Dwight Peck's personal website

Holes of the Jura

The Winter Sport for all members of the family
(except the small ones)

An essay on holes

The Jura's made of karst limestone and, in many places, riddled with holes. Luckily, hidden holes that surprise hikers are tucked away in the dark forests (above left) -- on the open pastures, where cows of economic value wander all about, there are far fewer holes, and those holes that remain are curtained all about with barbed wire and, sometimes, stone walls.

Except one. This nasty hole (above right), down the southwest end of the Mont Tendre ridgeline, is probably the only unguarded open-meadow hole in the region, and seems this time, judging from the tracks, almost to have claimed a victim, poor chap. Caught in the branches thoughtfully laid over the cavemouth, the unlucky man or woman seems to have thrashed up and down a bit whilst, from the snowshoe marks, his or her friends steadied themselves to haul him or her out of it. [Right: Here's the vicious little thing in summer.]

In the forest, however, especially down in the dolines and depressions, where cows fear to tread, anything goes. In this nasty hole, not far from the Druchaux farm, there's no bottom in sight no matter what kind of light you shine down it. It's good to tread lightly in this area.

There are many signs to watch for in hole country -- first of all, holes, of course; and broken snow surface with limestone outcrops, lots of ups and downs, shadows under the snow, oddly spaced depressions, stone walls and barbed wire fences (where one reflects "This fence is here for a cow-related reason; well, am I on the good side of it for cows, or the bad side?"), and a kind of fern that grows round the base of trees in serious hole country, who knows why, but always associated with holes in the area.

Sometimes clairvoyance helps as well -- not infrequently, one enters a clearing devoid of conscious signs of holes and gets a chill or foreboding discomfort, one pauses and probes ahead with a ski-pole, and a tiny snowbridge collapses into a vicious great hole or crack, and despite oneself one murmurs "Thank you". The sixth sense is not scientifically quantifiable or capable of replication, but it's helpful with limestone holes in the Jura.

Still another. There are several areas in the Mont Tendre region, forested limestone depressions tucked in amongst the headlands, where the water has nowhere to go but straight down, and these are called "Creux d'Enfer" on the maps -- Hell Hollow would be the best translation. The Creux d'Enfer de Druchaux (site of the above) between the Druchaux farm and Mont Tendre, the Creux d'Enfer du Petit Cunay between Druchaux and the Petit Cunay headland, another between Monts de Bière and Grand Cunay, and lots more.

It's slow going down through these things, but excellent sport in winter. Vigilance, concentration, intense focus required, and only a tiny bit of effort or risk -- in fine, a gentleman's sport. Not unlike golf.

Most nasty holes are in depressions, but this one is on a little rise in a forest clearing in the Creux d'Enfer du Petit Cunay; it drops down about 10 feet and then angles off into places we hope we will never get to know about. It's about 100 meters west in the forest from a very vasty hole marked on the map as La Glacière -- there are at least a few more of these in the region, and they refer to holes and limestone chimneys so deep as to retain permanent ice throughout the summer. Here's another Glacière . . .

The hole called La Glacière de Saint George, or Le Gouffre, deep in the forest high above the village of St. George (and not far from the Eau Pendante, or "Hanging waters"), is a protected natural monument with sturdy ladders leading one down about 40 meters to the ice, and lots of daunting passages leading away from that -- more on that later.

Here's another littler one in the Creux d'Enfer du Petit Cunay -- don't stumble across that in the twilight. No bottom in sight. Snowshoes and skis often help in such circumstances, however -- more than a few times in recent years, in careless moments, snowshoes refused to be swallowed up where otherwise one's leg would easily have been. "Gagged the shark", so to speak. And once in 2001 the hapless narrator, in still another careless moment whilst reviewing his favorite TV sitcoms in his mind, did not get swallowed up in a situation in which a person of, shall we say, "more modest girth" likely would never have been seen again.

