Review by Chris Howes - Descent
Magazine Aug/Sept 2002 (excerpt)
Open the volume and you will be struck
by the wealth of detail and information, attractively presented using
blue to highlight key points. The line drawings are exceptionally clear
and, even though this edition is based on the 2000 publication, they include
more recent equipment.
The manual is divided into three main sections: equipment, physical and
mental aspects, and underground. Each is subdivided, for example that
for equipment covers such topics as basic principles (rules of conduct,
manufacturing standards...), lighting, personal gear (harnesses, descenders,
footloops...), and transporting kit. The second section is an excellent
overview of how factors such as diet, fatigue, exhaustion, training, motivation
and confidence affect our abilities; this is the best text on the topic
that you are likely to find anywhere.
The largest section is devoted to the underground and this, primarily,
means ropework. This is where SRT is covered to minute detail, the advice
being clean and precise; that might not suit every style of SRT (something
acknowledged in the book), but it would be surprising if any experienced
caver could not learn something from these pages, let alone a beginner.
For its SRT coverage alone, Alpine Caving should be on your shelf.
by Nigel Dyson-Hudson for www.caves.com Book Reviews
Alpine Caving Techniques is a compendium of caving
techniques. It is the standard introductory caving book in France. While
Alpine Caving Techniques may not be the caving book to give to a beginner
in the States before their first caving trip, this is the book they should
be reading after a couple of trips. Maybe the book should be subtitled
"Every thing you wanted to know about caving but were afraid to ask."
Maybe the book should be subtitled "Everything you wanted to know
about caving but didn't know where to begin."
It is a must have book for any caver who wants to know even a bit about
a lot of techniques that are mentioned but never described in detail among
Keep in mind that the title is Alpine Caving Techniques, so specific recommendations
and techniques are focused on European and Alpine caving. The Suiting
Up section focuses on one-piece fleece undersuits (not to be confused
with their heavier cousin used for winter mountaineering) and rubber knee
high boots, "Wellingtons." They do mention both Nylon and PVC
coveralls and suggest that you use an inner tube to make several large
rubber bands for holding your coverall legs closed over your boots. (Every
time I do a muddy dig and don't wear my PVC coveralls, I vow never again
while fighting pounds of extra mud weight). I did mention to Ms. Alspaugh
that future translations should describe cave temperatures since this
type of clothing is only suitable for cold Northeast and Alpine caves.
The Lighting section focuses on using carbide "ceiling burners"
because of the need for lots of light and some warmth from the flame.
The HDS LED light is briefly mentioned. The personal gear section is about
the Frog system and using a Stop as a descender with a brief mention of
using a rack. It is an excellent source of information on properly configuring
a Frog system including using a Pantin foot ascender.
The Material for Rigging the Cave section covers everything from ropes
to bolts and even rubber rafts for floating through wet caves. The section
on pg. 56 about fall factors should be read by everyone since not many
people seem to understand them and why most of us are using static rope
in the wrong places. There is a comprehensive discussion of bolting including
glued in bolts. As well as pitons, chocks, sky hooks and even ice screws
including vital information that answered a lot of questions that I had
about their use in a caving environment. There is even information that
a cordless drill will drill about 1.8 m of 10mm hole on a single charge
as well as using a meter or so of copper tube to take the exhaust gas
away from a 2-cycle drill for the gases to be reburned by a flame source.
In addition to the dangers of using a 2 cycle drill in a space with limited
The Transporting Gear and Supplies section covers everything from small
packs for single day trips to larger packs able to fit several days gear,
to drum packs, which are used on a rafting trip for carrying lots of gear
to keep it dry. There is even a food and cooking section, which is not
something that US cavers normally do in cave. Again, the design of the
packs, with a round bottom, is for their style of caving. And from personal
experience, a round bottom pack, Meander or Petzl, is much less likely
to hang up in fissures and keyholes than the typical US rectangular pack.
The Moving Through the Cave section covers both horizontal and vertical.
Again, it is an excellent source of information on properly working with
a Frog system including using a Pantin foot ascender. The US ascending
systems are also mentioned as well as information on using cable ladders.
The Rigging the Cave section is over 70 pages and covers everything from
basic vertical to traverse lines to rebelays. The illustrations show a
number of girth hitches while earlier in the book there is the admonishment
to "never use a girth hitch." There is a discussion of light
rigging, think of it as Alpine Climbing underground, which can reduce
the weight of equipment to rig 150m from 10.5 kg to 6 kg. (kg x 2.2 =
lb) There is also information on climbing underground as well as river
caves and staying out of waterfalls and water spray. The coverage of digging
is brief but gives an overview of all the major techniques including blasting
and micro blasting. Cave diving is even mention but with a leave-it-to-the-experts
note. Given everything covered in this section I am surprised that free
divable sumps were not mentioned.
There have been a number of comments on some caver e-mail lists about
the extensive use of rebelays. There is a significant amount of information
in the book that addresses this topic:
1. It is a question of finesse vs. brute force. Maybe straight down the
pit is the fastest way but you need a heavier rope and to pad multiple
wear points as well as having multiple failure points and only having
one or two people on rope. With rebelays, a person can be on each section
and a stronger person, or someone who needs to get out quicker, can pass
at a rebelay.
