on Friday, upon arriving at Senzeilles, we found everyone asleep and so had to have the quietest BBQ ever - thanks to Stephane for much needed beer! This was my fist night sleeping in a hammock and it was great! I like arriving in a destination at night, and then waking up to see where you have come to. In this case big smooth faced marble quarry with what from a distance looked like giant spiders webs rigged across it in every direction. We were up bright and early, keen to get ourselves signed up, and get on the ropes.

Groupe Speleo Centre Terre are known for being "rope monkeys" in Belgium, and this was no surprise when we were handed the rigging guide, which wasn't really a rigging guide. But it indicated the three different levels of rope practice in the quarry. Green: very easy, for kids. Orange: "soft route". Red: "pro route". Myself and Andy started on the very easy ropes to get a feel for the place, take a closer look at their rigging, and make sure all our gear was set up correctly for the course. And so onto the "soft route". This consisted of walking halfway to the top of the quarry to the starting point, then what can only be described as 40-50 minutes of fairly tricky rope work!

Andy on the "Pro Route"
The afternoon saw us attempting the pro-route and getting to various stages of completion before jibbing out. I chose to get off about halfway in, in a "not so designated getting off point", before getting to the over-water section. My arms at this point were aching, and so I took the opportunity in the afternoon to walk up to the top of the quarry and get some action shots of Stephane, Andy, Laurel and Paul on the walls. That evening was followed by a smashing BBQ, and Euro cave talk all night!

Stephane in Monto St. Etienne 
On Sunday Stephane organised a caving trip for us into a lovely little cave called Monto St. Etienne, in the Huy region of Belgium. We met 4 of his young caving colleagues - Nico, Salome, Piet, and Arthur, kitted up and headed underground. This cave is protected due to the presence of bats, and gated with access only allowed during the summer months. This is a very pretty little cave with many decorated areas, that has sadly been slightly spoiled in places by spray painted graffiti. After pausing for a photo in the large chamber, we quickly found our way down to the first pitch. Salome was in the process of gaining her first stage in rigging practice, and so we waited and took some more photographs and enjoyed Piet's music, while Salome expertly rigged the safety line and traverse, before we all descended into the second half of the cave. Once down, we had a good wander around the various routes, and then climbed up a pre-rigged shaft into the most well decorated part of the cave. Upon leaving the cave, Nico presented with cans of Jupiler lager, and we happily sat in the sun eating bread, chorizo and cheese.

Andy in front of Brussels Cathedral
Monday saw myself and Andy wandering around Brussels being tourists in the rain, I really enjoyed the city, there was so much to see even with most of the major attractions shut on Mondays. Fairly disconcerting seeing the military literally every half an hour or so; armed personnel on every other street corner. At least we felt quite safe!

Many thanks to Stephane for his wonderful hospitality!