Unlike in the Alps, in the Jura most holes that eat people stay open and visible (in daylight and good weather) all through the winter. And most of the smaller snow-covered holes merely tug at one's ankles or, on rare occasions, break them. But there is always that frisson, the possibility of a hole somewhere in between the harmlessly invisible and the charmlessly obvious, that draws hikers back to the Creux d'Enfer in winter.

For example! Dr Pirri taking a luckily brief trip into a well-hidden hole in the forest of Grande Rolat, January 2002. Simple cautions, like "Watch Your Step", have no meaning for Dr Pirri.

Predictably undeterred, Prof Pirri returns to check another monster hole as if lessons were not for learning.

But Dr Pirri's capacity for falling into holes is virtually inexhaustible.

Another essay on holes

Not all holes in the Jura are as obvious as this one in the Creux d'Enfer de Druchaux. In some places, fields and fields of open holes and cracks in the limestone forest floor can provide hours of targeted winter entertainment when the lads venture into the area on a warm and sunny afternoon in January 2002.

Right, it's that kind of January, a Republican January, you might say. Nine of the ten hottest years on record have occurred since 1990, when the Republicans legislated a ban on research on alternatives to wholesale dependence upon the fossil fuels which frequently make a select few of us extremely rich. Not me, of course, and not you, but . . . well, pretty much just our presidents and vice-presidents and the kindly folks who pull their strings and get all the tax cuts and what not.

Dr Pirri, leading the expedition whilst recounting amusing anecdotes from his youth, almost disappears into a shallow crack or chasm in the forest floor. Not far from a humongous hole in the forest floor (left).

Whilst Dr Pirri labors to extract himself from the forest floor, his colleague(s) dart about in all unhelpful directions seeking still funnier camera angles.

Delighting in Mr Pirri's predicament, his colleague(s) blow off the better part of a roll of film hoping to chronicle just the right moment when physics and irony meet, and Dr Pirri disappears straight down, leaving behind only a ski pole and the aroma of aftershave.

Mere moments later, having charged Dr Pirri with negligence and taken over the lead, Mr Peck of Bassins, Switzerland, wanders into a similar fate and lodges his snowshoe into a narrow crevice . . .

. . . which evidently likes his snowshoe a lot and schemes to retain it indefinitely.

Orphan snowshoe -- if we disengage it from our feet, it will descend quickly out of reach, into the bowels of the earth as it were, and we'll only have one left (snowshoe, that is, not bowel. Well, that too.). So we keep on tugging at it, as afternoon drags on into evening and our mozzarella sandwiches begin to dry out in our backpacks.

So, with a shall-we-call-it Herculean effort we yank! the reluctant plastic out of the earth, at the cost of about 80 grams of knee cartilege, and regain our freedom, something devoutly to be wished for a lot of people around the world in these fallen times.

[Worse than just cartilege: the following week the whole snowshoe fell apart three hours out from the Col de la Givrine. Shouldn't have Yanked it so hard - diplomacy might have worked better.]

But freedom is not always the same thing as standing upright, and -- as so often is the case -- the standing upright part of it takes up another handsome length of time. Throughout which, former President J. J. Pirri was making himself sick with laughter at the contemplation of our plight.

The last laugh, as Mr Pirri dives in again moments later. (The penultimate laugh, actually, because shortly after this one, we went in again, too.)

BUT . . . once out of the blimey limestones and heading back at the end of the day, we remember why we've come here in the first place. Sunset, 26 January 2002, on the far side of the Col du Marchairuz.

There's no theoretical limit to how many more embarrassing pix of Dr Pirri falling into nasty limestone holes one could put up here, so this page will probably always be "under construction". Bookmark this page and come back for more holes. And write to Dr Pirri and encourage him to wander in the forest still more negligently.

Dr Pirri on the point of disappearing into a lovely great hole in the forest of Grande Rolat, February 2005.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 25 January 2002, revised 3 February 2014.

Holes of the Jura

Very large holes