2. On multi day trips especially in colder caves staying as dry as possible
is critical. The water is not your friend, so staying out of waterfalls
with rebelays can make the trip safer and easier.
The Emergencies and Rescue section starts with how to improvise various
pieces of gear then covers topics including small party self rescue, "don't
panic and don't endanger yourself", then dry and wet horizontal rescue.
There is an extensive section on pick-off methods. Again, they use just
the Frog system and the rescuer and patient are lowered together. In On
Rope and the NCRC method, the patient is lowered separately. Pick-off
techniques where the rope is cut are even included - this seems to be
taught more in the Canyoning area where one must get a patient on rope
out of the water quickly. Even options for dealing with flooding situations
The book begins to wrap up with some pages on surveying and documenting
the rigging, like climbers document the pitches of a climb, and finally
concludes with a conservation note.
As mentioned previously, it is a must-have book for any caver who wants
to know a bit about a lot of techniques used in caving.
Review by Jay P. Kennedy, MD
16 August 2002
published in NSS News, October 2002
Marbach's original treatise on single rope techniques, Techniques
de la Speleologie Alpine, was last revised in 1981 prior to the publication
of the much-updated third edition in 2000. Only now has this seminal work
on caving "the French way" become available in English. As European
rebelay-style rigging and the "Frog" system of climbing rope
gain popularity in North America, this work replaces Alan Warild's Vertical
(published in second edition in 1990, recently upgraded on a CD edition)
as the definitive work on European-style vertical caving. Many of Europe's
premier caving areas are located in mountainous "alpine" environments
and may explain the title, but I find the techniques applicable to caving
in general and not just the cold, wet, vertical caves found in our Rocky
Mountains and the high plateaus of Montana (where I have been doing most
of my caving of late).
Melanie Alspaugh has done a superb job in translating the technical French
of the original edition. My collegiate French allowed me to understand
the captions, tables and most of the simpler concepts presented in the
1981 edition but the slang and technical terminology were problematic.
That is not the case with this English translation; it presents complicated
procedures (such as pick-offs) clearly. Melanie's translator's note in
the foreword explains her aim to make this book "...as relevant and
complete as possible for all English readers..." although she favors
American terms (specifically, Texan, by her admission!)
The book is divided into four sections: Equipment, Physical and Mental
Aspects, Underground and Conclusion. Equipment aids the novice caver in
selecting proper clothing, cave packs, lighting and elements of the single
rope technique system, as well as items necessary to rig the cave such
as ropes and anchor hardware. The section dealing with physical and mental
aspects covers only eight pages, something I would like to see expanded
in future editions. Caving movement, both so-called horizontal techniques
as well as technical rigging and dealing with common emergencies constitute
the majority of the book. Early in the book the safety standard of the
European Community is explained, denoted by the "CE" mark (Conformite
aux Exigences) if a product meets standards of regulation within its category.
Such a mark is a guarantee of at least a minimum of safety. Although no
such "community" standard exists in North America, it is comforting
to know such tightly controlled testing of European-manufactured gear
As to content, I found the book very informative about items of equipment
that normally are not covered well in recent caving books dealing with
technique, especially vertical caving. This is especially true regarding
caving oversuits and undersuits, which are gaining in popularity among
American cavers. The authors include key points, tips and maintenance
suggestions in the text. American cavers will likely never see a cagoule
or pontonniere (specialist garments similar to a rain jacket and waders,
respectively)but it is nice to know such evolved gear exists. Remote generator
carbide lamps are thoroughly covered; I gleaned several interesting suggestions
from this chapter that made my Petzl Ariane run more smoothly. Some interesting
concepts are presented, such as the use of a foot ascender (best exemplified
by the Petzl Pantin)to better enable a "vertical orientation"
of the body while climbing. The insistence on using 8mm self-drive bolts
as the primary anchors for vertical rigging will no doubt be controversial.
These anchors are less likely to meet universal acceptance in the United
States, where stainless steel studs and hammer drills are gaining in use.
Several methods for doing a pickoff are presented but not the Sawatsky
technique favored by many of my caving colleagues from Canada and Montana.
Some cavers will disagree with the authors' views--that's fine. Marbach
and Tourte are outlining the concepts widely used in Europe, especially
as taught at the EFS (French Speleology School). Marbach himself sums
it up beautifully: "This edition is of course only a snapshot of
French techniques for exploring vertical caves in the year 2000."
It is up to the individual reader to decide what he finds useful and chooses
to add to his personal arsenal of caving tricks. Some of the information
is merely interesting. I found the book so mesmerizing that I finished
it in a single long night of reading. The next day I made several minor
changes to my own Frog rig, ordered a second copy of Alpine Caving Techniques
(to loan to friends) and cleaned my Ariane acetylene generator. If you
are interested in a single source textbook on European caving technique,
buy this one. You will not be disappointed.